Mary George of Allnorthover

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9780007105953: Mary George of Allnorthover

a mesmerizing debut from a major new English novelist

There’s something about Mary George…

` "And what happens if your face fits but you don’t?" Tom enquired. "When you belong to it, the place holds you so tight, you might not notice how it squeezes."’

Tom Hepple had to come back to Allnorthover. And there she was again, that girl who walked on water, out onto the new lake above his childhood home. The memory gushes painfully back for Tom, and its undertow carries the girl, Mary George, off. Mary is a strange and lovely creature, a young woman who seems to be more important to many of those in the village than she is to herself. Her importance comes to leak slowly into her life as the layers of history and memory, of secrets and misapprehensions, peel away.

Lavinia Greenlaw puts before us the monochrome, immemorial middle England of the 1970s in all its dowdy glory, and has us see through young Mary’s eyes how a seemingly static landscape is suddenly illuminated by the most vivid bursts of energy, colour and drama. Punk’s torch flares into life and singes the fringes of England. Mary George bears witness and burns brighter still: she is more memorable than even the extraordinary events around her, and the reader will find it devastatingly hard to leave her company, at the end of this exceptional debut.

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Review:

Mary George of Allnorthover marks the novelistic debut of the successful poet Lavinia Greenlaw . In telling the story of Mary, a 17-year-old from a small East Anglian village, Greenlaw's beautiful and often funny poetic observation becomes apparent quickly. When Mary wakes up after one of her first late night parties, she views "where the shaggy carpet had been scorched, its nylon thread was gluey and fused". Although set in the summer of the petrol crisis in the late seventies, the tale often has the tone of a much older period, as though the village belongs to ancient myth: "Crouchness sat on the point of the estuary where clay gave way to mud." The sea air is of the kind you'd rather not breathe, and the town is "a blur of grey, like a model waiting to be painted". The fetid smell provides the perfect metaphor for the secrets buried underwater in the village reservoir, which Mary finds herself being lured towards, until she encounters the obsessive and unstable Tom Hepple, who has just returned to Allnorthover after years in a psychiatric hostel. Both Tom and Mary have the inability to see things as they are, Mary through shortsightedness and naivety and Tom through mental illness.

In a provincial setting where people rely on the routine of the Parish Council, fetes, jumble sales and scout discos, Tom is tolerated though he is unhinged, while Mary seeks sweet marijuana release with her mate, Billy, until she can move to London. In the confusing process of growing up, Mary has to choose between the snobs and the yokels, and between her divorced parents' version of events from her childhood. In her willingness to help Tom uncover the source of his trauma, she triggers family disclosures and a bigger tragedy for Allnorthover. This novel grasps cloying small-town life and adolescent self-consciousness so accurately that it makes you squirm with claustrophobic pity for Mary. --Cherry Smyth

Review:

'You might think a coming-of-age novel set in the English provinces in the Seventies would make drab reading. It was, after all, the decade of the oil crisis, power cuts and water shortages. But what sets Mary George of Allnorthover apart is Lavinia Greenlaw's poetic sensibility; she sees the epoch through fresh eyes. In this, her first novel, her vibrant prose turns monochrome middle England into a surreal, shimmering vision. On the day Tom Hepple returns to the village of Allnorthover, he sees Mary George walk on water. Mary, the book's teenage heroine, represents for Tom a symbol of hope. Her struggle to break out of the chrysalis of youth is mirrored by changes in her own surroundings: the advent of punk rock, the summer of the drought. In Greenlaw's novel we have stock characters (the village retard, the misfit schoolgirl, the dysfunctional parents) but they're all touched by pathos. This is a novel about pain – the pain of illness, of remembrance, of forgetting – and a highly convincing portrait of a tortured, troubled adolescent.' Tatler

‘From the opening pages of Lavinia Greenlaw's MARY GEORGE OF ALLNORTHOVER, I found myself equally spellbound by her endearing, myopic heroine and her witty, wicked prose. This is a vivid and absorbing novel, with a wonderful sense of surprise.’ Margot Livesey

"Mary George is a piece of work – at once one of a kind and one of our own. Ms. Greenlaw adds to a poet's instincts for image and voice her manifest
narrative gifts to turn '70s England into a strange and perilous and wondrous place. Richly textured, rightly told – a standout, a superb debut." Thomas Lynch

“With perceptiveness and verve, Lavinia Greenlaw charts the travails of a spunky new heroine, Mary George, caught in the treacheries and stagnancy of an English backwater in the 1970s.” Edna O’Brien

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