Unreliable narrators and obsession

They must think I don’t have long left, because today they allow the vicar in.

Bitter Orange, Claire Fuller, Fig Tree 2018

I first saw Freya at my high school.

The Swap, Robyn Harding, Simon & Schuster 2020

New template, new way of posting? I read the second book to have something different from the first (because my previously planned book was also in a historic setting), turns out I got another portion of unreliable narrator and obsessive behaviour. Oh, well.

All protagonists are female, how often does the combination of unreliable narrator and obsession happens with male characters? Frances is close to forty, while Low and Jamie are a teen and a thirty-something. The set time period is different as well, but both books end in murder (or do they?).

The Bitter Orange covers up the thriller/mayhem part better, masquerading for a long time as a story of a woman as exciting as a dry black bean in technicolour surroundings. She has to evaluate gardens of a neglected mansion and finds people who have to do something similar, but don’t really do it. They make her think that she could be technicolour, instead.

The Swap on the other hand starts out with a clear manipulator; an ex-social media influencer for Pete’s sake. She twists everyone around her pinky finger, but some you don’t want around your pinky or other body parts…

Both stories have appealingly-written surroundings, dramatic characters and don’t attempt to make you root for them. It’s train wrecks waiting to happen, with an extra point to The Bitter Orange for a more subtle lead-up to the twist.

Neither are stories that will end up on your Best Of-list (probably), but they’re good for what they attempt to be.

We Are All Made Of Glue

The first time I met Wonder Boy, he pissed on me.

Marina Lewycka has a way with making the extraordinary human and vice versa. An old exotic woman with a fairy tale house turns out to be just someone living through all the things (war, lost love, age) life throws at her. A doormat housewife becomes a crusader for elderly rights. And none of this happens with any characters turning into caricatures.

The friendship between Georgie (doormat) ans mrs Shapiro (old woman) is the axis of this story. Through reduced prices, estate agents, a witch of a social worker and a handyman who swaps b’s with p’s and vice versa the reader gets a slice of life served up.

And throughout the entire story Lewycka balances a thin line. Just when there’s the risk of frustrations, anger or confusion (the character does what?), she swoops in and makes the characters (likeable) humans again.

Right now it feels like I could pick any of Lewycka’s books and be pleasantly surprised again. Which is never a bad feeling to have.

We Are All Made Of Glue, Marina Lewycka, Fig Tree 2009

Various Pets Alive And Dead

The whole world is deranged, though most people haven’t noticed it yet.

This was very entertaining. Marcus and Doro are people of the seventies, people of The Change with capitals T C. Their children ..not so much. Serge hides from his parents that he is a very successful (until the economical crisis of 2008 hits) banker, Clara is trying very hard to break free from being over-controlling and always in charge (it’s who she was in the commune, after all) while Oolie-Anna desperately wants to break free from her mother.

Various Pets Alive And Dead shows how permanent the marks left behind by your childhood are. Not just in case of the children, but for Marcus and Doro as well. Capitalism is evil, jealousy is ugly; yet she still wants to keep her own allotment and doesn’t want to hear about her husband’s free loving back in the day.

The book starts with everybody quite happy, but it quickly unravels. Kewycka manages to write down the ordinary in an absurd yet believable way. Every character is a real human being and yes, you may enjoy some schadenfreunde, but in the end you’ll be rooting for their happy ending. If Kewycka makes that happen ..that’s for the reader to discover.

Various Pets Alive And Dead, Marina Kewycka, Fig Tree 2012