Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars Loss and redemption in Dalkey, 24 Nov. 2011
This review is from: The Gingerbread Woman (Paperback)
Jennifer Johnston has said that in a hundred years she hopes that people will say of her that she accurately and truthfully depicted the lives on Protestants in twentieth-century Ireland. She has fashioned a long and successful career exploring the Irish protestant experience. Often, she focuses exclusively on the south of the country and of the rather peculiar position that those not of the Catholic faith occupy within it. Once an all-powerful and dominant minority, now vaguely anachronistic and often completely forgotten. In the Gingerbread Woman she adds a further dimension by introducing a character from the north and thus brings to the fore the troubled relationship between the two parts of the country. Clara lives in Dublin and is Protestant so perhaps one might assume that she would have some sympathy for the plight of her co-religionists in the north. Not so, she has neither interest nor empathy for anyone there, she describes the people as suffering from the 'disease of hatred' and, whilst she clearly feels for Lar as he tells her of the loss of his wife and child following a terrorist bomb, she does not want to know details nor does she offer much consolation. Between Clara and Lar there is a good deal of mutual mistrust and yet, paradoxically perhaps, this brings them together. Both are absorbed, submerged even, in their own worlds and their own problems and yet, they come together primarily because it is convenient and in each other they find an anchor of some kind secured to which they can more safely continue their morbid introspections and then tentative forays back into the outside world.

At no point does either character particularly reach out to the other either physically or emotionally and yet somehow their friendship is cathartic to both. In the hands of a less able writer this would have been a relatively simple love story but Johnston is much too skilled and too knowing for that. Instead she depicts a much more commonplace and less substantial but at the same time more realistic and far more intriguing relationship as her characters bump up against each other confusedly without ever really finding a particular connection. Having spent some time in each other's company they find the strength to move on, Lar back to the north and Clara into the world of the novel she is writing.
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