Friday, July 9, 2010
The Earth Hums In B Flat
I am suspicious of adult novels told in the first person from a child's point of view. The child is never really a child. It's always a quirky little prophet machine. It's innocence a mask in place to reveal the hypocrisy of adults. This doesn't mean that there haven't been many novels like this that I have enjoyed. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Sweetnees at the Bottom of the Pie come to mind.
Another book to add to this list is The Earth Hums In B Flat by Mari Stranchan. Growing up in the 1950's in a small Welsh village twelve year old Gwennie is the 'odd' child of the community, not that she thinks of herself as that way. She sees herself as gifted: She flies in her sleep, has visions and takes questions from the Toby mugs in the kitchen. Is it that she has a good imagination? At home she must very carefully navigate her Mother's mental instability and her peacemaker Fathers' enabling.
When the husband of a supportive teacher is found dead Gwennie takes the case. Her investigation unwittingly reveals the kinds of secrets that change lives but the real tension here is a more unexpected type than catching a murderer. As you read Earth and succumb to Gwennie's considerable charms there is a palpable suspense in what exactly Gwennie's mental state is. Is she a young eccentric who will find her way or are the same seeds that torment her Mother already planted in Gwennie?
Given my suspicions I didn't expect to think much of The Earth Hums In B Flat. I read it because my friend Sasha encouraged/nagged me to read it. Well don't I have good friends? She was right. This is an outstanding novel. I was surprised the directions the story took. The impressive Gwennie is a wholly realized creation. Stranchan's development of her characters is more accomplished than most established authors can muster let alone a first timer like herself.
Earth would make a discussion filled book club choice. The family dynamics, where do individuals fit into society, what's changed since 1950, the mysteries, Gwennie's fate, etc would all be excellent talking points. It would also be a good book choice for more mature fourteen year old (and up) that are ready for more adult novels than are geared for their age group---and that is not to say at all that The Earth Hums In B Flat is a YA (young adult level reader) masquerading as a grown-up book....as so many others do.