[review] Idaho – Emily Ruskovich

“The revelation of kindness hurts worse than cruelty. There is no way to equal it. Nowhere to put her gratitude, and so it thrashes in her body.”

My first read of the year! Huzzah! I’m not entirely sure what I expected with this novel, but it definitely wasn’t what I thought it was. I went in pretty blind, however, I really enjoyed it. Idaho is dark and emotional, lyrical and haunting, and frankly, that’s always a winner for me.

Idaho is a novel that jumps around in time and perspective – one of my favourite kinds of narrative devices. We begin in 2004, a present time of sorts, and we learn of the catalyst through the eyes of Ann. By the end of the novel we have been into the childhood of June and May – the childhood of their parents – and the future becomes the present with the novel ending in 2025. Each chapter, so to speak, is a different point in time told by a different character’s perspective. Ruskovich achieves this effortlessly and it’s hard to believe this is only her first novel.

The characters in Idaho are so beautifully human; each with their own flaws, which, through Ruksovich’s lyrical writing style allows a sense of understanding, even in the most horrific of acts.

“How easily we come apart. How quickly someone else’s life can enter through the cracks we don’t know are there until this foreign thing is inside of us. We are more porous than we know.”

I particularly loved the storyline of Jenny and Elizabeth – a pleasant surprise to me, something I honestly didn’t see coming, and it definitely gave me pangs of nostalgia for Girl, Interrupted and The Bell Jar. (I’m always a sucker for female friendship in ‘uncommon’ places). If you know me irl, you know that I have an affinity with the elderly and any story with an elderly character at it’s core – you’ve got me there. Ruskovich’s depiction of Alzheimer’s was so accurate and heartbreaking – I couldn’t have imagined it better myself. The scene when Adam is narrowing which out of the five houses are his had me definitely tearing up. I also don’t believe I’ll ever forget May and June’s afternoon in their private garbage can swimming pools. And Ann’s composition at the end, had me almost bawling and I could just see everything on a screen, the music accompanying. This would kind of make a great film(!)

“Perhaps it’s what both their hearts have been wanting all along—to be broken. In order to know that they are whole enough to break.”

Ruskovich’s prose is elegiac; exquisite and affecting, and yet while this novel did surprise me with it’s sense of langour – I couldn’t quite bring myself to give it 5 stars.

Recommended for fans of:

  • The Essex Serpent (Sarah Perry) – minus the gothic. Ruskovich writes women who are unlike any I’ve read before and much like Perry, her writing is lyrical and full of emotion and atmosphere.
  • Girl, Interrupted (Susannah Kaysen) – minus the hospital setting. Jenny and Elizabeth’s  (and Elizabeth and Sylvia’s) friendship definitely had me thinking of Susannah and Lisa at times.

“She felt the waves of her grief collide with the waves of other griefs felt no longer by anyone alive, but carried on the breezes that smelled the same as they had to the people who suffered those griefs a century ago.”


 

Have you read and loved this one??? What do you think about my comparisons? Did this novel remind you of any others you’ve loved (or hated)?

I hope your reading year is off to a pleasant start folks,

for now,

do svidaniya xx

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Girl, Interrupted (book & film review)

“It was a spring day, the sort that gives people hope: all soft winds and delicate smells of warm earth. Suicide weather.”

Girl, Interrupted is the true story of Susanna Kaysen’s time spent in the infamous McLean Hospital* and you have probably seen the cult film adaptation with Winona and Jolie or at least heard of it unless, like me, you live under a rock and this is all news to you. Okay, so I had heard the title and vaguely knew about a late 90s blonde Jolie. But still, I’m kicking myself for not having read (and watched) these sooner.

*famous due to it’s clientèle in the past.

“Ray Charles was the most famous ex-patient. We all hoped he’d return and serenade us from the window of the drug-rehabilitation ward. […] Robert Lowell also didn’t come while I was there. Sylvia Plath had come and gone.

What is it about meter and cadence and rhythm that makes their makers mad?”

In 1967, Susanna is admitted to McLean Hospital for the treatment of depression which is later diagnosed as borderline personality. She was eighteen.

“One of my teachers told me I was a nihilist. He meant it as an insult but I took it as a compliment.”

Kaysen’s memoir reads like a diary and whilst it deals with a rather harrowing topic it is both poetic and humourous. She doesn’t romanticize her condition but rather documents her experience living in the ward and the lifestyle it affords her. The novel is a slim one and best read in one sitting and it was definitely more heartwarming than I had initially expected. If you have ever read & loved or wanted to read, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath then this book is also for you.

Filmically, Girl, Interrupted also works well. However, it’s a glossy piece of cinema, rather than a raw period piece.  (Think: Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides).

Ultimately I expected more from the film, due to it’s cult status and my having read the novel first but Mangold’s interpretation is addictive in its own right. Lisa’s dominance in the film caught me off guard but I feel it’s effective in portraying Susanna’s sense of loss.

“People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up in there as well. I can’t answer the real question. All I can tell them is, It’s easy.

And it is easy to slip into a parallel universe.”

In the book, there are two Lisa’s. Perhaps this would’ve confused the audience had it been translated to film, however, Jolie’s role is spectacular enough that perhaps with another Lisa, Winona would’ve been felt completely overshadowed. I really enjoyed the portrayal of Daisy (Brittany Murphy) in the film, but found it became all a bit melodramatic as Susanna and Lisa’s relationship deepened. I also enjoyed the ending of the book and sort of wished it was in the film – but alas – I think it may have left the film feeling a little too Hollywood if that makes any sense.

Ultimately, I love the book that little bit more, but I enjoy each piece in it’s own right. One cannot fully compare such different media. I think I love the book more because it reminds me so of The Bell Jar, my first true love. It also got me thinking of other books I loved with similar themes like:

  • Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood
  • An Angel At my Table by Janet Frame. (There is a great film version of this!)
  • The Vegetarian by Han Kang (now that would need a raw, no holds barred, throw in some magical realism effects, don’t you think!?)

“But most people pass over incrementally, making a series of perforations in the membrane between here and there until an opening exists. And who can resist an opening?”