Amy and Isabelle

I bought this book as an afterthought, selected out of a range of pickings offered to me on Amazon after I’d purchased a book already. It stood out because of its simple, no-nonsense title; I wanted to know more.

The New York Times Book Review daubed it “one of those rare, invigorating books that take an apparently familiar world and peer into it with ruthless intimacy, revealing a strange and startling place”.

Set in a baking town in the middle of an intensely hot summer, the vivid imagery of a rotting green river snaking through the heart of the town makes for a stunning metaphor of the rotting sickness underlying the relationship between mother and daughter. Not that its long-term, of course. The story explores the complicated relationship between a girl on the cusp of adulthood, and a mother who has made many sacrifices in order to lead, at least in her own mind, a ‘respectable’ life.

At the heart of this story is a tale of two minds, formed and influenced by unfortunate circumstances. It speaks of loneliness, desperation for human contact, and highlights the way your own mind can form a barrier between you and your basic human desire to be social. In a way this novel spoke to me directly, because I related on a very personal level with the loneliness felt by Isabelle, the construction of social events in her mind. I was terribly lonely when I moved to a different city, leaving all my friends behind. Gradually we lost contact, and I found it immensely difficult to make new friends. It got to a point so severe that I did something incredibly stupid – for want of human contact. It’s sad and pathetic, but so real. Elizabeth Stout painted this in such a raw, open way. It was quite tough subject matter to navigate through.

Despite loneliness being the driving force behind the main characters’ actions, there were many more complex themes driving the plot forward. Amy’s burgeoning sexuality, Isabelle’s anxious, overprotective and even jealous tendencies towards her daughter, feelings of inadequacy, lack of communication and even Amy feeling a little embarrassed of her mother, were just some aspects explored by Stout, and which made for often uncomfortable reading.

I didn’t particularly enjoy reading this book. It was difficult, at times revolting. Despite this, I couldn’t put it down. The narrative was compelling; with Strout interweaving the minds of the two protagonists, combining two very separate outlooks on the same world (which I suppose is the reality of our lives, viewing the world through a million different perspectives), and setting them amidst vivid descriptions of the town, the slow, almost zombie-like townsfolk who, as it happened, had very real, very raw lives of their own.

This book was brilliantly written, the exposition foreshadowed almost poetically, and the emergence into truth almost like a blossoming of understanding, which I felt fitted in marvellously with the subject-matter. The novel ‘came of age’ beautifully, in a way which is wistfully reminiscent of much of our growth and understanding. This novel is about learning to love, learning to let go, and learning to ‘live’.

41XBVMnnysL.jpg

 

Love Letters #28

Sunlight in his eyes.

She was an uninspired girl, and he had sunlight in his eyes. She was quiet and hid in the corners of rooms, shadows fell over her face and people’s eyes passed over her in a crowd.

She faded into the wall behind her, and her voice was like the bubbling of a spring; soft and gentle and mere background noise.

She watched his movements, the way his feet seemed to never touch the ground, but fly over it. The way his body flowed, in synchrony with itself. She found it so hard to synchronise her mind and her body together. Her mind saw one thing, but her body did the opposite. And how did he twist like that, duck so smoothly, double over laughing while balancing a tray in one outstretched hand.

She knew what he was like. He was like those cartoons of dancers, bending over and looping while balancing hundreds of things on all the points of their bodies.

And she was attracted to his bronze muscles. The way his cheekbones glowed under the warm light of the kitchen, and when he opened his mouth wide to let the laughter gush out, his teeth were so pearly and white, their edges so straight.

Sometimes in her room when she was writing she heard him laugh outside, and helplessly she giggled. Her body responded to him. Her brain gravitated towards him, he made her react.

That is what it was. He made her react, at a time when reacting to things was so hard and so much effort.

He teased the smile out of her, he brought the tears to her eyes, he made her heart palpitate, and her hands hot and sticky.

But he didn’t know this, and this fact made her even more withdrawn. Her feet were desperate to dance on the grass like his brown ones did, but they stayed put under her desk, folded neatly together, tapping gently to the rhythm of his.

Damon Ludwig,

She wrote his name on the back of her Biology text.

I think I am in love with you, Damon Ludwig.

She stared out of the window, where she could see her little sister, a tiny wisp of a girl, but like the rays of morning sunshine flooding the shadows of the night, dancing away on the wet wintery grass, and Tristan, huddled on the wall, his golden curls peeping out from under his heavy woollen winter hat. And George, smoking over the fence, and the fire in the centre of the Ludwig’s’ garden next door, and Damon Ludwig, poking the fire with a metal rod, feeding it so it cackled and rose higher, his legs moving back and forth with his motions…

Please 

Notice me.

Her pencil scraped the paper and dug into it so hard it broke through and made a small marked dent in the wood underneath, and Damon glanced up through his shock of jet black hair, right up into her window.

by-robert-finale-gatlinburg-memories.jpg

N.B. This is for my novel. Characterisation, I think. But it’s more like a love story, even though my novel is not a love story. This love story between two of my dearest characters is dear to my heart.

 

Dream

This is my current dream:

I am walking past a huge Waterstones. And there, in the glass display, is a book written by me. Yes me. You see that? It says Lenora Sparrow on it. The cover design is simple and elegant. No pictures. Just a dark blue cover with little yellow dots all over it and the title in handwriting that is not too airy fairy and not too serious either.

And the blurb on the back makes me so excited because.. well.. I don’t know. I just love it and them and want to share them with you.

And there are lots of my book in stock. And all the signs say, ‘Hurry up and grab this book!’ and inside my heart is surging with joy because that is all I have ever wanted since I was seven years old writing stories in my dad’s university exam answer booklets.

I said to my parents, ‘Just you wait, I will have published a book by the time I am fifteen.’

They used to tease me and take my exercise books and read them to each other!! The audacity.

I wrote it, folks. That book I swore I would write. From age 11 to 14, I wrote it all out using dozens of pens. Seven massive notebooks, filled to the brim with words. Three huge folders with family trees and calligraphy signs and characterisation sheets and land naming and maps and paintings of what I think my characters look like.

I still have them. Shoved in the back of my gateway to Narnia.

I want to write a book that blows your socks off. I want to write a book that makes your heart ache with nostalgia and joy and the pleasure of meeting my people.

I want to write characters that will walk out of the pages and live in your mind and haunt your dreams.

But can I? And will I, EVER?

I walked past Waterstones today and there was a new book in there by a young woman not much older than me, and it’s famous already because she is a relatively well known Youtuber and it looks like a decent book, you know, because this girl actually has something decent to say.

And I felt so excited because it looks completely gorgeous and I have a feeling it is a heartbreaker, and I picked it up and read a few lines and well, I am happy for her, of course, but I am also a little bit jealous. I will definitely read her book because I like her content, and will support it.

It’s called ‘On the Other Side’ by Carrie Hope Fletcher.

I was jealous of Christopher Paolini who published Eragon at age fifteen. I thought, ‘I gotta beat this guy’ because I was thirteen at the time and I had two years ahead of me and I had three books under my belt.

But I didn’t send them to anybody. Because they weren’t good enough. Of course. They aren’t good enough. Nothing I have written is good enough. And I have a wonderfully electric story in my head but my fingers and brain will NOT collaborate to write it how my mind sees it and it is so FRUSTRATING because all I want is to have my books in shop windows and on bookshelves and to contribute to somebody’s childhood.

1011353-dreamland

The Girl Who Stopped Growing

The moment when Lem Pringle realised that she was no longer growing took it’s fine old time to reach her, clambering like a rheumatic old man to lodge itself in a firm nook in Lem’s vivacious brain.  By then she had not been growing for a fair amount of time. Months, even. Her hair hung silky and chestnutty as ever, in limp ringlets just below her shoulder blades, stark against her brown, bony back. She measured it with a ruler. It hadn’t grown an inch! She was particular about her hair. She washed it in honey every other week, as her mama taught her, and she liked to lie on the grass sometimes, her hair cool as it fell over her face, breathing in the soft, sweet scent of honey and grass, a faint lemony fragrance that hung about her wherever she went.

Lem, Alex certified, was a very lemony child. Alex was Lem’s older, oldest and only sister.

But Lem really was not growing. Her nails had been trimmed four months ago, and they remained neatly trimmed. This, Lem mused, was not a terrible thing. At least she didn’t have to go through the hassle of cutting her nails every week. She looked at them often, under the table at school, when her hands twisted forwards and backwards over the handlebars of her bike as she whizzed through streets and up hills, thighs burning. She watched her nails very carefully when she ironed the family’s clothes on Sunday mornings. She glanced at them when she wrote her compositions for school, when she buttoned up her dress, when her small brown paws caressed her bows as she mused over which one she would choose that day.

They stayed the same.

Once she showed them to Finn.

“Look at my nails,” she said, walking into his shed one rainy day. Finn glanced, not really looking. He was carving something pretty. Later Lem saw the pretty thing on Alex’s chest of drawers. Alex never put anything on her chest of drawers.

Lem wondered if Finn thought they looked the same as four months ago. “Have my nails changed, Finn?”

He didn’t notice how big and brown her eyes were, how they were brimming with invisible tears.

“They’re very pretty,” he said. He smiled at her. Lem liked Finn’s smile. It rarely showed itself in full glory. It was a slow smile, and took it’s time to appear. Lem thought that you had to really like Finn to be patient enough to wait for his smile to get ready to present itself. It began as a small twitch of the corners of his mouth, and then small dimples appeared in his cheeks, they took their time to deepen as his mouth stretched from side to side, his teeth peeking out, the joy spreading from his lips to his eyes, dancing, merry, like the stars glittering in jubilant festivity.

She liked waiting for smiles. Too many people gave up too quickly. They didn’t look at other people, really look, long enough. They retreated quickly into themselves. They were afraid. Of what, though? Lem decided that they were missing out. She was glad she waited for Finn’s smile. She decided to always wait for people’s smiles. If they didn’t arrive. she hurried them on by giving them some of her own. That always made smiles travel faster. Smiles are attracted to smiles.

Lem didn’t care if her nails were pretty, of course. Lem wasn’t worried about such things. She just wanted them to grow. She wanted them to scratch her involuntarily when she clambered up a tree, or pulled on a pair of comfy woolly socks. She wanted to say, “Oh. Hallo. I need a nail cutter.” or “ouch. My nails are getting quite long now. I must give them a small chop”

She even wanted to trawl all over the house hunting for a nail cutter, eventually finding it somewhere ridiculous like under George’s bed, or in the fridge. Or in the sugar bowl. That was a grimy state of affairs, Lem remembered fondly.

Alas, she wasn’t growing at all. The height chart on George’s doorframe grew faded. Nobody raced to be taller anymore. Nobody glugged their milk down with ferocious determination.

When Lem Pringle looked down at her feet, they were the exact same distance that they were the last time she looked. They certainly weren’t getting nearer. But they weren’t getting further either.

****

If you have managed to make it this far, dear reader, could you let me know what you think? Only if you are inclined to, of course. This is an excerpt from a longer novel that I am currently writing. I have been working on this particular story for about three years now. My heroine is mentioned in this blog post.