Friday, October 21, 2011

Josh Reviews Sorry by Gail Jones

Gail Jones is someone I would like to meet, I think. I had been putting off her novel, "Sorry," for some time in favor of flashier, darker-seeming works in my Europa collection. Having finished the book a few days ago, I can say with ease that if Sorry is on your to-read list--move it up! Jones' narration, her use of language and symbolism and ability to tell a story blew me away. In a style reminiscent of the bleak landscape she initially presents, Sorry's characters and plot reveal themselves to be a land rich with history, culture and the unknown.

She writes, "Perdita calmed herself by remembering the eyes of the large kangaroo: they were so lustrous and calm, so intrinsically lovely...Intercepting guests that might have had this message: the world is also still and calm and without collisions; the world is also these fond, benevolent presences, fur-warm and comforting, wanting nothing, silent," (p. 47). Expanding upon a simple encounter in such a way to draw you in close enough to smell the kangaroos and simultaneously tie in the symbolism is an art that Jones has mastered in this work.

The most mundane and banal of everyday acts take on new meaning for Perdita in a world where she feels adrift and disconnected. A passage on page 78 details the joys that those who read find over those "booklessly broke, those word-deprived, craving, caught in dull time" ensconced a measure of pride and despair, strength and pity in simply one paragraph. A zig when the reader expects a zag, you don't feel quite as good for those who can read as you expect with all the praise she heaps upon them; nor do you feel quite as judgmental as the characters do for those who cannot.

I won't speak much to the plot, as the layers exposed as the pages (200+ that fly by) turn deserve to be discovered anew by each reader. Suffice to say, Perdita encounters tragedy and friendship, love and neglect (not where you would expect) to such varying degrees throughout the novel that each relationship's development serves to drive the narrative. So deep do we become entrapped in Perdita's viewpoint, her first experience in a strip mall made me feel like I had never been to one either.

"In the life of a every child there are times in which the symbolic gains more weight and magnitude, when childish thing, and their comforts, are put away, and there form the intuitions and understandings that ground the later adult. These are known only in retrospect, just as the gist of any tragedy is apparent only at its conclusion." (p. 99) Perdita's budding adulthood becomes shaped by events outside her control and outside her ability to escape.
I could fill pages with selections such as this. Ms. Jones has already done so. Her examinations of the events that shape the adults we become and the forces that crush the child inward while pulling that adult out struck me for the universality, despite the fact that I think few people grew up in remote Eastern Australia in the Second World War as British ex-pats with the rag-tag crew Perdita does. Her experiences are unique, her conclusions universally discovered.

It cannot be without consequence that the works of Shakespeare, with its iambic pentameter, figure so heavily into this book. The measure of pace of the book flow in a similarly natural manner. I could gripe that upon first read I did not understand the timing of the changes between the first and third person narrative, but that would comparable to complaining about one cloud in a clear sky.

This is beginning to run longer than even I would personally want to read. I’ll stop here and conclude with saying that I highly recommend this book. I feel like it may slip under the radar, and advise against letting it go under yours.