We Are All Made of Glue

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by Charlie

Here’s the thing. If I was reviewing an Ian Rankin ‘Rebus’ I wouldn’t be giving much away if I told you it was a gritty account of one man’s struggle to bring justice to a world in which alienation battles with hope. I would add it was a cracking whodunit to boot, written with a sure hand and a dark wit and I wouldn’t be spoiling it for anyone. You know what you have when you hold a ‘Rebus’ in your hand. The problem here is that to define Marina Lewycka’s latest book as a whole would weaken one of its greatest strengths – that although her tone is light, I felt that calamity might take the whole book to unexpectedly dark places. And that’s all I’m going to say on that; if you pick up a copy, and you should, you’ll have to find out for yourselves the path Marina’s characters led her down. I know and I was not disappointed.

The book finds Georgie our narrator and central character, having come ‘unstuck’ from her husband, meeting the remarkable Mrs Shapiro who lives with a population of cats in a large crumbling house. Rather to her surprise Georgie is befriended by Mrs Shapiro and becomes her reluctant champion when Mrs Shapiro is beset by social workers, scheming estate agents and matters of a DIY nature. Alongside this Georgie is trying to figure out if she wants her self absorbed husband back or a new and salacious love life, puzzling over her teenage son’s newfound religious leanings and cleaning up quite a lot of cat poop. Oh and Georgie also writes articles for an adhesives magazine when not struggling with her novel of romance and revenge, The Splattered Heart.

Marina sets this stall out with a deft touch, lining up her characters without fuss. She has the gift, through dialogue and description, of fleshing them out in ways many other authors might only dream of. Georgie as narrator is a pleasure to journey with and her deeds, thoughts and opinions are both warm and comfortingly domestic. Some of the people she meets are equally charming, others less so, yet all are intriguing although some seem oddly disconcerting, if not somewhat sinister.

The first time I met Wonder Boy, he pissed on me. I suppose he was trying to warn me off, which was quite prescient when you consider how things turned out.

What befalls Georgie and Mrs Shapiro is both touching and comical; and sometimes laugh out loud funny, particularly in moments that involve bargain shopping or cats. This is at heart a story of almost everyday events and almost ordinary people but as we, like Georgie, are drawn in we are also taught more than one lesson. Snippets of the history of Israel and Palestine after WWII, how fundamentalism may take root in unexpected places when the internet is in every bedroom, the treatment of Jews in Denmark during the Second World War and how the Miners strike in the 1980s touched adults and children in those communities. Not to mention we discover quite a lot about glue.

That’s a lot of targets to aim at and whilst Marina may not hit the bull’s-eye every time, her aim is more than sure enough to make us think, and more importantly, feel how the past shapes lives in the present. Some might accuse her of cherry picking events to make her points and they might have an arguable case if the book is seen as a history per se rather than a human drama. Some might also accuse her of bringing her subtexts to the surface a little too often but I was not unhappy to see them. Like Georgie, a northern lass by birth, Marina also calls a spade a spade.

Let me be blunt as well. Go buy this book. It isn’t War and Peace; it isn’t The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. What it is is a simple pleasure to read. If I were you I’d take it on holiday; if the sun doesn’t warm you, this book will – although as I said at the beginning, you might find yourself checking for rainclouds on the horizon from time to time.

Finally I cannot help but include a personal aside. In another life I was an industrial chemist, making adhesives for a living. I never thought I would want to hear about the stuff again. Thanks to Marina I can once again think about cohesive strength and cure rate without wanting to do someone harm!

Read our interview with Marina ...

Part 1

Part 2

1 comment:

Jane Turley said...

Charlie, I will be interested to read this book as not only did I found A Short History an enjoyable read but it provided my Book Club with one of those most prolonged discussions we've ever had.

I'm a bit worried about the continued references to glue though and hope that it isn't overplayed -it transpired during my book club meeting that by the end of the book everyone (there's 8of us) had given up reading the tractor interludes except me. And I'm afraid to say they were a little wearing. The rest of the book made up for it though:)