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.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
- 2 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery reports: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 3 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 Couple die within 28 hours of each other after being married for 73 years
Goodfellas star Frank Sivero sues for $250m over Simpsons character
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - TV review: Sensitive, silly and sensational
MOBO awards 2014: Sam Smith sweeps the board and takes four gongs
The Apprentice 2014, episode 3, review: Lord Sugar hacks away at the deadwood with another double elimination
Apprentice 2014: Contestant James Hill outed as convicted criminal