Georgy Girl completely confounded my preconceptions – in fact there was a wholesale misunderstanding of the theme and plot on my part! Yes, there’s a baby and a single mum, but it’s not Cathy Come Home.
Georgina – George – shares her 1960s beatnik Battersea flat with self centred violinist Meredith, and her current lover, and fellow musician Jos. Downtrodden George spends her life running around after them, cooking, cleaning, entertaining, paying.
George has what we could call “low self esteem”, and continuously compares herself unfavourably to glamorous gazelle Meredith and indulges in unrequited love for Jos.
Her parents are live in domestic servants for the wealthy West Londoner Leamingtons, where Ted is James Leamington’s besotted valet, and her mother is the family housekeeper and cook.
George herself is a surrogate daughter to James, although we never really learn Mrs Ls thoughts on the matter. He’s funded George’s private education, music and dancing lessons and has converted a large room in the Leamington’s presumably large London house to serve as George’s dance school.
Everything changes when Meredith tells Jos that she’s pregnant as that she wants to keep the baby “this time”; and James asks George to become his mistress.
The death of his elder brother Simon while on family holiday triggers Matt’s schizophrenia.
The Shock of the Fall is his account of the last years of his childhood and his teenage descent into mental illness.
En route we see the impact on his mum, who never recovers from Simon’s death, and on friends and family who struggle to find ways to help no matter strong and unquestioning their love – his dad’s and Nanny Noo’s in particular.
Neil Countryman and John William Barry meet as teens on the running track. John William comes from Seattle’s old money and founding families, Neil is from the other side of the tracks. They develop a love of the outdoors, which for John William results in him becoming, for a time, the Hermit of the Hof.
A novel that I find my brain returns to ponder periodically.
Another reading recommendation picked up from listening to Radio Four’s Book Club, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings follows a group of six young Americans who meet and become lifelong friends at Summer Camp – that American institution and rite of passage that glowed with glamour and exciting opportunities when gazed at from the Birmingham suburbs of my teenage years.
The novel focuses on two of the friends, Julie ‘Jules’ Jacobson and Ethan Figman. Jules, who discovers a passion for performance at the camp, learns the hard way that even with talent (and more talent than she has) the stage is a hard place to forge a career, especially without family money behind you. Ethan is the one member of the group with true talent, and his gift for animation and storytelling brings riches and opportunities beyond belief.
But at the heart of the novel are the events of one night in their late teens when one of the group alleges rape by another, and the consequences that flow for the couple themselves and for the six friends.
I’ve loved Anne Tyler’s novels in the past but I’ve put this one to one side half finished. Not even the 5 hour train journey back from Pembs provided sufficient incentive to continue reading about the Whitshank family. I wasn’t interested in any of the characters, nor their suburban Baltimore world.