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.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

"Showing the flag" by Jane Gardam (Abacus, 2009)

First published in 1989, in the era of "London Tales" and "Winter's Tales". There are passages that I couldn't have written - e.g. "You scarcely saw him either," said sane Miss Pym. She was a plain-spoken woman - which remind me of VS Prichett. Dated?

  • The stories feature several dead fathers and dotty old women.
  • Non-standard people are seen from the outside.
  • Some pieces heavily rely on their punch-line. "Bang, Bang - Who's dead?" ends well, but others (e,g, "Swan", in which a mute says his first word at the end) have telegraphed conclusions.
  • Few have any quotable lines.
  • Characters seem puppety without the author exploiting the freedom that a lack of character realism offers (the stories have realistic settings). The characters who introspect or analyse don't do so very deeply. In a few of the stories the narrator unwittingly comes to resemble a character they describe.
  • In "Groundlings" (which I like, because of the gradual self-revelation) and "Damage" the main character's part of a closed group of people with a common interest.
  • Some stories seem to ramble on, with episodes that could be removed without loss. In "Damage" for instance, why the damaged heel episode? Events are unconvincingly manipulated for the sake of the plot - why (in "damage") would a husband claim he left his wife because of her father?

There's the odd burst of language that stands out against the rest of the piece -

  • "She terrified me. She looked like a fly. Threadwire arms and legs arranged all anyhow across a slatted seat in the Jardin Anglais: the lake cold and thrashing about against the quay, the wind squealing in the shrouds of the wintering boat-yard. Why should a fly terrify? How can a woman on a park bench be a fly? Something mingy about her. Bothersome. Unhealthy. Not poor - rich, rich. Look at her shoes! And all so small, and twisted sideways. Wearing black. Not young. Skinny. And sobbing, sobbing, sobbing" (p.113)
  • "In her new vulnerability after the cobwebbed golf-clubs, the whispering demon doctors, she looked warily towards her mother to see how she had taken it." (p.23)

Main characters tend to be at least middle class - "Oh, those right schools. How she had suffered. The O Levels, the A Levels, the University entrances, the anguish in case they didn't get first-class honours. All the things she in her heart least cared about" (p.148). When they're not, I've doubts about the voice -

  • "And it's not that I think it's wicked. Just disgusting and not romantic. It takes the poetry out and it's made our Marion a different person - all strong views and shouting. Brazen, if you want to know." (p.56)
  • At the end of "Threads", a framed story recounted well by Great-grandad, gran returns to say "Your poor grandad, there's not much there any more I'm afraid. We'll all come to it. He's got interest and memory for nothing now, poor soul" (p.61). I don't know what to make of the difference between his performance and gran's opinion of his mental state.

Other reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment