AN INVENTORY OF HEAVEN
Author: Jane Feaver
Constable & Robinson RRP $19.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
An Inventory of Heaven is a slow-building story that’s short of action and long on reflection. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, if you like books that move slowly towards a climax, delving deep into the protagonist’s thoughts, then that’s a good thing. If, however, you like books that reveal their secrets quickly and focus on reactions, then this is not that kind of book.
Mavis Gaunt leaves post-war London to make a new life for herself in Shipleigh, rural Devon, the place where she lived as a child evacuee. Rural life is slow and quiet and for Mavis; it’s just what she wants – it’s her heaven. Following the death of her aunt (also named Mavis), she makes a quiet life for herself, befriending the strange Upcott family and hoping that one day she’ll catch the eye of Tom Upcott.
Years later, when Eve and her young son Archie move to the village, Mavis is forced to recall a violent tragedy she’d rather stay buried. Beneath her unassuming exterior, Mavis is guarding secrets and ghosts; instead of living in peace as she had hoped, her inner life has been characterised by the memories she’s been holding on to for so long, isolating her (by choice) from others lest they get too close.
I read this book slowly; it took me quite a while to get into because the narrative jumps around a bit, focussing one moment on the past and then the present, and also, because not a lot happens. The reader is privy to the Mavis’s thoughts and recollections about her life – her relationship with her parents, the friendships and acquaintances in her life, and sometimes her day-to-day routine. Now that I think about it, I can imagine an elderly Mavis sitting with a cup of tea, thinking over her life … that’s how this book reads – the present is interrupted by a memory, which leads to another, until the present intrudes again. As I read, I knew that something had happened in the past, something most likely bad, but what? The telling of the tale was so calm that when the reveal came, very near the end, I was not at all prepared for it. It shocked me … I’d been thinking that all these thoughts and memories wouldn’t lead to much (kind of like when I tell a joke and mess up the punch line).
I can’t see this book being for everyone. The writing is beautiful and perceptive and for a time, that’s what kept me going, until the moment the story took over (and my mood was right for the type of book this is). However, those who want more action, more things happening, may find this book too slow, even dull. Those in the mood for something more uplifting and comforting read may also find this doesn’t live up to expectations because it’s a rather sad and poignant book about life and the feeling that sometimes it just feels like an inventory (this happened, and this, then that). For me, I had to wait for the right time to read it; my patience was rewarded with a subtle, thoughtful tale, with more than one thought of “Poor Mavis”. I’m interested to see what others think.
Available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. This copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.
Bookish treat: Some currant butter biscuits and a cup of tea would be jolly good about now.