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.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

"Another mother's son" by Janet Davey (Chatto and Windus, 2015)

Lorna Parry, a divorced archivist, has 3 sons: Ewan, who gave up Uni after 2 months and hardly leaves his room; Oliver, who's at Brighton Uni; and Ross, 17, who's at a 6th form college with a girl-friend, Jude - he avoids his mother.

It's her PoV, though the register's elevated in places, and some of the analogies are strained. -

  • The woodwork, defaced by old torn-off stickers in shards of colour, resembles the site of a butterfly massacre (p.12)
  • There have been too many parts to the day, each element differentiated and with its own particular hue. All they have in common is myself - and that is not enough to bind them together (p.14)
  • The suspended foot in a chunky shoe is an independent form of life. Two creases above the metatarsal bones are like the frown on the brow of a dog (p.54)
  • Each family in its own little island, grouped around a teacher, shares noses and chins and smiles. In films and the theatre, all children look adopted. Hamlet never takes after Gertrude. Reality is more uncanny (p.59)
  • I had looked up the classic signs of depression, though I already knew what they were; a slippery list that applies to most people some of the time. The experts seem to agree that in the tick box five is the key number, the same that they recommend for daily consumption of fruit and vegetables (p.71)
  • her eyes, brown as a dog's, remain soulful even when her mouth - the business end of her face - tightens in annoyance (p.74)
  • in the self-justifying list of my failings ... he likened me to a calendar, a reminder of passing time ... I imagined something more Pirelli ... I had become too closely associated with the process: back to the wall, spiral bound. If only he compared me to an hourglass (p.97)
  • If Sunday evening were a location it would be a harbour wall by an estuary, tidal water slapping against stone. The ferry timetable on a board attached to a post: '10-11 and 3-4 daily. Monday to Saturday. Wave or phone for service.' The far shore is visible, similar to where I stand but out of reach. It is a nothing kind of time (p.241)
  • My capacity to distance myself has the staying power of a dandelion clock (p.252)
  • If I have a complaint against new technology it is that it plays straight into the fantasies of men. Machines, a need to control, fiddling. These are my three waymarks to world meltdown. The first time I heard the words 'search engine' I knew what we were in for (p.272)

Lorna tries to befriend Jude, ending up meeting her father, Dirk ("She has talked a bit about you," Dirk says, "She is quite a mimic"). Jude's mother's having an affair.

A young teacher that the parents were going to complain about has died. Ross is suspended afterwards for using Social Media to suggest he died in a school store room, perhaps the result of a sex game that went wrong. Lorna thinks that Ross might have posted hints before the teacher died. She finds a photo of Jude and Ewen together. She does an inspirational talk about archiving at the school.

The asides - observations, extended metaphors, changes of register, the passage about old London rivers on p.266, the flight of imagination (or is it) on p.291 - distract me. Chapters 29 and 35 do nothing. Chapter 43, though equally detachable, is excellent. We meet Richard, her lover, right near the end. Why? Is her father worth his appearances?

Other reviews

  • Grace McCleen (It is precisely Davey’s attempt to faithfully represent “real life”, however, that can make this novel feel drab and exhausting.)
  • Sophia Martelli (Lorna’s flights of fancy do become frustrating, even irritating, as they distract from the story but this authorial sleight of hand is forgiven because Davey’s aim is realism – and there is no truth but the one that we arrive at through our own, tangential vision.)
  • Dinah Birch (Like much of Davey’s work, it broods over a death that takes place offstage. ... Each of Davey’s five novels has a different social setting, but patterns of tone and technique recur. Their protagonists are often shrewd about the lives they see around them, but withdraw from any understanding of their own behaviour. They are achingly vulnerable. ... Her fiction takes the reader beyond the oppressions that might account for the frustration, or tragedy, of female experience, or the manifold deficiencies of contemporary culture, or the insecurity that stalks us all, men and women alike. What concerns her most deeply is an inevitable vortex of absence, disappearance and loss. She writes about nothing.)
  • Claire Harman (Janet Davey is ambitious, clever and recklessly prepared to lose readers on every page in this, her fifth novel.)

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