Reviewed by Dr. Janice Russell
This is a book of three parts.
Pippa Lee, middle class sophisticate wife, has moved into a retirement village with her 80 year old husband, Herb, a successful American publishing executive. As the youngest person there, Pippa inevitably begins to question whether retirement world is where she wants to be, and begins to find herself experiencing strange sense of disquiets and disturbing symptoms of unrest, such as sleepwalking. Not in a usual sense, but in an extreme sense. Thus begins a journey which leads the reader through the chronicles of Pippa’s past life, revealing depths and experiences that are not immediately apparent within the character.
The second section of the book makes the reader privy as to why this may be, basically summarising Pippa’s life journey, and is written with sensitivity and depth, traversing worlds of bohemia and excess, exploration of sexualities, and addiction to drugs. Themes of mother daughter relationship and guilt are explored with insight and expertise, and the text is eloquent, the themes compelling.
Part Three of the book integrates past and present with an unsurprising dénouement which embraces the themes you might expect – conflict resolution within the family, repeated patterns within the marriage, and Pippa’s exorcism of her ghosts which enable her to move forwards a free woman. In a sense, this is an odyssey, the chronicle of challenges and triumphs
I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would from the first chapter, and in a way, this is symptomatic of the structure. Three distinct parts, all written from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, trying to take us inside the heads of Pippa, her mother, her daughter, and Chris, the somewhat erratic son of Pippa’s neighbour up the road. If anything, this structure slightly distracts from what is otherwise a very convincing read – it is compartmentalised rather than threaded, a structure I would have preferred. While we are privy to Pippa’s past life in the second part of the book,, there is no indication that she is remembering the same things, discovering the same insights. Maybe this is deliberate, and just indicates that these evets are conspiring on an unconscious level.
That said, this book is intelligent and bold, courageous enough to suggest the darker aspects of parent child relationships, the complexities of responsibility, the shadow side of the protagonist. It is also frank in its observations of the ageing process, which is a refreshing change from the line that seventy is the new forty, and other such clichés, which, while empowering, can fail to look honestly at the effects of time on our bodies and minds and the real impact that this has for relationships. It is also far from the usual depiction of the all American family, for which I am grateful. Overall, an excellent read and I would recommend persevering beyond the first chapter into the body of the book.