review by Maryom
Following a moment of revelation on a mountain top in Taiwan, Winifred Rigby believes she's attained a state of enlightenment, discarding all thoughts of 'self' along with her memories. Now forced by her family to return to London, she tries her best to live a life of Buddhist detachment and mindfulness, concentrating on the present, and forgetting the past, but is puzzled and frustrated by the almost obsessive care shown by her mother and sister, and, despite her intentions, the past seems unwilling to let go of Winnie. First she's approached by one of her former teachers who believes he is being haunted by his father, Mr Gadd, and that the answer to how to appease this ghost is to be found in an old school essay's of Winnie's - The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased). This leads to other random encounters - with her best friend from her teenage years, and a former boyfriend - and more deliberate journeys into the past through her school essays. Maybe Winnie needs to re-connect with her past to find a future?
The story (apart from a short 'epilogue' is narrated by Winnie herself, and at first I took her words as 'true'. She believes that her family have tricked her in various ways - pretending her sister was ill to make Winnie come home from Taiwan, clearing a large amount of money from her back account, acting as if her father were dead when Winnie herself has seen him selling Big Issue at the tube station. I loved the tone of Winnie's voice, but it's obvious from the first page that Winnie and her family aren't quite communicating on the same wavelength and gradually I began to get the feeling that Winnie wasn't exactly the most reliable of narrators. Soon a number of mysteries emerge - why does her sister Ursula keep such a close eye on Winnie? what really happened to bring Winnie home from Taiwan? has Winnie chosen to forget the past or has she lost her memory in some way? - and, of course, I needed to know why/what/ how, and was hooked.
Thought-provoking is a tag often used when reviewing books, but here, without stressing or labouring over them, the author introduces a variety of themes to mull over or discuss with bookclub friends - how do you care for or continue to love a person who has undergone a radical personality change? isn't change of some sort necessary to personal growth? is it good or bad to cut oneself loose from the past? is the detachment that Winnie seeks necessarily a good thing or can it make us careless of other people's emotions? It's a book I feel I could return to time and again, and always find something new hidden there.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing
Genre - Adult fiction