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Review: The Spanish Boy

The Spanish Boy by C. S. Reardon

Edie Clarey is the main character of The Spanish Boy, yet for most of the novel she is not present. Not quite halfway through the novel she disappears and we wonder and speculate as to the reason until the end, when all but one of the characters closest to her are dead. Now we have a mystery, the makings of a romance and a historical novel all in one.

We begin in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1936, with the appearance in the sky of the astonishing airship, the Hindenberg, on its way to New Jersey. Three young friends have risen early, scrambled out of their beds, and run to a nearby park to witness the spectacle. Edie is the oldest at 18, her brother Mel and their friend Lawrie are 16. Lawrie is in love with Edie, has loved her all his life, and only waits to be 18 himself, when the difference in their ages won’t matter so much.

Edie is deeply loved and spoiled by her parents, as well as her two brothers—the older Gus, who is half-heartedly studying for the priesthood, and Mel, more like a twin brother, his bond with Edie is so close. (Another character is Theresa, the family’s expert housekeeper and terrible cook. Theresa’s history is a tragic one, her family having been lost and she being terribly disfigured, in the 1917 explosion that levelled much of the city and killed about 2000. Halifax is given affectionate treatment here.)

All this love seems inevitable, since Edie has all the physical characteristics of a typical romance novel heroine—not pretty but brimming with inner beauty, tall, lively, slim and possessing that most important appurtenance, long, curly, chestnut hair. The author’s description could have been copied from any number of Harlequin numbers and, for that reason, sadly disappointed me. But, maybe Reardon is being ironic? Hmmm.

Edie is given a job in her father’s paint and glass shop to keep her out of trouble. She is a sort of receptionist and file clerk and terribly bored. All the men there adore her and she respects them, all but the annoying accountant. Her interest is only piqued by the dark-eyed, curly-black-haired newcomer. He calls himself Michael Green to hide his real name, Micah Gessen, but is nick-named “the Spanish boy” by his fellow workers because of his dark appearance, unaware of his plans.

Micah is a “red,” a communist from Toronto, trying to earn enough money to get on a ship to Spain to fight with the Republican rebels against the fascistic Nationalists. He takes advantage of Edie’s interest in him to talk to her about Marxism and Spain, gaining her sympathy so she will act as a helper and messenger. She hopes to impress him with her new-found selflessness and interest in communism. She is determined to go to Spain with him but he scorns her. She offers her bicycle as enticement—he’ll take the bike but not her. This where the reader will want her to stow away, join the Republicans and be a hero. Well, maybe she does—I’m not telling.

The Spanish Boy is a complex but satisfying and well told tale that manages to subvert a trite romance and make something much better—a novel of a happy family in hard times that suffers a strange, painful loss that leaves them to live on in a mystery.

An Introduction to Zombi Chic

The essay that I have given its own page began life about twelve years ago as an undergrad literary criticism exercise (A+). After neglecting it for all that time, I became inspired by the recent Jean Rhys Reading Week, in which I participated, to polish and enlarge it a bit. It is still a work in progress.

I suppose some people might think that with a title like that it must be a joke or written by a “Walking Dead” fan, which I am not. In fact, it’s a serious–if a bit fanciful–look at the author’s responsibility (if they have one) for the manipulation of their characters. The original purpose of the exercise was to say something about intertextuality but this question of an author’s “authority” seems much more interesting now.

I had been fascinated by Jean Rhys as person and writer for years before becoming a mature student  and grabbed the chance to express something about my complicated feelings about her and her work. I hope, if you are an admirer of Rhys—or perhaps, more importantly, if you are not—you will see the novels with a new appreciation.

Margaret Reardon, September 28, 2016

Is this image funny or uncannily like a scene from Rhys? Her woman as mannequin/zombi.

A Round Up of Reviews and Comments on Good Morning, Midnight

The range of opinions went from boredom to touching personal reflections. Good Morning, Midnight can be difficult to come to terms with, especially since Sasha Jansen seems, from the beginning, to be on an emotional downward slope.

Eric Anderson at http://lonesomereader.comhas a very good review of GMM.

He makes several cogent points on different facets of Sasha’s  self-identity with telling quotes:

it isn’t my face, this tortured and tormented mask. I can take it off whenever I like and hang it up on a nail. Or shall I place on it a tall hat with a green feather, hang a veil on the lot, and walk about the dark streets so merrily?”

And so we come to Sasha’s ‘wry’ ‘cruel’ sense of humour. Eric says there is a sense of ‘liberation’ in the sly mockery. It provides some relief to know that she has the ability to laugh through the sadness—at herself and her circumstances.

Continue reading “A Round Up of Reviews and Comments on Good Morning, Midnight”