Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Looking Glass by Michele Roberts



Set in the French countryside in what I thought was the late 1800s, this book takes in the points of view of several different women, most prominently Genevieve, an orphan who has left her orphanage and is finding her place in the world.  As Genevieve encounters different people and circumstances, Roberts relies on accounts of other female characters to fill in the spaces of Genevieve's memory that is unreliable.  The result is a lyrical tale of memory itself.

Roberts also relied heavily on the environment around the characters - especially rivers, oceans, rain - to aid in creating a hazy backdrop to the memories.  There is a recurring story of a mermaid that takes on various forms and is so symbolic of Genevieve herself - always moving, always surfacing, always beguiling.

My favourite quote from the story is close to the end:  "Is that what the imagination does for us, then, preserves for ever what we most love?  So imagination and memory are one.  And to remember is to become an archaeologist, discovering images of the past whole and undamaged.  Or, at least, knowing how to fit the remains together again; to mend what was destroyed; to make something new out of it."  How eloquent.  How true.

What really struck me was the very last sentence of the book.  Genevieve is walking along a beach, looking at the sea-froth, and finally, the date is revealed.  It is early summer in 1914.  This gives me shivers.  What will become of these women?  Who, if they are all gone within the next few years, will carry on their memories?

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