Tuesday, June 12, 2012
I can’t believe it’s been six months since I updated this blog, but let me tell you, I have been doing plenty of writing – just not here! And more on that, anon, I promise. Anyway, a couple of months ago Legend Press asked me if I’d like to review a book by Maria Goodin. I hesitated, because it definitely isn’t the kind of book I usually read, but my interest was piqued by discovering the novel was based on a short story which won the 2007 Derby Short Story competition. So I said yes. Let me begin by reiterating – this is not the kind of book I usually read. As I am not part of Goodin’s target audience, my views should be taken as those of an outsider looking at something with which they have only limited familiarity and not many terms of reference. My overall view was that Goodin’s book just falls short of being a novel to exactly the extent that it probably worked magnificently as a short story. The characters divide between stock (wrong boyfriend, right boyfriend, muddled young woman, eccentric neighbour) and original (fact-averse mother, bunch of elderly rock musicians) and there are times when the writing is highly magical and inspired, particularly the mother’s fantastical stories of Meg’s youth which have a heightened absurdity and warmth that is extremely accomplished. On the other hand, there were times when I found myself scratching my head at the quality of the research: for example why does Ewan the gardener want to remove ladybirds and frogs from the garden if he’s an environmentally friendly chap? The areas of the book that I enjoyed most are Meg’s complex relationship with her mother and the comic appearance (all too short) of Chlorine, the group of ageing rockers who inadvertently help Meg discover her past. The romance element I found predictable and Meg’s early love interest in the wrong man simply bored me. However, woven into the stock elements is an interesting and complex account of how family history shapes itself and the ways that people lie to themselves and others, which makes this novel worth reading. In summary I’d say it’s uneven, and might have benefitted from a more rigorous edit (I struggle to read books where the seasons and endearments are capitalised, but I am both a pedant and an unforgiving reader) because such details, for me, distracted from the central exploration of what is truth, and why it may be better not to know the facts about our origins. It’s definitely an interesting debut though, and I shall be interested to see where Goodin goes next, as there’s depth in her work that I think this book fails to fully develop.