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.
Final Top Gear reviewTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michael Douglas regrets 'embarrassing' Catherine Zeta-Jones with oral sex comments
- 2 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 3 Tunisian builder has been hailed a hero after knocking gunman to the ground with roof tiles
- 4 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 5 E.L James's #AskELJames Twitter Q&A didn't go exactly as planned
Cara Delevingne attacks superhero movies as 'totally sexist' while praising Suicide Squad
Kanye West at Glastonbury 2015: 'He raps' - BBC subtitles team upstages Yeezy with hilarious description of lyrics
Glastonbury 2015: Lionel Richie attracts festival's biggest crowds for Sunday's 'dad slot'
Top Gear last episode review: A momentous occasion for Clarkson, Hammond and May fans
E.L James's #AskELJames Twitter Q&A didn't go exactly as planned
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
David Cameron struck double blow in his hopes to win Britain a new EU deal
Extend Right To Buy to tenants of private landlords, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn says
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato