Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Book Review: To Heaven by Water
To Heaven by Water by Justin Cartwright
The author is an astute and literate wordsmith who knows he doesn't have to resort to violence to write a worthwhile novel. Instead of sensationalism he relies on metaphor, symbolism, and allusion. His writing is very rich with multiple layers of meaning. He reveals several routes to heaven by water before at last in the penultimate chapter getting around to baptism.
Cartwright tells the stories of David Cross and his two adult children during the period shortly after Mrs. Cross' death. Each of them has a distinct story and a separate view of the life of the late "Mum". Each suspects that the others didn't really know or understand her, perhaps a universal characteristic of a close and loving family which is trying to deal with a great loss.
Some authors use nonlinear writing to create false suspense or simply as a gimmick. Not so here. Cartwright shuffles history to help us understand his characters and their problems. He is very effective. Occasionally he uses the ambiguity created by the nonlinear style to suggest a variety of possible conclusions. David's daughter Lucy makes the observation that at the moment of Mum's death the "(T)here is something contagious in death, moving backwards in time to infect the living memory." The author illustrates Lucy's thought repeatedly throughout the novel.
David is a retired television newsman who has traveled the world in search of stories. His son is a young energetic solicitor whose wife is desperate to become pregnant. Sex with her is a rather joyless chore, unlike that with his fellow lawyer, Alice. Both Alice and Lucy are young attractive liberated women who view sex as wonderful recreation without requiring any commitment beyond the joy of the moment.
There are so many wonderful books and life is so short that we must be selective. Those who are looking for gripping, escapist adventure (and sometimes I include myself in that class) would do well to pass on this book. If one is ready for a novel that is rich in language and told in a compelling style, To Heaven by Water is a good choice.