The Glass Girl by Sandy Hogarth
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|The Glass Girl by Sandy Hogarth|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Rebecca Foster|
|Summary: Moving between Australia and England and spanning several decades of Ruth Bishop's life, this debut novel explores the psychological effects of sexual trauma and relationship betrayals. Sandy Hogarth popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 282||Date: November 2014|
|Publisher: New Generation Publishing|
|External links: Author's website|
Sandy Hogarth's debut novel opens in 1975 with fifteen-year-old Ruth Bishop attending a party with her older sister, Alexis. 'They called me VL, Virgin Lips, because I'd never kissed a boy. Sex wasn't mentioned at home.' That all changes when Alexis tells Ruth to go outside – someone is waiting for her. It's one of Alexis's friends, a notorious bad boy, and he assaults Ruth right there, up against the house. Could Alexis really have intended for this to happen? Ruth soon learns she is pregnant and arranges to move to Australia and live with her friend Lucy's aunt in Melbourne until the birth. She gives her beloved daughter Clare up for adoption, but never stops thinking about her. No one but Lucy knows there ever was a baby.
For decades, Ruth lives with the feeling of having been wronged and betrayed. She spends some happy years in Australia but moves back to England after her parents' deaths. 'The countryside looks oddly small, broken by ambling stone walls, mostly bare of trees and punctuated with sheep … Everything has changed.' It's no surprise that home seems shabby and diminished to Ruth after Australia's wide-open desert scenery and sense of possibility. Her two main souvenirs from Australia are a journal she keeps called Clare's Story and a glass dancer figurine an older friend named Bill made for her. It's a symbol of her emotional fragility but also of the beauty that can be found in uncertainty.
Over the years Ruth becomes a successful academic studying power and control. Although she remains wary of Alexis – and for good reason, we discover – she develops a very close relationship with Alexis's son, Ben, and falls in love with a fellow professor, Daniel Phillips. Personal milestones are always anchored alongside contemporary events, like Dunblane and Princess Diana's funeral, while flashbacks show that Ruth and her family have even more emotional baggage than it first appeared.
The middle of the book feels a little meandering, and the chronology is sometimes over-complicated. Although date labels at the head of each chapter help, the action jumps around in time quite a bit, later skipping over sizeable chunks. I wondered if condensing the action to just ten years, rather than nearly thirty, would make for a more focussed story. Minor punctuation problems and a mediocre cover mean that the novel isn't presented as well as it could be. I also questioned one use of the word 'niggardly'.
On the plus side, Ruth's is a warm first-person voice, and the ending hints at a welcome resolution to unanswered questions in Ruth's relationships with Clare and Alexis. My favourite aspect of the novel, though, is the frequent observations of the natural world. In both England and Australia, watching birds gives Ruth tastes of delight. 'The heron is there, standing on one yellow[-]grey leg, etiolated elegance' and 'Outside the wind jousts with the black afternoon' are two particularly beautiful lines I marked. Hogarth's strong descriptive language makes both settings vivid.
'Would it be better never to have [had] a sister?' Ruth asks herself near this atmospheric novel's conclusion. In giving full consideration to that question, Hogarth plumbs the depths of family secrets.
Further reading suggestion: Secrets of the Pomegranate by Barbara Lamplugh also examines the complex dynamic between two sisters.
You can read more about Sandy Hogarth here.
Sandy Hogarth was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
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