The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
|The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ruth Price|
|Summary: A disturbing description of matricide and mental illness, hard on the reader, but deserving of perseverance. It's a quality piece of writing, especially striking for the author's ability to put flesh on the bones of her characters.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: October 2008|
When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily reads the breathtaking first sentence of this novel. In the remaining chapters, which take place over approximately two days, the reader learns through Helen's recollections of the past, and her encounters and actions, the reasons behind the killing of her mother, Clair.
Reading this novel is a very intense experience; I confess I read the first two chapters and put it aside for a few days. It needs to be approached in the right frame of mind. I just had to take a breather – it certainly touched something in me. The whole experience of reading the early chapters is intensely claustrophobic, deliberately slow and relentless – one feels almost trapped with Helen, dragging her mother's body down the cellar stairs.
Helen's state of mind, her memories, her motives are drip-drip-dripped over the pages. Her memories rise to the surface like flotsam and jetsam, each recollection adding another jigsaw puzzle piece showing why Clair's murder was inevitable.
Alice Sebold's observational powers are acute; her picture of this mother-daughter relationship is chillingly realised. The events she creates are memorable; I was particularly struck by how Clair's mental illness is demonstrated by her inability to help her neighbour's boy, struck by a car and dying near her front door, unable to move because of her crippling agoraphobia. Helen then has to bear the brunt of the neighbours' anger, which reaches lynching point.
In many ways, the character of Helen is somewhat colourless, a cypher. She has to live her mother's life for her, as Clair is no longer able to leave the house. Interestingly, even Helen's job is passive – she is an artists' model, posing naked for others to stamp their personality on her face and body. It is all these details in the careful characterisations that make this a compelling read. Helen is not a likeable character, but she is very convincingly drawn.
I did find the novel lost its momentum a little in the last few chapters, but the final chapters made sense and the ending offered the reader some much-needed hope. I have since read that the events of this novel are meant to take place over twenty four hours, but I still can't work that one out…… however I feel this is a novel I could return to, although I would approach it with a degree of dread. If you want a light read about likeable characters, look elsewhere.
Thanks to the publishers, Picador, for supplying The Bookbag with this harrowing but rewarding novel.
If you liked The Almost Moon you will probably enjoy After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell, which has a similar structure, and shares the theme of painful parting.
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