” I still believed that reconciliation was possible; and more than that, how flattering it was, to my own self-esteem, to suppose that I could be the person to bring it about! I conceived of myself as this secretive, self-effacing, benevolent agency, plotting behind the scenes in order to engineer climactic reunions and miraculous healings of wounds. ” (205)
An old woman named Rosamond dictates a tape to a child she hasn’t seen in thirty years about twenty photographs from her own childhood. Her memories date back 60 years ago, during World War II, when she along with other children were evacuated to Shropshire during the Blitz. At Warden Farm the 8-year-old Rosamond forged a bond with her cousin Beatrix that aurgurs some of the most devastating moments in her life. Shortly after Rosamond’s death, her executrix and niece, Gill, listens to the cassettes in order to look for the woman to whom her aunt has bequeathed the tapes.
At first it seemed a far-fetched and impractical proposition. We were still accustoming ourselves to the responsibility of looking after Thea, and the thought of taking her to a foreign country with us seemed daunting, and a little capricious. (139)
The whole story hinges on the downspiral of Beatrix, who was herself starved of her mother’s affection, growing up to become a woman who does not ever take responsibility for her actions and for the people in her life. Rosamond and her live-in partner, Rebecca, whom Beatrix later accuse of molesting her daughter, become sort of a surrogate mother for Thea.
As the book draws closer and closer to the climax, when what happens to this blind woman (Beatrix’s grand-daughter) to whom Rosamond has bequeathed the tapes, is about to be revealed, I realize the whole story isn’t relevant. The whole point is so that Rosamond can reveal something to the child that she either already knows or almost certainly doesn’t care to know. Rosamond’s own story, her turmoil of being a lesbian, her partner’s leaving her, and her being forbidden to adopt—are more tantalizing—even though the voice she adopts is sour, resentment-filled, and bitter.
Coe’s writing is thoughtful and contemplative, but the story itself mediocre at best. It’s forgettable. It leaves me with a feeling that the book is under-written. The story that runs through my mind is the same mistake perpetrated by generations of women, who compound their ill fate by making poor choices, neglecting and mistreating their children. The moral is that knowing you’re not wanted by your mother can dislodge you from the foundation of life.
240 pp. Knopf Hardback. [
Read/Skim/ Toss] [ Buy/Borrow]