Comments on The Neighbour and The Pure in Heart
For about two months now I’ve been wandering around France and Italy. Having quit my job with a pension, I felt a need to leave my home for a winter before finding a new occupation and a new life. I feel like I’m squeezing myself through the neck of some kind of vase or container, leaving behind one form of containment in order to move into another. I don’t mean containment in any negative sense. Containment for me means ‘home’ or ‘place’. Without a job and even without the need of a job, I feel that I’ve lost what place I had in my world. I need to find a new place and so it appears I’ve thrown myself into even greater homelessness by strapping on a backpack and heading to other countries.
As I’ve been wandering, I’ve had a lot of time for reading in the lonesome evenings I spend in tiny budget hotel rooms, hostels and studio apartments, in Paris, Avignon, Nice, Florence and Rome. I read whatever is lying around, and there’s always something left behind by previous occupants. I hope, more or less secretly, that the books are meant for me, that the great consciousness that is the universe has placed them in these random bookcases for me to find and learn from.
I like mystery novels and I got to read three good ones in Nice, where I had a modern little room in an ancient hotel overlooking a courtyard away from the street. It should have character, but somehow that had been lost. I think detective novels have taken over the function that the novel was born for — to look , to really look at human society and show the injustice and the suffering caused by the powerful to the powerless.
All the books in the following list are about people, severed from the companionship of family or never having known that companionship, looking for a place. Abusive families are at the bottom of the characters’ issues, not just of the villains’ but of the detectives’ as well.
The Neighbour by Lisa Gardner is about the need to feel normal, what people do to appear to others and to themselves as normal . Both protagonists, married to each other, have histories of childhood abuse, severe abuse. The husband refuses to have sex because of his history, but is compassionate and kind. Their daughter is not really his but he loves her. The wife realizes she has come to love the man she married to give her unborn baby a home, but she needs for him to have sex with her. She and the cat disappear one night (she leaves to sort things out) but she returns when her pedophile father tries to claim the daughter. The father is a powerful judge and city father. As it turns out, there is no crime in this novel; it is simply about two victims of massive childhood abuse who are trying to manage their multiple triggers to create family and community. I found this a refreshing change from all the fiction that gives perpetrators abusive backgrounds to explain their cruel or psychopathic behaviour. Most victims of abuse do not go on to become perpetrators; many try to work through their conditioning, to deconstruct what they have become as a result of their traumas. Sometimes I think of personality as a big ball of scar tissue, the scars being the residue left behind by the conditioning factors, the environment we enter at birth. We don’t have to be what we have become. It’s possible to deconstruct, to strip away the scar tissue bit by bit to reveal what we can be, if our desire to love is stronger than our fear.
The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill is about a detective who is also an artist and who takes frequent vacations in Venice, Florence and Rome. He takes half a dozen paperbacks for a short holiday. (Oh good, I’m normal). He is contemplating whether he wants to give up detecting. He has difficult relationships with his family members, particularly with a distant father. His triplet sister and he are so closely bonded he can’t form bonds with another woman and we don’t see his triplet brother who lives in Australia and never visits. The mother is okay but somewhat statue-like, always displaying a carefully constructed persona. As it turns out she murders their severely disabled daughter, and can’t tell her detective son because he would be heartbroken and would also feel he had to arrest her for the crime. It seems my need to find a place and a purpose is not unique. I think this detective will continue detecting, in further novels, because it is his place to do so. His art is overflow.
I’m going to stop this, my first post, here and see if I can upload it to the blog. I’m doing everything on an ipad mini and not sure what it can and can’t do. If anybody does manage to read this, stay tuned for further update and edits.