msdanconia's Reviews > The Book Borrower

The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison
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Mar 06, 2011

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Read on February 01, 2011

This book's presentation is creative but never uplifting even while telling the story of a friendship between two women over three decades and the underlying story of two sisters.

Beginning in the 1960s, two women who are not yet friends meet in a park, one of them reading as she pushes a stroller (Toby); the other with two young daughters (Deborah). They bond over shared walks and raising children and after Deborah lends Toby a book, they also share being teachers together, which causes more strife than friendship. Despite how many times their friendship seems to fall apart, they always come back to each other, perhaps because they understand each other - reasonably educated women with jobs, not necessarily careers, who are frustrated with their children, their husbands and each other.

The book which Deborah lends Toby, The Trolley Girl, is a book written from one sister to another and is not finally finished until the The Book Borrower itself is nearly over, while the sister being sought (Gussie) actually drifts on the borders of Deborah and Toby's lives, finally crossing into Toby's.

None of the women in this book are particularly praiseworthy - they are either ordinary women who stick together because they love each other, or they are a spiteful woman who refuses to accept any guilt whatsoever. Somehow Gussie is the answer to Deborah and Toby's friendship at the end, and Toby finally reaches some kind of peace, as do those around her.

The Book Borrower is well written, despite its melancholy tone, and Mattison's device of breaking up Toby and Deborah's friendship with Toby's reading of The Trolley Girl is at first confusing, then illustrative. She does what a good author does - wraps up the story without answering all the questions - but does not pretend to do more. I would recommend this book with a cup of strong tea and a rainy day, but spend some time outdoors to remember it's no longer the 1920s or even the 1980s.

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