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Winner - Campiello First Novel Award;Finalist – The Strega Prize for Fiction. Camelia is a young Italian woman who lives with her mother in Leeds, a city where it is always December and winter has been underway for such a long time that nobody is old enough to have seen what came before. She’s dropped out of university and translates instruction manuals for an Italian washing machine manufacturer; her mother, Livia Mega, once a renowned flautist, spends her days inside taking photographs of holes she finds ...
Winner - Campiello First Novel Award;Finalist – The Strega Prize for Fiction. Camelia is a young Italian woman who lives with her mother in Leeds, a city where it is always December and winter has been underway for such a long time that nobody is old enough to have seen what came before. She’s dropped out of university and translates instruction manuals for an Italian washing machine manufacturer; her mother, Livia Mega, once a renowned flautist, spends her days inside taking photographs of holes she finds in the house. Camelia and her mother communicate in a language of their own invention, in which words play no part. The lives of these two women have been undone by a calamity in their recent past, and there seems little or no possibility of ever finding their way back to a normal life. But one day Camelia meets Wen, a local shop owner. To win Camelia’s affections, Wen begins teaching her Chinese ideograms. Through this new language of signs and subtle variations Camelia learns to see the world anew and, in it, a chance for renewal. Stylistically innovative, linguistically thrilling, 70% Acrylic, 30% Wool announces the arrival of an exceptional new talent. A most unusual love story, one as unpredictable as the human heart itself, 70% Acrylic, 30% Wool is funny at times, bittersweet at others. It will find admirers among readers of Karen Russell and Jennifer Egan.
Posted February 2, 2014
This novel definitely has a modernist feel to it, in the manner of Virginia Woolf or an impressionist painter. One reviewer described it as 'like a black and white arty film' and I think that is quite apt. One thing it isn't, is commercial. This would not be a best seller in the UK, unless it won some literary prize or was listed on an English Literature syllabus, as the majority of readers like their reads to be instantly accessible. One of the beauties of buying this book electronically is that you can read a portion of the book before you buy. If you don't like the beginning don't buy the book, as it is like this all the way through.
This is Camelia's story of loss, language, and self harm. She has lost her father and her mother's response to this is to withdraw and stop talking. Like many people who suffer from grief and depression she stops caring for herself, leaving her daughter obliged to wash her and take care of her. She is a mere shadow of the woman she used to be and we see this in her skeletal appearance. Communication is expressed through looks between the two women. It is difficult to imagine how much could be expressed through looks and body language alone, but for the sake of the story the reader will suspend their disbelief.
Cameia was going to university to study Chinese before her father passed away. She takes a job working from home translating instruction manuals from Italian to English for a washing machine company called Gagliardi. Her mother spends her day taking artistic pictures of holes with the camera her daughter has bought for her with her wages. She takes clothes, ill fitting rejects from the bins and wears them in a sense of shocking rebellion. This then develops into cutting up the fabrics and sewing patches to them, demonstrating a destructive tendency. It is because of the clothes that she meets Wen and begins taking lessons in Chinese.
She is fascinated by the ideograms, how they are constructed and the shape of the symbols or keys. These shapes become prominent and almost an obsession throughout the rest of the book. When she tries to make love to Wen she draws them on his body and when he inexplicably rejects her advances she takes the train to Scarborough with his brother Jimmy and satisfies her desire. This is not the love her life it is merely a physical act and is treated as such in the narrative. Jimmy has done this before and talks about Wen's previous girlfriend who he had been physically intimate with and how Wen had taken it really badly threatening to kill them both. Obsessed with the ideograms she even starts carving them into her legs with a penknife and gets a tattoo of one on her breast.
In order to encourage her mother to leave the house and move forward with her life she enrolls her on a photography course. However her mother falls in love with the photography tutor and when she brings him home as a potential husband Camelia is horrified. Leaving the house she goes to a local bridge where she contemplates suicide and the novel ends with tragedy and being alone again.
This book is full of symbols from the obvious Chinese ideograms to the idea of holes. Holes left when her father died, the porthole of the washing machine from her translations, the holes she cuts in the clothes which she alters. The hole left from Wen's rejection of her amorous advances and how she uses Jimmy's body to satisfy that need. There is also the irony that her father had an affair, which she blames him for and views as the reason for his death, yet she also betrays Wen's affections by sleeping with his brother.
Posted May 21, 2013
Posted May 21, 2013
Posted January 9, 2013
No text was provided for this review.