sábado, 6 de septiembre de 2008

The Heart Of The Country by Fay Weldon

For two thirds of its length, The Heart Of The Country by Fay Weldon is a brilliant, surprising, humorous, bitchy study of adopted and original rural life. Rural industries, agriculture, and yokel identity rub shoulders with antique dealers, long-distance commuters, owners of computer stores and benefit claimants. Pretty normal stuff, I hear you say. The book examines their interactions and relationships, especially how public virtue interacts with private vice.

Natalie, who was born with attributes of beauty and desirability, has suffered the confusion of many with her birthright. With the world available to her, she chose Harris, whose business acumen eventually matched his other skills. At the start of the book, he has just gone bust, but has not told his wife or family. He has also just run away with that bit of fluff he used to see when...

So Natalie, bestowed Natalie, is left penniless, mortgaged up to the hilt, carrying her husband’s abandoned debt and still trying to provide for his children, whom, of course, he left behind. A pity, therefore, that the local nob she used to visit every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for a bit of light relief did not entertain an emulation of her husband’s life change. There are limits to alliances, after all.

And then there’s Sonia. Sonia has seen it all. She is living off the state. She is on the take, depending on your perspective. She is on family credit, the dole, the social, whatever. Natalie happens to splash her one day as she drives past on what petrol is left in the tank of the car her husband used to fund, just before the credit people appear to repossess it.

Sonia has analysis. She knows things. She can spot a person up to this, or doing that at a distance. Whether an antique dealer, a respected farmer, a man with a computer business, of even a man who drives an Audi with an eye for a floosie young thing flashing her thigh, she picks up the vibes, registers them, keeps them on file. She knows the ropes, and can spot where they have been tied. She feels she has been hung by each and every one of them several times. She’s on the social and knows how to cook from tins. She runs the kind of household where she would experience surprise if introduced to the contents of her refrigerator. She’s also a cynic, a closet psychopath with axes to grind.

If The Heart Of The Country had continued to explore these local, colourful and humorous rivalries, then the book would have been ultimately stronger. Unfortunately, Fay Weldon moves into other, broader, bigger issues, and has her local people voice their significance. She delves into agribusiness, diet and supermarkets. She examines economic and professional, rather than merely social integrity. She stops short of macrobiotic diets, but only just.

Eventually, the book becomes something of a mishmash of ideas it could easily and profitably ignored. Its original thrust of human beings being as complicated as human beings are in order to create, effect and endure consequences would have been much more powerful.

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The Heart of the Country

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