A young woman (Pearl) goes on a hunger strike and chains herself to the flagpole at the American embassy in Dublin. Why? She feels responsible for the accidental death of a teenage boy. Also, she supports the peace accord between the IRA and the British. Do these sound like coherent reasons to kill yourself ? Not to me they don't.
This book was a capital disappointment. The characters are not likable (in fact, they are dislikable). It’s very difficult to feel any sympathy for Pearl’s confused attempt to make a statement when the reasons for it are so stupid and disjointed. Her mother Maria is a spoiled shrew, self-centered and demanding, and her mother’s friend Joseph is a cold fish. Even the minor characters are annoying.
And Mary Gordon, who is usually a beautiful writer, just goes on and on and on. She goes over the same ground again and again, yes, Pearl feels guilty. Guilty guilty guilty. Yes Maria feels angry. Angry angry angry. You get my point.
I read several reviews of this book on line, hoping to find someone who agreed with me. Most reviewers were very favorable, but Natalie Danford, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, also found the narration to be annoying. She compared the book to Unless by Carol Shields, a book I have mentioned in this blog a few times recently, and which I thought of when I was reading Pearl. Unless has a similar theme: a daughter moved to take drastic action in response to an injustice, and a mother's attempt to understand this action. Unless is a far far better book than this one. Read that instead.
(Book 40, 2006)