Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Helen Slavin

Thank you for agreeing to try this with me. It's hardly my normal sort of thing either, but it utterly won the page 67 test. Have you heard of this? A diagnostic: you try page 67 as a sample.

I loved it. Somewhat despite myself - it reminded me of "Bel Canto" in this way. I thought the writing fluid and witty and the plot conceit good enough to work. I wouldn't claim it was literature for all time, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it replays in my mind weeks later and I would look out for other stuff of hers.

I particularly enjoyed the dead being such vivid, real people and their obsession with trivial things. As someone comments, no-one's message is simply "go on and enjoy your life". Tellingly, Arthur's gran surprises Annie by NOT waking her up! I found the policeman very delicately written, especially the contrast between their perceptions of their relationship - Annie can get it so wrong with the living! And he's so delicately helpful when he comes back, and so utterly uninterested in his own fate ("I've not come about that"). Very, very moving.

I think you're right about Evan, Valerie, although his ending is rather less finished than I would choose (and the rest of the ending is a bit overly-sorted, cf. "Bel Canto" again). But I think that's part of the irony, isn't it? Annie gives others all sorts of things she tends to lack in her own life, for instance consideration, clarity, perception, closure.

I'm delighted to have read it, and even the central conceit worked in way I need such things to work: internal consistency. It works on its own terms and within the parameters set by the author, and these are explored engagingly enough to win my support. And I did feel the book used communication with the dead as a way in to more wide-ranging (and accurate) themes and characterisation and observations, which is ultimately why I found it so life-affirming.