Saturday, February 23, 2008

Life by fits, starts, and blackouts (Electricity - by Ray Robinson)

An orphaned, fiercely determined, poorly educated, epileptic named Lily tries to solve the mystery of her missing brother, and discover love - an unlikely subject for a book? Cynics might say it's already been done with Asperger's (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time) and Tourette's (Motherless Brooklyn) so why not epilepsy - but Electricity is better than that. As a tale it is almost Dickensian, not in length but in theme - the down-and-out kids living in doorways in London, the soft-hearted junk-shop dealer who serves as surrogate father, the saintly corporate girlfriend who pulls her off the streets, the crooked detective. Like Dickens, Robinson offers up a tale of a life we have never lived (or I haven't anyway), but lets us be touched by the loss of our central character. The mystery part of the plot offers suspense that really carried this reader through the novel with interest. The writer plays virtuosically with language in a way that helps to reveal Lily's state of mind around her seizures. Finally that Dickensian hope of being reunited with her family offers the possibility of real redemption. I won't tell you if she finds him or not, for that you will have to read the book yourself. Lily's disease seems an apt metaphor for her life - something against which she is powerless comes in and shakes her up and she is left with black-out periods on either side of her seizures for which she must fill in the gaps in her existence. It is a dark life that Lily lives, but Robinson resists the temptation of simply sensationalizing the grit - there is a point to it all. I found this book a most satisfying read - thank you Scott for another good recommendation. This post along with this one and this one constitute my full reactions.

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