The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Feb 24, 2013

Under 200, Part 7

In the first part of this roundup, we have two books, each with a troubled protagonist. Both are socially awkward, both are women, both appear to be in love with ostensibly unsuitable men, and both find it difficult to continue their lives as normal in the face of their love. One of them is endearing and struggling under a curse, while the other is whiny and desires affirmation. I don't think I'm spoiling anything when I suggest that both their ends may be described alternatively as tragic or hopeful. 

The curse I mentioned above is that of the mermaid - if she is to live, she has to kill the one she loves. Samantha Hunt's The Seas is a lyrical exploration of this curse and the heroine's struggle to fight against it. (The mermaid also makes appearance in a short story in Jane Gardam's The Pangs of Love, except here it is a self-important and super-smart sister of the tragic one in Hans Christian Andersen's story. It is a funny tale, well worth the read.)

The whiny and awkwardly bossy heroine of Helen Humphries' The Lost Garden is a botanist sent away from London to organise the production of vegetables during the Second World War. She is expected to head up the local squad of the Women's Land Army. She finds, though, that the women in the group, all much younger than her, are uncomfortable with her abrupt style and anyway prefer the company of bunch of Canadian soldiers bivouacked nearby. Whenever the social pressure and awkwardness overwhelm her, she retreats to a little garden and mopes. It all got a bit trying for me, but I expect some may sympathise with her situation. For me, the two friends she makes, both more generous and affectionate than her, were the true lights of the book.


You may well wonder why I'm still going on with 'H' when I have actually reached 'M'. I attribute it to a lag and laziness.


I have nothing but praise for the thrilling moment-by-moment build up to a mixed-martial arts championship that is Katie Kitamura's The Longshot. Her prose is terse, staccato, honest, introspective; the conversations are lit up with meaning; her insight into the competitive spirit is outstanding; and boy, how brilliantly she gets under the skins and into the psyches of her men. I have rarely seen such acute understanding of the male mind from a woman (indeed, even in the other direction, I can only think of Roddy Doyle in The Woman Who Walked Into Doors). Superb, superb writing. Hemingway would be proud.


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