The much-anticipated second novel by the Man Booker Prize finalist and national best-selling author of The Hiding Place is a harrowing, elegant, and vivid portrait of a lost life at last reclaimed. Winnie would say she's no trouble, content to let the days go by, bothering no one. Living on the edge of nowhere, she'd rather not recall the past and, at seventy-two, doesn't see much point in thinking too much about the future. But when her closed existence is shattered by a random act of violence, Winnie is catapulted out of her exile. Robbed of everything she owns, she embarks on a journey to track down her stolen belongings-but soon finds her search has become the rediscovery of a stolen life. As Winnie pieces together the fragments of her life, her once-secluded world begins to fill with people: her devoted father; the haunting figure of her mother; her domineering grandfather; and Joseph, her only love. At last Winnie understands that she has not escaped from her life at all; she has simply been circling it. Now she must come to terms with the final revelation, one so profoundly shocking that she had concealed it even from herself.
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By Trezza Azzopardi
GROVE PRESSCopyright © 2004 Trezza Azzopardi
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Chapter OneI've got to go and live with my grandfather. I don't know him, and my father won't be coming with me, but there's nothing to be done. It's been decided.
Needs must, Pats, my father says. It's a mystery to me. He doesn't explain the words, and I'm not allowed to question. I'm going to live with an old man that I don't know and my father can't abide. He used to call him That Old Devil, but now that needs must, my father doesn't call him anything at all. I've never met the devil, but I've seen his face.
Under the stairs in the pantry there was a carton which I wasn't allowed to touch, sitting alongside other things that weren't touchable, like the Vim and my father's shoe polish. The carton had got lye inside, which is poison. There was a picture of the devil on the outside, to prove it. He had a red face, red hair, pointed teeth, and a tail going up in a loop, sharp as a serving fork. He didn't look at all like my grandfather. My mother kept a photograph of him in a silver frame on the table next to her bottle of Wincarnis. I wasn't allowed to touch that either. The picture was in black and white. When my mother did her hair, or sometimes when she slept, I would sit on the stool by her bed and stare at him, and think about the devil inside. I reasoned that his face could be red in real life, and he wasn't smiling, so he could easily have pointed teeth. In the photograph, he looked uncomfortable. That would be the tail, doing that: he'd be sitting on it. In his little round eyeglasses, I could see someone else standing a long way off. Two someone elses, one in each eye, holding a bright thing in the air above their heads. I imagined this was a cross of fire to ward off my grandfather, sitting there having his photograph taken. I wanted to compare him with the devil on the box of lye, put the pictures side by side, see if they made a pair, but I couldn't get them together in the same room if they were not to be touched. I tried to memorize them instead: the devil was easy, his wide grin and his hair so red; but my grandfather - he just looked like any old man, any plain old man in the world. And then one day I saw for myself how not like the devil he was.
We lived near the lanes, in Bath House Yard. We'd always been there, so I knew all the faces round about: next door to us was a tiny woman called Mrs Moon, with no husband and four children all alike; and in the corner lived two brothers with a bulldog that bit your legs when you ran past. Across the yard was the knife-grinder. He did the rounds on his bike. When he came home, he'd leave it in the yard outside his window. There were cloths tied to the back, and a basket full of tools on the front. The dog never messed with him. He preferred the butcher, who lived in the rooms on top of us. I didn't know the butcher's name, and hardly saw him in the daytime, but I heard him, moving above my head in the morning, singing when he came home at night. Sometimes I looked out of my window to watch him staggering up the steps; he'd be hanging on to the railing like a man at sea, with the bulldog snipping at his boots, waiting for him to slip. It was easy to slip on the steps; the whole yard-end was leaning one way, as if any minute it would run off through the gutter and down into the city. My father said it was because of the quarrying underneath. We lived on lime, he said. My mother said it was the ghosts that made things tilt. If anything happened in our house, she blamed it on the ghosts.
They made everything slant. Our front door turned out onto a path of cobbles made of flint. They looked like pigs' knuckles laid out flat. Except they didn't stay flat, they sloped, and when it rained, the water came in under the door. My father put up a low wall around our door to stop the water. Everyone in the yard admired it, but no one wanted one of their own.
My grandfather came to see us just after I'd started at school. According to my father, it was because I didn't go often enough. In truth, I hardly went at all. My father came to collect me at the end of the first week, and found me sitting at the back of the room at a little table, just me on my own. While all the rest of the children were doing the alphabet, I was sticking felt animals on a board.
Call that learning? he asked the teacher, who could only say that the idea of learning was beyond some of us and it was nothing to be ashamed of.
She'll not be shoved in a corner, my father said, To be forgotten.
After that, I didn't go any more.
My grandfather paid a visit to Talk Some Sense into us. My father wasn't worried, he said the Moon children never got any bother, did they, and anyway, he wanted me at home. It wasn't as if I missed going to school. I liked to play in the yard. I'd join in Ring-a-Roses with Josie and Pip Moon, but if the bulldog was out and about, I'd sit on the butcher's steps with my legs tucked underneath me. The day it all changed, I was doing just that.
A grey man came and stood at the wall. He had a hat in one hand and a piece of paper in the other. From where I was sitting, I could see the bald bit on the top of his head. He didn't knock on the door, and he didn't say anything, he just looked up at me. He reminded me of someone I knew.
You must be Lillian, he said, after a bit. He sounded friendly, but I couldn't answer back. My father has told me I must not speak to strangers, and I wasn't sure whether he counted. So I just looked at him. After a minute, he tried again.
You are Lillian, aren't you?
It's a trick question, I thought. Then I thought, Maybe I am a Lillian? And ran down to ask my father. I'm always getting stuck with my name, but Lillian at that moment sounded important, and the way he said it, the grey-faced man, made it more familiar than my other name, which my father always calls me by. It's Patsy, my other name. My father thought it was important too. When I told him what the man said, he ran like a rat from the bedroom where my mother was kept, straight through the living room, jumping the wall out the front. I'd never seen him run like that, pushing me aside as if he was fleeing the devil, not rushing to greet him. When I followed, he shouted.
You stay there! Don't move!
I stayed right where he pointed, on the doorstep, and watched as the two of them had words. The piece of paper was exchanged. My father turned without looking back and grabbed me by the hand. He had a fierce grip. He was squeezing my fingers in one hand and the piece of paper in the other. He slammed the door on the man, unfurled the paper in front of the fire and burnt it straight away.
Who was that man? I asked, watching the paper curling blue.
That was your grandad, was all he said. Then he went in to my mother.
It was the first time I'd seen my grandfather in colour. He did look like the photograph. I wanted to ask him why he called me by the wrong name and why my father thinks he is the devil.
After a bit, I went into my mother's room. She was lying on her side, with my father sitting on the stool next to the bed. They stopped talking and looked at me. The shutters were closed. I went to the window and opened them a crack to see out. The man who was my grandfather was still there, waiting, his hands hanging open at his sides. I thought he might wave, but if he saw me he didn't show it. He was staring straight at the door, eyeing it just like the bulldog eyes me. I wanted to compare him to his picture. I glanced over to where my mother kept it, but the frame had been turned face down on the table.
Come away from there, Pats, said my father.
But he's still there!
Come away now, he said.
My mother gave a slow blink. She didn't talk much, but she didn't need to; her blinking said it all. It said she wasn't going to get up and let him in, and I really shouldn't ask questions at a time like this, or stand near the window like that, for everyone in the yard to see our business.
Why did he call me Lillian? I asked. No one spoke. I asked again.
My mother's eyes were shut now. My father took a breath,
I'll tell you in a bit. Go and put the kettle on for your mam.
I did as I was told. But I knew if I looked out of the window I would see the man again, standing still and waiting like a dog.
* * *
Soon after that, the photograph of my grandfather disappeared entirely, and the frame was put on the sideboard with the glass cracked and nothing behind it but white. And then one morning, the frame was gone too. It was the time of the ghosts. It was the time, my father decided, that I should learn history.
Chapter TwoIt's May 1930: a war has begun. Two men are standing in the shadow of a church inside which I'm about to be christened. Here is my mother's father, thin-lipped under his furious moustache, and standing a foot away, black hair slicked and shining, is my father. He would rather stand somewhere else to argue; the wind is so low and bitter, even the headstones look as if they're ducking out of the way. But there's hardly any room, what with the graves and my pram and the bells. Eight colossal bells are lined up on the edge of the path, their dark skirts tilted to the sky. They are hulled and empty, apart from the largest one at the far end, which houses a small boy enjoying a cigarette. His legs, stretched out from the lip of the bell, are the only bits of him that are visible.
It's a fine spring day, despite the cold. I am wrapped in a shawl and covered with blankets to keep me warm. Underneath the layers, I'm wearing a white christening robe. My mother wore it when she was christened, and her father before her. In between times, it has been folded up in paper and stored in a trunk in my grandfather's house. It has been handed down. I'm wearing a bonnet too, which has not been handed down: it's new as mint. It's a sap, according to my father, a sap to my grandfather. This bonnet covers my hair completely.
The men don't enter the church, they close in among the bells, as if in hiding from the world. This is a private conflict.
Lillian! says my grandfather, It's been decided.
It's Patricia, says my father, We agreed on Patricia!
I agreed to nothing.
Both men stand firm; they would like to fight, hands round each other's necks, rolling over on the stubbled grass like a pair of urchins. But they are aware of the boy, his feet dabbling the path as they whisper at each other, and the two men keep their hands to themselves, pulling on their own suits, fingering their cuffs. My father aims a kick at the nearest bell, half hoping it would let out a peal, some sound to break the silence. The bells look helpless lying down like this; unarmed, naked.
He first saw them last spring, up in the belfry. He was one of the gang of men who climbed St Giles tower, and came quickly back to earth again, their hands stinging with fear, legs like water. My father tried to grip the wooden guide rail as he tumbled down and the whole piece came away, thin as splints. The beams had rotted to dust, but it wasn't this that made the men afraid. They had been standing in a careful circle around the nest of bells. It was just a slight tremor to begin with, so that my father thought the foreman behind him was having a joke, jockeying the slats they stood on; and then a deep rumble which turned everything to jelly: the sky outside, the frantic bats, the bells swaying in the grit air. All to jelly. The bells didn't seem so harmless then. A month later, people were still talking about the earthquake that shook the city. Another month, and the work to fix the beams was lost: the bells needed to come down, and it was not a job for a carpenter. My father had met my mother by then.
A year on, and he's staring at the bells once more, his hands are sweating, his legs are water.
You've no right, he says, through his teeth.
No more have you, my grandfather says.
She's my daughter, says my father, I have every right. My grandfather does not reply to this. He closes the discussion,
Anyway. It's been decided.
They are back to the beginning, which to my father seems like no beginning at all, just a curve in the circle. He would let the matter drop; he is my father, after all: he can call me whatever he likes. But this is not his church, and not his parish, and the priest is not his priest. Watton was my father's home. Once a week, knotted at the neck, he went to his own church. It had no crumbling tower, no beacon, and just one solitary bell with a desolate clang. When he left for the city, he thought that he had finally escaped the churches and priests and cold stone mornings. And apart from his wedding and the recce of the bell-tower, he hasn't stepped inside St Giles once. But it wouldn't matter if he was regular in his attendance, it wouldn't matter if he was devout, the priest would not favour him. My father is an incomer, after all. The priest is perfectly civil; he gives all the appearance of benevolence, and a thin smile of welcome. But my father isn't fooled; he knows how things can slip away and splinter, even if they look solid, even if you hold on tight.
My father and grandfather are too busy arguing over a name to notice that someone is missing: my mother is nowhere to be seen. It's not as if she hasn't prepared for the day: she has a long satin dress, a new hat, a pair of handmade silk slippers in cornflower blue, worn just the once, on her wedding day. They're all laid out and ready, but my mother is slow to get up and slow to get dressed; she makes my father impatient. He stalks about the room, then up and down outside the bedroom door until she bleats at him to go. She'll meet him at the church; she promises, emphatically, that she'll be there. My father leaves her; he has to attend to me, after all. I am the reason for everything. The arrangements are all to give me a name; the priest has been summoned to give me a name; my mother has to get out of her bed to witness me being given a name; the two men standing outside the church are arguing about my name. It has passed from simmering disagreement to bellowing rage.
Lillian! shouts my mother's father.
Patricia! goes my father.
Lillian Patricia Lillian Patricia. The boy in the bell listens, dabbles his feet, flicks the dog-end of his smoke onto the path. He'd go for Patricia, but they won't ask him for an opinion, nor anyone else. No one will come to save the day, to offer a compromise, to make a show of peace, despite the sending of the lace-edged invitation cards. The acquaintances will stay away. This family is tight as a fist.
Excerpted from remember me by Trezza Azzopardi Copyright © 2004 by Trezza Azzopardi. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The description of this novel had all the elements I tend to love -- a shift of past & present, gradual revealing of family & life history, a little bit of mystery & some family secrets. And while I enjoyed it, it didn't grip me quite as much as I think it could've. I found myself confused a lot within the story -- & that may have just been me or might possibly have been the fact that I listened to it on audio & had more trouble distinguishing time frames & such. There are several different issues going on in this story, including some mental illness, neglect, exploitation, homelessness, a little bit of borderline paranormal, etc. I almost think the author tried to tackle too much information & wrap it up neatly in one story, but there was something unsettling there for me. However, if you'd ask me how I'd do it better, I don't know that I'd have an answer. This book reminded me in a lot of ways of Maggie O'Farrell's "The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox", which I read fairly recently. I don't think this one was quite as good, but the potential is there.
As I finished Remember Me by Trezza Azzopardi, I was left with a feeling of mystery about the story¿s narrator. After more than 260 pages, what did I learn about her? Even her name was a moving target ¿ was it Patsy or Lillian or Winnie? Told by such an unreliable narrator, Remember Me is one of those books that falls together hours after completion. Azzopardi drops clues about Winnie like breadcrumbs, helping the reader find her way through Winnie¿s story after much reflection.Remember Me shifts from Winnie¿s past to her present life as an older woman living on the streets. She carries her green case, full of mementoes. When someone steals Winnie¿s case, she takes an emotional journey through her past. We learn that Winnie was the daughter of a doting father and a mentally unstable mother. After her mother¿s death, she moves in with her grandfather, and then later her great aunt. She eventually ends up at the home of a brother and sister who convince Winnie that she¿s a clairvoyant. It¿s this part of Winnie¿s journey that offers a moment of stability for her before more heartbreak sets in. As you watch Winnie move from place to place, it¿s sad to see her never have a place to call home. Everything was temporary in Winnie¿s world.Remember Me is a story that should be read by those who like a story¿s complexities and learning about the characters slowly. Azzopardi packs an emotional punch, once you sit back and reflect on all of the pieces she presents about her characters. Once you do, you are left with a novel about how loneliness and detachment can plague a human¿s soul.
We meet the narrator, who has had many names throughout her life, as an elderly homeless woman who has determined to live only in the present, but is forced by a disturbing assault to remember her own complicated past. Her story unfolds in chapters alternately numbered (one, two, three) and titled ("sticks", "protection", "all-day breakfast"). The numbered chapters take us back in time through the narrator's childhood and gradually on to the present; the titled chapters tell her "now" story. The writing is glorious; the narrator sympathetic though surely unreliable; the suspense just intense enough as we experience each new revelation about who Lillian/ Patsy/Beauty/Winnie is and has been.
I liked "The Hiding Place" a lot, but nothing prepared me for this quietly devasting book, possibly one of the saddest things I've ever read. Winnie's world was always small, but as each of the few people she relies on slip through her fingers, and as each tiny act of thoughtless cruelty shakes her fragile mental health, she grows more and more alone, until the world abandons her altogether and she has to make a reality from the ghosts in her head. I found this book heartbreaking and it took me weeks to stop thinking about it.
This is a wonderful book! The story opens with Winny, an oft forgotten person from childhood until present day. She is 72 now and begins her story from a theft of her most precious belongings (a single case with what amounts to the remnats of her life) and her determination to get them back. Throughout her life she has been shuffled from pillar to post with tragic results. The author enables the reader to feel she is sitting across from Winny and hearing her story. Conversely, you begin to not feel sorry for her, although enough of her life is such a tragety, but you begin to applaud her strength and perserverence. This is not a depressing book at all. It, instead, fills you with the hope that Winny will win out over everything that had been done to her. I will never forget this book. I've read it over and over again and will continue to do so. I gave it 5 stars across the board!
This was by far one of the best books I've ever read. I never re-read books, never, but I started at the beginnig and read this one again as soon as I finished. You don't want it to end. I've been bored lately with most bestseller books I've read - but this one, WOW.
Remember Me is a compelling but disturbing book. I found it to be a page turner. The many lives of the heroine are sad and each new environment more sordid than the last. In the end I found myself strangely attached to this social outcast and sorry to see her adventures end. I will probably reread the book to clarify some details in my own mind. It is very well written, I am looking forward to reading the author's first book.