I didn't want to turn over the last page of Joan Clark's An Audience of Chairs, it was just too good to end.
"The weather was a dark, smudgy grey and the wind blowing off the Firth brought wintery rain and sleet. The flat was cold, and as she lay in bed trying to stay warm, she saw no reason why she should get up. Moranna often mistook self-absorption for independence and was unaware that without her husband she had lost her sense of direction."
There is something about East Coast stories that hook me, and after finding the hardcover of this novel for $4.99 I started reading it right away (knocking two other Canadian books I had been reading into the dustbunnies on my bedroom floor). I fell for Moranna's character immediately, even though she did unforgiveable things. Without judgement, Clark crafts Moranna's character so that you see how she is compelled by her mental illness to act inappropriately. Even in her darkest hour you cannot help but empathize, and you root for her to overcome her own demons when she is finally on her own.
As a mother, I was torn by the loss of her young children and I shared the helplessness of knowing they were out there - somewhere. But Clark gave so many perfect insights, such as the excerpt above, which lifted the blame just enough so that you could see the story unfold without prejudice. I remember being particularly touched by the insight that Moranna couldn't look into the future enough to realize that the dependence her infant and toddler daughters had on her was fleeting, that in a few short years they wouldn't need her to do everything for them. It is an overwhelming time, and I can all too easily imagine how this could unravel your world, especially when mental illness exists just below the surface.
This is a book I will be passing around, and it will have lasting influence on me. The prose is crisp and forgiving, the story touching and profound. I simply can't say enough about it.
The knitting comparison: Definitely this is like the perfect shawl, a garment particularly for women, intricate in its' lace pattern but absolutely practical in its' use. The knitting is methodical and you have to be totally dedicated, but the final product is too beautiful for words. See what I mean?