The Queen of the Tambourine
by Jane Gardham
rating: 8 / 20th cent. fiction
I’ve had this on my TBR list for way too long and finally and for reals I needed a break from all the depressing fiction I’ve been reading and remembered it was also recommended by a friend. And I love Gardham whose final book in the Old Filth trilogy, Last Friends, has just been shortlisted for the Folio Prize 2014.
Eliza Peabody, a middle-age childless but married woman living somewhere near London is rather adrift in many ways. Joan, her neighbor, whom Eliza barely knows, has a crippled leg and for openers in the book, Eliza writes her a note telling her to forget about it, it’s having a bad effect on her husband and their reputations. (Yup, Eliza is just a wee tad peculiar and intrusive.)
Before long Joan has left her husband and moved far away, but Eliza continues to write her a letter every few days, or weeks. She tells Joan about what is happening to the husband and children Joan left, goings on in the neighborhood, and what all is happening to Eliza. What happens to Eliza is told in episodes in which dying (she is a volunteer at a hospice) and babies figure prominently.
The letters are rather odd but interesting, sometimes abrupt, other times long-winded. This reader frequently forgot they were letters. But that’s Eliza for you – and she is NOT reliable. Eccentric might be a good word for Eliza – at least at first, but as events come and go, people change, Eliza changes, too.
I’ll not spoil the book with any further info – if you are a Gardham fan you’ll love this one although it’s quite different from the Filth books – more similar to God on the Rocks, another stand-alone.