Book review: So-called miracles

Norah Jane And Company by Ellen Gilchrist, Bloomsbury pounds 14.99

Norah Jane, a recurring character in Gilchrist's fictional world, was last encountered in her short stories The Age of Miracles. Now, at 29, Norah Jane is mother of two daughters - born as twins but conceived by separate fathers to one of whom, the generous and loving Freddie Harwood, she is married. Her life has been tough (a lonely childhood, a complicated love life) but now things are looking good: she will study singing, go to university, and she's pregnant again. Then a toddler from next door strays through the garden gate and falls into their pool. Norah Jane rushes out in time to save it, but to her dismay the boyfriend of the toddler's mother is none other than the natural father of Norah Jane's other twin daughter, Lydia. Desperate to avoid a confrontation, Norah Jane and Freddie decide to move.

This is not a comfortable sequential narrative, however. Gilchrist switches points of view, telling a string of linked stories all of which touch Norah Jane and her family in some way. A friend's throat is slit in a hotel room. Freddie's bookshop is bombed. A camping trip almost proves fatal for Freddie and the children.

To Norah Jane these are senseless random disasters, though the reader is allowed to see the cause and effect at work. For Gilchrist believes - and wants us to believe - that "there's a lot more going on than we are able to acknowledge", that so-called miracles are "A tear in the cover , a glimpse of a wild, or perhaps exquisitely orderly, reality that is lost to us most of the time". Is there a greater power at work? Most of us are a little fuzzy on this and Gilchrist is not unhappy with this universal imprecision. But when, in a moment of magic realism, Leonardo da Vinci visits Nieman, the notorious film critic who is Norah Jane and Freddie's best friend and is now preparing to embrace a new career in biochemistry, the episode seems almost credible - by then we too realise that "We think we're so hot with our five senses but we know nothing really. Ninety-nine per cent of what's going on escapes us ... We are so wonderful in our egos, dressed out in all our ignorance and bliss. "

Through the kaleidoscope of events in this exhilarating and imaginative novel, Norah Jane somehow hangs on to her philosophy of cosmic optimism: "The earth was not an evil place. Murder and pain and evil did not rule the earth. Children do, and loving them and watching them and listening to them grow." Gilchrist consistently plays to her strengths as a short storyteller. The people who briefly touch on Norah Jane's life are portrayed with such intimacy that we long for more than that swift glimpse of them before they pass out of range again.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before