No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

2010/72: Margarettown -- Gabrielle Zevin

She was born Margaret. As a girl, she was May; as a teenager, Mia; as an adult, Marge. When she dies, dhe was Margaret once again. There were other iterations along the way: Old Margaret with the grey hair, the sexy and impossible Maggie whom I adored, the manic depressive Greta, and others, so many others. There were so many Margaret Townes. Sometimes I ask myself, how could Margaret have been so many women at once? And the answer is, Jane, that your mother was either a most extraordinary woman or a most ordinary one. (p. 32)
Margarettown is the story of the love affair of Maggie and the narrator, named only as N___. Maggie isn’t like the other girls: when she says so, N___ writes it off as a typical early-twenties statement. Then, visiting the family home (Margaron), he meets Maggie’s family and realises that she’s really not like other women.

Or is she? Or is N___ lying? (His uncle tells him he’s ‘’sexually unethical’ like my mother and ‘a pathological liar’ like my father. (p. 105)).

There are plenty of fairytale elements in this novel. When N___ first meets Maggie, he finds her lying on a heap of mattresses, beneath which is, not a pea, but a pen. The child May draws a picture of the frog prince, and tells N___ that the original story has the princess throwing the frog against a wall, ‘beating the prince out of him’. And there’s another story, of a girl bewitched: the enchantment would split her into multiple ages until she found true love. When the daughter found true love, the spell would be broken and she would become one again ... I just made all that up, of course. (p. 85)

Most of the novel is N__’s narration, but part is a third-person account of the first years of Maggie’s marriage, and part is told from the perspective of prenatal twins. Maggie’s secrets, and her past, are explored by allusion: little is explained, but explanations are unnecessary. Maggie’s multiplicity fascinates.

This is a quietly impressive novel. It reminded me at times of Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife -- for the romance, for the unsentimentality, for the unquestioned mundane magic of it.

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