Interpreters by Sue Eckstein

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Interpreters by Sue Eckstein

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: ‘Interpreters’ is a fascinating book spanning five generations and asking questions about damaged families and the power of secrets that can’t be communicated. This book has twists and hooks that will capture your interest, holding it hostage to the end.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 205 Date: September 2011
Publisher: Myriad Editions
ISBN: 978-0956559968

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Julia Rosenthal whilst visiting her childhood haunts, is invited to go around what used to be her family home. As she wanders around the rooms, she relives her past and seeks to understand why her parents (particularly her mother) were as they were. Julia also desperately seeks reassurance that she has not, in turn, damaged her own daughter, Susanna. Meanwhile the reader is given the privilege of knowledge unavailable to Julia. Via transcriptions of discussions with counsellor, the reader learns about Julia's mother first hand. Slowly, in alternating chapters, whilst Julia goes over her far from normal 1970s upbringing, her mother haltingly and touchingly reveals the secret life which almost destroyed her.

Sue Eckstein’s pedigree as a successful radio playwright is evident. What could have become a turgid emotional kitchen sink drama in anyone else’s hands, is a fascinating exposition of how the past affects the future. The characters are well-formed as Sue leaves clever hints as to their feelings and motivation rather than spelling everything out for the reader. (No pun intended!) For instance, Julia’s laid-back brother Max seems unaffected by the same childhood that haunts Julia. He is happy to leave the past behind and live, seemingly successfully, in the present. However he shuns one-to-one romantic relationships so the past has obviously intruded into his existence to some degree.

The alternating viewpoints work well and are used to good effect. Julia speaks to us in the first person, her mother speaks indirectly via the counselling sessions and Susanna tops and tails the novel via a Sunday supplement interview. My feelings and allegiances to the characters changed and developed with each chapter and revelation.

Even the title has another level. Here ‘Interpreters’ isn’t just an occupation but a description of the central character. Julia interprets her parents’ reactions, actions and feelings in the light of her experiences, prejudices and expectations, both as a child and retrospectively as an adult. This leads to assumptions rather than facts. It also prompts questions about how well any child can know their parents and whether damage caused in childhood is cyclical.

This book may be composed of complex themes but it's an easy rewarding read. My natural default position is shy away from books in which emotional relationships form a lot of the story but this book is different. Hooks and twists are so skilfully revealed that my planned early night evaporated as I read it in one sitting. As you read the book, the journey will stay with you long after the satisfactory conclusion has been reached.

Thank you, Myriad Editions, for supplying with a review copy. We also have a review of Eckstein's The Cloths of Heaven.

If you've enjoyed this, try When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman.

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Buy Interpreters by Sue Eckstein at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Interpreters by Sue Eckstein at


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