Described on its jacket as resembling "a Russian Doll", Helen Dunmore's Mourning Ruby
is certainly more of an assemblage of interconnected tales than a full novel. It's a work that plays the old "stories within stories" game; there are quotes from poems (Mandelstam, Byron, Dickinson and some of Dunmore's own pieces) and folk songs and nearly the last third of the book is given over to shards of a novel in progress written by one of the characters. As in Talking to the Dead
and With Your Crooked Heart
, the main protagonists here--Rebecca, her husband Adam, and Joe, her old flatmate, a Stalin-obsessed writer--form another of Dunmore's intriguing sexual/sibling triangles.
As the title confirms though, it's the death of Rebecca and Adam's child, Ruby, in a road accident that dominates. In the depiction of this horrific incident, Dunmore at one point breaks into verse, crystallising in just a few sparse, stream of consciousness lines Rebecca's agony as, impotently, she watches the tragedy unfold: "She always stops at roads, she's never run into a road, but look how fast she's going Adam, she's too far ahead, the gap between them, stop Ruby, stop Ruby, stop Rubystop."
Rebecca's loss is even greater because she is herself a lost child, a foundling who was abandoned in a shoebox outside an Italian restaurant. But, if this is a book about the many permutations of loss, it is equally about creativity, artistic as well as biological. Through Rebecca's encounters with her boss, Mr Damiano, the former circus impresario turned hotelier, and Joe's "story", Dunmore salutes, through the very medium of fiction itself, the healing power of the imagination. --Travis Elborough
Intensely emotional, fiercely intelligent. ("Publishers Weekly," starred review) Gorgeous...powerful...nuanced, extraordinary. ("Detroit Free-Press") A must-read. ("Harper's Bazaar")
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