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The Gingerbread Woman Hardcover – 7 Sep 2000


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review; 1st ed. edition (7 Sep 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747221375
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747221371
  • Product Dimensions: 14.1 x 22.3 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,529,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

In The Gingerbread Woman, Jennifer Johnston again demonstrates her ability to create memorable and affecting characters. Clara, who at 35 makes her living doing "odd jobs for newspapers", is recovering from a serious operation and spends her days wandering around the cliff tops at Dublin Bay. Like the The French Lieutenant's Woman, she stares out to sea, trying to rediscover the direction in her life. One rainy afternoon, she encounters Laurence (Lar), a teacher who has run away from his life in Northern Ireland as he tries to come to terms with a family tragedy. The novel describes how these two unconventional people form a fragile friendship.

Alternating the narrative voice, Johnston lets their stories unravel gradually. Both characters are trying to come to terms with loss and the novel examines the contrasting ways they cope: Clara is self-depreciating and humorous but can't shake off the knowledge that haunts her; Lar is bitter and coiled, bottling up his pain in an ever-present anger. Johnston has no difficulty in keeping the reader intrigued as the plot is never a foregone conclusion.

The Gingerbread Woman is a short book but not a light read--it investigates loss, tragedy, loneliness and apparent hopelessness but does not weigh the reader down in doing so. It also considers the complexities of emotions not always recognised or voiced and their impact on everyone involved. This is a book that lingers. --Christina McLoughlin --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Review

The richness of themes here is as delicious as Mrs Barry's baking: the primary importance of self-esteem and the way this depends on developing a general kindliness to oneself as well as others; the vast opportunities for healing thrown up by simple pleasures, not least laughter. THE GINGERBREAD WOMAN is Johnston at her observant, compelling best (Image magazine)

'The richness of themes here is as delicious at Mrs Barry's baking: the primary importance of self-esteem and the way this depends on developing a general kindliness to oneself as well as others; the vast opportunities for healing thrown up by simple pleasures, not least laughter. THE GINGERBREAD WOMAN is Johnston at her observant, compelling best' Image magazine

Despite its desolate background it is both entertaining and uplifting... The book has a musical feel and makes a poignant symphony of its themes of love and grief (Clare Boylan, Sunday Express)

'Despite its desolate background it is both entertaining and uplifting... The book has a musical feel and makes a poignant symphony of its themes of love and grief' Clare Boylan, Sunday Express

A beautifully-paced novel of solitariness... This is a book to steal for your friends and re-read your own copy for pleasure (Glasgow Herald)

'A beautifully-paced novel of solitariness... This is a book to steal for your friends and re-read your own copy for pleasure' Glasgow Herald

With Jennifer Johnston, even the worst suffering is redeemed by wit, good humour and a sense of fun... If you have already discovered [her], you will enjoy THE GINGERBREAD WOMAN. If you haven't, then this is a good place to start (Daily Mail)

'With Jennifer Johnston, even the worst suffering is redeemed by wit, good humour and a sense of fun... If you have already discovered Jennifer Johnston, you will enjoy THE GINGERBREAD WOMAN. If you haven't, then this is a good place to start' Daily Mail

'Written in Johnston's usual haunting prose, where no word is unnecessary' Maeve Binchy, Sunday Times

'The grande dame of modern Irish literature, Jennifer Johnston has been writing superior fictions, that both embody the wounds of Irish life and scrutinise themes beyond its orbit, for over a quarter of a century. THE GINGERBREAD WOMAN continues her theme of the search for personal freedom... Exceptionally gifted in structuring her narrative so that the reader is compelled to discover the secrets that scar her protagonists, Johnston is also blessed with an understated wisdom, and a heightened understanding of love and loss' Glasgow List

'A superb stylist, humorous, surprising and virtuously plain' Lynne Truss, Sunday Times

'A beautifully crafted novel' Sunday Telegraph

'THE GINGERBREAD WOMAN is characteristic as well as untypical of Johnston, similar yet different. She knows her territory. Probably the most consistently undercelebrated of Irish writers, her genius lies in her calm, intelligence and her distinctive feel for the way an individual will act in an extreme emotional crisis.... Jennifer Johnston has always demonstrated an exact understanding of the cultural nuances of Irish life as well as the perceptions, even textures, that go into being Irish. Few Irish writers have pursued these questions so intently. Aside from all this, THE GINGERBREAD WOMAN reiterates she remains, as ever, a shrewd, canny storyteller who understands human error' Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

'Her voice is impassioned again. After so many years and so many novels, Jennifer Johnston still has something to say' Lesley McDowell, Scotsman

'As in all her best novels, Johnston's vividly immediate effects belie the simple elements from which they are created. And although the book is firmly rooted in character, place and time, its reach extends well beyond the particular into the universal territory of classic storytelling' Spectator

'This is the first Jennifer Johnston book I have read, but after sampling the intriguing characters and rich diversity of THE GINGERBREAD WOMAN, I have to admit I'm hooked... Jennifer Johnston presents two very strong, uncompromising characters, thrown together by chance and forming an inextricable bond; one exists to help the other. This is a powerful, moving novel which I found impossible to put down. If anything, it ended too soon' The Irish World

'A consummate performer' The Times

'The Gingerbread Woman is allegorical and poignant and acutely perceptive, crafted by a seventy-year-old mistress of words who refuses o bow to the purists in observing rigid rules of writing. All the confidence of a 12-times novelist shines through her simple and sometimes verbless sentences that ring with truth and beauty. Like Clara Barry, whose mother bakes cream sponges and gingerbread men, she was born to haunt' Irish Independent

'One of Ireland's most talented writers... THE GINGERBREAD WOMAN is another fine novel from a polished and sophisticated writer. The intelligence of Johnston's writing, the strength of her characterisation and the power of her dialogue all combine to make the book a strong addition to the Johnston collection' Sunday Business Post

'Johnston is at her storytelling best... An engaging and accessible novel, and those familiar with Jennifer Johnston's later writing will not be disappointed' TLS

'I was entranced... An abrasive study of love and grief' Elspeth Barker, Independent on Sunday, Books of the Year

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 17 Mar 2002
Format: Paperback
"The Gingerbread Woman" clearly demonstrates Jennifer Johnston's experience as a consummate storyteller. She deals compassionately with the difficult themes of death and disease, weaving a surprisingly fast paced (very little actually happens) and compelling narrative. The characters are carefully crafted and though the reader may not like either of the main characters in their often self-indulgent pity and grief, Johnston nonetheless makes their lives both accessible and commanding of the reader's attention.
This would be a great book for any book club to discuss, as there are plenty of moral questions raised. Set in Ireland and New York, the novel provides a careful commentary on the question of adultery and lust and raises the idea of the responsibilities of terrorists. Both difficult concepts are dealt with sympathetically by Johnston, leaving the reader with no easy answers.
The narrative is very clever, with the novelist within the novel exploring her past whilst coming to terms with her present. Johnson's description of the past and the passionate love affair is wonderfully evocative and maintains the reader's interest.
The end of the novel is a little frustrating; another book club debate could revolve around when the reader guesses the outcome! And I was also a little dissatisfied with the moral message of adultery leading to heartache and ultimately punishment for the protagonist. Nonetheless this is a beautifully written book; I read it in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. Having never encountered Johnson before I will certainly search out her other novels as both her style and her themes provide the reader with food for thought, an element sadly lacking in a number of recent best sellers.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John McCartney, Amazon Customer on 3 Mar 2011
Format: Paperback
I've had Jennifer Johnston's early novels on my shelves for years - since they were first published in the early 1970s in fact - but it was this book which set me re-reading those stories, and buying some more recent ones. The plot of The Gingerbread Woman is simple: two people with tragic back-stories meet by chance and, without realising it, set each other on the road to at least partial recovery. The treacheries that cause their separate unhappiness are quite different, but the processes of adjustment which the protagonists have to go through are touchingly similar. The moral is that time is a great - but not complete - healer. A lovely book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 31 Dec 2012
Format: Paperback
A short, beautifully formed novel about two damaged people who, against the odds and in an unlikely way, begin to heal themselves in each other's company.

Clara, a journalist and lecturer on Irish literature, has returned to her home in rural Southern Ireland following the collapse of a love affair in New York. She has undergone a traumatic operation (that we soon learn was connected with what happened while she was in the USA), and is slowly trying to face life again, while feeling it may be impossible. Lar (Laurence), a maths teacher, is visiting Southern Ireland to escape his home in the north and his memories of the tragedy that has destroyed his life - his artist wife Caitlin and his baby daughter were blown up in an IRA attack. Clara meets Lar while out walking, and on impulse invites him to stay for a few days in her cottage. A strange friendship develops between them, as they talk about their lives and relationships. Meanwhile, Clara is also writing a 'novel' telling the story of her time in New York, and while she is working, Lar is taking long walks, trying to reconcile himself to what has happened to him and work out how to continue to live. Finally, both characters have to say goodbye to the 'psychic retreat' in which they have placed themselves and face the real world again.

This is a beautifully written novel. Johnston's descriptions of Ireland are wonderful, and so are her observations of family relationships, such as Clara's difficult but warm relationship with her ultra-domestic mother and her friendship with the doctor who knows her secret, and Lar's troubled but loving relationship with his parents, and his flashbacks to life with Caitlin.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 Nov 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book, set in Dublin, is the story of Clara and Lar, two people who are trying to deal with their sad, tragic pasts.
Lar has tried to run away from his past and the death of his wife and child in a car crash. Clara, on the other hand, tries to deal with her horrible past, a tragic relationship, by writing a book about it, entitled 'The Gingerbread Woman' (hence the title).
These two characters meet by chance, at Killiney Hill, and develop a special friendship.
Johnston looks at various themes in the book, such as; how tragedy effects people, the ways in which people deal tragedy, communication, relationships and love.
The author also skilfully gives the audience a deep insight into her realistic characters. One of the most original ways in which she does this is, of course, through Clara's novel.
This use of meta-fiction is extremely effective because as well as giving the reader an insight into Clara's character, it makes the book ever more interesting by giving it two plots.
The book is extremely sad, but it does offer hope in the end, as the characters begin to rise out of the depression of their pasts, and look to the future.
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