24 August 2008

The Almost Moon

The Almost Moon
Alice Sebold 4/5 stars
Hardcover: 304 pages (out in Paperback - Sep 8, 2008)
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (October 16, 2007)

Helen Knightly has spent all her life looking after her mother, Clair, in some form or fashion, being tied to her in an unhappy, unhealthy, unrelenting relationship that has taken a toll on her in various ways. Now, Clair's dementia has reached the point that something has to be done; she is going to have to leave the house--a task that was psychologically painful and difficult for Clair--as she is no longer fit to stay home by herself. Helen is relieved and anxious at the same time and as she deals with her mother's vitriolic tongue and loose bowels, she surprises herself by smothering Clair.

Over the next 24 hours, Helen behaves as irrationally as any human being would, becomes entangled more and more in a web of lies and (through memories) exorcises some of the demons of past as she deals with the mental illness of her family.

Sebold has done an incredible job of writing about mental illness, and as an author she passes no judgments, gives no advice, just has Helen tell her story and leaves the rest to the reader. In Helen, one sees a character so human and unpredictable that it was almost uncomfortable at times to read her thoughts, feeling like an intruder or eavesdropper.

I read several negative reviews and I think it was really Sebold's amazing talent that prompted these. Those readers that complained about this or that action of Helen's appear to have been expecting Sebold to pass the appropriate (to them) moral judgments on said action and when she didn't these readers assume she condones these actions. Other readers couldn't believe Helen would act the way she did, having apparently never acted irrationally under stress themselves, and didn't see the deep realism of Helen's character acted out in her irrationality.

I found it a very moving book and at times it was too emotionally taxing and I had to take a break from it. It's hard to say I "liked" it, because, how can one "like" a story about mental illness in all it's dirty, real life, day-to-day struggles. I was reminded of Nabokov's Lolita--I didn't "like" the subject matter, but loved the book. This is another instance of that. The Almost Moon, while not for everyone, is a emotion-packed, realistic novel from a very talented author.

My friend, Deb, passed her copy onto me to read (you can read her review here) and I'd like to pass it on to someone else. After all the adamant negative review on amazon, I'd like to see what other people have to say about. If you're interested in reading it, especially in reviewing it (even if it's just a line or two), leave me a comment. I'll wait till this time next week and if more than one person are interested, I'll do a random number generator and send it out.



Blogger Debra Hamel said...

Great review, Medb! I'm glad you found it worth the read. Nice to see you're starting a reading chain with it! (A la the defunct-ish pass-the-book :) )

8:25 AM  
Blogger Medbie said...

It was VERY much worth the read! As it's so deeply emotional, I know I won't read it again (I have started culling a few of my books using that criteria, you'd be proud!), so I wanted to share it with other good readers!

2:19 PM  
Blogger Debra Hamel said...

I, by the way, decided yesterday that I can no longer stand the lack of organization I've been living with book-wise. I don't care about the library as a whole, but the review copies require more order. So I did some looking around at programs again (I've been through this before) and settled this time on Bookpedia. I'm going to input just the review copies, though, just to keep them straight.

2:28 PM  

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