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The Queen Of The Tambourine (1992)

The Queen of the Tambourine (1992)
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Rating
3.56 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
0349102260 (ISBN13: 9780349102269)
languge
English
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publisher
abacus software
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The Queen Of The Tambourine (1992)
The Queen Of The Tambourine (1992)

About book: There is no way in hell I can write a fair review of this novel. I adore Jane Gardam. I am a FAN. I am totally prejudiced. She is one of the best writers on the planet. That said, this is 4 stars, not quite 5. Say 4.8 stars.Gardam may be best enjoyed by people who are no longer young. Her insights are continuous but tempered. She has enormous sympathy for the wounds that life inflicts but without an ounce of unbecoming sweetness. Gardam remains clear eyed, observant and sane. She has a perspective that only time allows. The protagonist here, Eliza, is complex and thoroughly real, even when the events become unreal. Massively lonely, she nonetheless tries to create a self that is whole, well informed, helpful and participating in life. She fails at it. She writes letters to a former neighbor that, eventually, she realizes will never be returned and probably never received, but she must write, must try to have a presence in someone's life. She explains her life even as it tilts. She needs to matter to someone else even if that person becomes a fiction, a pretense. She needs a venue for her own point of view which her daily life does not allow. Her husband leaves her, which is more a tipping point than the reason that reality slips away. Gardam first shows us the that Eliza's world believes that her contributions are wrong and inappropriate. Her neighbors and acquaintances distance themselves from her strong and inaccurate opinions. They rightly see her as lacking perception as to what the social graces are. She is odd and wrong. Unable to fit in, and lonely beyond bearing, reality becomes tilted. The slippery seas of her mind disorient the reader just as Eliza is disoriented. Then slowly, nearly accidentally, Eliza the crazy woman becomes a truer self, the insanity a road back to connection, perceptive about things that matter. Magically, Gardam redeems her character without losing faith with the essence. It is so well done that, as you believe in the madness, you can believe in the redemption. She is finally 'seen' by her neighbors, recognized as a person and as having value. As she is mad, she cares less about returning to the 'real' world until she slips back into sanity, finds a shore where she can rest and live. There is nothing I can say that does justice to the balance, skill, and insights of Jane Gardam. Aside from her intellectual and emotional maturity, she controls plot, page and language superbly. She is a master.So why not the full five stars? During the 'completely mad' pages, I lost my way for a little while. I suspect it was my failing, unable to let go of my own sanity enough to ride the wave with Eliza. It may be the reason some readers will fault the book. But it is so close to exactly right, it is a very small complaint.

How can a book be hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time? In Jane Gardam’s hands, this epistolary novel never takes a pot-shot at anyone (without good cause), but becomes increasingly specific, focusing especially on how women of a certain age manage their falling-apart lives. All kinds of lives are looked at: those who left; those who stayed; those who worked; those who did not. There is a distressing yet comforting sense of being a victim at a disaster, being looked after by those very same women of a certain age, all of whom have seen your life and others far worse—their own, perhaps—and who are willing to wrap their experience and compassion about one like a newly-sewn quilt, beautiful and awesome, and sometimes painful to behold.Why painful? Because of all the work, mistakes, choices, energy that goes into making a quilt. Sometimes it’s a success, sometimes it isn’t. But sometimes we won’t know this until it is done. This book is also like a quilt, in that set pieces are created, and we laugh with jollity at the cleverness of the creation. When, finally, the time comes to stitch the pieces together, the whole suddenly becomes something else altogether and we stand mute at the meaning and magnificence of what Gardam has managed to do.Our narrator, Eliza Peabody, begins to write letters to Joan, the woman living down the street. Eliza does not know Joan very well, but has come to have opinions about her, and feels it quite within her area of expertise to offer advice on her marriage, on her state of wellness, on her husband. She begins broadly, with two paragraphs one February, signing it Eliza (Peabody) and progresses, with increasing familiarity, through “Your sincere friend,” and “Your affectionate friend,” to “E,” and finally, dropping the signature altogether. The letters become much longer and more intimate. Joan, meanwhile, leaves the country and never responds to Eliza over the years of the correspondence. What we learn about Eliza, then, is all there is. She is generous, thankfully, for it is her perceptions that guide us through the lives of her neighbors, her husband’s infidelities, her own housekeeping failures. She makes us laugh, cry, and beg for mercy. She makes me realize that Jane Gardam should be a household name and celebrated widely throughout the world. She is a national treasure.
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Reviews
Cheryl
The book consists of a series of letters the narrator, Eliza, writes to her neighbor, Joan, who suddenly ups and leaves her family one day and goes abroad. Eliza's own husband leaves her the following Christmas, and she embarks on a downward spiral within her own mind (though the spiral had really begun long before then).This is one of those books that you have to read through to the end for things to add up and make sense. The first 20 pages or so were terribly amusing, then up until 10 pages before the end I was sometimes confused and cautiously waiting to see how things would resolve, and then the last 10 pages tie everything together. This is one of those books I'll want to reread down the line. When I was finished, I just sat there for a bit fitting together all the revelations with the rest of the story, making sense of it. And that's when I went from "I think I like it" to "I really liked it." Gardam writes beautifully and she pulls just about everything together in the end. All in all, I found it a very satisfying read.
Allie Whiteley
Eliza Peabody is, it seems, a woman who is disintegrating. Through a series of letters written to Joan, a neighbour who appears to have run away to Bangladesh and makes no reply, she describes the breakdown of her marriage and her mental health. It is not always clear how reliable she is, but much is clarified towards the end of the book. There are many flashes of humour but my predomninant feeling was one of great sadness. Her life appears to be overshadowed by tragedy and it is only as the novel draws to a close that we begin to understand why that might be. Wonderful writing. A beautiful novel.
Jane
I stayed with this for about 80 pages. I wanted to like it more -- it's an epistolary novel; it's funny; and it came recommended by one of my favorite reader/friends (Ted), who turned me on to Mrs. Caliban and other good books where the line between reality and otherworldness is blurred.So... how did the book fall out of my favor? Well, number one, it's a one-sided epistolary novel: the protagonist narrator, a woman slowly losing her mind, writes all the letters to her former next-door neighbor, a supposed friend who may never have been her friend at all, and there is no return correspondence. Moreover, I realized that I prefer an unreliable narrator who has a foothold in sanity, and not an unreliable narrator who is mentally ill. Perhaps, too, an unreliable, unstable narrator works in a prose novel like Lolita (or Mrs. Caliban), and less so in letter form, because in straight prose, there seem to be more layers of narration (including subtle appearances by the author him/herself) and less so in the letters, which narrowly emanate from one voice.
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