Finally – the first great book of the year! And a corker it is too, not perhaps the subject but certainly the handling of it and the excellent, original prose! This is how dysfunctional should be written. Haddon – are you listening? 😉
In her debut novel, Miller explores the life and times of Pippa Lee. The book is divided into 3 parts. When we first meet Pippa she’s a 50-yr-old woman, living in a Retirement Community with her 80-yr-old publisher husband Herb. Her children, twins, a girl Grace and boy Ben are successful adults living their own lives and all seems smooth sailing. Only, Life’s never stays that way for long does it? As Pippa goes through her days cooking, cleaning and trying to find things to do, the idyll of sorts is disrupted by sinister events in her home. Her kitchen and car have been despoiled and the discovery of the culprit complicates life further.
In part 2, narrated in the first person (which I really enjoyed), we are introduced to how Pippa began and the events that brought her to the present. Her family and in particular her relationship with her mother are described in detail and with such insightful sensitivity by Miller that for the first time in a long time, I felt myself choking up. It’s been a while since I read a mother-daughter bond that seems so real, so authentic. And in this book there are two! I love that Miller captures the volatility, fragility and passion of the mother-daughter microcosm while avoiding melodrama. It is reminiscent of my own relationship with my Mom – although we share an entirely different set of problems. How similar we are to one another in our own unique ways!
Miller brings us expertly back full circle in Part 3, when Pippa faces events that are an echo of her past and that she had convinced herself,were effectively buried under the minutiae of everyday existence. But Life has a way of teaching you her lessons and she is a patient teacher! Without giving much away, I must say the end was just what I had hoped for – uplifting! It felt right in my gut 🙂 This is an author I would love to read more of in the future. She infuses her characters with an authenticity that is quietly heart-warming. These are not over-the-top caricatures of people, but real human beings, struggling with their ordinary lives, dealing with morality, seeking love and validation, battling personal tragedies and craving healthy relationships just like you and me. Their actions and reactions are utterly believable whether one agrees or disagrees, which makes for great reading!
At just 231 pages, this is one book that knows what it wants to say and says it well. From the very beginning, I was captivated by Pippa and her story. Who was this woman, who seemed so content with her life? Was she for real? What made her tick? Miller’s prose and insights into human nature are what elevates this book from being just another ‘dysfunctional family’ book. She knows her characters inside out and it shows. Here is a passage that resonated with me, “Pippa suffered from an excess of empathy. Sometimes, she found the mystery of other people almost unbearable to contemplate: rooms within rooms inside each of them, an endless labyrinth of contradictory qualities, memories, desires, mirroring one another like an Escher drawing, baffling as a conundrum. Kinder to perceive people as they wished to be seen. After all, that’s what Pippa wanted for herself: to be accepted as she seemed.” In another powerful passage that to me defines the complexity of Pippa’s childhood bond with her mother, Miller writes, “She looked at me with a mix of joy and apprehension, as though at any moment I might renege on my affections. I had such power over Suky; it frightened me and made me bold. Sometimes I let my face go cold and stony just to watch the fear flash in her eyes.”
This book brought me much relief, coming as it did on the back of two rather tedious and difficult reads! I read it in a day! It’s an easy, interesting read that will stay with me for a long time and with you too, should you choose to read it. I recommend you do!
P. S. As I write this review, I find that it’s already been made into a movie! Has an ensemble cast too – Robin Wright Penn, Alan Arkin, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Maria Bello and others…how interesting! Miller’s done the screenplay. Must remember to check it out!