Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Glass Castle

There is very little I can say about this book, except that it is excellent. Simply put, it is the - not autobiography, it's not as dry as that - memoir of Jeannette Walls, whose parents drag their four children around the deserts of the western United States in a variety of clapped out cars, sleeping under the stars and scavenging in bins for food, all the time owning a perfectly good house in Phoenix in which they feel trapped and refuse to settle permanently. When they are small, this is an adventurous life that the kids love, but as they grow up, and as winters and sojourns with odd relatives - odd in every sense, and in some senses, utterly distasteful - get harder, life becomes increasingly unbearable for the siblings. But mum is an artist, dad an inventor (who never actually builds any of his inventions, though there are blueprints aplenty) and their philosophy of life sits uncomfortably with the modern world. The children are taught independence, astrophysics and how to identify the flammability of different strata of coal, all worthy subjects, but there comes a point where their health and wellbeing is being sacrificed for the selfishness of two adults who will not accept responsibility. There are heartbreaking moments - their father's alcoholism leads to his stealing shamelessly from the children what little they have, and the moment where, having not eaten in days, they discover their mother hiding a huge bar of chocolate under her blanket, will make tears spring into your eyes. But this is not a wallowing book, and is long long way from being a 'misery memoir'. These kids are tough. And they somehow, against all the odds, force themselves into becoming successful and - I hope - happy, grownups. Or three of them do. There is one sacrifice to their upbringing.

Walls has an engaging tone and her writing is sparing. Emotion does not run deep in her words: instead she allows the stories to tell themselves and for us to put our own feelings into them. The Glass Castle has an episodic quality reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, in which chapters and incidents can stand alone, although if I were shelving it with an 'if you like this, you'll love...' tag, I'd put it next to Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight.

I found The Glass Castle almost impossible to put down - truly - and highly recommend it, particularly if, like me, you are currently so bogged down in other things that you need a book that will transport you with little effort on your part.

1 comment:

Mrs. B. said...

I've avoided this book for so long. I thought it was a 'misery memoir' and I really don't like those. You've convinced me. This is the second positive review I've read for this book this week.