Monday, March 10, 2008

the last book I read

Talking To The Dead by Helen Dunmore.

Nina and Isabel are sisters. Isabel has just had a baby. Nina heads down to her sister's country house in Sussex to help out with the baby.

So far, so simple. However.....Isabel's pregnancy was a troublesome one, and culminated in an emergency delivery and a hysterectomy. So, no more kids for her. Also, Nina and Isabel had a baby brother, Colin, who died in infancy, in circumstances which initially appear to be a bog-standard cot death, and later appear to be something a good bit more sinister. Isabel is skinny and neurotic about food to the point of anorexia, and, we're invited to deduce, probably about sex as well, while Nina has a healthy appetite, in both departments.

So there are some undercurrents swirling around here. Things get more complicated when Nina starts an affair with Isabel's husband Richard, mainly based around some somewhat indiscreet couplings in the gardens. The tensions this creates, combined with the unresolved issues from the past (some fairly major ones, to be fair) set the scene for things to End In Tears in a pretty big way, and we're not to be disappointed.

Dunmore's later novel (chronologically speaking, though earlier in terms of the order of my reading them) Your Blue-Eyed Boy had a similarly compelling atmosphere of menace and Unresolved Stuff from the past being allowed to fester poisonously. She writes very well about the messiness of sex, pregnancy and childbirth as well, in the same way that Julie Myerson does. They even look a bit similar as well. Spooky.

An un-plot-related aside: the titles of both the novels I've just mentioned are taken from poems: Talking To The Dead is from Autobiography by Louis MacNeice (scroll down a bit to the September 20th entry), and Your Blue-Eyed Boy is taken from Buffalo Bill's by e e cummings (this is the title of the poem by convention as it's the first line; cummings didn't go in for anything as bourgeois as titles). Both rather good, in my opinion, though I am no sort of poetry expert.

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