Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam
|Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Clever', 'subtle', and 'beautiful' aren't words you'd normally associate with a book about child abduction but this is different. This man and his young friend have no sex, just an odd friendship that's left to the interpretation of the reader. Oh and it's nothing like Lolita by the way, in case you were wondering.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: September 2012|
|Publisher: Other Press (NY)|
|External links: Author's website|
David Lamb is anchored to his life by his career, his affair-ridden marriage and caring for his father. Over time, his wife divorces him, his father dies and his employers insist he takes a period of enforced leave. So what's left? There is just one constant remaining: his friendship with Tommie who, he feels, would be an ideal holiday companion. He suggests that they both take a short trip as it would do them both good and Tommie agrees eagerly. The adventure then begins in the form of a journey to a beautiful, remote cabin. David is 54 years old and Tommie? She's 11.
Bonnie Nadzam's debut novel was published in American accompanied by a blaze of interest. This is partly due to it being awarded the 2011 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize and partly due to the subject matter: a child going away with an unrelated male adult without parental permission. However there is no overtly sexual manipulation or even sex (not with the child anyway) so we can quickly discount any parallels with Nabokov's Lolita or the parallels to a lot of 'kidnap' genre novels. The difference with Lamb is that whatever there is left is ours to discern and interpret.
As readers we aren't spoon-fed, instead we're offered two voices. The first is that of the middle-aged, sad, almost crumbling David Lamb. We're skilfully inserted into his mind so that we're party to his thoughts, the stories he tells others and, more interestingly for the author, the stories he tells himself. Indeed, as the saying goes, we judge ourselves by our motives and others by their actions. We all tell ourselves things throughout the day, sometimes for motivation, sometimes to excuse ourselves or to internally explain reasoning for the unreasonable and David is, perhaps, no different. He indeed judges himself by his motivation but how society judges him is left to us as society's representatives. Is he lonely or pathetic? Is he forgivable? The questions hang in the air as the novel's near-claustrophobic intensity zones in on his relationship with Tommie.
The second voice is the narrator offering the voice of reality. Where David interprets for himself, the narrator occasionally steps in and interprets more widely. There's also another contrast: David concentrates almost totally on the people with whom he liaises while living solely in the moment. As opposed to the narrator who is more adaptable, more observant.
The narrator comments on people but he/she also takes time to describe the surroundings with a poetic turn of phrase. Indeed Bonnie Nadzam has a keen interest in both poetry and the environment which she uses to entice us through the story, providing an awareness of what David seems to miss. The narrator also projects our mind into other lives. For towards the end it's the narrator who gives us our only clue as to who the events of the novel will affect the future or how Tommie's mother is feeling. Even then their voices are missing as, therefore, are their interpretations.
Lamb could so easily have been voyeuristic, clumsy or sensationalised. In fact it's compelling, although unsettling, a combination that's difficult to pull off and so again demonstrates the author's ability to open a covert world. Bonnie Nadzam believes that, as David Lamb has the same sort of propensity towards self-justification as any of us, then any of us could be as capable. Therefore, in order to reduce the child abduction rate, we have to take responsibility, as demonstrated by the lack of reaction and responsibility by those who may have done something in the novel. Something to think about the next time we watch the news?
A special thank you to Other Press for sending us a copy of this book for review.
If you've enjoyed living a novel through someone else's eyes then we recommend Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May. The hero is younger, but again the interpretation is yours to develop.
You can read more book reviews or buy Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam at Amazon.com.
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