Friday, 14 November 2014

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans: Part 2

published 2014




When they got off the bus again seven stops later, Vee took a newspaper out of her bag. ‘Here,’ she said. ‘Mrs Pilcher gave me last week’s Advertiser. There’s a Children’s Corner in it, competitions and suchlike. You can read it while you’re waiting.’ She nodded at the bench beside the bus stop. After a long moment, Noel reached out his hand for the paper. He watched Vee walk away along Linden Avenue, grey coat, grey hat, her head twitching to and fro as she inspected the houses on either side of the road. The first time he’d ever seen her he’d thought of a magpie, but now she seemed more like a pigeon, drab and directionless, pecking at anything that looked as if it might be edible. At one point she paused to crane over a laurel hedge, at another she started to open a gate, and then closed it again hastily. It was obvious that she was doing something that she ought not to be doing. He felt a little tug of curiosity; it had been a long time since he’d last felt that. 




observations: See this entry earlier this week for more about this book and author. In the passage above, Noel is watching his foster-mother Vee, who is trying to con people out of money. She isn’t very good at it, but when she links up with Noel they will turn into a fine team. ***

The book is briskly unsentimental – everyone’s motives are examined in full, and they’re not usually very creditable, and this applies in spades to Vee. And yet the book is full of life, and heart-warming.

Evans does wonderful dialogue, and brilliant observation. Here are some examples of her ability to build a character in a few words:
- Vee has to tell Noel that he is too posh: “no-one from St Albans ever says ‘hence’. And you should say ‘my mum’ not ‘my mother’ and anyway you just don’t sound right.”

- Austrian refugee Hilde says of her new life in an English factory: ‘this is not what I am used to. At home we had a pastry cook. I studied the harp.’

- The old suffragettes reminiscing: ‘Livvy Kerr wasn’t quite the thing was she?’ ‘Gung-ho but lacking in fibre, had the screaming ab-dabs when they locked the cell door.’
- Vee is watching young women who have been conscripted into the ATS: ‘Vee tried to imagine herself at 18, whisked off to learn how to mend trucks, everything found and not a whit of responsibility, a clean start, a new life on a platter. Heaven. She smiled at the fatty next to her, and was offered a fag.

This is one of the best new books I’ve read this year, and I could quote from it all day.


Blog history

***This plot device mirrors that in an obscure book turned into an Oscar-winning film. (To be clear, not remotely suggesting plagiarism, just an interesting parallel. ) The book was Addie Pray by Joe David Brown, later renamed Paper Moon to match the movie, which starred Ryan O’Neal and his daughter Tatum as a couple of con artists. The book also has the distinction of featuring in the very first entry on this blog, back in January 2012 – I lavishly had two books in the entry, linking Paper Moon with Dorothy L Sayers Have His Carcase. I am willing to bet that no-one else has ever put those two books together…

The picture, from the Imperial War Museum, shows everyday life in the UK in 1942.

8 comments:

  1. Fascinating stuff - thanks Moira, really seems worth getting. Might make a rather good Christmas present in fact!

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    1. I think you're right - for the right person this would be an excellent present. I will be handing out a few copies myself...

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  2. Moira - I really like the way Evans captures so much in relatively spare prose and dialogue. As you say, it's no-nonsense, but it flows quite well. And what an interesting look at that time and place. I just love that comparison of Vee to a bird; it just...works.

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    1. I think she's a really wonderful writer, who is perhaps underestimated because she is entertaining and funny too!

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  3. If you want another "family" con double act theme, I would recommend either Matchstick Men, either the book by Eric Garcia or the film of the same with Sam Rockwell and Nicholas Cage - both excellent in my opinion.

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    1. Oh thanks, I'll take a look. It's a very specific genre, but I do love a small-scale con scheme, and an endearing relationship between the con artists.

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  4. Sounds more and more interesting. Someday.

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    1. ... and, without spoilering, the two main characters are up to no good in a small way, so it could count as a crime story....

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