I'm enjoying my meaningless challenge much more than I expected because I have gotten to read some really meaningful books. Tell Me Everything by Sarah Salway would have to win my best book of 2007 award, if I had one. (Bleak House would be a close second.) I opened it last night and didn't stop reading it until I had finished it. Thank you Scott Pack at Me and My Big Mouth for the recommendation. The nearest voice I can think to compare Sarah Salway's to is Lorrie Moore's, and coming from me that is a big compliment.
Molly experiences a few breaches of trust as a young woman that leave her seriously wounded. She closes down and protects herself by eating, when we meet her she has become one of life's castaways, seriously overweight without a job, a home, or any sense of herself. She meets five people - Mr. Roberts who gives her a job, Mrs. Roberts, Tim - a man of mystery she meets in the park, Liz - a librarian who recommends French authors, and Miranda, a hairdresser. With these relationships she begins, in a way, to reclaim herself. The story is observed in exquisite detail.
I love the description of Molly's initial meeting with Mr. Roberts:
He caught me crying at one of the cafe tables they put up outside the church on the high street during spring and summer.
Despite the cold, I'd been sitting there for one hour and forty-two minutes, refusing all offers of refreshments, even though I could see the volunteers pointing me out and tut-tutting among each other. Then a plump, peachy woman in a white blouse and flowery skirt - with one of those elasticized waists women her age wear for comfort although they're always having to hoist the skirt back down from where ti's risen up under their tits - came out and told me I wasn't to sit there anymore. That the cafe tables were for proper customers only.
I didn't say anything, just started to cry, and suddenly this old man came up and told the waitress it was all right. That I was with him.
It was Mr. Roberts, althougt of course I didn't know that then. I was just relieved that everybody was now staring at him instead of me. He said nothing at first. Just bought me a cup of tea, pushed it over and sat there in silence until I raised my head.
"What do they mean about being proper?" I asked.
"I supposed they want people who'll pay," he said. "They're traying to run a business here after all. Although the Bible does have something to say about merchants in the temple."
"I might not want anything to drink," I said, "but that doesn't mean I'm not proper. They should be more careful about what words they use. Words matter. That sticks and stones staying is rubbish. Names can break you."
"I know that pet," he replied. "You don't want to worry about church people. They've no taste. They can't see how special you are."
This made me cry even harder. Mr. Roberts didn't say anything, just got up so I thought he was leaving me too, but he came back with a handful of paper napkins and handed them to me.
"Dry yourself," he said. "And then we'll sort you out."
I wiped the tears away and looked up at him nervously, but he shook his head. "Not yet," he said, and pulled out a sheet of newspaper he had neatly folded away in the pocket of his tweed jacket. It was the racing pages and he started studying the form closely.
He was right too. As soon as I realized his attention had wandered away from me I started crying again, loud, gasping sobs. When he didn't seem to mind, I ignored the sour looks I was getting from the church woman and let it all come out. The pile of napkins was sodden by the time I was finished, and his facing columns were full of the little Biro marks and comments. He must have been sixty, with steely gray hair cut forward over a bulging forehead. It was his mouth I noticed most. It was prim and womanly, with perfectly shaped teeth he kept tapping his pen against. It wasn't the first time I'd noticed that the older men get, the more feminine their mouths and chins become. It's the opposite of women, who start to sprout bristles and Winston Churchill jowls. In fact, most long-term couples look as if they've swapped faces from the nose down.
Isn't that scene marvelous? I really want to share more of her beautiful writing with you, more of the perfectly wrought descriptions, more of her complex observations about human beings' private fantasies and pains, more of her cogent story telling, but what you really should do is get this book for yourself and read it. It's magnificent and meaningful writing and would start off your year's reading with a bang.
41. Friends and Heroes - Olivia Manning
42. Nerve Damage - Peter Abrahams
43. The Stolen Child - Keith Donohue
44. The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick
45. Tell me Everything - Sarah Salway
46. Experiment in Love - Hillary Mantel
47. The Last Town on Earth - Thomas Mullen
48. Lisrael - Garth Nix
49. Abhorsen - Garth Nix
50. Musicophilia - Oliver Sacks
That brings me to #46 Experiment in Love.