Monday, June 8, 2015
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
Orange Prize winner and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008, Linda Grant has created an enchanting portrait of a woman who, having endured unbearable loss, finds solace in the family secrets her estranged uncle reveals. In vivid and supple prose, Grant subtly constructs a powerful story of family, love, and the hold the past has on the present.
Vivien Kovacs, a sensitive, bookish girl grows up sealed off from the world by her timid Hungarian refugee parents, who conceal the details of their history and shy away from any encounter with the outside world. She learns how to navigate British society from an eccentric cast of neighbors -- including a fading ballerina, a cartoonist, and a sad woman who wanders the city and teaches Vivien to be beautiful. She loses herself in books and reinvents herself according to her favorite characters, but it is through clothes that she ultimately defines herself.
Against her father's wishes, she forges a relationship with her uncle, a notorious criminal and slum landlord, who, in his old age, wants to share his life story. As he exposes the truth about her family's past Vivien learns how to be comfortable in her own skin and how to be alive in the world.
Two things attracted me to this book. First, the black and white cover evokes a feeling of nostalgia, mystery and glamour. Second, the book was shortlisted for the coveted Man Booker Prize. Not forgetting the author was a winner of the Orange Prize, currently known as the Women's Prize for Fiction. With so many awards enveloping this book, I thought it's a sure bet. Well, I guess I won't get any award for thinking so as I was far from being right.
The story is about Vivien and how she tries to figure out her family and sort out her life. Her parents are immigrant from Hungary and shuts her from their past. After going through a rather devastating incident, Vivien is feeling rather lost and is hungry to know about her history and the history of her parents and that is when she decided to seek out the estranged uncle, her father's brother who is of a rather notorious character and who can't wait to off load his story to his niece.
I got rather lost myself reading through this book. Vivien just wasn't an endearing character and I didn't warm up to her. I find her father hopeless and helpless. What happened to her was pretty unfair and while she didn't really point fingers, she didn't really didn't do that either. So, for a book that was nominated for a prize written by a prize winner author, it didn't get any prize from me.