Inside the Whale by Jennie Rooney
|Inside the Whale by Jennie Rooney|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: This bittersweet tale of lost love, war and family ties is a deserving Costa shortlister. It's subtle and beautiful and you shouldn't miss it.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: January 2009|
Stevie, recently widowed, thinks back over her life and tries to find a way to tell her family the truth. But it's not easy. Nothing about her past is easy; so much of it is painful. But hidden behind the pain are moments of joy it's impossible to forget.
Michael is in hospital, critically ill. He's lost the power of speech. By his bed, there's a shoebox of memories that he too can't bring himself to communicate. Michael's never been comfortable with words but with the help of Anna, a young healthcare assistant, he gradually teases out the catastrophes in his life and prepares to lay them to rest. World War II connects these two people, but their experiences since have been very different...
It's such a deceptively clever book, this. I came away from it thinking how smooth and easy it was to read, and how I'd tell you that it's a simple and emotionally satisfying story. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that isn't simple at all. There's a double-narrator structure, which is difficult to maintain, but Rooney moves between Michael and Stevie with consummate ease and immerses the reader into two minds and two lives with never a clunk or awkward segue.
The prose is smooth and flowing, but again, it isn't simple - there are some arresting similes and it's tremendously sensuous. You can feel this story as well as read it. And emotionally too, it's more than a love story; it's deep and complex with all sorts of moral ambiguities. It takes a writer of talent to make it look easy, and Rooney makes it look incredibly easy. I can see why the book made the Costa First Novel shortlist.
It creates a vivid impression of life in war-torn Britain and its social strictures, on women and it brings Africa to warm and varied life. It also picks up on the dreadful effect war has on entire lives - but it's a personal story with the social themes gently running counterpoint to the thing that matters more than anything; human love in all its guises.
Inside the Whale is a bittersweet tale of lost love, war and family ties. I cried like a baby at the end! It's subtle and beautiful and you shouldn't miss it.
You might also enjoy The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.
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