A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
As we now have so many new readers, we thought it would be an excellent idea if we occasionally reprinted some of the earliest reviews on Vulpes Libris, which many people may have overlooked – buried as they are deep in the bowels of the blog. This is also another way of saying that we’re a bit thin on reviews this week, so why not revisit some of the golden oldies?
This week Moira has chosen a review by Leena – the Founder of Vulpes Libris – originally posted in late 2007. You might recognise the author of this novel as our very own Bookfox, Lisa Glass.
I’ve never before written about a book whose author I’m acquainted with, and the idea of doing so is a bit awkward. In this case, I’m pleased to say I was impressed by the book – but who’s going to believe my praise if I say that not only is Lisa Glass a supremely talented debut novelist, she’s a lovely human being too? Let us forget about the lovely human being for now, and concentrate on the book instead . . .
This novel is certainly difficult to categorise, even describe. The cover quote compares the author to Rachel Cusk, and that’s precisely what sprang to my mind as I was reading the text. Some Cusk, with a dash of Muriel Spark (the protagonist Mary has some similarities with Lise from that other chilling tale of gruesome murder, The Driver’s Seat), a pinch of Laura Hird, and a sprinkling of Susan Hill of A Bit of Singing and Dancing. An odd mix, to be sure: but more than anything else Lisa Glass sounds like Lisa Glass, and no comparison is going to be accurate.
Prince Rupert’s Teardrop is an odd, macabre, unique mix, and no plot description is going to be entirely accurate either, but let’s try anyway. Mary Sibly, a fifty-eight-year-old spinster, local oddity and suspected madwoman, lives with her old Armenian mother in a troubled relationship, and ‘has lived for years with the expectation that her mother might keel over at any moment’. Then one day the mother just disappears. At first Mary is unsure whether she has left of her own accord, but grows gradually convinced that she has been kidnapped by a serial killer. (We know this before she does, for we have occasional access into the man’s mind.) Mary can’t tell anyone about her suspicions – there’s no-one she can trust, the police wouldn’t believe her, and others might suspect she has killed her mother herself – but she determines to find and rescue her mother, and embarks on a seeming wild goose chase with no concrete clues to follow.
The pursuit depends largely on coincidence and intuition, but this befits Mary’s role as a modern-day witch. Because of this, though, the plot is tricky to resolve, and hence my only real complaint: after steadily mounting tension, the denouement came in fits and starts, the tension going up and down with the main characters’ moods. But in a book where the writing style reflects character to this degree, that’s not a major flaw. Indeed, everything is inseparable here: the story (which is gripping and suspenseful in itself) from the manner of its telling, the bleak mood from the black humour, the brilliant characterisations from the linguistic quirks (which are aplenty).
Most of all, I’m in awe and (as an aspiring author myself) more than a little jealous of Lisa’s ability to create compelling, diverse characters with enormous skill and understanding. A chapter where Meghranoush reminisces about her experiences during the genocide of Armenians in 1915 is a devastating little masterpiece in itself. But the character of Mary is arguably my favourite part about this book. Though the madman and madwoman balance the narrative quite nicely, Mary’s consciousness dominates. Yes, she’s a little mad; she has delusions, she hears voices, she often behaves in a completely anti-social manner; and she’s completely alienated from the rest of the world:
It was as if one day she just fell out of the loop, out of phase with the rest of mankind, just a few seconds behind or ahead – but a crucial few seconds that consigned her to a different realm, like limbo: not quite here, not quite there, not quite anywhere.
But her alienation leaves her with frightening insight. Is she mad or just uncommonly observant? Mary thinks about all the things we don’t dare to, and seeing the world through her eyes is a peculiar, disturbing experience.
Final Verdict: As in Cusk’s case, the prose style won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, and taken out of context it might sometimes seem a bit much – a random example, in a description of the killer as an adolescent: ‘His arms were incipient, budding; only his larynx was fulsome’ – but in this novel context is everything, and as we go deeper into Mary’s world the whimsical prose begins to seem more and more normal. Also, this novel is decidedly not for wimps. I tend to be immune to blood and gore, but this book’s atmosphere gave me nightmares.
With these caveats, I’m happy to be able to recommend Prince Rupert’s Teardrop with all my heart.
Two Ravens Press, 2007, paperback; 232 pp.; ISBN: 1906120153. Prince Rupert’s Teardrop is now available directly from the publisher at the bargain price of £5.99 with free UK delivery. Just click here.