Books: The Trials of a Family Man ; Charles Darwin's Great-Great-Grandson Has Written a Poignant Account of a Devastating Episode in the Scientist's Life, Says Mark Bostridge
Bostridge, Mark, The Independent (London, England)
Love is dangerous. Whoever it's for, however reciprocated, it leaves you wide open and vulnerable. Lesley Glaister's Now You See Me is a beautiful bombshell of a story, a painful, gorgeous romance about self-preservation, trust and loss. Like love, it is glorious. And it will break your heart.
Lamb has no one; she prefers it that way. Once hospitalised, then homeless, she now cleans other people's houses, and lives secretly in an elderly client's cellar. Her mental health may tighten but will not snap; Lamb has secrets, and scars to prove it, and the price of falling is perilously high. "Best to be alone... You want no one hanging on your arm or your heart because then your balance is lost. Small and private and one thing after another thing with nothing strange." Then, to her horror, the "deep and dizzy world" steps closer. Doggo is a young man on the run; he threatens her trust, her cellar, her heart, and Lamb's attempts to resist him simply accelerate her fall.
Glaister is an excitingly bold writer. She is equally at home with syringes and scatter cushions, and her characters' careless disasters and acts of kindness make other novelists' protagonists seem beige and petty. She excels at the focused selfishness of love, and her descriptions of Lamb's undoing and redoing are masterpieces of controlled pain. Yet even as she devastates, Glaister's outrageously lovely writing can stop you in your tracks. Lamb's simple narrative can flirt with cliche, but her casual observations - pond-water "flinching", an "ivory smudge of sun" - are wide-eyed and beautiful; and she can be wonderfully daring: "the blue sky cracked quietly like an egg"; "I wanted... to lift up his eyelids like sheets, to crawl inside and watch the dreams."
What's more, Glaister leavens her distressing material with oblique and surprising humour, making Lamb, despite her mental precariousness, a wonderful narrator. Her cynically comic world- view seeps into every observation: parents pushing "bundles of padding" on swings; blondes' law-abiding tendencies; the difficulties of present-buying for the homeless: "What do you buy the man who has nothing?"
None of this is necessarily apparent from the opening of Now You See Me. Although it explains how Lamb found her name and voice, its tone is neither as original nor as winning as the narrative that follows, and Lamb's miraculous escape from the scene of a car crash is rather glib. However, this, and a rogue spontaneous combustion, provide the only jarring notes in a novel otherwise wonderfully free of luck, coincidence and chance discoveries.
Glaister is a powerful storyteller, surprising or unsettling the reader on every page, but she refuses to play for shock, even when uncovering the grimmest possible secrets. Her refusal either to sensationalise or to soften makes Lamb's bleak and joyful story utterly realistic, and charged with life. Glaister's greatest talent is her willingness to tell it like it is. Every novelist should learn from this: her subtle punch, the brutal beauty of her writing. And every reader should read her, and prepare to be amazed. n
By Randal Keynes
FOURTH ESTATE pounds 16.99
Annie's box is a small writing case covered in morocco leather which once belonged to a young girl in early Victorian England. Unlocked, it reveals four small compartments and one large one, all lined with dark blue paper decorated with gold stars. Its contents include a number of writing implements: sheets of letter-paper and matching envelopes, some embossed with the Penny Post design; steel pen-nibs and two goose-quill pens with the remains of ink on their tips; sealing wax, a stick of red and one of green; as well as other more personal mementoes.
Among the latter is a thick lock of brown hair. There is also a note headed "Anne" which records the restless patterns …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Books: The Trials of a Family Man ; Charles Darwin's Great-Great-Grandson Has Written a Poignant Account of a Devastating Episode in the Scientist's Life, Says Mark Bostridge. Contributors: Bostridge, Mark - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: April 29, 2001. Page number: 31,32. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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