on 16 August 2015
I often find myself empathising with characters in novels, but it is rare that I can so completely identify with one in the same way as I did with Delia Grinstead in Anne Tyler's Ladder Of Years. Having pulled a similar stunt myself, albeit as a teenager, I was amazed at Tyler's apparently uncanny knowledge of how I felt at the time. " How do I get out of this then?" I suppose it must not be such an unusual experience after all. Delia's reinvention of herself from Dee - fragile put-upon and overlooked wife, mother and daughter - to Miss Grinstead - efficient secretary and woman in her own right - is such a sensitively drawn transformation that I was hooked on every word of her tale. I loved both her emotional journey and also the detailed description of her actual journey from Baltimore to Bay Borough, the ideal anonymous small town on arrival and, of course, soon discovered to be anything but.
All the characters in Ladder Of Years are superbly drawn and my favourites, other than Delia herself, were Iron Mama Eleanor who perhaps wasn't such a paragon as she had forced herself to appear, and Carroll, the model of teenage angst. Perhaps it does all get a little too schmalzy towards the end what with weddings and babies and the like, but the characters still felt so true and honest to themselves that I could get past it. Much of the book, as is Tyler's style, is made up of tiny details so I can understand that this read wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. However, Ladder Of Years is definitely one of my top reads of 2015. I finished it three days ago and am still giddily excited when recalling the story - sign of a great book indeed!
on 20 September 2011
This book starts off with every woman's secret fear - that in amongst all her duties and tasks and routines that she has become invisible. This is borne out by the "Every woman" missing person's description of her. The journey is an interesting one - perhaps the ending is a little neater than life. But many of us dont in the end want to throw it all away - but re-establish ourselves in our current lives. So if you have kids and are married there are moments of smiles, joy, empathy and quiet bravery in this book. It was my first read by this author and it got me hooked on her....
on 8 May 2011
I love Anne Tyler books and I've read Ladder of Years before. I bought the Kindle edition thinking I'd like to revisit an old friend. The only problem being that the typographical errors are HORRENDOUS to the point of my very seriously asking Amazon for a refund. It's really ridiculous. Throughout the book there are places where the word I (as in 'I like ice cream') is substituted by the letter 'J'. (such as 'J like ice cream') I spent I don't know how long trying to figure out who 'J' was. There are lots of other typographical errors that I wish I had highlighted to prove my point to Amazon that what they have sold me is NOT the same as the book in print. So hats off to Anne Tyler as the book is great but the Kindle version is a BIG disappointment.
on 30 May 2013
Really enjoyed the story and got into to quickly. Found the character of the husband a little shaky but generally all very believable and wondered how many people would like the chance to escape for a while.
on 11 December 2011
The first page was a police report of the disappearance of Cordelia Grinstead, last seen walking along a beach. The second page shows Delia in a supermarket, 'languidly choosing a bunch of celery...Why was it, she thought, that celery was not called "corderoy plant"? That would be much more colourful.' Then she makes the acquaintance of a man, who is choosing scallions.
The book unfolds in this measured way, and it is obvious we aren't going to get to the point of the opening newspaper article very quickly, only in the author's good time.
As Delia's life continues from this point, there is a sort of zany logic about it. We become Delia, a gentle woman living in a dreamworld, untouched by avarice. We feel for her and enjoy the gradual unfolding of a personality that, beginning the story as a naive and strangely innocent mother of teenagers, becomes a character with, at last, enough steel to decide what she really wants from life.
I was sorry when I came to the end, a most enjoyable few hours away from the stresses of modern living as most of us experience it these days. A strange feeling of peace surrounded me for a couple of days afterwards, surely a recommendation for others to at least pick it up and try it!
on 9 September 2013
Cordelia Grinstead is a wife and mother to three children. Her husband Sam, a doctor, recently suffered a heart attack, (though Delia, as she is commonly known, refers to it as chest pains). At or about the same time her father died after Delia had cared for him for some time in her own home.
Her children are all teenagers and have become more independent and less reliant on their mother. Delia's husband has become distant and less attentive. Delia has becoming unsure of her role as a mother, a wife and in the world in general.
While on the annual family holiday with her family and her sisters, Eliza and Linda and the latter's children, Delia asks a young man who was working on the holiday home to drive her to a place she knows nothing of. She asks the young man to stop at a small town and there she begins a new life with only the possessions she is wearing and what is within her tote bag.
On the surface, The Ladder of Years appears to be a run of the mill novel about a middle aged woman going through the proverbial mid-life crisis. This appearance seems justified when you throw stroppy, mumbling, uncommunicative teenagers and an inattentive older husband in to the mix.
However, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Anne Tyler has written a novel that defies cliché, stereotype and one's preconceived ideas of what a woman's mid-life crisis looks like. A clever choice on Anne Tyler's part was to write the book in the third person. It would have been easier to have written the novel in the first person and allow us the reader to get a better and easier understanding of Delia's motives and thoughts on her behaviour. But writing the novel in the third person puts the reader at a slight distance from Delia so making it harder to empathize or sympathize with her. It makes the reader have to work that bit harder in getting to understand Delia and her reasoning and in this process makes the reading of the novel that much more satisfying.
I also believe that writing in the third person allows many male readers to follow Delia's character without feelings of being uncomfortable in their male skin than had the novel been written in the first person. It is possible that many male readers would have found it uncomfortable or off putting to follow the character had they had access to her inner thoughts and feelings. By writing in the third person male readers are allowed to keep their distance and not made to feel that they inhabit a female persona.
All the characters within The Ladder of Years are rounded three dimensional people and as a reader I felt that I knew and understood each of the novel's inhabitants by the end of the book. This knowing and understanding is from the perspective of a friend of the family and not as a family member. By this I mean that as much as I believed I knew the character's motives and reasons for what they did and how they lived I still couldn't be sure I was getting the full picture. This I believe was intentional on the author's part. I believe that Anne Tyler was trying to communicate that we never fully know someone else even when they are family. There are times in our lives when we feel like we are an outsider within our own family group looking in through a window that becomes more opaque as time moves on.
Anne Tyler's novel is a well crafted moving and at times funny novel that will not disappoint any reader, even the male of the species.
Number of pages - 326
Sex scenes - none
Profanity - none
Genre - drama/fiction
on 3 June 2011
Delia, short for Cordelia, is the central character of Anne Tyler's Ladder Of Years. As usual for Anne Tyler, Delia is a Baltimore resident, a wife, a mother and probably, at least from the outside, a pillar of strength and dependability in both family and community. The children are growing up. Which children don't? Bet then it's how they grow up that matters, isn't it? Sam, the husband, is doing moderately well. Moderate seems to be the word, as far as Sam is concerned. He's hardly made a success of the business he inherited from Delia's father, but the family survives to inhabit a middle class, rather liberal niche in the common psyche. As Ladder Of Years opens, the family is holidaying by the sea and Delia is dressed, mentally, for the beach.
And then, without warning, even to herself, she takes off. Just like that, whatever "that" might be. She absconds. Goes missing. Disappears. There's suspicion of drowning. A report appears in a Baltimore paper. The family fears she has come to harm. But no, she hasn't. In fact, still dressed for the beach she is heading off to a place she doesn't know with a stranger. It's no particular stranger, just a stranger.
Quite soon, and with new clothes, a new address and a changed life, Delia takes on a new identity. Though Baltimore wife and mother still lives in her head, she's become a new Delia, single, independent and employed. In this new guise, she inter-reacts with her new community and gradually becomes part of it. Why did she leave the apparent safety, security and responsibility of her family? Not even she can answer.
What slowly begins to emerge, however, is that Delia's choice of opting out becomes increasingly one of opting in. By degree the characters in her new life start to become more demanding. Without needing to state everything explicitly, they start to assume Delia's support and claim reliance upon her. She, of course, responds and finds that she now has two levels of responsibility created out of the demands of her new life and continued contact with her family. Interestingly, Delia, this pillar of support, never feels either at home or secure in either role.
And so it is via this scenario of identity change, relationships of dependency, insecure self-image, alongside a fixation of demand that Anne Tyler relates how Delia's life unfolds. Delia notices a lot about people, but she's no great analyst. Surely she's the type to apologise before expressing an opinion, but would harbour unspoken bigotries like the rest of us. At the start of the book she seems confused. By the end, a few more rungs along the ladder of life, she apparently remains so. Perhaps the ladder is horizontal ... and with irregular spacing... But then Delia has little time to consider such arcane ideas. After all, there are things to do, people to talk to, arrangements to be made, jobs to be done...
on 9 July 2012
I had heard a great deal about the author so thought I'd give it a go. Although the premise of the book is interesting - a woman of a certain age realising that her life is not what she thought it is - it is treated in a lightweight and off hand way. There is no real explanation for the decisions and behaviours of the characters, who remain strangely two dimensional. Tyler is able to set a scene well, I could really 'see' the town she describes as well as its characters. I was left dissatisfied, though. I am afraid I like something a bit more meaty!
on 26 January 2015
Oh dear, what a terrible cop-out novel. I've read some of the other reviewers who can't understand quite why Delia left her family. Such as: it wasn't such a bad life she was leading, just that she fancied a change, for whatever mysterious reason. But there is no mysterious reason - she was being utterly taken for granted by her husband and everyone else in her 'hey mom, where's my breakfast' family. The clue is right there at the start (the very first page being the best part of the book): the article in the local paper, which confirms quite clearly that her family, when it came to it, could recall very little about her, even down to her height, eye colour, or what she was wearing to the beach. She wasn't even reported as missing until much later in the day. In short, she was invisible; to all intents and purposes, a 'missing person', even before she strolled off the beach.
She slowly but surely builds for herself a new life in a new town, and, although somewhat dull and everyday, at least we get a picture of a middle aged woman coming to terms with a new way of living the 24 hours in her day. It's when she goes back to Baltimore for her daughter's wedding that the book really comes apart. There's a dreadful, idiotic section when the daughter says she's not going through with the marriage in response to a nondescript 'moment of madness' from her fiance. The sorting out of this problem, involving the seeking out of a girl called Courtney and the boy who was trying to find her on the phone, thereby incurring the wrath of the fiance, is convoluted and quite barmy, or, as my mum would have said, rather 'far-fetched'. By now, I was longing for Delia to head back to her new life in her new town, and fully expecting this to come to pass. However, the novel ends with the jaw-dropping realisation that Delia is returning to her husband - this being the somewhat insufferable man who, for the previous 300-odd pages, has been inciting all sorts of quiet rages and subdued volcanoes within Delia. Not only does she return to him - the first instance of the return is to fall straight into bed with him!
People tell me that Anne Tyler is the best American writer of the current age. If so, how on earth could she have allowed this novel to go out to a focus group for its so-comforting, so 'American' finale? For surely, a focus group tidied up what happened here. .
on 8 December 2014
I had read other reviews suggesting this was the best Anne Tyler book but far from it. The story line was unrealistic and the main character turned out to be a shallow, careless and somewhat cruel woman. Maybe I am missing something but this is not a patch on "A Patchwork Planet".