Monday, December 15, 2014

A novel that will stick with you

We are all made of Glue by Marina Lewycka


Georgina is in a bit of a mess. Her husband has left her for another woman, her daughter hardly speaks to her, her son is going through a mid-teen crisis, she can’t seem to get anywhere with her steamy romance novel, and she’s stuck writing articles about adhesives for a trade magazine. Just when she thought things couldn’t get worse She meets Naomi Shapiro, a lonely widow living with lots of cats in a run-down and filthy mansion who needs her help. Despite her better judgment, Georgina does get involved, and that's when the trouble begins.

The first reason I liked this book is that all the above information isn’t how this novel begins. The story actually opens with Georgina meeting one of Naomi’s cats – Wonder Boy – who immediately pees on her. With this kind of opening, Lewycka brings the reader into the story immediately, and thereby catches our attention, and it doesn’t stop there. Added to the cast of characters are an Arab builder and his “useless” crew, a bunch of shady and/or sexy estate agents, social workers, municipal agents and even Georgina's editor and his son. All this, and more, gets flung together in a conflagration that, well, gets all gummed up. Of course, since this is a comic novel, things will get unstuck eventually, but how it does is a true delight.

As confusing as this may sound, what makes this work is how Lewycka narrates the story using Georgina as the main voice. While some people think first person narratives are cliché, I have to admit that if done correctly, this can work very well. It does give the story a very personal feel to it, as if we’re in the brain of the main character. Lewycka also does two other things to help us better understand the other major players in the story – these being Naomi and Ali, the Arab builder. With Naomi, she wheedles some of her background out of her over some disgusting tea, and at other times, uses Georgina's overly nosey character to find out more about her when she’s “inspecting” Naomi's house or when she cat-sits. What she’s unable to uncover in her investigations, she gets out of Ali, who also offers her some of his own history.

All this is done slowly throughout the book, giving it a type of mystery feel to it, which unravels as we go along. Of course, what this also does is make us want to read on, straight through to the end to find out the whole story and see how things turn out. What’s more, the characters also develop so nicely, that the reader feels that they’re getting to know them right along with Georgina. As far as readability is concerned, this book gets top marks.

Mind you, there was one passage where I worried Marina was getting a touch too political. This was with the builder Ali and his early life in Palestine (pre-Statehood era). Thankfully, Marina smoothes this out without being judgmental regarding either side of the conflict, by having Georgina be both politically and historically ignorant. This works well because many people have no opinions about such things. This also brings in an element of naiveté to Georgina's character, which allows her to draw parallels between such conflicts, her own personal adventures and - yes, you got it - the title of the book.

By this I mean the essence of what glue does - bonds things together. Yet, not every adhesive is the right one for the job. Lewycka takes this metaphor and applies it to everything in the story, making this an added philosophical (and yet amusing) bonus, but which you'll only get the full effect of after you've finished reading it all.

This all means that I highly recommend you read this book. The story, the characters, the writing and everything here just flows and keeps your interest from start to finish. I should mention that there are some truly hilarious bits here, which only add to the enjoyment. Dare I say this might even be better than her debut novel? Well, I wouldn't go quite that far, but I certainly like this better than "Two Caravans" and feel that Ms Lewycka has not disappointed in the least. What's more, I'm really looking forward to reading even more from her. After all that, it should be no surprise that I'm giving this book a full five out of five stars.

"We are all Made of Glue" by Marina Lewycka Published July 2nd 2009 by Penguin Books is available on Kindle from Amazon, as an iBook or audiobook from iTunes, in paperback from The Book Depository, or from an IndieBound store near you.

This is a revised version of a review that originally appeared on Dooyoo under my username TheChocolateLady, as well as on {the now defunct} Yahoo! Voices.