Sunday, February 25, 2007

Before you know it, you're all tangled up in purple and turquoise: Follow the Blue by Brigid Lowry

Stories are mysterious things. Beginning, middle and end, that's what they tell you at school, but life isn't actually actually neat and tidy like that. It's more like a funny old muddle of weird threads that sometimes has boring bits, and sometimes has tricky bits, and sometimes has just-right bits...

Bec, collage artist, gardener, and narrator of Follow The Blue, succinctly sums up the whole of the novel on the first page. The line of blue that she chooses to follow winds through dealing with her father's nervous breakdown and recovery, coping with a naff housekeeper with an interesting past, and figuring out the best way to spend unexpected money.

Lowry's characters, whether small children or middle-aged office workers, always hold a bohemian bent which is quite charming. Bec's family holds a number of interesting members: her sister Bing, who shears her own hair and dresses up her guinea pig; her brother Josh, with a room full of specimens and a predilection for making up email addresses; mother Vera, a famous chef who "eats and dreams food;" and father Lewis, a thoughtful architect who "is more interested in the essence of things."

This is a character-driven novel; those looking for a thrilling plot may do better elsewhere, but for a gentle but realistic coming-of-age story, Brigid Lowry's your woman. Bec's a teenager through and through, which means a little awkwardness and a bit of whinging, but she is creative and generous and the sort of girl I'd befriend in no time. The descriptions of life in Australia, especially the food and gardens and art, are absolutely delicious, such as this passage narrating a visit to Bec's father in the institution:

Bing spent ages checking out the pig's nether regions, and when she absolutely sure that she owned a girl pig she chose the name Begonia...Vera made up a song to celebrate. 'Begonia, Begonia, the fabulous creature from Patagonia,' she sang. Usually I feel embarrassed when my mother sings, and wish she didn't try so hard to be young and funky, but that day her singing felt just right. Josh made Begonia a daisy-chain necklace and we all sat around lazily in the sun and finished off the chocolate mud cake. Begonia ended up with a tiny sticky brown moustache and Josh found a two-dollar coin that someone had dropped in the grass.

Hand it off to younger teens craving the sun and surf and a group of arty friends, or keep it for yourself if the winter's got you down and you wish your family's eccentricities were this interesting (but I'll bet you ten to one that they are).

Best enjoyed with All Girl Summer Fun Band and fresh fruit.

Follow the Blue by Brigid Lowry
(Her website features a lively biography and prose poems, check it out!), Barnes and Noble, Powell's


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