Mary George of Allnorthover

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9780007204595: Mary George of Allnorthover

Lavinia Greenlaw’s mesmerising debut novel about growing up in the surreal banality of mid-’70s Essex.

Lavinia Greenlaw puts before us the monochrome, immemorial middle England of the 1970s in all its dowdy glory, and has us see through the mercurial, bewitching Mary George’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 about growing up under the shadow of an unknowable, inescapable small-town mystery.

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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:

‘A poet’s eye clearly informs Greenlaw’s beautifully observed portrait of Seventies provincial life. In prose layered like paint, Greenlaw conjures up the period through details that will strike endless chords with readers who grew up at that time … This is a suggestive, elusive novel, which achieves a magical effect by the gradual accumulation of images.’ Vogue

‘This is a terrific first novel, a meteorological force in its own right.’ Evening Standard

‘A composed and sensuous first novel.’ Financial TImes

‘A spacious and compassionate read.’ Time Out

‘What is most impressive, ultimately, is the strength and solidity of the house Greenlaw builds around the reader: every brick carefully aligned, necessary and true.’ Independent on Sunday

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Greenlaw, Lavinia
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Greenlaw, Lavinia
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