Sunday, 21 October 2007

Foolish Mortals by Jennifer Johnston

Foolish Mortals
Jennifer Johnston
(Headline Review €??)

AT 77, Jennifer Johnston has published her 15th novel, plunging fearlessly into the subject of age and decay.

Her hero Henry half-wakes from a coma in hospital, with no recollection of his recent life - even of his recent wife.

His first wife is around all right, acting in lieu of next-of-kin, but apparently he'd made everyone very cross by breaking up with her and marrying someone else.

It seems he has children, though he remembers none of this. And it's only as he gradually recollects, shred by shred, that he realises how truly complicated his life is.

Foolish Mortals is written in Johnston's characteristic light and flighty style, rich in dialogue and soft on plotting. So when, somewhere in the middle of the book, you're calmly turning another page to have the whole thing turn around and bite you, it's a shock.

In a way, it's an awful pity this shock doesn't come earlier in the story, because it's the catalyst for the action - and the great characters - taking off.

There are great characters here, especially Henry's mother Tash - always more interested in her art than her family, and now drinking to fill up the void as her talent and her memory drain away.

Under all the drama and revelations, this is really Tash's story, and it ends with one of the great death scenes. What a way to go.

(xxxx stars)

No comments: