Books We Love To Read
By Lucinda de Leeuw
This month I go on about what I love about one of my favourite books: White Oleander by Janet Fitch.
“I’d spent the last three years trying to build up some kind of a skin, so
I wouldn’t drip with blood every time I brushed up against something.”
White Oleander is a beautifully written story about the ugly things we see and do as we become. It is a story about a poet who is sent to jail after murdering her cheating boyfriend. At its centre, is the story about Astrid, the poet’s daughter, now abandoned and derelict after her mom is sent to prison for her misdeeds. Astrid is forcefully put on a journey of self-discovery as she floats through a series of foster homes. Both are imprisoned.
From the very beginning we learn that Astrid grows up with the overbearing measure of her mother’s relentless beauty, enigma, and courage.
She feels that she doesn’t quite measure up to her I-made-you-up-inside-my-head (to borrow from Sylvia Plath) flawless mother figure, and never will. In the end she realises that she does not really want to, either. Astrid’s story is an ongoing ache. She lives under the presence of somebody who is not at all present in her life. I don’t know, I cannot personally relate to this specific plight because my mother has always been around. But. Reading this story, you are rendered to empathise with this girl who is burdened by a shadow that should not be cast over her. You almost feel that she can easily waver this unnecessary weight by simply accepting her current plight, take it for what it is and move on with her life; forgetting the plague that is her mother. Yet, you are also always aware that the mother left an indelible mark in the life of Astrid. One that cannot easily be shaken. She lives in Astrid’s image and her imagination. Probably the hardest traits to shake for this girl growing up and through a very rough adolescence.
In the end [I’m not telling the whole story, promise] Astrid grows up into an artistically talented woman who may or may not always be haunted by her mother, this is left to the reader’s interpretation. She finds love and builds a kind of home for herself.
It is a splendid portrait of a mother-daughter duo, who thread each other’s lives constantly and almost unbearably. They are intertwined in a realm where connection is not defined by physical presence. They are bound in a space that defeats both time and purpose.
They are deeply connected, like all mothers and daughters, only theirs is tangled by an inextricable cord. With Astrid and her mother, it’s almost as if the umbilical cord was never cut. It only grows to accommodate their inseparable distance. There is no way to romanticise this, because it can never be healthy or sane to be linked to another person in this way.
They are also deeply afflicted by this inseparable and often poisonous connection that is a festered wound to either person in their quest to becoming true to themselves, and as individuals separate from their aspiring “roles” of mother and daughter.
All in all, the story is about more than a disintegrated family and home. It is about disintegrated people, their existences and the spaces they navigate.
It’s all very melodramatic and easy to get lost in. You wane through the pages and forget about the possible turmoil in your own life. This is one of the reasons why White Oleander is such a good read. You get lost in it and you forget about your own foibles for a while. Even if it’s only to momentarily lock out the haunting news cycles and be blanketed in tale after tale of trial and tribulation that is not your own.
While Astrid is learning to re-invent herself rather than to constantly struggle against the pull of her mother, I will forever be in awe by the detail with which Fitch understands and marries the art of poetry and storytelling so damn well. She combines the two seemingly separate worlds of the literary agenda into a melting pot of delectable reading.
What is your favourite book to read and read again?
Until next time,