Tuesday 27 June 2017

Review: Scissor Paper Stone by Elizabeth Day

Bloosmbury, €14.99, Paperback

Scissor Paper Stone is the debut novel by Observer journalist Elizabeth Day (right). It tells the story of 30-year-old Charlotte and her parents, Anne and Charles.

The book begins with an accident as Charles is knocked off his bicycle. He now lies in hospital in a coma but while he is absent in this way for much of the novel, his presence is felt strongly as the reader discovers his controlling influence over Charlotte and his wife Anne.

The relationship between Charlotte and her father is pivotal to the book but it is the dynamic between her and her mother Anne that is the more interesting relationship.

With Charlotte in her 30s and Anne approaching the post-menopausal stage of her life, Day looks at the mixed emotions both feel towards each other in these particular stages of their lives.

Charlotte is career-driven and entering into her child-bearing/marriage years. Anne is grappling with the realisation that she has been a peripheral player in her own life. She is defined by (and reliant for that definition on) her husband and daughter, having opted to stay at home rather than work. She is now coming to terms with where her hopes and dreams and even her idea of her own identity sit in the context of her age, which sits in direct opposition to Charlotte's vibrant life full of occupation and possibilities.

The bringing together of Anne and Charlotte's diverging experiences and conflicting emotions is a difficult task but Day handles it well.

The messy conflicted feelings that Anne feels about the demise of her own desirability set against her daughter's fertility are scary and compelling and not often touched upon in fiction. For this reason, while this novel may not be a great debut, Elizabeth Day may yet be an important writer.

Day's main theme here, however, is that of appearances versus reality, how a perfect surface can hide all sorts of dark and ugly realities.

The spartan cast of characters makes it feel claustrophobic, which matches well with the dark themes that slowly emerge, but it's also a good way of keeping things simple. No bad thing for a first-time author.

Day has many similarities to the author Rebecca Miller, especially when it comes to her examination of the female mind, the focus on the interior monologue and how our tangle of innermost thoughts can differ so much from our outward actions.

One thing is for sure. Day is not a chick-lit author, despite the determinedly pink jacket cover her publishers have given Scissors Paper Stone.

She falls into that narrow but deep crevasse of female writers who would rather write about the frightening tangle of our innermost thoughts and feelings than the easily untangled plot of boy meets girl.

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