I could write a rave review about the above book that I just finished reading, but so many have been written already and I have little to add concerning the story itself. I will say this: it was a delicious book. Delicious and haunting and unnerving and perfect.
I’ve known Emily St. John Mandel since she was Emily St. John Fairbanks, physical resident of Denman Island, avid ballerina, hater of all things Wallace. When we were about 14, Emily started staying at my house every Friday – she lived on an island, well, a smaller island, and the last dance class on Fridays made her miss the last boat. So we had a permanent sleepover date each Friday and each Saturday, after sipping tea with my mum, Emily would head back to her island.
While teenagers, Emily and I were completely different. I spent most of highschool perpetually on the edge, hating everything. And I was loud. Emily was not loud. She was quiet and always thinking. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to visit my family each week – a family that was slowly falling apart, the five members ultimately becoming perfect strangers all under the same roof. I cannot imagine what it was like to have to deal with me – I was never in a good mood, I chain-smoked, and I was very much caught up in the tangles that I made in my own life. Later, I would be struck with guilt at having subjected Emily to those Fridays. I can actually still feel it now.
As soon as she could, Emily moved to Toronto and began writing me letters. Brilliantly funny letters that glossed over or rephrased the various terrifying things that happened to her while there. When I moved to Toronto a few years later, I found Emily transformed from round-eyed ballerina, to edgy, red-haired pixie. She looked slightly crazy in a comforting way. And she had crazy stories. Emily is the kind of person things happen to, good and bad. Indeed, she didn’t stay longer than a year after I arrived because something happened to her and within days she had sold everything and was whisked away to New York.
Why am I getting into all of this? Because when I was reading the book, I could hear and see Emily. I felt like I was reading one of her letters at times – at other times I felt like I was watching her life again. Each character contained whisps of Emily or someone I knew through her in that strange 7 months or so that we were together in Toronto. And I could really feel that life in Toronto – cold coffee, stale cigarettes, and smelly unwelcoming subways. It was a strange and sad and wonderful way to spend three short evenings and one long morning.
I see a trip to NY in the very near future.