Shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2014
I heard about this book on the radio. It was being reviewed by a woman who was almost beside herself as she felt unable to tell much about the book due to a significant fact that is disclosed on page 77. At that point I decided not to listen anymore - intrigued - and when given the opportunity to read this, took it up instantly. All I knew from the few minutes of the review that I heard was that the story was narrated by a young woman called Rosemary, whose family had suffered great loss, and is now about as dysfuntional as you can get. She once had a brother, Lowell and a sister, Fern. But now they were no longer part of the family. I was not at all sure what to expect - murder? random death? disease? overseas travel? misadventure? abduction by aliens? The impending arrival of page 77 weighed heavily as nothing was being disclosed, the clues were virtually non-existant, the choppy and confusing style of writing was beginning to drive me crazy - jumped around from the present to the past, characters appearing and disappearing again. I had to keep rereading what I had read just a couple of pages previous as it had no relevance to what was taking place. But that whole page 77 thing kept me hooked in. And the reveal is a huge reveal, so huge I actually went back to the beginning and skimmed those 77 pages again just to see if I had really missed the clues, which apparently were there, but I still could not see them.
So the reveal is too big to disclose, and I won't say what it is. Suffice to say that the trauma of the event when Rosemary was five years old transformed her from a bright, chatty, articulate, loving little girl into a guilt ridden, lonely, silent and deeply unhappy child. Her childhood disappears, her family shuts down, she has trouble at school, she grows into a young woman, not sure who she is, what she should be doing. The story is narrated by Rosemary, now a 22 year old college student, studying a random assortment of subjects - she doesn't know who she is, so naturally doesn't know what she should be doing or where her life is supposed to be going.The sudden reappearance of her brother Lowell into her life opens the doors in her mind and soul wide open and she gradually begins to learn what happened all those years ago, and to come to an understanding of herself, as well as her parents, her brother and Fern too.
There is a lot going on in this story, and it is frustrating that I cannot elaborate further. Family dynamics, parents who bring their professional life into the home, teenage dislocation, sibling rivalry, search for one's self, forgiveness and redemption. It's good, but for me, not fabulous. Not entirely sure why it made Man Booker short list. It could be the unique subject matter, and the way the story is unfolded, but I feel I have read better.