Monday, January 01, 2007

Graven Images: From the stacks Read No. 4

Audrey Thomas' Graven Images is one of those books that just appeared in my collection somehow; I was intrigued enough to read it, even though I'd never heard of it. It was written in 1993 and I've just read it in mass market. Makes me wonder how many others I've missed completely over the years. It was a good, fast read but not so compelling that it will stay on my keeper shelf. Plot synopsis: Charlotte doesn't get along too well with her mother, whom she calls The Aged Pea. To make peace, Charlotte goes to England to track down some details of their family history. She takes a friend along, but they split up while in England, so the friend doesn't actually appear too much. Charlotte doesn't really find much information, but goes home again happily. The plot is a bit vague, and the story is written in snippets of flashbacks and factual asides. It is easy to see that a great deal of research went in to this book, and while most of it is entertaining, and the writing quite striking in parts, it doesn't hang together as a novel. The big secret of the novel is laid out temptingly on the back of the book, as Charlotte's mother tells her: "I saw something -- as a child."
"What did you see?"
"I don't want to talk about it. Ever."
Of course I was imagining all sorts of horrible family secrets, but when it was revealed in the last few pages of the book, it was anticlimactic; I was reduced to flipping over the blank pages, wondering where the crisis was. But, as an intriguing family story with lots of Canadian Anglophile atmosphere, it was worth reading.
And oddly, Charlotte weighs in on my latest fixation, the value of handwriting. She is at the British Museum, looking at manuscripts, and says, after commenting on the penmanship of Andrew Marvell, Byron, Lewis Carroll, etc., "I came away cheered, uplifted, somehow connected to all those people..." And as for typewriters, "those machines will tell us nothing about the writer." I guess that's why I like handwriting; it gives us the soul of the writer.

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