Say it were true that thou outliv'st us all,
Thy tale of old Greek isles where thy youth grew
Or tell me how the eagle let thee fall
O Tortoise, Tortoise, there are weights, alack!
Which, ever and anon, we men must bear --
Come Thou Tortoise / Jessica Grant
She has a unique way of speaking, disdaining most punctuation beyond the period. It works wonderfully. For example, upon leaving Winnifred she says:
My own heart is all apatter. This is being alive. Can you feel the body worry before every beat. I can. Will this be the last. No. Will this be the last. No.
And then my favourite, in reference to two swans swimming in lonely splendour on an apparently bottomless pond behind Audrey's St. John's home:
When the swans put their heads underwater, they look like baby icebergs. When they lift their heads, they look surprised. Did you see the bottom. No. Did you. No. Let's check again.
When Audrey returns home she finds that her father has already died, and her grief intrudes on the light tone of the narration. The emotion is very real but not at all sentimental. Her Uncle Thoby's grief is also all-consuming, and it leads to the action of the rest of the story: he flees back to England, from whence he came when Audrey was seven years old. Audrey must first cope with his absence and then follow him to England to figure out the mystery of her life and upbringing. The elements of the story which are necessary to the 'mystery' are pretty clear to the reader, but it is handled so much from Audrey's point of view that you are still waiting for her to figure everything out. It is clear that she is much loved, both by her father and Uncle Thoby as well as their neighbours and friends (ie: Clint the Taxi Driver, neighbour Byrne Doyle, her father's secretary Verlaine). Her developing romance with a Christmas tree light technician is perfect as well.
It's a touching story, both moving and very funny. Grant's use of language is clever and Audrey is a truly original narrator. Winnifred's existence as a kind of reality check, a tortoise who has seen everything and will be straight with us about it, is a good foil to the very personal perceptions that Audrey shares with us. I found this book a fresh, intellectually invigorating experience but I also just fell in love with nearly every character. I recommend it.
Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention, I found the perfect new word to add to my vocabulary -- in reference to her father, Audrey comments that he has his "grognard face" on. What's that?
"A grognard is someone who has just woken up and is not yet happy about it."
Now if that isn't the perfect word for me I don't know what is! ;)
Kerry at Pickle Me This
Jay at The Quickie Book Review
Jessica herself guest-editing the National Post's weekend Afterword