Wednesday, December 17, 2014

book review: Keeping Up with Magda by Isla Dewar

The backstory: Keeping Up with Magda, Isla Dewar's first novel, was longlisted for the Orange Prize (now Bailey's Prize) in 1996.

The basics: Jessie Tate walks away from her life and husband in Edinburgh. She ends up in Mareth, a small Scottish fishing village, and stays. She rents an apartment above The Ocean Cafe, which is run by the titular Magda.

My thoughts: I'm quite drawn to tales of small town life, as well as stories of characters, particularly women, traveling to a town and starting a new life. So Keeping Up with Magda was right up my alley, yet it was so much more than I expected. While at times it is a quiet novel about a town and its inhabitants, it also was much deeper and darker than I expected. Jessie's journey to Mareth is not one of a woman searching for something new because she can; her journey begins because of a devastating event in her life.

While I laughed and smiled as I read, I also winced. Dewar's characters are flawed people who do some horrible things. They have horrible things happen to them. Still, this novel isn't as depressing as many of its events, which is a testament to Dewar's writing and strong characterizations. This slim novel has a large cast, even as the actions mostly center on Jessie and Magda. Dewar fully forms a community and tells the story of its part and present.

The verdict: Keeping Up with Magda is a gem I would not have discovered were it not longlisted for the Orange Prize. I'm eager to read Dewar's other novels, as this debut is impressive in scope and execution. Dewar surprised me many times in this novel, and I loved the time I spent in the village of Mareth.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 224 pages
Publication date: September 14, 1995
Source: purchased

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Keeping Up With Magda from Amazon (no Kindle edition.)

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