February 28, 2011

The Gingerbread Woman by Jennifer Johnston

Hersilia Press @ 4:43 pm

The Gingerbread WomanThe Gingerbread Woman by Jennifer Johnston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Gingerbread Woman is the story of an unlikely friendship between two strangers. A man walking on Killiney Hill in Ireland comes across a woman standing perilously close to the edge and warns her, but she claims she is in no danger and has no intention of committing suicide.

Subsequently they bump into each other again and she invites him to stay as a lodger for a few days, since he is temporarily away from home. The relationship is not sexual, they don’t ask questions and they give each other space while offering friendship. They talk over cups of tea, and during the course of these conversations they learn about each other and what has brought them where they are, in terms of time and of attitude. Their stories are both of loss and sadness, and together they manage to find a way of accepting and overcoming the past to look at the future.

The book is a story of bereavement and grieving, and somehow these two people seem to understand each other by the force of their similar feelings. Everyone else, despite being well-intentioned, just doesn’t seem to get their message across and, most of all, nobody is really helpful regardless of their efforts. After all, what do you say to a bereaved person? These two people are both grieving in a different, and personal, way.

It is perhaps impossible to set a book in Ireland without making reference to the political situation, but this is not so strong in the book – it is rather a background, something present every now and then in the dialogues. What is strongest is the sense of loss and how it affects the two characters in the form of anger, sadness and despair, and how they deal with it.

Excellently written, it is a book I recommend heartily.

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