Susan Anderson's Reviews > Girl Reading

Girl Reading by Katie  Ward
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's review
Aug 02, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in July, 2011

In Girl Reading, a debut novel, Katie Ward paints seven portraits of girls reading—their lives, their conflicts, their passions, their griefs. The author’s prose is rich, her syntax spare, exact, sometimes provocative, often surprising, usually delightful.

From the start we are caught up in the characters, the stories of young women who read. We watch with them. We weep with them. We wonder, what comes next. In short, most of the time we can’t turn the page fast enough, except for those passages we need to ponder.

On its skeletal level, the work yolks together two disciplines—painting and writing. As the painter uses tempera, oil, camera, or video to paint a picture that tells a story, so Ms. Ward uses words to effect the same. Seven stories—each one evocative of a unique age and its overriding dilemma; and the characters, reflective of their time, are so full of flesh and blood that you expect to see them emerging from the spine. Seven stories of the human race flow from and ping back to seven images. In the end, a synchronicity: the last section, which I had to read a couple of times before I understood, knitting together all parts into a whole, and, with a start, we discover the story at its heart, the unity of the work.

The reader draws to a deeper understanding of the early and late Renaissance, the Victorian era, the twentieth century, the present, and beyond. The world is seen from characters on the fringe, either because of their class or beliefs. Themes include humanity’s inability to see, to know the truth, given the social constructs and limitations which inhibit understanding. And the core image of a girl reading in this context is ironic.

The book is a must for all serious readers interested in history and in the current direction of literary fiction.

One comment: the cover says the book is available as an e-book. But, alas, I found out, not for us North American customers, at least not when I ordered the paperback from Amazon a few weeks ago (Virago Press, 2011). But no matter. When I read an e-book I like, I buy the real thing, and now I have it. Physically, the book is a joy, not too heavy to hold. It’s typeset in Horley, a pleasing font set in a very readable size—so crisp compared to e-ink, which has, let’s face it, a long way to go before it approaches the genuine article.
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