Mary George of Allnorthover [NOOK Book]

Overview

"This is the story of a teenager at several turning points in her life - a richly detailed and suspenseful novel about various kinds of courtship gone wrong. The day Tom Hepple returns to the English village of Allnorthover, he stops at the local reservoir, beneath which lies his childhood home. Looking for a sign, he sees a girl walking on water. Not just any girl - it is Mary George, an uncommonly sympathetic seventeen-year-old, who seems at first to be more important to others than she is to herself. As near-sighted Mary tries to locate ...
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Mary George of Allnorthover

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Overview

"This is the story of a teenager at several turning points in her life - a richly detailed and suspenseful novel about various kinds of courtship gone wrong. The day Tom Hepple returns to the English village of Allnorthover, he stops at the local reservoir, beneath which lies his childhood home. Looking for a sign, he sees a girl walking on water. Not just any girl - it is Mary George, an uncommonly sympathetic seventeen-year-old, who seems at first to be more important to others than she is to herself. As near-sighted Mary tries to locate herself in the world, struggling with growing up, falling in love, and breaking away, Tom makes her the focus of his attempt to regain his past. Secrets and misapprehensions surface as the village reveals its stories and unwittingly helps Tom toward the catastrophic conclusion of his plan." "Mary George of Allnorthover takes place in Essex in the 1970s - a small, orderly world disrupted by power cuts, petrol shortages, and drought. The brash color and noise of punk rock is infiltrating the disco in the village hall, and London is getting closer all the time. Mary George is as caught up in all this change as she is in her own history. Her story brings to new life the great themes of family, property, inheritance, and belonging. The traditions of the nineteenth-century novel are both adhered to and subverted in Lavinia Greenlaw's remarkable first book of prose."--BOOK JACKET.
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Editorial Reviews

Vogue
Beautifully observed… suggestive, elusive, magical.
Chicago Tribune
Gorgeous writing… rich images… singing sentences… perfectly constructed paragraphs.
New York Times
A subtle and moving portrait of stormy adolescence.
James Polk
A poet who has turned her hand to fiction, Greenlaw hasn't forgotten her roots. The language of her novel has the precise quality of verse, while the closely observed details of Allnorthover and its many peculiar inhabitants, relayed with frequent flashes of humor and grace, are delivered with deft hints of the mock epic.
New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
A teenaged girl's coming of age and the return of a small-town madman make for strange but not altogether unwelcome bedfellows in this affecting debut. Camptown is a nowhere English city described by poet Greenlaw as "awkward and diminished." It's the kind of place that has plenty of history—dating back to the Roman occupation—but none of it is especially interesting. As unassuming as it is, however, it's where 17-year-old Mary George, from the small nearby village of Allnorthover, spends most of her time. Mary seems more awkward than she is—with a ragged, boyish haircut, glasses, and clunky outfits—and her interesting mixture of adolescent confusion and remarkably resilient spirit make her an engaging protagonist for a story without much of a narrative center. The outside element used to prod things along is the return to town of Tom Hepple, a lifelong lunatic. Walking by the reservoir that now covers his old family home, Tom is convinced that he sees Mary George walking on the water. Even though the townspeople dismiss any worries about his potential for violence, Mary's mother recognizes the critical part of his personality right away: "He was a force, a hurricane, sweeping things up, breaking down doors, sucking people in and under." Tom's attempts to readjust to Allnorthover life, though, are put on the back burner by the author, who devotes many of her words to rich descriptions of Mary's episodic, mostly rudderless life: smoking dope with her best friend Billy, hanging out at the record store, attempting to dye her clothes black (a stunt that comically backfires), and fumbling toward a relationship with a boy named Daniel. The '70s setting is richlyevoked, with the threat of energy and water shortages looming over daily events and the raw, slashing sounds of punk rock cutting through the local youth with a fiery intensity. While many will appreciate Greenlaw's intimate portrayal of Mary's life, the focus here is diffused by less-clearly-realized investigations into her family's past and the recurring figure of Tom—who will drag us toward an ending we didn't need or want.
From the Publisher
A finely constructed first novel.
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780007394388
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/28/2012
  • Sold by: Harper Collins UK
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: ePub edition
  • Pages: 272
  • File size: 624 KB

Meet the Author

LAVINIA GREENLAW is a prize-winning poet and novelist. Minsk is her first collection of poems to be published in the United States. She lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

On 28th june 197-, Mary George of Allnorthover was seen to walk onwater. It has to be said that the only witness was Tom Hepple, who was mad and had been away from the village for ten years until he turned up that very day, shouting. Mary had always been thought of as a peculiar child, but not one to seek attention. She had neither grace nor mystery and could not have wanted to become Tom Hepple's angel, especially not the restoring angel he was looking for. The house that Mary George woke up in was not one she knew. It was part of a straggle of Victorian cottages leading down to the station in Crouchness, built quickly from cheap brick that had now vitrified. The walls resisted hammers and drills, shed plaster, spat out nails and picture hooks. The rooms were low and dark. The front door led, in two steps, to a squat staircase at the top of which were two bedrooms Mary never saw. She had slept in a corner of the living room, which was sallow and square. The night before had been someone's party. There were half a dozen people on the floor around her, including the boy who had been holding her hand as he closed his eyes. The others lay at odd angles, not touching, bent to whatever space they had found between the slippery three-piece suite, upon which nobody had attempted to rest, and the smoked-glass coffee table. Where the shaggy carpet had been scorched, its nylon thread was gluey and fused. The floor was scattered with crumpled cans and plastic cups half full of dog ends and vinegary dregs. There was a bowl of cornflakes someone must have thought they wanted. Mary sat up and reached into the bag she had used for a pillow. The right lens of her glasses was cracked, but she put them on anyway and moved towards the boy. He lay on his front, sweating gently inside what might have been his grandfather's pinstripe suit. Mary crouched over him, her left eye squinting behind the one good lens. He had pulled up his right leg and stretched his right arm forward. As if swimming or flying, she thought. Mary studied the bones of his wrist and ankle, exposed by the too-short suit. His long fingers had a delicacy at odds with their large, rough knuckles. The boy's hair was thick and wavy, both dark and fair. It was brown where it was shaved high at the back of his neck and blond in the matted fringe that obscured most of his face. He was flushed and open-mouthed. Mary concentrated hard and, steadying her glasses with one hand, moved the other towards his cracked lips. In the sour still air of the room, the rush of his breath startled her. She lost her balance and fell back, knocking over a tower of beer cans. Their clatter was surprisingly dull, and Mary had stuffed her glasses in her pocket and left before anyone else had properly opened their eyes. Crouchness sat on the point of the estuary where clay gave way to mud. It was the first or last stop on the London line, a town built on fishing and coastal trade, now propped up by light industry — packaging, canning, and printing. The clapboard sail lofts perched on stilts along the shore were empty, too high to live in and too draughty to use as stores. The locals had been expert sailors in these shallow waters. They had known how to navigate the narrow passages between the sandbars that riddled the low-lying east coast. They had hauled in so much herring, some had been barrelled, salted, and exported to Russia. In the summer they had crewed on yachts, their local knowledge keeping the gentry from getting stranded. They had earned enough to buy their own homes. There were boats still, a handful of dinghies owned by local lawyers and doctors, a couple of dredgers and a lightship that had become obsolete five years ago and was left moored in the docks, a heavy-bottomed ark slumped in the mud at low tide. Mary walked down to the shore and out along a path on top of the dike. The ground here was neither earth nor mud but something in between, greasy, compacted, and dark. It was five o'clock in the morning, bright and warm in a tired, dusty way, like the end of a hot day rather than the beginning. Soon this heat would concentrate itself once again and people would get out of bed to open windows that were already open. Mary had slept in all her clothes: a heavy ink-blue twenty- year-old dress and a stringy dark-red cardigan she had knitted out of synthetic mohair on the biggest needles she could find. It had no buttons and so she habitually clutched its edges together in her fist. She pulled the cardigan off and stuffed it in her bag, an army- surplus knapsack with a slipping strap. It came loose and banged around her knees as she walked. Her feet sweltered in heavy boots. She tried wearing her glasses again, but seeing the cracked path and wilted grass made her feel even hotter, so she put them away. Squinting back inland, Mary could not tell the creeks and the banks apart, they ran in and out of one another so and nothing shone in a way that suggested water. The town was a blur of grey, like a model waiting to be painted. It had long been stripped of its colour by salt and the winds that blew in "straight from Siberia," as everyone said, not wanting to think such icy cold could be local. The mud gave off a stink of burning tyres, ammonia, diesel, and harshly treated sewage, nothing natural. What life there was, was amorphous, useless: lugworms and silted shrimp. Farther up where the coast broadened out into the sea and the edge of dry land was definable, there were lobsters, samphire, and crab. Boats put out to sea and did battle with Icelandic fishermen over cod. That was where people went to open their lungs. Crouchness had the only kind of sea air Mary really knew and she tried hard not to breathe it. It was almost six o'clock. Mary turned back towards the town, hoping for the milk train. When she got to the top of the station road, she found she didn't want to pass the house where the party had been. The boy might have woken. They had been sitting together on the floor talking. Each time their eyes met it was harder and for longer, and then there had been a few vague kisses during which his hand moved to stroke her cheek, then dropped to her thigh, and they had both stopped and looked down. He stared, as if the hand on this strange girl's skirt were nothing to do with him. Mary stared, too, wondering if she should move it, and if so, where to? By the time she had got up the courage to hold his hand, he had fallen asleep, and she stared at their hands until her eyes closed, too. There was a row of allotments on the embankment through which Mary could reach the railway track and then the station. She climbed over the gate and collected peas and raspberries, stuffing some in her mouth and some in her pockets. They tasted like steel wool. She wandered along the narrow mown strips that separated each plot. Clipped borders, raked earth, intricate constructions of bamboo, netting, and tags were maintained by gardeners unwilling to alter their routine according to the failure of their enterprise —blown courgette plants, yellow lettuces, tightly curled buds that had been scorched before they could open. Mary caught her leg on a tap hidden in a clump of grass. She rinsed off the blood, cupped her hands under the trickle of water, and drank. It was tepid and tasted of lead, as if it had been tinned years ago. At the track, mindful of the live rail, Mary put on her glasses. Nothing suggested electricity. At least seeing made her feel she could hear, so she would know if a fast train was going to swoop round the bend, blaring out of silence without warning, to catch her as it had caught the child whose bicycle had got stuck or the boy who had fallen while spray-painting a bridge or the woman who had just lain down. But who were they? No one she'd met had ever known them. They were just good stories. Mary crept over the lines. The ticket office was closed. The guards' room and toilets had been padlocked and abandoned. There was a waiting room with a door jammed only just open. Its one high window was locked, broken, and brown, as if someone had taken the stale chocolate from the vending machine and smeared it all over the glass. There were timetables, but it was too dim to read them, and there was no bulb in the fitting that dangled from the ceiling. A goods train came through with two passenger carriages attached. Three people got out, the heavy doors slamming behind them with a lethargic clunk. Mary climbed on board. The luggage rack above her sagged like an old string vest, the walls of the carriage were waxy and peeling, and the seat smelt of cardboard and milk. This is like travelling in the back of a cupboard, she thought. She tugged at the window till it gave an inch, then fell asleep. The train turned back on itself, inland along the estuary with its cargo from the industrial estate of Crouchness: bundles of angling magazines, promotional packs for a new car, dog biscuits, gift jars of sea salt, and printed T-shirts. All this had been brought to the town as paper, ink, bonemeal, cotton, minerals, bottles, and labels. It came with instructions, was put together and sent back again; nothing was made or remained in Crouchness, let alone thought of there. This was the milk train, but it carried no milk, which was delivered by tanker. Sacks of post were still thrown on and off at stations near main sorting offices, but most of that, too, now travelled by road. So there were fewer trains each year and the rolling stock was left to seize up on the sidings, to struggle through these slow, pernickety journeys, stopping at empty platforms and once in a while, at dawn on a Saturday morning, bringing a girl like Mary nearer to home. Once out of the marshes, the train continued its stop-and- start journey through the inland towns. The flatness of this country was suited to the new large-scale arable farming. Trees had been felled, hedgerows pulled up, ditches filled, footpaths shaved away. A single field could be all there was in sight. The only interruptions were those forced by the twisting lanes, the untidy hamlets and scattered woods. Around here, things had always been small-scale, local, instinctive. To the north, the land was even flatter. There were long stretches of Roman road, few trees, and even fewer houses. The farming was better there. As the land had been opened and pared away, the old buildings of the landowners once again dominated the view: extravagant brick chimneys and wooden belfreys embellished manor houses, farms and churches that had been poised to be seen and to be able to see for miles. In a place like this, though, distance was more vertical than horizontal. Nothing could look important under such huge skies. The guard made his way down the train. He was sure that someone had got on and that they would not have a ticket. He opened the sliding door, sauntered through, and stood in front of the sleeping girl, rocking on his heels like a policeman savouring a trivial caution. He paused for a moment, wondering which excuse she would try: the dropped ticket, the lost purse, passing herself off as foreign or dumb. Or asleep? Was that it? Those ones usually overdid it, though, giving themselves away with little touches like snoring or a dropped book. This girl was hunched in the corner of her seat, her head propped on her knees, her hands in fists clenched in her skirt. She looked like someone waiting for a bomb to drop; so much unlike anyone sleeping that the guard was inclined to believe she really was. He shook his head at this small, bony creature dressed up in clothes that were too big and too tatty, and those ridiculous boots. She would trip over everything. She had a slapdash boy's haircut and a furious face. He was about to laugh, cough, and wake her up, but had left it too long. He could not think what to do, so turned round and crept away. Mary woke up as the train pulled into Ingfield, from where she could walk the three miles home. She followed a string of pylons to the reservoir, along unsigned footpaths shaved to ridges. Withered stalks scratched at her legs. The earth was going to be changed by this drought for ever. The deep clay that had sealed these parts in the wake of a glacier thousands of years ago was now brittle and fractured. Powdery topsoil lay across the surface like dust. When the weather finally broke, it would be blown or washed away. There was a point where this landscape buckled on a chalk seam and rose and fell in a ridge. Mary climbed and found herself looking down onto the conifers that shielded the water. From up here, she could see the bleached concrete rim that ran along that side of the reservoir's basin. The water was hard to get to. A chain-link fence ran around most of the perimeter and there were just two gates - -one for those with fishing or sailing permits and one for the Water Board. At the point closest to the road, there was a path leading to a viewing platform. The noticeboard on the platform offered a key to the birds that could be seen there: cormorants, herring gulls, herons, and Canada geese —seabirds, migratory birds, making do. There was a list of statistics, too, that explained how many cubic metres of water served how many businesses and homes, how much earth had been moved and concrete poured, and how many trees had been planted. Mary remembered her father coming on a visit when she was ten. It was March, around her birthday. Her mother, Stella, had taken her to Ingfield to meet him. Matthew had arrived with a thermos and a pair of binoculars, and reminded her that a year earlier she had declared herself interested in birds. He drove her out to the reservoir, where they stood in silence on the viewing platform in the searing wind, fumbling the binoculars between them with deadened fingers. To break the silence, Matthew pretended to have seen a heron. When this didn't excite Mary, he spotted a kingfisher, then a hummingbird. "Look! Look!" he had implored, but she wouldn't join in, wouldn't pretend, and had refused to take the binoculars from him. Tom Hepple held his breath, but still his heart would not slow. He tried not to gulp air as his arms curled and his hands went dead. He leant hard back against the tree, wanting to feel his spine, to know he had bones and could stay standing and would not break. His heart was beating so fast it had to burst, it would be a relief if it burst. When it seemed it might, there was a hollow pause followed by erratic threes and fours, not a light palpitating skitter now but slow hard thumps, like bubbles rising in something solid, a knot surfacing in a piece of wood. This was worse than anything. He had known about the water and had come back knowing what he would see: no Goose Farm, no Easter Bank, no home. Tom knew, too, that there would be concrete, fences, fir trees, and a bowl of water that stopped the eye in its tracks. These were places where you traced a slope up and over but not down, because a bowl of water stopped you, cut across your vision, and, even when there was no reflection, turned you hard back on yourself. Reservoirs never became part of things. The eye told you first and then the land. You could walk, as Tom had just done, to the water, and look, there were fish and waterfowl, and the trees grew happily over the edge, but it didn't make sense. Least of all here, where the world was flat and the dip below Ingfield Rise had been a place to get out from under the sky. Tom was scared. If he could just find the house, know where it was. He crouched down and pushed his hands into the earth, wanting to feel the full force of the world push back and steady him, but last year's leaves and pine needles were loose dust. He felt the bubbles escape his chest and press into every part of his body. He tried to hold harder to the earth. I will float away, he thought, as each wave of panic left him with less and less sense of himself. I do not work, I am not flesh, I am light and air exploding. And although Tom believed this, he settled slowly back into himself, his hands were his hands again and his heart forgotten. He decided to try once more. The hard light hurt his eyes as he emerged from the dullness of the trees. He concentrated, turning his head from right to left until he could be sure that there was the Ridge and Temple Grove marking the edge of Factory Field. He followed the land down without thinking and fixed his gaze on the point where the house should be, just past the fishing jetty, only five yards or so out now that the water level was so low. He walked towards it, bumping and stumbling but looking neither away nor down. It was no good, there was nothing to fix on, just the inscrutable dazzle of sun on water. The harder he stared, the more it kept shifting and shimmering and pushing him away. Tom reached the jetty and made for the shadows beneath it. Copyright © 2001 by Lavinia Greenlaw
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