Flame Books are fast becoming one of my favourite independent publishers – perhaps this is a hasty decision to make on the basis of having read two of their output, but already I am sensing a definite Flamesque quality. They are novels of brave, textured writing, dealing with ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary. Confused, intricate relationships between flawed humans – with exceptional writing ability to boot.
Tru by Eric Melbye was sent to me quite a while ago, and it is through no fault of the book’s inviting (if slightly haunting) cover that it has taken this long to read. I just hope I can now do it justice, since I have been battling with a dreadful internet connection for over an hour, and have reached the end of my tether, as Our Vicar’s Wife occasionally says. [N.B. this was written yesterday, and I gave up…]
The ‘Tru’ in question is Gertrude Hayes, resident in an old people’s home and member of an amusing ‘gang’ there – a collection of disparate characters, levelled together by their grouping at this final home, waiting for the inevitable. Tru’s closest friend Agnes, dramatic and in the onset of dementia, gives her a journal for her birthday: “The journal is the destination”, as she says. Tru decides to record her history, her guilt about her family, the misadventures which led to this point in her life. From then onwards, the narrative is shown through journal entries (though this is rarely evident except at the beginning of chapters, and never annoying or intrusive as even Anne Bronte was when she used the device). This motley assortment of the aged occupy some chapters; the rest charts Tru’s childhood, through early tragedies and even earlier pregnancy; the fragile and mysterious relationship she has with her ethereal daughter, Maddie; echoes of longing and searching throughout the annals of her past. She lives in a dead-end town – ‘Delamondians don’t bother to understand a thing, only judge it’ – always known as The Hayes Girl, and cannot escape the unfriendly eyes of those surrounding her.
That sounds a bit glum, doesn’t it? In synopsis, it is rather – but Tru’s story, in its mixture of remembering and imagining, is told with a humour and understanding which captivate rather than repel, and feels more like truth than anything else. You can find truth discomforting, but cannot challenge the teller. Melbye’s writing is honest in a way which makes the title Tru so apposite, despite being fiction. In the old people’s home, Agnes ‘remembered days, or made them up. It’s all the same now.’ This threading of recollection and invention in Tru’s narrative creates an emotional honesty, which even an autobiography would rarely achieve. And there are also many beautiful images amongst the loss; I liked: ‘She was like a shard of broken glass, beautiful and dangerous and hardly there.’
A difficult book to categorise, and not like much that I’ve read before – except, as I say, similarites with The Bestowing Sun. I can’t wait to see what else Flame Books has to offer.