I vowed last year that I would read much more Anne Tyler after reading Digging To America, and only read that novel. So when Cornflower said that I could join the Cornflower Book Group and that they were reading an Anne Tyler I was thrilled. You can read everything everyone else thought here, as for some reason I am not allowed to upload any comments onto any blogs at the moment. Naturally I am doing the review for you anyway here.
Anne Tyler won The Pulitzer Prize in 1989 and twenty years on you can still see why, her writing style is superb. She writes the whole novel in third person and yet through the characters thoughts you can hear their voices in first person and it’s incredibly effective. Breathing Lessons tells a day in the life of Maggie Moran. A woman nearing fifty whose own daughter asks her ‘when did you become so ordinary?’ As fifty nears she is looking at the lives of her children, husband and herself as she heads for the funeral of her best friends wedding.
Not the storyline for many laughs, though there is humour because it’s Anne Tyler, but it isn’t meant to be a happy book. It looks at how satisfied people are with their own lives and the lives of their family. Maggie feels her husband Ira thinks she is fat and worthless, clearly how she perceives herself, that her daughter Daisy can’t wait to leave her ‘ordinary’ mother and her son whose wife walked out on him with their daughter feels much the same. On the journey and on the way back Maggie’s journey takes several surprising detours, mainly through Maggie’s interfering. Through these detours Anne shows us Maggie’s family past and why she is in the state she is in, you never hear about her childhood much, a mystery I thought might have solved many questions to her deeper personality.
With Maggie’s endless interfering and severe swaying of the truth it did leave you feeling you were seeing life through slightly unreliable eyes. The dialogue both external and internal is fantastic. I found the writing sparse, I have to admit I was shocked Ira and Maggie were still married and the rare signs of closeness and emotional contact between the two of them somehow felt false. I didn’t like Ira, but then again I didnt like anyone in the book particularily, not even Maggie and I normally love that sort of character but playing with peoples lives to such an extent isnt that likeable. It doesn’t paint a promising or fulfilling picture of married life as it goes on. I was shocked to see this in the ‘love’ volume of The Guardians 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read. I would have thought this would have been much more at home in ‘Family and Self’ out later in the week. More on that tomorrow.
All in all I found this a great read, though not possibly one of Tyler’s best I do think that it is a great read and one that everyone should give a try. I haven’t been put off Tyler from this which reading many reviews people were, I wonder what they were expecting. I will definitely be putting many more of her books on my TBR within the next few months.