HAND ME DOWN WORLD by Lloyd Jones

Book Quote:

“He will rub at his eyes, rub away the unsatisfactory aspect of the world. Then he will blink at me. He blinks until I am back in focus… He sits up straighter, moves himself into the edge of the table. He is back to wishing there was more of me, more of me to see.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman (SEP 28, 2011)

Who is Ines, the illegal African migrant who embarks on a hazardous sea crossing to Italy and Germany in search of her stolen son? At first, she is a total enigma; we keep wishing there was, indeed, more of her to see. Slowly and painstakingly, her inner identity is revealed in this haunting new book by Lloyd Jones, author of the acclaimed Mister Pip.

When we first meet her, Ines is working as a maid in a tony Tunisian resort, where women routinely supplement their wages with “hotel sex.” In the first few pages, we learn that she is seduced and impregnated by a callous black German guest, Jermayne, who tricks her into signing adoption papers for him and his wife. What Jermayne does not anticipate is that Ines will put herself in the hands of people-traffickers who launch her on a journey to the Sicilian coast, where she is arrives “bitten as a sodden sea cucumber.” From there, she makes her way to Berlin.

This story is revealed in bits and dabs, through successive narrations of an unscrupulous truck driver, a group of mostly benevolent alpine hunters, a British film researcher, a selfless French poet, and finally, a blind German man whose father may have been complicit in the war horrors. It is only after the first 120 pages that we meet the three key narrators: Ralf (the blind man), Defoe (his other lodger) and finally, Ines herself.

It’s an intriguing way to reveal Ines, a woman who is driven by motherly love and who will do anything and everything to spend time with her stolen son, Daniel, including betraying the trust of those who give her shelter and devotion. Like an old-fashioned detective story – in modern and sparse prose – we discover the contradictions between the narratives, what is real and what isn’t, and who Ines really is, deep down inside.

There is a beautiful symmetry about this book. In the first few pages, Lloyd Jones reveals the stuff that Ines is made of. She buys a parrot, that she quickly tires of, and tries to sell it. When that proves impossible she places the parrot on a skiff as it “rolled its eye up to her, to look as though it possibly understood her decision and had decided it would choose dignity over fear.” Much later on, Ines’s constant harping to see her son is described as parrot-like; she, too, chooses dignity as the best way to go.

The sparseness of the prose – the distance from Ines – places the reader at a bit of a distance. At times the narrative sags under the weight with a sense of inertia. Yet every time it slows down to a snail’s pace, something – some action, some decision, some revelation – creates more forward momentum. As a reader, I felt as if I were on a slow-moving train that suddenly picked up speed and oh, look at the view!

Lloyd Jones reveals a sense of daring and experimentation that shows he has come quite a way since Mister Pip – a book I enjoyed greatly. This subtle book is, in turn, riveting, disquieting, and haunting as we follow Ines’s odyssey to become reunited with her son. It reminded me a little bit of Chris Cleave’s Little Bee in its tautness and ability to summon up emotion. Lloyd Jones is definitely a writer to watch… and it does makes me curious about the many books still unpublished in the U.S. Maybe it is time that they share some of his short story collections.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 5 readers
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (September 27, 2011)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? Not Yet
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Lloyd Jones
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:Nalo Hopkinson

Bibliography:

Children’s books:
  • Napoleon and the Chicken Farmer (2003)
  • Everything You Need to Know About the World by Simon Eliot (2004)

September 28, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Germany, italy, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.