In prose vibrant and witty, The Queen of the Tambourine traces the emotional breakdown - and eventual restoration - of Eliza Peabody, a smart and wildly imaginative woman who has become unbearably isolated in her prosperous London neighborhood. Eliza must reach the depths of her downward spiral before she can once again find health and serenity. This story of a woman's confrontation with the realities of sanity will delight listeners who enjoy the works of Anita Brookner, Sybille Bedford, Muriel Spark, and Sylvia Plath. Winner of the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel of the Year.
©1991 Jane Gardam (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
"Funny and moving." (The New York Times)
Sorry to say that, in the end, I'm rather disappointed with this one. Gardam uses an epistolary framework--although it's hard to remember that midway, when the letters become so lengthy and self-absorbed that the reader forgets there is a supposed recipient. The writer/narrator, Eliza Peabody, is a middle-aged know-it-all who initially feels compelled to proffer her superior wisdom--gained a s a hospice volunteer--to her neighbor, Joan, who apparently suffers from debilitating pain in one leg. Eliza has decided that Joan's pain is psychosomatic and advises her to just get over it, offering her own help as an amateur psychotherapist. Surprisingly, after a few more letters, it is discovered that Joan has run off, leaving her leg brace in the marital bed. Although Joan never replies to Eliza's letters, we learn that she has embarked on a new life, travelling to exotic locations and having affairs with much younger foreign men. Periodically, gifts from Joan arrive--but never a letter. In the meantime, Eliza's own life takes a turn for the worst as her husband moves out to take a flat with Joan's abandoned husband. The letters continue, with Eliza portraying herself, narcissistically, as the abandoned spouse, now abandoned as well by any borderline friends she might have had, and making herself out to be the heroine of everyone's lives, from Joan's university-student daughter to Barry, a young man dying of AIDS in the hospice.
Initially, I was intrigued by Eliza's voice, which Gardam conveyed with much humor. But as the letters dragged on and the descriptions of her own escapades and musings became longer and more self-pitying, I got bored. Yes, I do understand that what Gardam was trying to portray was the sadness and near-madness of a woman who has isolated herself from everyone; it just didn't particularly interest me, and I found the one-sided epistolary device tedious.
Three stars for the writing and the creation of a complete character, plus the initial humor is Eliza's self-deceptive letters to Joan. But Gardam has written much better novels.
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