Selina Penaluna by Jan Page
|Selina Penaluna by Jan Page|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A lyrical book in which an old woman looks back over her wartime childhood and finally makes peace with her past. Beautiful and haunting writing lifts it above much of the competition.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: May 2008|
Selina is a mermaid - merrymaid as she calls them - or so her mother told her. When the real Selina slipped from her mother's arms into a deep rockpool, she was exchanged for a mermaid child. Viewed as a changeling by her own mother, Selina's childhood isn't a happy one. And when her mother leaves home with a travelling salesman it doesn't get any better. Her father drinks too much and when he's drunk Selina has to barricade her bedroom door against his unwelcome attentions.
Nellie and Jack are evacuated Londoners, taken in by the Rosewarnes. Nellie and Jack are twins, but they are very different people. Nellie is keen to better herself and thrives in her new middle class surroundings. Jack on the other hand resents the Rosewarnes' stifling affections and wants nothing more than to go home. Until, that is, he meets Selina...
Selina Penaluna is narrated mostly by Ellen as an old lady as she's selling Spindrift, the home on the Cornish cliffs that was the scene of the dramas played out so many years before. This drama - and we find out early on that Jack died before he could make it back to London - has ruled most of Ellen's subsequent life. Left without her twin, she's struggled with all the relationships she's made. Her marriage was happy but dull, her two sons live far away and don't really keep in contact. She barely knows her grandchildren. And being back at Spindrift just seems to magnify the memories even further.
It's a beautiful, beautiful story. It's about sibling rivalry, sexual jealousy and unfulfilled lives. It's about living with regrets. As a counterpoint to these themes, the narrative contains a double mystery which is gradually revealed through Ellen's memories, a book of mermaid paintings and the death of an old friend - was Selina really a mermaid? And how did Jack come to die so tragically?
The writing is sophisticated and elegant. It doesn't miss a beat, inhabiting the minds of two disparate young women - Selina gets a turn or two at narration herself - and a regretful old lady in perfect harmony. The Cornish landscape comes alive too, in all its threat and beauty. I was completely absorbed from the first page to the very last. And I felt so sorry for Ellen, the last person standing in this story, and the saddest:
God does not keep a tally of our dogged obedience, our moments of self-denial or deferred gratification. He doesn't add all our kind deeds together and dish out an appropriate dollop of good fortune in return. Virtue is supposedly its own reward, but I have come to wonder if there is anything inherently virtuous about self-sacrifice. Nobody ever asked me to behave in this way and most of the time they haven't even noticed. I have done it all in the hope of being loved, and even when I found someone who said they loved me, I was never fully satisfied, never quite trusted or believed it.
I think that's one of the saddest things I've ever read. Ellen does find closure, but to find out how you'll have to read the book. And I heartily recommend that you do.
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