Author: GB Edwards
Details: (c) 1981 Edward P de G Chaney; Pub 1981 Moyer Bell Ltd; ISBN 0-918825-34-2
Verdict: The book of Ebenezer Le Page is one of my favourite books in the whole world.
Reasons for reading it: It's one that I keep coming back to, and I hadn't reread it for a few years.
How it came into my hands: Fourteenth birthday present from my uncle D.
I honestly think The book of Ebenezer Le Page is one of the most underrated works of literature of the 20th century. It ought to be on school curriculums being massacred by neophyte literary criticism, and on lists of classics, and it should be the sort of book that everybody likes to give the impression they have read. And basically nobody has heard of it apart from all my friends I rave about it to. Of course, if it did have the classic status it deserves, lots of people would end up hating it, but at least it would get enough exposure so that some people would get past the stigma of Classic status and get to read it.
The form is of the rather rambling memoirs of an elderly and rather cranky man who has lived through most of the century in Guernsey. It's not plot heavy, but it's incredibly packed with meaning, and the seemingly artless structure is really impressive. I loved it at first because of the fantastic characterization, but every time I reread it I find more levels of cleverness to admire. It's about Guernsey, certainly, and also about the two World Wars, and the sweeping social changes of the twentieth century, and about human interactions. It's also about being homosexual in a society that doesn't even have a concept of "gay", let alone any acceptance of that, but it doesn't make a big song and dance about that theme, it's just a bitter thread running through the complicated weaving. I think I missed that arc altogether when I first read it.
This reading, what struck me most was the sense of regret of letting love pass by. But there's just so much in it, things about growing old and friendship and suffering and war and human nature with the noble completely entangled with the base. It's not a boring or preachy book; Le Page as a narrator is beautifully irreverent, and never breaks the illusion of a barely literate country bumpkin, in spite of the cleverness of the literary construction of the book as a whole. The only flaw is that the last couple of pages get ridiculously sentimental; there is some suggestion that Edwards died leaving that section as an unedited early draft (the book was published posthumously). The view of women isn't exactly progressive, but I find it impossible to be bothered by that when it's so much in character, and when men as a class hardly come off any better.
Anyway, if you ever happen to find a copy, do read it.