Top positive review
44 people found this helpful
Beautiful understated prose for a powerful story
on 25 March 2009
I had 'The Road Home' by this author at Christmas and found it a very evocative story, written through the eyes of a foreigner in England. Seeing the country I thought I knew so well through foreign eyes was quite a wake-up call! I wanted to read more by this author, and was gratified to find that in this book, too, Rose Tremain tells a story from another unexpected viewpoint (or set of viewpoints, since she divides the book into sections that allow more than one character to take their turn to tell their story in the first person). Mary Martin Ward, the book's main protagonist, is an acute observer of the places in which she lives (Suffolk, London, America) and of the people she meets. The author succeeds in presenting Mary's early life from a child's perspective - i.e. keen observation but often faulty interpretation. All is focused through Mary's essential belief that she should really be a boy, not a girl, and in this respect, she too walks through England as if she is a 'foreigner', because she doesn't fit comfortably into the female role and environment that she occupies, and thus often feels more of an onlooker than a participant.
Something similar could be said of Mary's mother, Estelle, whose lifelong struggle against depression isolates her too in a world that only transiently relates to what actually goes on around her. Mary's father Sonny handles his apartness in a different way - with belligerence and dogmatism, becoming over the years ever more inward-looking and taciturn. Her brother Timmy is another character who doesn't dovetail into school or life; he too seems to be on the outside looking in. In fact, all the characters in this book reflect the intrinsic solitariness that all humans experience at some point, but which perhaps we don't easily recognise in a crowded world. From Mary's Scottish primary school teacher who grew up in a windmill, via the butcher's son who was trapped in his inheritance, to the lovely but naive Pearl (Mary's "precious thing") we see this innate loneliness again and again, the faulty connections that people make with others even in the most intimate of relationships. And yet, it isn't a sad book (though it has some very sad moments). I found Mary's life journey not only very interesting but also quite inspiring; her spirit is indomitable.
There are also lots of side issues interwoven into the story that introduce the reader to all kinds of fascinating and diverse facts: farming, life in the 1950's, protest journalism, country music. And the writer's eye for detail is meticulous. I felt that the drama in the book had a more powerful impact on the reader because it was so understated. A gentle book that doesn't deal with gentle themes, but hopefully leaves its readers with more compassion towards the people they meet every day. There is more to everyone than meets the eye!
I heartily recommend this book to those who enjoy a thoughtful read.