I’m building up quite a library of books from Two Ravens Press, having read a little pile of them before, and now another two. I intended to talk about both of them today, but will have to postpone Dexter Petley’s One True Void as I’ve written too much on the first one…
First of all, it was very brave of Lisa Glass to send me a book I couldn’t possibly enjoy. She very kindly popped Prince Rupert’s Teardrop in the post to me, and mentioned that Chapter 4 was one I might want to steel myself for, and having read this post probably knew that tales of genocide, rape, torture and – let’s face it – even descriptive skin irritants were unlikely to find a place close to my heart.
That said, and before I go any further I must state, I greatly admire Lisa’s novel. It is very, very good – well-written, cleverly characterised, excellent plot and a style which leaves one a little nonplussed but entirely doffing one’s cap to the authoress.
Mary’s 94-year old Armenian mother, Meghranoush, goes missing. She’s just not there. What’s happened? There are rumours of a serial killer and sexual abuser in the area, specialising in nonagenarians. We even read a few chapters from his perspective (or do we: discuss) and Mary wanders the novel with a skewed self-determination, intending to trace her mother’s whereabouts.
Mary is an unattractive heroine. She is middle-aged (gasp!), obstreperous (gasp!), slightly mad (gasp!). Not mad in the endearing way characters are in Angela Thirkell or Richmal Crompton – rather an uncertain mental illness, which winds a thick thread of ‘unreliable narrator’ through everything. Nearly all the chapters are presented from her viewpoint, and some seem straight-forward enough – others are evidently slightly distorted. By the end I was questioning everything, but also questioning the questioning, and questioning the questioning the questioning… Lisa Glass has offered a unique heroine, and wielded a potentially tangled-up viewpoint with skill and finesse.
So I couldn’t enjoy reading this novel. Too much graphically disgusting – but without this, it would have been a very different novel, and entirely not the one Lisa Glass wanted to write, and has written so well. Above all else, her power of language is incredible – and her vocabulary is formidable. A “dazzling linguistic exuberance,” the quotation on the front proclaims – and, what is most impressive, it never seems forced or pretentious, not even close. She uses the words which are most appropriate – if I’ve not heard of them, it’s an opportunity for me to learn, not to sneer.
All in all – very good novel; didn’t like reading it. Which is odd. But not something new for me – how about you, are there any books you can strongly admire, but couldn’t admit to liking? For me, the ultimate is Wuthering Heights. Emily B’s novel is far and away the most powerful I’ve ever read, but I hated reading it – because Heathcliff is so detestable and loathsome that it sapped my power just reading and hating him. I don’t hate human beings, but I don’t think there have been any humans with the unredeemable hate-inspiring characteristics of Heathcliff – how any woman ever falls for him, I can’t imagine. There is no love story in this novel: it is all about hate. But, for all this, Wuthering Heights is a stunningly superlative novel.