Saturday, January 14, 2012

An Engrossing Tale. Sort Of.

Drowning RoseDrowning Rose by Marika Cobbold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 I fell straight into this book and became absorbed to such an extent I began to swear every time I was interrupted by somebody wanting something. OK, what they wanted was to remind me that it was time for me to eat, or go to bed; or perhaps I’d care to get into the car which I’d called for earlier and it had been waiting for me for 25 minutes. Annoying irrelevant things like that. Things to do with Me. That’s the extent to which it dragged me away from my own annoyances. Opening my Android phone I pulled up a note, wrote “Did Sodding Life Get In The Way?” and emailing it to myself I added it to the list and put a tick in a new box for my list called Review Criteria. Then I returned to guffawing chuckling, smirking and nearly sniggering at  some of the antics three of the main characters, known as ‛The Princesses’ got up to. The theme outside this clique was unfolded by a fourth girl, Sandra/Cassandra  whom the other three kept excluding from their lives. Many little strings were tweaked for me here, and once the joking, smirking and nearly sniggering had burnt itself out, these situations always twanged the nostalgic air in a minor key. Most of all, the story reminded me of someone I knew a long way back. I loved the odd take she had on life, the pokes she gave to nearly any- and everybody, especially to herself, many little verbal quips which ignited, flared and died away.  Yet underneath this frolicsome, funny and yet rather cruel charade it seemed a deeper purpose was slowly moving, something which was distracting me from the subliminal underflow by all the frill and froth bubbling away in front of me. I tensed myself and waited for my jaw to drop .

The story kept me thinking further back to my own childhood as I remembered how desperately I wanted to make friends with other children, especially boys; yet most boys spent their time lying on their stomachs ruffling bedsheets and candlewick covers into mountains, dales crevasses canyons and rolling plains. They were positioning their little plastic soldiers into the smooth steps and slopes formed by the sheets. Many of the men were half-folded in a crouching position with rifles mounted on their knees. This set was ‛our’ people I was told, and the opposite set of people were called ‛Jerries’. The game was to lie in ambush behind folded rocks,  ruffled trees and crimped-up bushes  going “ack-ack blam-blam-blam!” to see how many ‛Jerries’ you could shoot down. It was all rather horrid. Considering my Dad himself had been a decade out of The War as a fighter pilot he must have been engaged in this, yet he’d always remained silent at home. When I wouldn’t join in with these boys they labelled me ‛sissy’ and some of the nurses added that if I didn’t like playing with boys I should have to play with girls instead. Which is exactly what I did.

The girls with their loves and hates sometimes spat poison at me like “Today we’re all ganging up on you” or “Linda says your radio’s no good ’cos it crackles” which would come out in an early morning hiss, followed later on by the making up with its love and smiles and whispered conversations about ‛Who’s going to cuddle Johnny next?’ or ‛Has anyone seen his willy?’ It all came hurtling back to flood my mind. Yet Drowning Rose was far more than these memories of half a century. Here it was the use of words and the gentle self-mocking of the protagonist — a girl called Eliza, who had grown on to restore porcelain pottery — which had me captivated and enthralled. A lady who loves to mend things in this broken world will always have a firm place in my heart.  Lovely phrases like “sitting there as if he belonged, the glass of wine in his hand, his legs outstretched, cutting the kitchen floor in half” and “This bore the nose-print of my mother and I had wanted to ask her to please not put ideas into an old man’s head” were examples which lingered with me for a long time. Here was a lady whose words and me would I hope make very merry partners.

On this ghastly system of awarding ‛Stars’ to the book, I was thinking Five Stars, Five Stars all the way. I just couldn’t think of any other score for it. At times I was chuckling till my chest hurt and I had to take a drink of water. In fact I was high on the ride of the narrative and I kept on wanting more.

Yet sadly the hope of finding a new author whose work I could merrily munch through became a little jaded when I reached the section titled “Cass and Ben”. I was puzzled at the complete shift in tone. It wasn’t that another element was being brought in, as I was expecting a gear change at some point in the narrative. It was just that the change was so sudden, so different; so alien that I checked my ebook several times to ensure that I hadn’t somehow jumped into the middle of another tale. I now seemed to be in a pulp fiction novel I’d picked up from the Bangalore Bus Station in 1985. I told myself never mind, it will all fall together and make sense. And fall together it did in a way which was OK. Sort Of. Still I kept asking myself “How?” “Does the way this falls together work as well as the rest of the tale?” and sadly it didn’t.
    For me it’s a matter of what you come to expect. The more the writing engages me, and the more it  holds me in thrall, so the more I anticipate —and require— that the standard be maintained. So any shift which is below par and below tone in the harmony of the piece cannot entirely work. Nonetheless I had a hell of a time with this story and would love to have given it its Five Stars. Miss Cobbold’s exercise didn’t quite pull off though, which is a shame as it’s such a good story and there’s plenty of meat and trimmings here. If only a few extra resources had been applied to giving it a good brush, comb and spray before the final presentation to the public it would have been a cut far above what the ‛Princesses’ in the narrative could have managed.  
    When I look back on it, I certainly enjoyed it. But the strange jarring of the Cass and Ben chapter with its sad consequences  certainly worked. But only Sort Of, and to an extent which appeared more limited every time I looked at it. I just couldn’t quite get rid of that feeling of being let down at the end. My jaw opened slightly, but it never really dropped. I’d been on a good ride, and I know the author has plenty of other rides available. So would I fork out on another one? Certainly the reader could do a lot worse than reading Miss Cobbold’s books. Yet many other artists out there have lots of different rides nuzzling me in all the right places and I’m giving their call more attention than listening to the capable harp of this author. It will be yet awhile before my hand lands on this author again when I give my book carousel another spin.

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