As I turned the final page of Prince Rupert's Teardrop by Lisa Glass and published by Two Ravens Press, I found myself quite overwhelmed by the multiple interpretations it's possible to extract from one single book and thankfully I am able to report that this one more than held up to early expectations.
It has been a fascinating read and Plymouth-based to boot, so quite local and geographically I could place it and yes I agree with Lisa, it does always rain in Plymouth.
Mary, the daughter of the missing ninety-four year old Meghranoush is our main guide through this novel and clearly all is not well with Mary.Her love-hate relationship with her mother evident from the very start and that had me wondering what sort of an upbringing Mary may have had. Meghranoush as a survivor of the Armenian genocide must have had baggage of her own when she arrived in the UK with not a jot of the English language to hand and at one point we hear harrowing details of that from her.
The depths of Mary's mental illness gradually emerge and we are privy to the trail of her disordered thought processes almost immediately. As her mind begins to unravel her perceptions seemed to take me to the heart of things but then as I finished the book I was awash with uncertainty.
How much can I trust Mary's narrative voice?
Did that character exist in Mary's mind or in reality? Initially very real to us as readers but slowly absorbed into Mary's consciousness until almost completely assimilated.
Did that actually happen or was it all in Mary's mind? Clear events that slowly blur and lose their edges and assume a much more ill-defined and nebulous life of their own.
Some of Mary's thoughts entirely plausible, others completely off the wall and plenty of voices in her head and strange actions to match.Episodes of seemingly real and harsh brutality topped by even worse which just can't be true...they must be the products of a disturbed imagination...or are they?
I gradually began to wonder and felt myself thinking way beyond the words on the page.
Then as I approached the end this,
"Life is a game in which she has repeatedly proven herself to be a dunce.
The problem is the rules: a set of complex and interconnected understandings that go without being said. Even the most savvy, the most street-smart of persons must trip up sometimes, and Mary is barely able to cross a road without stumbling in front of oncoming traffic."
I would find it taxing enough to write straightforward inner fictional worlds, how much more difficult then to plot and write dysfunctional ones? I think Lisa deserves many extra marks for degree of difficulty and considering this is a first novel let's throw in a bravery award because for me she pulled it off.
One of the many aspects so well teased out and demonstrated;how we as a society view people like Mary who act and behave beyond the limits of our own social comfort zone.Her behaviour is frequently uninhibited and bizarre, verging on the revolting in public and at one point people stare at Mary as I may have done, albeit unwittingly (and probably trying not to), had I witnessed what she was wont to do.
It's the briefest of moments in the book but a loaded one,
"It's a strange expression and one which many faces have cast at her lately. Not ridicule as she'd first thought; no it's something else. The same expression that passes over their faces when the rats come out"
Think about that, imagine a rat staring at you (one that wasn't a pet and you are not pleased to see it!) , pull the face, it works, suddenly I understood something more. The book is laden with little moments like this.
I think the latest phrase for an unexpectedly good book is "punches above its weight" and I would suggest that Prince Rupert's Teardrop arrives in the ring as a bantam and easily finishes the bout as a good-sized light heavyweight.
Her writing holds such promise that I for one can't wait to read everything else that Lisa Glass gets published, I suspect it will be full of surprises and I wish her good fortune and a rock solid hard drive to cope with it, because I gather another whole book was lost in a computer meltdown.
Yes you would want to cry but, as a real bonus, I also know exactly how to get out of a car boot if I'm ever kidnapped, please don't pay the ransom, I know exactly what to do, if you are driving in the car behind just keep an eye on the rear lights.