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Wednesday 8 February 2012

Speaking in Jitterbug by Jaqueline Girdner

I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Jaqueline Girdner, which tells the story of Charlotte, the schizophrenic mother of four daughters, who has been silent for 20 years. Silent, until one day, after new treatment, she speaks. An emotionally charged family gathering to celebrate her ‘new’ voice is one of revelations…and self-discovery. Charlotte’s children have many questions for her, the most critical one being ‘why?’. 

Each daughter’s viewpoint is narrated by her, in the first person, as the day unfolds. I thought this was very skilfully done. The change of POV is done by chapter, changing from daughter to daughter. The changeover is seamless, never disrupting the sequence of events, and it is always clear who the narrator is. I particularly liked this, especially as it was adeptly executed. It made it very easy for the reader to understand, not only each woman’s difficulty in comprehending their mother’s illness and turmoil, but also to appreciate the daughters’ resentments, sometimes begrudging sympathy and eventually applaud their candour, directness and ultimate acceptance of their mother’s journey.

The daughters are very different with their own set of problems; their lives have taken very diverse paths, but each also has a skill and talent of her own. Their mother’s return to ‘life’ unearths recriminations, reproaches and confusion. Could their lives have turned out differently if she hadn’t retreated into a mute world?

The star of this book is, without doubt, Charlotte. She is brilliantly portrayed. Her moments of lucidity reveal her love and infinite faith in her beloved daughters and her long-supportive husband. I loved the way she spoke in rhyme and her simple, though uncharacteristically wise and sensible, view of life. Her reasons for her silence do unfold eventually. 

This book is poignant, emotional and moving. It’s witty and humourous. It’s insightful, beautifully written with wonderfully conceived and diverse characters. Thoroughly recommended. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book in order to review it.

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