Sunday, 18 January 2009

Still Here by Linda Grant

Still Here is a densely textured novel, weaving love stories into major historical events and big ideas about memory, evil and redemption. The action of the novel is compressed into a relatively short timeframe, contrasting effectively with its historical range and moral scope. The events follow the death of Lotte Rebick, mother of Alix who narrates part of the text, and her brother Sam, a successful Liverpool defence lawyer. Sam brings Alix into contact with Joseph, an American architect in Liverpool to build a hotel. Alix, single and frustrated, comes to desire Joseph soon after they meet, but Grant delays their union in a story full of twists and diversions.

The historical background in this book encompasses the development and decline of Liverpool, the Holocaust, the bombing of Dresden, the division of Germany and the Yom Kippur war. Grant manages this breadth expertly and convincingly. Joseph, the outsider, is often told the stories and retells them to us in his narrative; when he finally tells his own history, having kept it secret for years, this reversal intensifies the power of his revelation, and gives greater point to the sudden realisation of his attraction to Alix, the woman who can hear his story and bear it unflinchingly. The protagonists' frustrated desires echo those of Lotte's for her gemütlich Dresden childhood and for a new life in America, never to be achieved. Achieving your desire is also dangerous, as Joseph discovers when his estranged wife returns to him, so changed by cosmetic surgery and dieting that his desire for her evaporates almost instantly. One of the enjoyable aspects of this book is that Alix, the strong, powerful, argumentative woman, the feminist, is fulfilled rather than thwarted, as is so often the case for similar characters.

I'm a reader and admirer of Linda Grant's writing on fashion and beauty, and another great pleasure in this book is the importance of clothes and beauty to the narrative - and to the plot. A rewarding and satisfying read.

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