A is for Angelica by Iain Broome

A is for AngelicaA is for Angelica by Iain Broome

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wow. First of all, I’d like to thank the publisher through NetGalley for my copy of A is for Angelica by Iain Broome.
This is a really difficult novel for me to rate, or write about, in several ways. To start with, the basic premise (without spoilers) is that our narrator, Gordon Kingdom, is a man who keeps files on all his neighbors, as he watches them through the window in his spare bedroom. His wife Georgiana has recently had a stroke, and Gordon has taken the doctor’s suggestion to “write things down” very literally.
The characters that figure prominently in Gordon’s life include Angelica, the 42-year-old woman who moves into the house across the street from him, Benny, the teenaged artist who Gordon observes painting at one in the morning, and Don Donaldson, Gordon’s oldest friend. Gordon also has a dog named Kipling, who he attempts to care for, and interacts with various quirky other people who he encounters in his daily life.
The story starts with a prologue chapter describing a conversation between Gordon and Angelica which is confusing to the reader, since we have no background on their relationship. Then, the novel takes us back in time to when the two first meet, and follows them over the ensuing months, ending with a recap of the prologue, which the reader now views with more understanding.
The novel is written in simple language, but that does not mean that it is a simple story. From the beginning, Gordon’s narrative voice is distinctive, and I was unsure if he was supposed to be portrayed as autistic. What exactly is going on with Gordon is never clarified, which I found frustrating.
However, Gordon’s narration is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and this is accomplished because author Iain Broome has a true talent at writing humor. The flip side of this is that Gordon’s situation, and the understated way in which he describes tragic events, make the deep sadness in this story all the more powerful.
Gordon doesn’t tell us that he is sad, even as he deals with several life-altering tragedies in the course of the novel. Instead, he tries to deal with sickness and loss in his world through controlling it in ways he can, through documenting the daily routines of his neighbors, and through researching how to help someone recover from a stroke and writing his own manual about his wife’s progress. The great tragedy is that, as Gordon tries so hard to organize minutia, his world is collapsing around him, and there is absolutely nothing he can do to stop it.
As other reviewers have noted, the humor in A is for Angelica almost makes the reader feel guilty, because it comes in tandem with devastating losses. So while in many ways this novel is brilliant, at the same time, it is not an easy read. It made me feel uncomfortable, but more than that it was consistently, increasingly, terribly sad.
Because of the author’s obvious talent, I had expected there to be some sort of resolution or understanding at the end of the novel, and for me, there was not. As I read the final chapter, the recap of the prologue, I felt that the dialogue was supposed to have some deep significance, but that I must be missing it. And I am honestly not sure whether Iain Broome meant for there to be some sort of message that I missed, or whether the message was that there is no resolution. Perhaps A is for Angelica was a sad story, pure and simple.
This is where, for me, it becomes difficult to rate the book. While I admire Broome’s talent as a writer, as a reader find myself deeply affected by the tone of a novel. Reading A is for Angelica made me feel depressed, and even angry, for the days in which I was in that world. And without some sort of point, even if that point was that we cannot control our world, I felt a bit emotionally used. A is for Angelica seemed to be a narrative of the downfall of a man’s life, but I was left wondering why the narrative had been told. Reading it felt like absorbing a dose of sadness, and for me, if that sadness does not bring with it any new understanding about the world, it is not worth adding to a world that already has enough suffering in it.
In conclusion, A is for Angelica is a well-written work of art. However, if you are feeling down, or if you are the kind of person whose mood is deeply affected by the books you read, I would not recommend reading this book. Or if you do read A is for Angelica, make sure to have something silly or uplifting handy for when you finish.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. cleopatralovesbooks
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 11:56:41

    I have this on my TBR so it is good to hear your take on this novel. I have an aversion to novels without resolution so I’m not very sure I will enjoy this but at least I have been warned. Thank you!


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