viernes, 10 de diciembre de 2010

The Telling by Miranda Seymour

The Telling by Miranda Seymour is the life story, life confessions perhaps, of Nancy Parker. She is living out her retirement in a satisfactory way, given that she has been one of life’s downtrodden. She has been victimised, abused, betrayed and even framed, a recipient of repeated short straws through no fault of her own. And Nancy Porter also bears witness to the fact that if enough of it is thrown, then some of it starts to stick.

Now she is old and dearly wants to relive it all by writing it down on paper. She does not attempt a linear recollection, though. Instead she allows time to switch across decades to recall salient events in their context. Throughout we are aware of a crisis that drew the heart from the middle of Nancy’s life. As a result, she was incarcerated for fifteen years. It is the circumstances that led to this that form the central plank of The Telling’s plot.

We begin at the beginning, however, with a childhood that knew abuse, denial and bigotry. Despite this, Nancy grew up. Then, as a young woman, she was packed off to relatives in New York. They immediately try to remake her in their own image, but her interests are aroused by an acrobatic character she meets in the street. He inhabits a part of the city unknown to her well-heeled hosts. He has the unlucky first name of Chance, and Nancy takes it to become Mrs Brewster.

Chance is on the edge of the city’s cultural life. The couple hobnob with writers and other who claim insights into the human condition. Nancy meanwhile becomes a mother and makes a home. She is a giving sort. But the daughter, Eleanor, is a source of concern. Events conspire further to spell danger for the household. There are crises.

Via a mutual friend the Brewsters meet Charles and Isobel. They live abroad, but a change of circumstance brings them to the Brewsters’ cottage in New England as lodgers. The rambling house proves too small for everyone and, according to the record, Nancy suffers a breakdown of sorts, a catastrophe that starts her fifteen year incarceration in institutions. There is a twist, by the way. But, as a result, her own daughter never again entrusts her with the care of her own children.

The Telling is eventually a satisfying read. But I repeatedly felt themes surfacing and then sinking back to the depths, lost, ignored and out of mind. For me it was a novel that lacked coherence. Nancy’s childhood experiences, for instance, were vividly portrayed. One felt there would be consequences, but they were apparently forgotten. By the end I was mildly disappointed by the claim that much of the material was based on the lives of named people. I felt this added nothing to the book or its ideas. These are fairly small criticisms, however, because The Telling remains a worthwhile read.

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