Friday, 25 September 2015

The Amazon's Girdle by Elizabeth Mapstone reviewed by Dennis Hamley

Elizabeth Mapstone can point to many achievements. She translated Moliere for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. As a psychologist, she was a Founding Editor of The Psychologist and  wrote Rational Men and Disagreeable Women: the social psychology of Argument, published by Vintage, and War of Words: men and women arguing, published by Vermilion.

Product Details

When a writer already eminent in other fields produces a first novel there's always just a nudge of fear that the talent is not transferable, that the book may fail, that it is a a bridge too far. In Elizabeth Mapstone's case it certainly hasn't been. This is an absorbing, many layered story, beautifully written, which holds the reader's attention through out and keeps the mind active even when the book is finally closed. The structure is complex yet always clear. It is a novel of two, even three, time scales and told from a multitude of different points of view. but the reader never loses track. To keep hold of such a subtle plot and not allow it to fall into chaos is a high novelistic skill.

An ageing film start intends to visit a Paris restaurant owned by her parents. Charlotte's parents react oddly. Her mother is furious. If Madeline Marvell, Queen of French Cinema, comes, she will go, she threatens. Why? Her father, Jacques Corot, was a film star himself once and Charlotte realises she knows nothing about her parents' past lives. Here is a mystery. Who is the Amazon? Why did Charlotte, in Paris on holiday from her English boarding school, never know she was adopted? So many questions. 

So Charlotte determines to find a solution. She finds out the Amazon's identity and just how central she was to her own life. She uncovers a tale of love, jealousy, betrayal and in the end a revelation truly shocking. The story has a wide panorama of time and place. It visits French cinema of the 50s, London, a village in Cornwall where lives a retired and disabled doctor with much to say, World War 2 and the French Resistance. And gradually Charlotte works out for herself an intriguing and appalling truth which leads to the solution of her life's mystery.

For me, the best sort of narrative is the one when we can have two reactions as we close the book which seem mutually exclusive - the ending was a complete surprise: the ending was inevitable - and mean them both equally. That is exactly what I felt when I finished The Amazon's Girdle and that is why I found it so satisfying. And it is beautifully written too.

The Amazon's Girdle is published both as a paperback and an ebook.

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