Monday, 15 March 2021

Celestial Navigation by Anne Tyler

Liz Dexter at Adventures in reading, running and working from home is hosting The Anne Tyler re-read project 2021. I have really enjoyed the reading so far. If you are interested in earlier reviews please check my blog archive. For March we read Celestial Navigation and Searching for Caleb. 

"Thirty-eight-year-old Jeremy Pauling has never left home. He lives on the top floor of a Baltimore row house where he creates collages of little people snipped from wrapping paper. His elderly mother putters in the rooms below, until her death. And it is then that Jeremy is forced to take in Mary Tell and her child as boarders. Mary is unaware of how much courage it takes Jeremy to look her in the eye. For Jeremy, like one of his paper creations, is fragile and easily torn--especially when he's falling in love..."

Another wonderful story by Anne Tyler. We understand that Jeremy has some kind of mental syndrom and suffers from panic attacks. Tyler's characterisation of his mental state is written with such care, sympathy and above all, so well described that you can easily put yourself in Jeremy's shoes. You suffer with him, admire him when he manages to move outside his own fears and do things he has never done before.

Mary has a troubled life as well, but in another way. Always dependent on a man she makes the decision to be self sufficient. When Jeremy courts her she is not taking it seriously. Mostly, because she is still taken up by the two men who have made an imprint in her life. However, she sympathise with Jeremy and much to her own surprise she accepts his proposal.

They are both, in their own way happy in their relationship, until one day something happens that changes their life forever.

We also meet the other inhabitants of the boarding house where Jeremy lives. Some of them are part of the narration, which gives you an outside view on the relationship between Jeremy and Mary. Anne Tyler is a master of characterisation and does not let you down in this rather tragicomic tale. As usual Tyler's endings come rather abruptly and surprising. I found the ending very sad in this story. But what a story it is. One of her best reads so far in this project.  

Monday, 1 March 2021

The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler


Liz Dexter at Adventures in reading, running and working from home invited those interested to dive into the authorship of Anne Tyler with The Anne Tyler re-read project 2021. Two books are scheduled for February; A Slipping Down Life and The Clock Winder

"Mrs. Pamela Emerson lives a lonely new widowhood outside of Baltimore, with only a house full of ticking clocks for company. Then she hires eccentric Elizabeth Abbott as a handyman and both discover that parts don't have to be a perfect match to work."

A story about, what we would call today, a dysfunctional family.  Mrs Emerson has seven children (grownups) that she seldom sees. She dresses elegantly and is keeping up her standards, although she is getting older. She is living her somewhat elegant life in a run-down house. Elizabeth comes along and life is never the same again. 

Elizabeth is a somewhat peculiar character. She stopped her studies, left home and is now roaming rather freely around to find a job. She really loves the work with Mrs Emerson, although they don't seem to get along that well. After a while she gets to know the rest of the family, which starts some unhappy events.

Elizabeth is like a magnet, everyone around here seems to be drawn to her. She becomes the support to the whole family, in different ways. One day something happens and Elizabeth leaves, which upsets the whole family. Without her, they seem to be lost. 

I will not reveal the end here, if you are interested in reading the novel. I like the way Anne Tyler writes, beautiful prose, describing ordinary things in a magic way. I found this novel more complex than her earlier ones. Feelings, actions and the way Elizabeth, Mrs Emerson and her children are interacting. They all seem to have difficulties socialising among themselves.

"'We won't be needing dessert,' Mary told her. 'Now, aren't you an optimist. Have you ever known this family to make it through to the end of a meal?'

'Your mama and Elizabeth always did,' Alvareen said." 

These comments describes the whole setting of the novel. I was wondering why it was called The Clock Winder. Mrs Emerson's house is full of clocks everywhere. They were a hobby of her late husband. Apart from mentioning them at the beginning of the book, they are hardly mentioned again. However, I think the title refers to Elizabeth and her capacity of keeping things going. It is her energy that transforms people around her. She makes them going. 

The ending is somewhat peculiar and abrupt. I do not really know how to interpret it, but it might mean that there is no hope for this family as far as family ties are concerned.