Sunday, 2 February 2014

Never Mind Miss Fox by Olivia Glazebrook | Oh the secrets you shall keep!

This is a semi-dark novel that'll keep you glued to the pages throughout. Evoking the children's classic Fantastic Mr Fox, this novel is not exactly child friendly, but the reference creates almost a juxtaposition in the fact that a child's life could be irrevocably changed through Miss Fox' entrance in their lives.

Clive is in his thirties and is happily married to Martha who he's been with since his late teens. His life turns upside down when his only daughter Eliza comes home one day to tell her parents that her new piano teacher is one Eliot Fox that Clive's younger brother Tom was in love with at fifteen. While Martha is delighted at the idea of seeing Miss Fox again, Clive is petrified. Will she tell?

The story jumps between the present story as Eliza becomes more and more enthralled with her piano teacher, much to her father's dismay, and the story of Clive and Martha's encounter with Eliot Fox when they were all teens. Clive was an awkward guy who never felt comfortable until Martha came into his life. The flashback scenes are written from Clive's perspective, and it's unusual to read someone's perspective and not fully sympathize with them. There's something just a bit off about Clive, and even his brother Tom tells his so. Tom for his part is in love for the first time, but Eliot sees him only as a friend. There's something about Tom and Eliot's easy companionship that is getting to the young Clive, and despite having Martha, Clive watches them with a sort of envy. He does come across as quite the weirdo.

After a holiday spent together in France, Clive is filled with pent up feelings he cannot name or justify. When Martha's ex-boyfriend Dennis runs into Clive and Eliot, he's enraged to observe Eliot's response to Dennis. His jealousy leads Clive down a dark road that will haunt him until his daughter comes home to tell him about Miss Fox. Clive's nightmares are now his reality.

As for Eliot, we are never sure of her intentions. As a teenage carefree girl, she shamelessly admits to ambitions of marrying for money. We learn that she's spent years in America, and her return as a piano teacher suggests that her strategy might have failed. We're not sure if her friendship with Eliza has an ulterior motive.

As Eliot manifests herself more and more in Eliza's life, Clive becomes increasingly desperate to erase her from their lives. A confrontation is inevitable, but at what cost?

This is a story about secrets, betrayal, and of being insecure and estranged. It's a story about relationship between parent and child, about family, and about how fragile the connection really is. Never Mind Miss Fox raises a lot of questions, but the answers are not clear. It'll get you thinking about your own secrets, your own family, and the things that are in place to keep it all together. Easily read in one sitting, but then mulled over for a long time.

The Little Old Lady who Broke all the Rules by Catahrina Ingelman-Sundberg

Another Swedish novel in the tradition of The Hundred-year-old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared. The premise is an old person who is fed up with living in a retirement home and decides to bounce. Turns out that makes for quite entertaining literature!

Martha is done living on rations and getting less and less food, coffee and other comforts at her retirement home Diamond House. In a dream, the solution to her problems is revealed. She can rob a bank! Inmates in prison have more comforts than herself and the rest of the "choir gang" at Diamond House, so it's worth the risk. Persuading her friends to join her, however, can prove challenging. Which is why she sugarcoats her plan with some cloudberry liqueur.

The group consists of five: Martha, Anna-Greta, Christina, Brains and Rake. And even though they are old and slow, Martha's idea gives everyone a boost, and soon they aren't so slow anymore. Their transgressions start out small with a clandestine dinner in the staff kitchens, but soon escalates to art theft! But Martha has even larger ambitions, and once the paintings they "kidnapped" disappear, the plot keeps getting thicker by the minute.

This is a heartwarming topsy-turvy story. There are a lot of threads in the plot, including the detour of both the missing paintings and some money that went for a ride, not to mention the ambitious head nurse Barbara at Diamond House, and the police trying to investigate the oldies. It's fun and pleasant reading from start to finish, and we can't help but sympathize and cheer for our art thieves. Despite the limitations their age represents, Martha and her friends manage to outsmart everyone who's on their tail, be it the nurses, the police or the real hard core criminals. 

At the heart of the story is a strong critique of Swedish "elderly" politics. The author highlight cuts and abuses that happen every day at old age homes, while emphasizing that there are nurses that truly care and who do their best with meager funding. Ingeland-Sundberg reminds us that the elderly today are the ones who built the country's wealth to what it is today, and they deserve more respect and comfort than they are currently getting. In her protagonists, we meet someone who is not afraid to take what they feel entitled to themselves.

This is a lovely novel about getting old - and refusing to get old. Martha awakens the Peter Pan in all her friends, and sets off on a new beginning and a new adventure. Who knows if it'll be the last.