Tall boy's story
Carol Birch applauds an enriching tale of true love; The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken, Cape, pounds 9.99
Saturday 07 December 1996
"A library," she says, "is a gorgeous language that you will never speak fluently." She acknowledges that she is odd, poignantly capturing the unplanned ways in which we stumble into our identities: "Every morning I walked along the gravel path from my house to the sidewalk, thinking, `Is this who I am? A lonely person?'"
Then into her library walks James Carlson Sweatt, eleven years old and over six feet tall. Until his death at the age of 20, eight and a half feet tall and still growing, Peggy loves James. She accompanies him through each stage of his life: the death of his mother; the teenage years when despite his popularity it becomes apparent that he will never get the girl; celebrity; the snapping cameras of tourists; the intrusions of the medical profession; even an appearance with Barnum and Bailey. Throughout, James remains an ordinary boy, a nice kid who reads a lot, teaches himself magic tricks out of books, embraces hobbies with youthful enthusiasm and dreams of travel and adventure. But James is a bolting plant, weakened by his great size.
The Giant's House has several dimensions. There is a fairy-tale motif, with a shoe that fits and an unimaginable lover. There is the straightforward chronicling of the practicalities of being different, the unaccustomed paean of praise to order and precision. But above all, this is a love story, one so unusual and delicately handled that it fits no tradition. It says far more about that overused word, love, than any dewy romance or torrid sex feast. "O girls," says Peggy, "what is said passionately evaporates, it's what's said as a matter of fact that is precious and damaging and lasting as a brand." McCracken's depiction of an unfashionable, faithful, selfless kind of love, at its most profound in the everyday, sticks in the mind and enriches. It is rare indeed in modern fiction.
This is good, hard, clear prose, precise and unpretentious, poetic when it needs to be but lacking the self-regarding bombast and meretricious courting of the special effect that mars much new writing. McCracken's work is refreshing and exhilarating, deeply moving but absolutely lacking in sentimentality, deserving of accolades at a time when certain adjectives - stunning, brilliant, remarkable - have become debased through overuse. When these words are routinely tossed around to describe the undistinguished or moderately good, how is the jaded reviewer to describe the real thing? Perhaps I should just say that it's been years since I've read anything as good as this novel.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 The Visit: Trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film is terrifying
- 5 9/11: Iranian General accuses US of organising September 11 terror attacks
Fast & Furious 7 overtakes Frozen to become 5th highest grossing movie of all time
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
The Visit: Trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film is terrifying
Apprentice series 11: Claude Littner to replace Nick Hewer as Lord Sugar's aide
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
HSBC review into moving headquarters from UK 'underway'