“There is no problem a library card can’t solve”
As I mentioned a few Sundays ago, I was lucky enough to win this direct from the author herself, who was kind enough to compliment my blog name. *fetches more tea before writing rest of review* The giveaway was in honour of the UK publication, so if you are in these fair isles, do keep your eyes peeled for this one – it’s a gem.
The Andreas Sisters (I keep wanting to write The Andrews Sisters) have reconvened at the family home to keep vigil by their cancer-stricken mother. Each sister is facing her own demons: Rose is consumed by the need for order and constancy and cannot face moving to England to be with her fiancé; Bianca has abandoned her big city dream, running from financial dishonesty; Cordelia, the free spirit, the drifter, has come home and is tight-lipped about her sudden nurturing habits.
As for Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, an extraordinary amount of hype came out of the USA for this. Unlike Goon Squad, I loved this. LOVED it. When I read “dead-tree” books and want to note down quotations, I tend to just take a photograph of the relevant page with my phone. For this one, I had 17 photos by the time I got to page 46 (I’ve shared some quotes below).
Admittedly, I have a thing for books about siblings, particularly sisters. Brown (perhaps unsurprisingly, as she is the youngest of three sisters) has captured the tugs of loyalty and love between three sisters perfectly:
“See, we love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much.”
“The history of this trinity is fractious – a constantly shifting dividing line, never equal, never equitable. Two against one, or three opposed, but never all together.”
The novel is written mostly in the first person plural, i.e. from the perspective of the common consciousness of the sisters, which also enables plenty of third-person omniscient. I’ve never run across this before; I found it a bit startling at first but got used to it, and actually it’s perfectly suited as a vehicle for this story. It’s only fair that sometimes they agree, sometimes it’s two telling tales on a third, and sometimes one takes the focus.
Of the three, I had most sympathy for Rose; as a control-freak older sister myself with a need to be needed, we had a lot in common. I found her a bit bossy and insensitive (no need to comment on whether that’s a similarity I might see in myself).
“It was a good thing, Rose invariably told herself… Who knows what kind of disarray they’d fall into without her?”
“She could have asked follow-up questions about our mother’s health, but she was more interested in the way Rose made it sound as if she were a vital part of the whole enterprise, when our parents had survived so long as a nation of two.”
Bianca and Cordelia (Bean and Cordy) are by no means bit parts – Bean is a brilliant, spirited, wicked woman with a sharp tongue and a wandering eye; Cordy is so dopey and ethereal and yet so loyal and beautifully happy. Other readers will love one of them more, depending on personalities. The parents don’t seem to be major characters, but we understand them well by the end, and how they shaped their daughters.
Brown is playful with the Shakespeare references (anyone with more than a passing knowledge of The Bard will enjoy spotting the provenance of each quote), and in fact with the literary environment in which the girls have been raised, recognising that life is not always as convenient as literature:
“Enthusiast, expert, obsessed – these words all thud hollow when faced with the sandstorm of Shakespeare in which we were raised. Sonnets were our nursery rhymes. The three of us were given advice and instructions in couplets.”
“Maybe she’d have a miscarriage. Heroines in novels were always having serendipitously timed miscarriages that saved them from having to make sticky decisions. And Cordy had always been awfully lucky.”
“Alone again. It seemed it was Just Her Luck to have finally found her Orlando, her perfect love, only to have him leave her. Shakespeare’s Rosalind had never had this kind of problem; she was too busy cross-dressing and frolicking around in forests with her servant. Rough life.”
I found Rose’s fiancé a bit drippy – I didn’t really understand what she saw in him (although there is one touching passage in which she pays tribute to needing someone to lean on herself), but kudos to him for one of the most romantic lines I’ve ever read:
“I wish you could see yourself through my eyes,” he said softly. “My vision is better.”
I could go on quoting – these quotes are all from the first 50 pages of the book. But save me the trouble and just go out and buy the book already.
Reviews from other bloggers: The Story Girl; Lifetime Reading Plan; Her Book Self (including author interview); You’ve GOTTA Read This; Devourer of Books; Simple Pleasures Books; Caribou’s Mom; Beth Fish Reads; She Is Too Fond of Books; Sophisticated Dorkiness and an article at NPR.