Top positive review
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A beautifully written book and a constant surprise.
on 14 November 2000
Mary Swann was a Canadian housewife with a brutal husband. She led a hard dull and monotonous life isolated from other people. Her only item of luxury was a Parker 51 fountain pen and her only treat was to borrow two books every fortnight from the limited local library. Edna Ferber was one of her favourites. Yet, she wrote poetry. Small beautifully crafted rhyming verses on shabby scraps of paper that she presented to a newspaper editor in a carrier bag.
Prepared to patronise, they were to his astonishment worthy of publishing. it was not to be Mary's destiny to see the printed book - her husband murdered her shortly after the visit to the editor's office, a visit marred by her anxiety about missing the bus home.
I am not giving away all the plot here! The book centres round four main characters who are obsessed with her: Frederic Cruzzi the newspaper editor, the lonely librarian Rose Hindmarch who 'knew her best', the obsessive and bitter Morton Jimroy and Sarah Maloney, a feminist writer. Had Mary Swann lived she would not have recognised herself as the person they prepare to present at the Mary Swann symposium that is the culmination of the book. She may not have even recognised some of her poems after Cruzzi's beloved wife mistakenly discards fish bones in the bag of her work causing the ink to run.
Mary Swann remains a shadowy figure and I must confess I would have liked an extra chapter that revealed more bout her life and death and the minor mysteries that were hinted at. For instance, to whom were the love poems written?
However, perhaps like a good meal it is best to leave the table wanting just a little more.