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on 27 May 2017
I'm a massive Anne Tyler fan and loved this book.
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on 17 April 2017
I found it bit boring - not one of her best
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Cordelia (Delia) Grinstead, the heroine of Anne Tyler's umpteenth novel set in Baltimore, is a bored housewife, who feels her doctor husband doesn't love her enough, and that her nearly adult children have little need of her. Being a woman of few interests or intellectual resources, she deals with her boredom by having an affair, with a man called Adrian who chats her up at the supermarket. When the affair is discovered, rather than worry about her husband's feelings, explain her misery to him or try to get help, Delia simply walks away, in her bathing suit, on a beach holiday. She hitches a lift to the small, picturesque town of Bay Borough, buys some new clothes, finds a room to rent in the house of a man-chasing 37-year-old called Belle, and gets a job as a legal secretary. Gradually, she begins to make friends, gets a job more to her liking as housekeeper for a separated headmaster and carer for his small son Noah, and begins to feel she's become independent. But has she? And is a new life worth giving up her family back home?

Anne Tyler has described herself in interviews as a 'not at all spiritual' person, whose fascination is with the small things of everyday life. There are of course lots of writers, spiritual or not, who've written well about everyday life - from Jane Austen to Anthony Trollope to Tyler's modern female contemporaries such as Tessa Hadley or Margaret Drabble in Britain, Carol Shields and Alice Munro in Canada and Sue Miller in America (to name only a very few). Unfortunately I found - in this novel at least - that Tyler's desire to write about 'everyday folk' led her to create horribly banal and bland characters. The world of this book is stiflingly provincial - a society filled with characters who seem to have no interests - intellectual, cultural or of any other kind - other than banal family get togethers that no one really enjoys, and a bit of popular cinema and television-watching. (Delia does attempt to read great classic works of literature in her early months of solitude, but gives up and takes up cheap romances soon enough.) The women are rather doll-like creatures obsessed with men and family, and often with silly names like Bootsie and Binky, or bossy young entrepreneurs who like being the centre of attention (like weather-girl Ellie, or Delia's daughter Susan, a budding saleswoman). The men are all inarticulate manly types, often with surnames (Ramsay, Driscoll, Carroll) for Christian names, hopeless at emotional engagement. Nobody seems to have any interest in the world outside the immediate circle of family and friends, no one travels much outside Baltimore, and the greatest treat anyone can imagine seems to be a Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes with marshmallows.

The plot of 'Ladder of Years' had some promise (midlife crisis novels are often interesting) but didn't really go anywhere, and had some very unconvincing twists. Why did Delia (who didn't appear hysterical or even depressed) run away in her bathing suit, rather than making a concentrated plan of escape? I could just about believe she might be lucky enough to get a flat and a job in the same day, on arrival at Bay Borough, but couldn't believe at all in her lack of concern for her family. Would she really, when her son Carroll visited her in anger and distress, only have been concerned with eating a barbecue pork sandwich? And wouldn't she have wanted some involvement with her daughter's wedding, if she still loved her so much? Wouldn't Sam, if he adored Delia as much as he claims, have tried to come to see her and talk to her? Would Delia, having already done the 'kid' thing three times over, have been so keen to start all over again with the demanding and spoilt Noah? Towards the end of the book, I felt that Tyler had run out of interest in plot altogether - there were too many weird happenings (as when Ellie turned up, attacked Delia for no reason then crashed her car), the plotline involving Binky wasn't worked properly into the narrative, and the whole episode with Delia's daughter Susan turning down her husband-to-be at the altar on the grounds that they didn't have enough in common, whereas really she was just annoyed because he'd been rude to someone on the phone (followed by Driscoll and Delia's desperate attempt to track down said person) just got silly, particularly in the final stages. And as other reviewers have noticed, the novel didn't really end, it just drifted off, with many loose ends, such as what would happen to George the cat, unresolved.

Tyler's said that she doesn't care nearly as much about plot as about character. The trouble was that I felt the characters in this book were pretty shallow and bland, and certainly didn't distract me from the lack of plot. Delia was constantly compared to a cat, but had little of this animal's charm or independence. She came across as a rather pathetic woman with few independent resources, who just staggered from one life in which she was swamped with domestica to another. There was no sense of her coming to any self-realization (apart, perhaps, from the fact that she liked running a family) during her time in Bay Borough, and she showed worryingly little concern for her family, particularly her husband. Sam was more sympathetic, but pretty unreadable, and it was hard to work out what he really felt about his marriage. The couple's children were so bland as to be totally forgettable. I had hopes that Susie's marital crisis might have been because she didn't want to be trapped in the same sort of life as her mother - but her quarrel with Driscoll just turned into something petty. Joel was pathetic, Ellie a caricature of the temperamental television star, Belle a kind of middle-aged American Bridget Jones, Noah a spoilt little brat who took Delia for granted. Binky, 'a rotund little person' was as sugary as her name implied, and Tyler made little of her relationship with Nate. Delia's sisters were also caricatures - the bolshy environmental activist, and the pretentious would-be sophisticate - and some of their conversations with Delia (as when Linda suggested Delia divorce Sam and get him to lose his own house) were very silly. The only really interesting people were the two cats, Vernon and George, and the two elderly people, Sam's mother Eleanor (though all that scene about the roast chicken at the start was pretty daft) and wise old Nate. Here, Tyler could write very movingly, particularly in Nate's description of how we want to rewrite life. But these - like the beautiful scenes with Delia curled up reading on Christmas Eve, or in bed last thing at night with her book and George on her seat - were flashes of brilliance in what I found was overall a very dull read.

On reading more about Tyler, I found out that she herself is far from being an 'everyday woman': she is a brilliant university graduate, with a degree in Russian, the widow of an eminent Iranian-American child psychologist, and, along with her writing success, a gifted painter. One wonders (as one does with some of E.M. Forster's working-class characters) how many of these 'everyday people' with 'little lives' Tyler actually knows. Somehow, her description of them in this book - in comparison to her really insightful writing in earlier works such as 'Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant' - feels rather false and superficial, and meant that I really didn't enjoy this book at all.
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on 16 August 2015
I often find myself empathising with characters in novels, but it is rare that I can so completely identify with one in the same way as I did with Delia Grinstead in Anne Tyler's Ladder Of Years. Having pulled a similar stunt myself, albeit as a teenager, I was amazed at Tyler's apparently uncanny knowledge of how I felt at the time. " How do I get out of this then?" I suppose it must not be such an unusual experience after all. Delia's reinvention of herself from Dee - fragile put-upon and overlooked wife, mother and daughter - to Miss Grinstead - efficient secretary and woman in her own right - is such a sensitively drawn transformation that I was hooked on every word of her tale. I loved both her emotional journey and also the detailed description of her actual journey from Baltimore to Bay Borough, the ideal anonymous small town on arrival and, of course, soon discovered to be anything but.

All the characters in Ladder Of Years are superbly drawn and my favourites, other than Delia herself, were Iron Mama Eleanor who perhaps wasn't such a paragon as she had forced herself to appear, and Carroll, the model of teenage angst. Perhaps it does all get a little too schmalzy towards the end what with weddings and babies and the like, but the characters still felt so true and honest to themselves that I could get past it. Much of the book, as is Tyler's style, is made up of tiny details so I can understand that this read wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. However, Ladder Of Years is definitely one of my top reads of 2015. I finished it three days ago and am still giddily excited when recalling the story - sign of a great book indeed!
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on 14 May 2017
On a beach holiday, 40-year-old Delia Grinstead, wearing only swimsuit and beach robe, walks away from her family and just keeps on walking. One of my favourites by Anne Tyler, my favourite writer. I re-read it because I’m in process of writing a similar story myself. The first few chapters are a little contrived and unconvincing, but it soon settles into the assured Anne-Tyler storytelling I love: natural, humane, humorous, gripping, the cluttered drama of everyday lives, none the less dramatic for that, and uncluttered by authorial pretension. I’ll forgive the first few chapters and give it five stars.
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on 11 December 2011
The first page was a police report of the disappearance of Cordelia Grinstead, last seen walking along a beach. The second page shows Delia in a supermarket, 'languidly choosing a bunch of celery...Why was it, she thought, that celery was not called "corderoy plant"? That would be much more colourful.' Then she makes the acquaintance of a man, who is choosing scallions.

The book unfolds in this measured way, and it is obvious we aren't going to get to the point of the opening newspaper article very quickly, only in the author's good time.

As Delia's life continues from this point, there is a sort of zany logic about it. We become Delia, a gentle woman living in a dreamworld, untouched by avarice. We feel for her and enjoy the gradual unfolding of a personality that, beginning the story as a naive and strangely innocent mother of teenagers, becomes a character with, at last, enough steel to decide what she really wants from life.

I was sorry when I came to the end, a most enjoyable few hours away from the stresses of modern living as most of us experience it these days. A strange feeling of peace surrounded me for a couple of days afterwards, surely a recommendation for others to at least pick it up and try it!
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on 3 June 2011
Delia, short for Cordelia, is the central character of Anne Tyler's Ladder Of Years. As usual for Anne Tyler, Delia is a Baltimore resident, a wife, a mother and probably, at least from the outside, a pillar of strength and dependability in both family and community. The children are growing up. Which children don't? Bet then it's how they grow up that matters, isn't it? Sam, the husband, is doing moderately well. Moderate seems to be the word, as far as Sam is concerned. He's hardly made a success of the business he inherited from Delia's father, but the family survives to inhabit a middle class, rather liberal niche in the common psyche. As Ladder Of Years opens, the family is holidaying by the sea and Delia is dressed, mentally, for the beach.

And then, without warning, even to herself, she takes off. Just like that, whatever "that" might be. She absconds. Goes missing. Disappears. There's suspicion of drowning. A report appears in a Baltimore paper. The family fears she has come to harm. But no, she hasn't. In fact, still dressed for the beach she is heading off to a place she doesn't know with a stranger. It's no particular stranger, just a stranger.

Quite soon, and with new clothes, a new address and a changed life, Delia takes on a new identity. Though Baltimore wife and mother still lives in her head, she's become a new Delia, single, independent and employed. In this new guise, she inter-reacts with her new community and gradually becomes part of it. Why did she leave the apparent safety, security and responsibility of her family? Not even she can answer.

What slowly begins to emerge, however, is that Delia's choice of opting out becomes increasingly one of opting in. By degree the characters in her new life start to become more demanding. Without needing to state everything explicitly, they start to assume Delia's support and claim reliance upon her. She, of course, responds and finds that she now has two levels of responsibility created out of the demands of her new life and continued contact with her family. Interestingly, Delia, this pillar of support, never feels either at home or secure in either role.

And so it is via this scenario of identity change, relationships of dependency, insecure self-image, alongside a fixation of demand that Anne Tyler relates how Delia's life unfolds. Delia notices a lot about people, but she's no great analyst. Surely she's the type to apologise before expressing an opinion, but would harbour unspoken bigotries like the rest of us. At the start of the book she seems confused. By the end, a few more rungs along the ladder of life, she apparently remains so. Perhaps the ladder is horizontal ... and with irregular spacing... But then Delia has little time to consider such arcane ideas. After all, there are things to do, people to talk to, arrangements to be made, jobs to be done...
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This book starts off with every woman's secret fear - that in amongst all her duties and tasks and routines that she has become invisible. This is borne out by the "Every woman" missing person's description of her. The journey is an interesting one - perhaps the ending is a little neater than life. But many of us dont in the end want to throw it all away - but re-establish ourselves in our current lives. So if you have kids and are married there are moments of smiles, joy, empathy and quiet bravery in this book. It was my first read by this author and it got me hooked on her....
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on 26 January 2015
Oh dear, what a terrible cop-out novel. I've read some of the other reviewers who can't understand quite why Delia left her family. Such as: it wasn't such a bad life she was leading, just that she fancied a change, for whatever mysterious reason. But there is no mysterious reason - she was being utterly taken for granted by her husband and everyone else in her 'hey mom, where's my breakfast' family. The clue is right there at the start (the very first page being the best part of the book): the article in the local paper, which confirms quite clearly that her family, when it came to it, could recall very little about her, even down to her height, eye colour, or what she was wearing to the beach. She wasn't even reported as missing until much later in the day. In short, she was invisible; to all intents and purposes, a 'missing person', even before she strolled off the beach.
She slowly but surely builds for herself a new life in a new town, and, although somewhat dull and everyday, at least we get a picture of a middle aged woman coming to terms with a new way of living the 24 hours in her day. It's when she goes back to Baltimore for her daughter's wedding that the book really comes apart. There's a dreadful, idiotic section when the daughter says she's not going through with the marriage in response to a nondescript 'moment of madness' from her fiance. The sorting out of this problem, involving the seeking out of a girl called Courtney and the boy who was trying to find her on the phone, thereby incurring the wrath of the fiance, is convoluted and quite barmy, or, as my mum would have said, rather 'far-fetched'. By now, I was longing for Delia to head back to her new life in her new town, and fully expecting this to come to pass. However, the novel ends with the jaw-dropping realisation that Delia is returning to her husband - this being the somewhat insufferable man who, for the previous 300-odd pages, has been inciting all sorts of quiet rages and subdued volcanoes within Delia. Not only does she return to him - the first instance of the return is to fall straight into bed with him!
People tell me that Anne Tyler is the best American writer of the current age. If so, how on earth could she have allowed this novel to go out to a focus group for its so-comforting, so 'American' finale? For surely, a focus group tidied up what happened here. .
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on 8 May 2011
I love Anne Tyler books and I've read Ladder of Years before. I bought the Kindle edition thinking I'd like to revisit an old friend. The only problem being that the typographical errors are HORRENDOUS to the point of my very seriously asking Amazon for a refund. It's really ridiculous. Throughout the book there are places where the word I (as in 'I like ice cream') is substituted by the letter 'J'. (such as 'J like ice cream') I spent I don't know how long trying to figure out who 'J' was. There are lots of other typographical errors that I wish I had highlighted to prove my point to Amazon that what they have sold me is NOT the same as the book in print. So hats off to Anne Tyler as the book is great but the Kindle version is a BIG disappointment.
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