Delusions of Grandma by Carrie Fisher

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Delusions of Grandma by Carrie Fisher

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The writing is decidedly better than the plot, but with good characterisation the book is worth a read if not a purchase. Bookbag recommends that you look along the library shelves.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 236 Date: May 1995
Publisher: Pocket Books
ISBN: 0671738623

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When I choose a book I always read the blurb on the back to see if it's likely to appeal to me. Just occasionally I read the book and wonder if I'm reading the same one as the writer of the blurb. This was one of those occasions and in this case the book was better than the blurb had led me to suspect. I was promised a story of Cora's mother muscling in on the new baby, complete with a string of cinema first-night fantasies.

Cora Sharpe is a Hollywood screenwriter. She meets and falls in love with Ray, a lawyer. The relationship starts gradually - mainly because Cora is working in Paris and Ray is in Los Angles - and all seems to go well at first, but gradually the differences in the temperaments and lifestyles become evident and Ray leaves. Soon afterwards Cora realises that she's pregnant. Cora's grandfather has Alzheimer's Disease and his second wife puts him into a home when she can no longer cope with him, but Cora's mother has other ideas. She and Cora and Cora's friend Bud kidnap the old man and take him back home to Texas.

The plot is not strong, which is probably why the person who wrote the blurb on the back struggled to produce something comprehensible. For me the story was not about Cora's mother, who doesn't come into the book until page 167, but about the relationship between Cora and Ray. It's about the gradual build-up of a good relationship, the times of talking and discussing before sex even enters into the equation. It paints a perfect word-picture of that time when both parties to a relationship want to be better people, to make it work, whilst fearing that the people they really are will intrude. I found a rare depth of sensitivity in this part of the book.

Perhaps the most interesting part for me was the effect of terminal illness on the relationship. Cora's friend William has AIDS and he comes to Cora for his final months. Rather than putting a strain on the relationship as might be expected it made it stronger; more loving, more physical. It was only after William's death that the cracks began to show and widen. The description of the disintegration of the relationship is starker and more shocking than the build up, but I was left with the feeling that as much as the relationship was inevitable, so was its disintegration. The description of William's final days and the disposal of his body were well done, down to the banality of choosing the clothes in which he will be cremated and the urn for his ashes.

I was less convinced by the final part of the book when Cora's mother decides to kidnap the grandfather and take him back to Texas. It seemed so out of character for Cora to simply go along with what seemed to be a hare-brained scheme with little justification. I couldn't even see that it did anything for the plot. One thought did stay with me though - when you have Alzheimer's you meet new people every day.

Characterisation is very good. I had an immediate empathy with Cora, the successful woman who is unsuccessful in relationships. Ray comes across strongly too. He loves Cora but cannot cope with her Hollywood life - her commitments to go to functions with other men and the way that her writing partner will casually borrow his possessions. The supporting cast is extensive and for a while I did wonder if I could remember who they all were but they rapidly established themselves in my mind. I particularly liked Bud, Cora's writing partner, a vulnerable man who was ultimately the support that Cora needed.

Douglas Adams thought that Carrie Fisher was the natural heir to that great writer, Dorothy Parker. She certainly has a way with words but I think the accolade places too heavy a load on her shoulders. In the early part of the book I felt that Carrie Fisher was trying too hard to be funny - more Groucho Marx than Dorothy Parker - but as the plot settled down the writing blossomed, became lyrical.

And the title - where did that come from? Well, I think it was just a good one-liner in the book, but I think they could have come up with a title which more accurately reflected the story.

If you get the chance to read the book, do take it. I'm not going to recommend that you buy it as I doubt that it's one that I would read again, but it does merit a read. It's also convinced me to look out for some more Carrie Fisher books.

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Wendy said:

Quirky Title!

Kerry King said:

I read Postcards From The Edge, also by Carrie Fisher and made into that wonderful movie with Meryl Streep and Shirlie Maclane which was so funny, poignant and moving that I ventured in search of her further works. I believe Ms. Fisher to be a talented writer with a depth of humanity that one only develops by experiential learning and if you look at her life as outlined in "Postcards" you'll understand just how human she really had to be. I thought Delusions of Grandma was a wonderful book and your review definitely does it justice although I disagree that it is only a one time read... please look out for my favourite of her tomes, Surrender The Pink.