Praise for Kate De Goldie’s latest novel
Eddy Smallbone, the protagonist of Kate de Goldi’s latest novel Eddy, Eddy, is an orphan. In the tradition of many orphans in literature, he is rescued from loneliness and poverty by a kind benefactor, in this case his Uncle Brian (known as Brain). Brain is loving, gentle, and as a research librarian and lover of literature, he raises his young grandson with a vast knowledge and keen appreciation for language, literature, and music.
The structure of the book is like entering a maze. It twists and turns, moving from place to place, between past and present, with events and places visited evoking memories and revelations. The characters that populate Eddy’s world are delightful, almost Dickensian, in their quirks. I love the way De Goldi, rather like Dickens, gives us short but vivid sketches that bring even minor characters to life. There’s Delphine, “a weft-sprite, precocious and invasive, all angles and ghostly skin and a high-pitched insistent voice,” and a cast of religious characters, including a nun who doesn’t believe in the Virgin Birth.
The Christchurch earthquake is a significant factor in the book. For Eddy, the memory is “immediate and very close at hand, as he assumed it would be for the rest of his life. That’s what it was like for most people, those ten fierce seconds, the chaotic, ineradicable aftermath.” De Goldi convincingly portrays the devastation of post-earthquake Christchurch as the novel’s characters try to negotiate the streets and the difficulties of insurance and housing. The walk from Barbadoes Street to Phillipstown is “a painful pilgrimage”; they are “heaps of rubble”, “empty lots”. At its end is “the great open wound of the Cathedral, domeless and eviscerated, a still life of spilled stone.”
The novel begins with the death of Marley’s beloved Labrador Brain and Eddy. Wrapped in the “pure Kaiapoi wool blanket” she’s had since she was a puppy, Marley is buried in “the dirt under the back yard bar, where she had lain in the shade all the hot afternoons of Eddy’s life.”
At this point, Brain and Eddy have a brief skirmish. Eddy corrects Brain’s quote, “Marley was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt about it.” “No doubt,” said Eddy. The reference to Dickens A Christmas Carol introduces the connections between these novels alongside the implication that Eddy, Eddy may present a return of memories and ghosts.
But wouldn’t Brain and Eddy be devastated by the death of their dog? Wouldn’t he cry? Wasn’t all this quoting and talking obscuring what was going on? I felt like I was reading a conversation between two elderly Victorian gentlemen rather than a 21st century uncle and his nephew. Could it be real? It seemed to me, as I continued to read, that both Brain and Eddy were warding off the wounds of the past through their knowledge and skill with language. Eddy’s rich and wonderful skill with words is his way of protecting himself from the depths of emotion he cannot handle. His conversations are erudite, witty and humorous, but deftly skirt the dangerous truth; they are areas of the past that one cannot decide to articulate. Perhaps that’s why De Goldi gave Eddy’s lover and soulmate Boo the first-person voice; Boo tells us the hard stuff, the sad secrets that haunt their relationship. She is direct and sincere. Although she is intelligent, she does not hide behind language to express her truth.
As we negotiate the novel’s many paths, the reasons for Eddy’s insecurities are gradually revealed, coming as a series of blows both minor and major. He was raised Catholic, but came to recognize that he no longer shared his beloved uncle’s strong religious beliefs. He had to leave the school after a disagreement escalated into an out-of-control fight. He lost contact with former friends, there was the earthquake, his accident, the breakup with Boo, along with the reason for the breakup. His beloved dog died. However, there is something else to come: a mystery. While he talks to his best friend Thos, he won’t talk about him, not even to Boo who is “forbidden” to talk about him.
The novel moves towards Christmas, and it’s the combination of familiar family traditions, the gathering of friends, and the song he trained Delphine to sing as a gift for Brain, that forces Eddy to finally crack: “A feeling of great death crawled over him”. The ghosts of Christmas are out there and must be faced. Eddy is finally able to articulate his loss and grief, to tell the last devastating story: It was good to talk to Sue, he thought, the grass warm and spongy beneath him. bare feet.”
Eddy, Eddy it’s a love story and a coming of age story. It is also a reminder of the importance of remembering the past and dealing with past hurts. Eddy’s final revelation is heartbreaking, but it’s also redemptive. Subtle, intense, very funny and very sad, this is a richly layered novel written with elegance, style and love.
Eddy, Eddy by Kate De Goldi (Allen & Unwin, $29.99) is available in bookstores nationwide and already number one in the Nielsen NZ Fiction Bestseller Chart
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