A crackling tale of a teenage girl caught up in events she doesn’t fully understand. The language is simple and believable as the thoughts, the life view of a 15 year old, living in the back woods, well away from any metropolitan sophistication. There is an undercurrent of unease, something sinister, something she isn’t able to deal with.
Linda/Madeleine – she goes by different names with different groups – is the only child of a couple who live in a lakeside cabin miles from the metalled road back into the nearest town. One summer, a couple move in to a vacant cabin across the lake, with their toddler, Paul. Linda starts babysitting Paul, although it is hard to tell sometimes whether she is really babysitting Paul or his young mother Patra. The husband, Leo, is an astrophysicist, a religious fundamentalist who’s life’s work appears to finding the point where religion and science can be properly reunited, is often absent. Patra, drifts about dressed mainly in a dirty t-shirt that just covers her knickers, only occasionally affecting Paul’s daily life, leaving it to Linda to feed the boy, to take him out on day long trips through the woods, or to local museums – 11 miles away by bike – all of which only seem of passing interest to the boy, who may or may not, be gifted.
Linda notes that there is an 11 year gap between Paul and herself, between herself and Patra, and again between Patra and Leo, and she seems to find some meaning in the regularity of this gap…and seeks the pattern in other areas of life.
Patra, who was a university student, which is how she met Leo, he was a lecturer on one of her courses, is nobody’s fool but seldom appears fully switched on, becomes completely pliant when Leo is back from one of his work-related absences. She is besotted, to the point where she allows Leo’s religious certainty to take over from good sense – or even medical opinion – when it comes to the health of the family.
The meditations on nature, on the the teenage girl drifting in her canoe across and around the lake are gently dreamlike; the secondary story about her classmate Lily, an ‘early developer’ and apparently beautiful in the way of some cheerleader stereotype, and whether or not this girl was seduced and raped by a teacher – whoever was the father, she became undeniably pregnant – is a constant thorn nagging away in the memory of the older Linda. Other flashes of her later life, where the adult Linda is looking back through the confusion with clearer knowledge, with hindsight, gives the story an interesting angle. As does the court room drama.
There’s a lot of good stuff in this novel; an unusual tale well told.