Sacred Country by Rose Tremain
Mary’s mother, Estelle, is also distant from her elder child, although, ground down by the disappointments of her marriage, she is distant from everyone, including herself. Now and then she finds some relief in the psychiatric hospital. Mary, for her own safety, is sent to live with her maternal grandfather, a kinder man who agrees to call her Marty, although not understanding why.
Fortunately, Mary has other supportive adults around her although, in keeping with the conservatism of 1960s rural Suffolk, none of them directly intervene. Her teacher, having the confidence and intelligence not to be threatened by a clever and questioning pupil, is one such ally; a neighbour, initially scorned as a single mother, is another. Even so, Mary keeps her real self a secret.
With an interest in transfiction, I’d been meaning to read this novel, first published in 1992, since a reader mentioned it in a review of Sugar and Snails. I enjoyed following the journey from Mary to Martin, from south-east England to Nashville, Tennessee. I also enjoyed reading about her family and neighbours, also the secondary plot, concerning Walter Loomis, another young man stifled by his allotted role, was much less interesting, especially early on.
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
Despite shifting perspectives that remind us that no-one is ever completely knowable, and shifting literary devices like letters and newspaper reports, the novel is no more interesting than the protagonist: a woman who is little more than a spectator of her own life.
Yes, women had much lower expectations in those days, but I couldn’t help judge in her squandering her university education. While a period of depression acknowledges the deaths of both her mother (in childbirth) and her foster mother (at age eleven) would take a psychological toll, I’d have liked more of this, or less. I couldn’t tell if Daisy was meant to be a twentieth century Everywoman or a specific case.
And what to make of the eight pages of photographs? It’s probably significant that there are none of Daisy, but other characters are missing too. The discrepancy between the pictorial and textual representations of her mother really bugged me. I wish I could remember what I’d thought first time round!