Crocodile Soup

Julia Darling, Author Ecco $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-019602-8
British novelist Darling showcases a lively, engaging voice in her debut, bringing abundant humor to the unique cynicism of her protagonist and the heartfelt pathos in her plot. Gertrude Hardcastle works in the basement of an archeological museum in England cataloguing potsherds. Isolated, she feels safe: ""I was not used to emotion. The institute was not generally an emotive place. It was good for shelving and filing, and that's why I liked it."" But Gert's placid existence is disrupted by a pleading letter from her estranged mother and an ""inappropriate obsession"" with Eva, the young woman who serves coffee to the museum's staff. The intrusion of emotion into Gert's comfortable seclusion prompts her to revisit key moments in her childhood, to which the reader is treated in short, amusing chapters that develop the cumulative drama. Why Gert prefers her lonely life soon becomes clear: as a child growing up in a rambling house haunted by a dead poet, Gert was misunderstood and neglected by her mother (her father was often absent tending the family crocodile farm), and relegated to a dreary life in the attic (while her twin brother, Frank, lived downstairs). Slowly and with many missteps, Gert ventures out of the museum and into the world, unearthing an unorthodox community of people to care for her. In many ways, this is a coming-of-age novel, but one with such charmingly messed-up characters that it seems refreshingly new. Some aspects of the plot are fairy tale-like in their absurdity (Gert's telepathic relationship with her twin, for instance), but with the character of Gert providing its spiritual heart, the novel is entertaining, moving and emotionally real. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-06-009040-1
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