Featured Book Review: Still Here by Linda Grant
By Judith Fitzgerald Mar 10, 2008, 10:10 GMT
"[H]uman kind /Cannot bear very much reality."
— T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Despite the fact it opens with a mother's death, Liverpudlian Linda Grant's Still Here is one wow of a book which calmly probes the devastating problems besetting contemporary Israel even as it coolly deploys literary allusions to die for, most notably when its cagily brilliant author makes raids on the writings of high-modernists James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, Ezra Pound, et. al.; and, oh, by the way, why don't Jews drink?
You give? So does Still Here. Not since A. S. Byatt's Possession, in fact, has a novel given readers so much delectable food for thought. A sumptuous and edible feast of pungent wit and spicy wordplay, Grant's third novel magnificently exposes postmodernism's pits and pratfalls while revealing that "for all our flaws, and we are all deeply flawed people, every one, what redeems us is one thing only, the knowledge of good and evil, the revelation that expelled us from paradise."
That's what "happily married" middle-aged architect Joseph Shields believes and that's what he communicates to his co-narrator, Alix Rebick, a one-time sociology professor suddenly become independently wealthy who, in response, observes "evil begets evil" in the same way a people "who have been the victims of genocide, who in fighting for their survival are so conditioned and traumatised by the apparently irrepable damage done to them that they are no longer able to distinguish between self-defence and aggressive indifference to the fate of others. The fuck-you mentality that's prevalent today among so many Jews, the adoration of the Jewish tough guy, whether it's Dutch Schultz or Ariel Sharon . . ."
Herself a world-weary boomer with attitude to spare — partially to protect herself from the near-paralysing realisation she ain't no spring chicken, partially because the cross of being a British Jew she so majestically bears nearly tears her to shreds — Alix elsewhere notes to be "a single woman at the age of 49 is no laughing matter, to fear that love and erotic desire will now and in the future always be a thing of the past"; however, because "we cannot bear too much reality," Alix tempers her cynicism by adding that singlitude is indeed bearable, "but only with a great deal of willpower."
What, then, does Alix want?
When does she want it?
Will it come the feisty chick du chutzpah's way via Joseph who has just learned Erica, his wife of 23 years, considers him toast in a compelling novel set in Chicago, Dresden, and Liverpool? Perhaps, perhaps not . . .
Read it and weep for joy Grant writes so well and beautifully her debut novel, The Cast Iron Shore, won the David Higham First Novel Award while the 49-year-old who now now calls London home scooped 2000's Orange Prize for Fiction with When I Lived in Modern Times (predominantly set in Tel Aviv), an equally tough and lusty work of shattering intelligence that similarly goes a long way towards bridging not only the so-called generation gap but which also works wonders diminishing the gulf separating men and women, Arabs and Jews, and time past and time future, not to mention the fact Grant drolly explains why Jews don't drink alcohol:
It, not unlike the novel Still Here itself, dulls the pain of too much reality.