Night club singer Benna Carpenter lives in a flat across the hall from Gerard Maines. Gerard is in love with Benna and suffers when he hears her bring other men home at night. Or Benna is an aerobics teacher who was Gerard’s lover for nineteen months. Or Benna and Gerard live together in a house and hold a yard sale with Benna’s friend Eleanor. Or Benna is a poetry teacher dating a mature student, whose best friend is Gerard, a pianist who aspires to be an opera singer…
There are a few things we know about Benna. She is delightfully clever and witty, and makes some wonderful plays on words (“All the world’s a stage we’re going through” being my favourite example). Gerard is her best friend, whatever other form their relationship takes.
With Benna as narrator, this book weaves in and out of her real life and her fictional life, until the reader is no longer sure which is which. But when reality suddenly bursts through with a vengeace, the safety net that Benna has built for herself with her fantasies, suddenly snaps. It is an unusual narrative, and one which took some getting used to – however, it was well worth the effort, as eventually the words flowed freely and I felt able to immerse myself in whatever world Benna was inhabiting at the time.
Despite the fact that so much of this novel blurs the lines between fiction and reality, Benna is an extremely well rounded character, and I found it easy to believe in her. It is clear that she feels that something is lacking in her life, and doesn’t know how to find out what it is, or how to do anything about it. Instead, she invents alternative realities which are all too easy for her to retreat into.
I don’t want to say much more about the plot of this book, because I feel that to give too much away would be to do a great injustice to anyone planning to read it. I will say though that I thought it was a thought provoking book with a heroine who – ironically because of the fiction she creates for herself – was very believable.
The writing flows easily and I found constantly myself thinking “I’ll just read a few more pages.” It’s a quick and easy read, but certainly not lightweight. Highly recommended.