Saturday, 26 March 2016

We Only Know So Much by Elizabeth Crane

I began reading this book with high hopes; although I read reviews and blurbs I am drawn to aesthetics and I loved the presentation. 

On starting to read I was taken aback by the forthright and bolshy attack of the storyteller. Certainly different from my recent reads and I rather liked it. I too enjoyed the early stages of the book, getting to know the characters and their relationships. 

Jean is a mother of two children, a tiresome teenager (Priscilla) and a nine year old boy (Otis). Her relationship with her husband (Gordon) is frayed and she has been having an affair for some time. Her lover commits suicide and she falls apart. Gordon is entirely peculiar, possibly a little too peculiar to be realistic. He has a habit of talking - just talking at people (no one else really gets a chance to join in), giving a detailed explanation of any and every occurrence, mostly learned by reading Wikipedia and by virtue of a good memory. He becomes entirely distracted on learning that his memory might not be what it was and struggles to accept that normal aging might be the reason. I have to say, almost from the start, Gordon is autistic was screaming out at me and goes a good way to explain some of his behaviours. Priscilla is not sold well to the reader, described consistently as a bitch and presented as self centred and impossible. Otis also presented as if on the autistic spectrum too and is a clever, literal boy who falls in love for the first time. I liked him particularly but was troubled by the extend to which his mother confided in him over her affair. Just wrong. Add to the familial home Gordon's father (Theodore) who has Parkinsons and his Grandmother (Vivien) who is fighting fit at 98 and loves to talk about herself and we have the Copeland complement. 

The book tells us the comings and goings of the their family life, with some historical content thrown in. We learn more about Jean's affair, Gordon's memory loss, Priscilla's drive to do something she is proud of and of Otis girlfriend. The older members of the family provide backdrop and humorous interludes. For the best part I enjoyed being in their lives and although I wouldn't necessarily want them as friends they were good company. 

Latterly though I found my self wondering how this would all tie together. How would the author draw on the many ongoing threads to conclude the story? I was expecting some great event where everything came out in the open and somehow they muddled through, or didn't as the case may be, towards an ending. Somewhat disappointingly, and hence the reason for the two star review, it simply didn't happen. Certainly there was resolution for Theodore in that he passed away and for Priscilla, who showed signs of growing up and who had had a lightbulb moment. Why didn't Otis conversations with him mother come out into the open however? It was alluded to that Gordon may have an inkling of his wife's indiscretion but this was not developed. Indeed Gordon was taking some mood altering, probably illegal drug for memory loss, bought on a shopping channel which it seems totally changed his personality but this was not uncovered either. I could go on. I felt disappointed and the ending where the author asks the reader "What do you think?" is just weird. 

No review would be complete without some consideration of the feasibility of the tale told, if indeed it was intended to be feasible. Jean's grief for her lost love was well constructed, I believed her sense of loss, devastation and confusion. Her involvement with the priestess church though? A step too far for me. Gordon's fear of memory loss was plausible too and again believable. His reaction to it, less so. His family not saying anything after his personality transplant? Ridiculous in spite of their preoccupations. The memory loss thread was never really concluded either which is unfortunate. I don't even want to get started on what happened to Vivien towards the end. Ridiculous.

What is here is not complete. It is as if the author, on realising that there were enough written words to make a novel, just stopped writing rather than actually finishing the book. This is a pity; the text is well written, the voice different and engaging, the characters interesting and some of the plot lines believable. I enjoyed much of the reading but as a whole this novel was disappointing. 

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