This splendidly engaging, quirky epistolary novel is told from the point of view of Eliza Peabody, a middle-aged woman living in present-day South London. Eliza is an exceptionally unreliable narrator who begins a fervid letter-writing campaign to her neighbor, Joan, after Joan abandons her husband and children to go see the world. Early on, Eliza writes: ``After all, any woman must be sick who can leave that wonderful house, those two energetic children, all Charles's money and dear, uncomplaining Charles himself.... Turkey, Afghanistan, Nepal, China--all this was done by Victorian women, Joan. There is no need for us to follow the intrepid trail again.'' Soon it becomes clear that Eliza's letters are attempts by one woman to keep another woman down and, by doing so, to justify her own listless life. But Eliza's effort slides into temporary madness. It is revealed that Eliza receives no responses to the scores of letters she writes Joan; that Eliza hardly knows Joan and that, in fact, she doesn't even mail all the letters. This last bit of knowledge becomes increasingly important as, ironically, Eliza's letters allow her to tell her own story. A series of bizarre twists follow one another (for instance, Joan's husband and Eliza's husband move in together) as Gardam knits together antic humor, a complex narrator and a sophisticated narrative form, all the while showing an admirable trust in the reader's ability to perceive the intricate pattern she has woven. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/1995 Release date: 08/01/1995 Genre: Fiction
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