CHATTO & WINDUS £12.99, Order for £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Opposite of Falling, By Jennie Rooney
Writing as sharp as a new pin
Monday 21 June 2010
There is something to be written about novelists who suppress their early work. Although Ivy Compton-Burnett, Graham Greene and Sebastian Faulks have done so, it is unimaginable that Jennie Rooney would disown her first novel, Inside the Whale.
That adroit, observant tale of love rediscovered across the generations made it immediately clear that here was a natural novelist who combined the elegantly outlandish with an episodic structure.
As did that other lawyer turned novelist, Hilary Mantel, Rooney looks set to take a different approach every time. Her second novel takes place in the later 19th century. Again she switches between the point-of-view of several narrators while not shying from interior monologue.
Spinster Ursula Bridgewater has inherited money but her fiancé has taken up with another woman. Across the Atlantic, at Niagara Falls, Toby O'Hara lost his mother in one of his father's early experiments in flight, something which has not curtailed his own endeavours to defy gravity, as he seeks solace with a taste for Thomas Cook's early forays into organised travel. Ursula makes bold to visit America, and takes with her as a companion Sally, an orphan who has spent her early years in a nunnery. If these are damaged lives, there is nothing fragmentary about Rooney's development of the way in which their paths overlap.
To say any more would be unfair. Briskly told, Rooney's novel is not burdened by excessive detail. As effortlessly as Proust or Forster, she incorporates unexpected aperçus. Wisdom is lightly borne. At every turn there are such remarks as "she knew it was a sign of madness to be able to draw a perfect circle". As for Ursula's collapsed engagement, she had thought that loneliness "would have a sharp, new-pin quality to it. She found that, in reality, loneliness was not much more than a muffling of the senses. It had nothing of the new pin about it. It did not sparkle or break the skin. It was just a grey, mouth-dry silence, and it bored her." No word here is outré, but they combine in such a way that "mouth-dry silence" is very much a linguistic new pin.
It will be more than interesting to see whether Rooney produces different narrative structures, even favouring a loose, baggy monster. In the meantime, her work should inspire a canny producer to ask her to write a screenplay.
Risking ridicule, they are driven by a burning desire to keep entertaining
Review: Of Mice and Men
By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work
Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar
What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?
Arts & Ents blogs
Ukip election posters: Nigel Farage defends 'racist' campaign anti-immigration campaign ahead of Europe elections
Is Britain really a land of God? Furious debate after David Cameron claims we are a Christian country
An open letter to Nigel Farage: you may smile, but I am not seduced
'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
David Cameron's constituency office calls police on food bank campaigners Bishop of Oxford and Reverend Keith Hebden
David Cameron 'fostering alienation and division' by calling Britain a 'Christian country'
- 1 David Cameron's constituency office calls police on food bank campaigners Bishop of Oxford and Reverend Keith Hebden
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 Women take on Bear Grylls over 'sexist' male-only desert island show
- 4 Ultra-Orthodox Jews are resisting new laws which force them to join the army
- 5 Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: Concerns grow among search officials that missing jet ‘may have landed somewhere else’