Sunday, May 27, 2012
A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage
Better late than never, but I've been shilly-shallying as to how to write about Marly's book. I've more or less concluded, after several false starts with long quotes from her equally wonder-filling poems and other ultimately tangential lines of writing, that I'm barely up to the job.
Since being a blogger, I have read all kinds of books - novels, poems long and short, collections of stuff both serious and light - by other bloggers; sometimes already published sometimes not. They have all been good, some very good, and I've felt very privileged to know the authors of them, if only in an etheric, blog-illusory kind of way, and I've been led to reflect on the vagaries and injustices of who gets published and noted and rewarded for producing books and who doesn't. There's a lot of talent about and these are good times in which there are ways of sharing in and enjoying it; on the other hand with such a proliferation of good writing, and more and more people able and wanting to get a look-in, what stands out, and how? The whole discussion on whither-publishing-and-what-will-become-of-the-author-in-the-age-of-the-internet is interesting and ongoing, and has been thrashed out many times by people cleverer and more articulate than I am. To me, though, now and then, a book just does stand out.
Of course one is bound to be well-disposed to the work of people one knows and likes; I'd really rather read something that someone I cared about had put their heart and soul into, even if it wasn't a work of dazzling virtuosity, than slog away at some acknowledged classic by some towering person of letters which left me cold. But this can cut both ways; a friend lately compared reading books by a person one knows well to watching an actor one knows personally performing: a familiar voice, their mannerisms, tics, the whole matter of ordinary acquaintance can show through the artifice and the fiction, and distract and detract from one's appreciation of it. This isn't only true of 'real life' friends and acquaintances, but can happen when one becomes accustomed to the more relaxed, personal, rather more banal voice that is often heard in blogging.
Marly is an engaging, loyal and very generous member of what's become, over a long time now, a very rich and varied on-line community. Her observations are astute, original and often helpfully constructive. I think I'd know a Marly comment anywhere even if it wasn't attributed, they sparkle in a very special way. She came here very early on and has always been around, much to my delight, notwithstanding that she's not only a Proper Writer, but an extremely busy mother, wife, and member of her earthbound community. Knowing some of Marly's previous writing, and loving much of her poetry, having formed an impression of her life and vision as she shares them on-line, deepens the experience of reading the novel, but really isn't necessary to an appreciation of it.
It is a stunning book; both cruel and tender, dark and light, but always shot through and stitched with a powerful beauty. Poetry, character and narrative never get in each other's way, but create a compelling fusion. The rich period detail, from the lives of the rail-riding hobos to the coloured print of a woman's dress, is riveting, not merely research tacked-on for authenticity, as it can seem to be, but real and known and tangible. Beyond a nodding acquaintance, I'm not steeped in the literature of the American south and of the Depression era, so my mind doesn't reach for parallels and comparisons, which I'm rather glad of, reading the novel for what I think it is, something fresh and remarkable.
So what I'm saying, in short, is: I'm not just recommending A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage because Marly's an on-line friend and fellow-blogger, but because it's an exceptionally fine novel. Happily, it looks more and more as if she is getting the recognition she deserves for it; it has received one award and is in line for more. She has a neat bouquet of fantastic, intelligent and sincere reviews over at Amazon (stateside), including Dale's very individual, moving, as-he-went-along response to it which he posted in instalments at his place.
I'm aware I'm rather preaching to the choir on this; many of you here will have read, and praised, the book already, but if not, buy it now and read it forthwith. Only don't make the mistake I did and get it on Kindle (I was impatient to read it and uncertain of being able to buy it in Europe, and couldn't really afford the postage from the US, but it became available at Amazon UK within a couple of weeks ), buy the proper book, because it's one you'll want to have and to hold and to show it to people, and however wonderful and instant and and world-expanding electronic and on-line reading is, there's no substitute for a proper book.
A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage is available at Amazon.com here, and at Amazon UK here, and also at Amazon France here, and surely elsewhere too. Marly's page for it at hers, with lots of good things about the novel on it is here.