Tuesday, 21 July 2015
Close to Hugh by Marina Endicott
In the living room laid out below, pale sun picks out new writing on the floorboards, words Ivy can’t make out from halfway up the stairs. But look – furniture! Two black leather armchairs by the fireplace, looking almost comfortable. On a glass-topped table a vivid slash of colour: full-length pink satin evening gloves and a Lucite head in a strawberry blonde wig, tied with a hot pink headband. An exhibit. Lined up against the French windows to the garden, six dummies in a row, draped in wildly coloured clothes.
It’s a museum. Are those – yes, the white go-go boots, on the mantelpiece…
Up the middle of the living room floor along one plank, toward the fireplace:
Behind almost every woman you ever heard of stands a man who let her down. Naomi Bliven
“The betrayal.” Waving her arm to include the boots, the psychedelia, the pink-slashing gloves, Ann elucidates her aesthetic philosophy…
At the end of the Bliven, the eye runs on to a new one, picked out along the edge of the mantelpiece under the go-go boots:
These boots are made for walking. Nancy Sinatra
observations: This is what a modern novel should be. Marina Endicott takes a small group of people in a small town in Canada, all ages, all kinds, and tells you a story about a week in their life. To begin with, it’s confusing – too many people, all with connections, who knows who? Used to live with….? Had an affair with…? Is the parent of…? But in no time at all you feel you know each character.
It’s completely different from The Little Shadows – her 2011 novel set in the early 20th century. That was one of my books of the year in 2013, and is what a historical novel should be. I would say I’m Marina Endicott’s biggest fan, but I think there’d be others fighting me for the title, in particular my good blogfriend Sara O’Leary who, and I am forever grateful, told me I should read The Little Shadows.
Marina Endicott is well-known and wins prizes in her home country of Canada, but as I said before, she should have a world reputation and every literary prize going. I really don’t know why she doesn’t, or why this book doesn’t seem to be published in the UK.
Another reason I love her is that she takes her characters’ clothes very seriously – I was spoilt for choice with this book, and will have to do two entries. The book constantly plays with the word Hugh – the section headings contain every imaginable Hugh pun: ‘If I were Hugh’ ‘Hughreka’ ‘Whistle while Hugh works’ – but Marina herself says the book is practically Clothes to Hugh.
The Hugh/you dichotomy, which comes up throughout the book, strangely echoes a completely different book that I read recently: LP Hartley’s The Go Between (blogpost comoing), with its
‘Who sent you?’
‘Hugh sent me.’
‘I sent you? No I didn’t…’
Here, Hugh is the central character: a kind, lovely man whose mother is dying in a hospice. She wasn’t much of a mother, but she had a fabulous collection of clothes, and a past involving cafe society. His best friend Newell is in a mysterious relationship with someone Hugh hates. The High School is staging an acting masterclass, and he meets Ivy, an older actress. There are some big social events, for young people and old, and some relationships are under pressure. There are financial problems and mental problems. Endicott weaves all these stories together in a way that leaves the reader lost in admiration. The romance in the book is one of the nicest I’ve ever read. There is excellent use of Facebook and modern technical features.
This is a great modern novel: satisfying, entertaining, thought-provoking, and showing us a world in miniature.
The top picture is of some 1960s dresses. The lower one is Nancy Sinatra in her walking boots.