Another searing glimpse into a country’s troubled past is provided by Sheila Dalton’s The Girl in the Box. Those who have followed the long saga of the attempt to bring to justice Guatemala’s former President and dictator, José Efraín Ríos Montt, for genocide and crimes against humanity – most recently his conviction on May 10th, which was incomprehensively overthrown on May 21st – will be doubly interested in Dalton’s 2011 novel, which begins in the Guatemalan countryside in the early 1980’s at the height of a civil war that lasted some 36 years, with at least 200,000 deaths and a determined attempt to wipe the Mayan Ixil culture right off the map. In Dalton’s novel, the title’s “Girl in the Box” is not only a victim of that attempt at cultural devastation, but – in a mysterious twist that seems to echo the long and almost “unconscious” reach that evil can wreak even on the very well-meaning – when rescued to Canada, the “girl” is responsible for the murder of her rescuer, a Canadian psychoanalyst. Or is she responsible? What are the psychological secrets locked inside this “autistic” young woman? What are the hidden flaws of psychoanalytical practice itself, that might have led to a (presumably) innocent man’s murder? These are just some of the questions this complex novel probes.
Reading by Lightening by Joan Thomas was another piece of my April/May reading pile. I ordered the book while I was deeply involved in Thomas’s Curiosity (See the link to my April/May # 1 post, above) and already in love with Thomas’s work: an expectation that Reading by Lightening rewarded with the same depth of insight and vivid prose. Though very different from Curiosity -- (Reading by Lightning begins in Manitoba’s dust bowl 1930s, segues to pre-war England, and returns to a Manitoba as life recovers after the war) it is gratifying, also, to catch glimpses of Curiosity’s seeds in this debut novel, and to appreciate Thomas’s deft weaving of historical fact into fiction.
…And then Malarky by Anakana Schofield.
“Malarky: Exaggerated or foolish talk, usually intended to deceive” is the gist of the various definitions I can find of the word. Alternatively, “empty rhetoric, insincere and exaggerated….”
But there’s nothing insincere about the buzzing swarm of talk that makes up this novel: the interior chorus of a woman, where madness meteors through, and the mind’s determination to fight for its own survival; where grief is first foreseen – the worst grief a mother might foresee – then borne because there is no other way; where the silences between a husband and a wife are more potent than the talk; where a piece of what is probably misinformation about the husband grows in that silence, never questioned, welcomed, rather, as the woman (“Our Woman” as she is frequently described by the narrator, though the personal pronoun is given equal time) embarks on “research” involving a sexual adventure of her own.
Reading the cover quotes, I had somehow expected tea-pot wielding Irish warmth and humour to weld this all together; but though there are teapots, yes, and there is humour -- very bleak -- the sensibility is much more Kafka than cosy. The brilliance is the unsettling truth of all of this: the way a life – any life – can so easily fracture into pieces the mind can hardly grasp, the light-catching fragments, the cutting glitter, the shards of pain. And the way, despite all the malarkey life does throw at us, there are unexpected means of getting through.