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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Married Woman Who Rejects Domesticity

The Absent Woman - Marlene Lee

Virginia, a divorced mother of two pre-teenage boys, leaves her home town of Seattle for the coastal backwater of Hilliard where everyone knows everyone else, and takes over the apartment of Marguerite, a woman who has left in such a hurry that the rooms are still full of her belongings. In moving into Marguerite's apartment, Virginia inadvertently stumbles into the absent woman's quarrels.

A married woman who rejects domesticity and goes off in search of herself is territory that has already been well explored by Anne Tyler et al but Marlene Lee revitalises the theme by making her character tougher and more selfish than Tyler's shell-shocked protagonists. Consequently, Virginia is not always likeable. She's too focused on her own needs and too causal about her children's complaints. But she's believable, as are the characters she encounters, all of whom are equally flawed in one way or another

There's some good observational writing here. e.g. 'a tricycle waited by a door, its front wheel twisted back like a dog scratching itself' and Hilliard, a town in which the wind seem always to be thrumming restlessly through the ropes in the harbour, broods over the narrative as powerfully as any human character. But it did seem a little bit under-developed in places and I was left wanting more. Perhaps that's a sign of good writing.