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4.5 out of 5 stars
4
Mary George of Allnorthover
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on 8 March 2007
Unlike other `Seventies novels' I could mention, Lavinia Greenlaw adopts less entertaining and pleasing characters and story lines to present a much darker peek into a time it's hard to imagine existed. Adolescence in the shape of Mary George is troubled, crippled by inarticulacy and clouded by misunderstandings. Yeah, she's into punk, but she's only half aware of what it means; but it sounds good and seems to be the perfect soundtrack to the fallout she's living through with her divorced, but warring parents. Punk is also the sound of the state clashing with the unions, as power cuts and petrol rationing begin to test even the best of stiff upper lips. If this wasn't bad enough Mary also has to deal with her father's past and the emotional damage he left behind. Village life doesn't help as there is always someone around to rake through stuff best left alone, and as the parties and gigs accumulate we know there is going to be some sort of `reckoning'. Brilliantly and vividly created this is a fantastic portrait of family and village life, its intrigues, petty quarrels, all set in the death throes of a decade best left forgotten. If you like those `best ofs' or `top tens' of the Seventies programmes on TV this is the dose of reality you need.
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on 8 April 2001
When I read the description of the author on the flyleaf of this book I must say I feared the worst: "First novel", "poet", "lives in London". I had expected the usual unstructured "moments of being", no plot and masses of unwanted imagery. In fact this book is very well written and functions perfectly as a novel. I read one review that said that it lacked "narrative drive". Well, I found myself turning the pages more and more quickly towards the end to find out what happens and for this "common reader" this is usually a sign that something has gone right in the plotting. I was also sorry to say goodbye to Mary George herself: I really liked her. I grew up in a Scottish village rather than an English one but I recognised a great deal of the description. I have never read a better recreation of the Britain of the late 1970s. There are some excellent one off observations, for example at the village jumble sale the middle class families arrive at a certain point in the afternoon and their unruly children are noted to have "Victorian names and Victorian hairstyles" which I very much enjoyed. The portrayal of Tom and his psychosis is sympathetic but realistic. Overall, a definite recommendation.
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on 7 September 2001
I agree that this book sums up the 70s in an English village (a real one, not a 'heritage' one). The bonds between those who live there are strong and that's sometimes good and sometimes bad. The fact that Tom is reabsorbed into the place demonstrates this perfectly - it is how you would hope people with mental illness should be accepted, but at the same time it ultimately precipitates the final events of the book. I'm less sure about Mary herself - I need to reread it to learn more about her. And I will.
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on 24 April 2001
Mary George grows up in a small village and struggles to find her place given the limits of the world she's in. She is nearly old enough to leave but has to wait as history (of the village and her family) feeds the insecurities of her adolescence. Meanwhile, the local embodiment of the misfit is Tom, whose mental illness means he cannot leave but who latches on to Mary in the hope of salvation. Mary finds some salvation by becoming a punk.
The book continuously gathers pace - for the last quarter I couldn't put it down. If you know what it is to live in a village, particular during the 70s, this book won't let go of you. In the end it works because the village is a field of accurate observations of personalities, music, buses, trains and landscape as it was in the seventies.
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