Archive | October 13, 2013

The Signature of a Perfect Novel

Sorry for the poor title of this post – I’ll never be a sub-editor. Thought I’d share with you two novels I have recently read.

Perfect by Rachel Joyce was a moving tale. I read Joyce’s earlier novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. There were moments where I was extremely frustrated – enough already, we know the mother is being exploited by her new friend. “Editor to this book please!” But I was moved to tears in the climax, and that doesn’t happen much when I read. The characters are wonderful, all of them, the good, the bad, the nasty and the damaged. Actually, all of them are damaged in some form. And for a view into the world of someone with extreme anxiety, shyness and OCD, this is brilliant. But you won’t come away feeling disheartened. There’s a sweet love tale and a sweetness of the support of friends.

I read a review which says the subject of this novel is class. While it certainly is important, I wouldn’t say that that was the subject. It is interesting what people read into stories. But then it was in The Guardian. The reviewer ends, the “novel’s more resonant theme is that social mobility is perilous. She who comes from the end of the pier will end up going back there.” Mmm, I didn’t form this view. Though the recession and subsequent unemployment does cast a shadow, the unhappiness was not about changing social class nor escaping poverty.

There were a few minor things which niggled, the already mentioned laboured tale of the exploitation of the main mother, the title (yes, she who cannot make up a title, doesn’t like the title of a book), and the stereotype portrayal of the big, bad, psychiatric institution.

I have just finished reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, I can’t recommend this strongly enough. Gilbert wrote Eat, Pray, Love which I haven’t read (and won’t see the movie as I can’t stand she with the big lips). God Gilbert can write. Her turn of phrase, her original storyline, her characters! I got lost in this book. My mind’s eye could see the worlds with great clarity. I even cared about moss, and took an interest in the history of science in a way I haven’t before, and never thought I would.

The novel sweeps across continents, science and major events, with a unique perspective.

I have to quote the sister of the central character. She was speaking about slavery and the products produced by slave labour in the mid 1800s, but readers of my blog will know I have a thing about buying clothes that are made ethically, ensuring the workers have a living wage. So this passage really resonated with me:

It may seem innocent to wear South Carolina cotton but it is not innocent, for this is how evil seeps into our house. It may seem a simple pleasure to spoil our children with a treat of sugar, but that pleasure becomes a sin when the sugar was grown by human beings held in unspeakable misery. For that same reason, in our household, we take no coffee or tea… If we speak out against slavery, yet continue to enjoy its plunders, we are naught but hypocrites…

Read this book.