|Oct/Nov 2000 Book Reviews|
Random House (Oct. 2000) 185 pages
ISBN: 1 74051 0119
I thought, to begin with, that I had made a mistake in asking to review this book. But I was wrong. Curiosity hooked me and soon I was played like a fish on a line, unable to escape until the story ended.
So, let me tell you the problems I had at first, whilst also saying that they became less and less problematic as the story became more involved and more gripping. It would be a great pity if readers were put off this book by things which eventually turn out to be more the narrator's fault rather than the author's. And it must be hard for an author when a character takes over like this.
Firstly, I was bothered by the narrator's inability to stick to the personal pronoun. She jumps from 'I' to' she', to 'the woman', to 'Caroline', sometimes all within one short paragraph. She explains the reason for this after a while as being a way of distancing herself from painful memories, and as a lack of ability to relate to the woman she was in the past, but early on I found it tiresome and awkward and suspected that it might be a modernist ploy.
Secondly, I did not like this narrator's school-marmish, dry, intellectual, lecturing style. She loves name-dropping and quoting famous photographers (she is a photographer by profession) and she lectures the reader on the ideas, style, images etc. of these famous people quite obsessively. She later confesses her obsessiveness, too, but by then some readers may well have quietly left the lecture theatre.
As a lecturer, too, the narrator prefaces her chapters with extracts from her lecture notes. I must admit that I soon gave up reading these. I never was very good at sitting through lectures, and I preferred to draw my own conclusions from the text rather than be given cryptic hints on how I should view it.
So, that's the sum of my compliant. Set beside them this:
A story which unfolds with tantalizing but carefully timed slowness. A story which is bizarre enough and exciting enough to keep you guessing but which is realistic enough to be true. A story told by a woman whose trauma is apparent in her digressions and pricklyness, but who sets down the events as honestly and directly as her prickly nature will allow.
It is a story about a trip to Australia, a hasty marriage and a sequence of events which is first disquieting then terrifying. And it is a story of a woman's present life with a beloved adult son, a dying father, and a work-colleague who insists on insinuating himself into her life.
Caroline Savage, the narrator, has never told her son Harry the truth about his father. She has made things up instead. Now, circumstances have forced her to set things straight, but in recalling the events and her reasons for hiding them she re-lives this whole deeply distressing fragment of her past. And she re-lives it vividly in an Australian landscape which is alien to her Englishness but which she recalls with a photographer's eye for colour, mood and detail. The photographs in the book could very well be hers.
Candida Baker, the author, tells a good story and she tells it well. And all those problems which I had at the start of the story may well be all my own but could just as well be attributed to the skill with which Baker presents her very believable heroine.
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