Thursday 24 July 2014

The Language of Others by Clare Morrall

The Language of Others is the story of Jessica Fontaine, tracing her life from her childhood at Audlands Hall - the crumbling mansion her biscuit baron father bought to please her mother - through to her present day struggles with her grown-up son and her estranged husband.
    As a child Jessica's mother found her daughter unfathomable, possibly even retarded, unlike her sociable and attractive younger sister, Harriet. While her mother organised treasure hunts and parties and Harriet ran about the estate with their cousins, Jess would sit at an upstairs window reading or skating down the long gallery. Until she discovered music.
    Jess is in fact smarter than she looks, and takes to playing the piano with a huge amount of commitment, enough to get herself into music school where she meets Andrew. She falls in love with Andrew the moment she first sees him, playing the violin. Andrew has a bucketload of talent but lacks the emotional maturity to use it. He resents his pushy mother for the path his life has taken and all the hours he spent practising as a child. Clearly, both have mother issues.
    The story weaves in threads from Jessica's growing up and the early years of their marriage with her present-day life, working at a library part-time and playing piano duets to small audiences with her good friend, Mary. At home Jess's twenty-three year old son, Joel, still expects his mother to house and cook for him in spite of Joel's success in the computer gaming industry. To Jess's knowledge, Joel has no friends or ever had a girlfriend, and this worries her.
    But her peace is completely shattered when Andrew gets in touch after seven years of no communication. Andrew has always been difficult, and refusing to play his violin for years, has never settled to any particular career path.
    How Jessica comes to understand her son and Andrew while she is coerced into considering events from the past is the main thrust of the story. There is a lot of detail of a musical nature and Morrall recreates the house of Audlands with a finely imagined pen. This is a quiet story, that nevertheless builds to a dramatic finish, as friends and family come together one last time for a final barn dance at Audlands Hall.
    But really this is a novel about self-awareness and how when you understand yourself, it puts into perspective your interactions with other people. Like previous books I've read by this author, she has created some unusual characters, who nevertheless engage the reader's sympathy and are carefully drawn.  What stands out for me is the wisdom present in Morrall's novels, which though pleasurable, also leave you feeling enriched. What more could you ask for?

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