The World Below Paperback – 3 Mar 2003
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In Sue Miller's graceful novel, The World Below, Cath Hubbard, a San Francisco woman in her fifties, returns to her grandmother's small Vermont house after the death of an aunt who left the property to Cath and her brother Laurence. Cath had lived with her grandparents for a few years in her teens, after her mother's suicide, and now makes her wounded way back, in the wake of a divorce, to sort through her memories of her beloved grandmother, Georgia. This is the standard fare of American literary fiction: a life-change prompting a search into the past. What is far less ordinary is Miller's placid, nuanced depiction of her protagonist's emotional journey.
None of Cath's feelings can be easily predicted by the reader, but all of them ring true. She finds her grandmother's diary and begins to fill in the stories that Georgia had hinted at over the years. What Cath discovers in her grandmother's journal is a secret that has lost its power to shock; and that very wearing-away of taboo adds to the poignancy of Georgia's restricted life. Her story unfolds against a backdrop of Cath's more immediate griefs and concerns, and begins to recede as Cath's San Francisco life returns to claim her. Miller's prose appears effortless, but is like the gestures of a magician, that conceal how the trick is accomplished. The result is a sage, continually surprising novel about finding peace-of-mind in a combination of habit, love and self-determination. --Regina Marler, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'An exploration of women's hopes and regrets ... a sensitive examination of two private lives' -- Sunday Telegraph
'Gorgeous ... Miller has created the sort of marriage readers hunger to read about' -- Publishers Weekly
'Miller writes with tremendous subtlety and perception' -- Daily Mail
'Rich and sensuous ... hugely evocative' -- Irish Independent
Subtle in its portrayal of the complex regret and grievance submerged beneath any marriage' -- Daily Telegraph
Beautifully written full of insight and poignancy -- Mirror
Miller writes with tremendous subtlety and perception -- Daily Mail
Subtle in its portrayal of the complex regret and grievance submerged beneath any marriage -- Daily Telegraph
Top customer reviews
One must expect to read a story of Cath's thoughts: who she has been, her divorces, her children, her search for her own future -where does she feel to belong in the future; as well as her search for the essence of her grandmother, her and John's couple, what was behind the façade...
A word one of the reviews on the back cover uses: domestic. Yes, Sue Miller captures perfectly those 'domestic' emotions through clear sentences that flow like water.
She makes us go deep in Georgia's story, feelings and resentments that lay at the heart of her couple with John; then the reader resurfaces to the present.
One truly visualizes a life we could never imagine -the sanatorium, the perception of an independent woman in those days-.
I found it a profound book in that many sentences made me reflect on what it meant -or means indeed- to be a couple, how one copes with secrets, misunderstandings, deceit
Ultimately, it is all about loving.
I found the searching into the past tiresome and uninspiring. A waste of time; only read it because it was on our list at the Library Book Club in Wexford Town, othewise would not have bothered.
'The World Below' does not have much plot as such - we simply get the facts of Georgia's life narrated over several years, interspersed with descriptions of Catherine's day to day life in Vermont, and long sections dealing with her memories of her grandparents and her two marriages. There are some lovely passages of writing. I particularly liked Catherine's memories of her grandfather's love of books and excursions, of her grandmother's housewifely skills, and of her own trip to Paris as a teenager to stay with her sophisticated aunt. The sections dealing with Catherine's relationship with her children were also very well written and I liked the sections in the 'Georgia' parts of the book dealing with Georgia's restlessness and her love of books and music as a young women; the material about the sanatorium was also fascinating. And the end, though perhaps slightly ambiguous in terms of meaning, was very beautiful. If I only give the book three stars, it's because I found Catherine to begin with a slightly colourless and later a slightly baffling woman (does she love Samuel? Is she flirting with him? What, outside her family, have been her ambitions in life?), though I did warm to her as I read on, and also because I couldn't quite believe in Georgia's love for Seward, who seemed a rather sullen and selfish figure, or (like one of the other reviewers) that Georgia, a girl from quite a traditional and old-fashioned culture, would have taken the risks she did in her relationship with him. I would also have liked to have known more about Georgia's marriage and children, and why she was estranged from her daughter Rue. On the whole, I came away from the book having enjoyed a lot of it, but also feeling that I would have liked to have known more about the two main characters and their lives. Still - lots to enjoy in this calm and thoughtful writing. Miller may not be one of my favourite writers, but she is certainly very gifted.
Catherine is a twice divorced mother of three from California who inherits and moves temporarily into the Vermont cottage in which she lived with her grandparents during her teen years. Long interested in her grandparents' seemingly successful marriage, which contrasts sharply with her own marriages, Catherine embarks on some serious soul-searching as she tries to decide whether to stay permanently in Vermont and begin a new life. While she is there, she discovers her grandmother's diaries and learns that her grandmother, too, faced personal crises and challenges.
The let-it-all-hang-out confessions of the minutiae of Catherine's and Georgia's emotional lives seem, somehow, intrusive to me, too personal--not because they are so revelatory or shocking but because they are so mundane, so self-conscious. The reader is hard pressed to find many universal truths which can illuminate aspects of our own lives in these revelations, and I ended up learning more about the daily emotional lives of these women than I really wanted to know. Additionally, Georgia's diaries did not ring true to me. Dignity, restraint, and, most of all, privacy, are so integral to the character of lifelong residents of Down East Maine and Vermont, especially elderly ones, that while I could accept Georgia's behavior as real, I couldn't imagine anyone of her era putting it all in writing, and her supposed intention of having Catherine read the account some day seems too pat. In her treatment of "the world below," I wish Miller had cast a brighter light into the emotional murk to reveal more of the universal truth we all seek.
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