Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Friday, 8 May 2009

"Inglorious" by Joanna Kavenna (faber and faber, 2007)

5 sections - Retreat, Quest, Trials, Walpurgis Night, Return - in 270 pages. It begins with Rosa, 35, resigning from her journalism job by e-mail on a June Monday. Not long before, her mother had died and she broke up with her long-term partner. We never see her as she was when she was competent (I'd like even retrospectively to know more about her past), and only later do we hear of the personality change she's recently undergone. She writes about the Arts, and alludes to Eliot, Dante, various philosophers and sacred texts, but her knowledge is fragmentary.

Her internal monolog, already studded with lofty quotes, becomes internal dialog. "Don't try to quote your way out of it" she's told on p.46, but her selfdom weakens, "to do" lists becoming mantras.

Her ability to distinguish between inner and outer becomes compromised - no hallucinations though, and her awareness of what people think of her seems fairly accurate. Throughout she writes notes that she doesn't send, and thinks things she doesn't say - or thinks she doesn't say. She has friends who want to be helpful. She's given chances. She knows what she should do. But she loses her nerve when she needs to ask favours, and her conversation becomes self-destructive.

Much of the novel describes city street-life, the quieter "shadow-brushed streets, her refuge in the evenings". Her other refuge is her father, who has religion and a new partner. She has a meal with him, intending to ask him for a loan, but she sees signs of ageing and bottles out. After, (around p.154) her thoughts about death becomes more (too?) cogent - and this leads to further meditation on her past (while on a train - Journey as Memory). Perhaps the fact that she's not in conversation during this phase, and that she's settled in a journey explain the calmness.

When she reaches the Lake District house of friends (Judy and Will) who have children I expected more chaos, but the children present few complications to her. More of a problem is her reaction to how people have been talking about her and diagnosing her. Her decision to leave Judy and Will in the night is made without much deliberation, her final exit foreshadowed even less. Her options narrow in the course of the novel, escape routes blocked, but she doesn't change that much. The worst is yet to come.

The style reflects her state of mind, with many pleasant turns of phrase - "a waiting-room diet of fruit and vegetables", etc.

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