Nadine's Reviews > A Fairly Good Time: with Green Water, Green Sky

A Fairly Good Time by Mavis Gallant
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it was amazing

We get to know Shirley Perrigny, formerly Higgins, nee Norrington, through a nonlinear jumble of perspectives – her husband, her several in-laws, her assortment of friends and acquaintances, her landlord, her mother, Shirley herself, and a 3rd person narrator who weaves in and out among the characters and is sometimes in Shirley’s head, and sometimes not. All of this is the perfect way to get to know the utterly original Shirley, whose life didn't start out promising - in her first few months of existence her mother thought she was a tumor, and when she was born, she was named by the doctor because her parents couldn't think of a name.

Her soon-to-be ex-husband tells her “your life is like a house without doors” - a lovely way to say she has no boundaries. She knows this, but can’t seem to stop:

“All her private dialogues were furnished with scraps of prose recited out of context, like the disparate chairs carpets and lamps adrift in her apartment. She carried her notions of conversation into active life and felt as if she had been invited to act in a play without having been told the name of it. No one had ever mentioned who the author was or if the action was supposed to be sad or hilarious. She came on stage wondering whether the plot was gently falling apart or rushing onward toward a solution. Cues went unheeded and unrecognized, and she annoyed the other players by bringing in lines from any other piece she happened to recall.”

In addition to having a great main character, this book is frequently HILARIOUS, starting with the opening pages, where Shirley’s mother writes her a Polonius-like letter of advice, including such gems as “Don’t cry whilst writing letters. The person receiving it is apt to take it as a reproach. Undefined misery is no use to anyone. Be clear, or better still, be silent.”

Another favorite of mine, Shirley’s experience of being a Canadian in Paris:

“…she had been daunted by the wave of hostility that rose to greet the stranger in Paris. Nothing seemed to be considered rude or preposterous if it was said to someone like her. ‘We wanted to give you beans and jam for dinner to make you feel at home, but my wife refuses to do American cooking.”

And this description of Shirley’s hypochondriac mother-in-law:

“Yet the fact of eating alarmed her. Peristalsis was an enemy she had never mastered. Her intestines were of almost historical importance: soothed with bismuth, restored with charcoal, they were still as nothing to her stomach in which four-course meals remained for days, undigested, turning over and over like clothes forgotten in a tumble dryer.”

Update: I got so carried away with the wit, I may have made it sound like a flat-out comedy, but it isn't, there is much that is poignant, it just isn't milked for cheap emotion. For example, my first quote from her mother's letter, while funny, also shows the kinds of letters Shirley has been sending her mother, and the way her mother responds to her misery. Here's another quote from the novel: "Mrs. Norrington was an attentive listener; only Shirley had ever failed to catch her ear.”
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Reading Progress

October 26, 2018 – Started Reading
October 26, 2018 – Shelved
October 30, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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PattyMacDotComma Great review - sounds terribly funny!

Nadine It is funny, but also poignant and subtle. I should have made that point in my review, but I was just so tickled by it on a sentence level I couldn't help it.

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