By Marina Lewycka
We all know silence.
There is good silence, the comfortable silence of companionship, and there is bad silence, the silence that screams of a deep fissure in a close relationship. Of this latter silence, Marina Lewycka, two books on from her stunning debut novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, writes with great insight, not least in the voice of her heroine, Georgie Sinclair, whose husband has just walked out on her:
“The silence had an intrusive jangling quality, like a persistent tinnitus. When I walked from room to room I could hear my footsteps on the laminate floor. When I ate I could hear the scraping of my knife and fork on the plate in the echoing kitchen. I tried having the radio on or playing music, but that made it worse: I knew the silence was there even though I couldn’t hear it.”
And Georgie’s is not the only compelling voice. There is also that of Naomi Shapiro, a beguilingly eccentric old Jewish émigrée neighbour whom Georgie finds rummaging through her skip in the middle of the night.
She writes with great insight of the silence that flows from the end of a relationship
In Naomi, Lewycka has drawn a character as rich in resolve and stubborn resilience as she is in comic malapropisms and the rampant mispronunciations that come with a steadfast refusal to fully engage with a language you have been using for the last 50-plus years.
Mutual suspicion between the two women soon gives way to a touching and often hilarious, odd-couple friendship, accelerated by Georgie’s determination not to allow Mrs Shapiro to be ripped off by a succession of seedy estate agents determined to part the by now hospitalised old lady from her semi-derelict, but nonetheless highly valuable, Islington mansion — Canaan House.
And what of Mr Ali, the astonishingly useless builder called in to renovate Canaan House — and his two feckless assistants, who can have learned their trade only by watching endless screenings of Bob The Builder?
And what, too, of Artem, the husband Mrs Shapiro left behind in Israel in 1950 on land hitherto occupied by Mr Ali — if indeed Artem really was her husband, and if indeed Mr Ali really did occupy that land?
In the way that We are all made of glue develops individual and compelling story-lines for each of the main players before the brilliant Lewycka pulls all the strands together in a fashion you would have thought, at best, unlikely, it recalls both Nick Hornby’s masterful Long Way Down and an episode of Seinfeld. Honestly, I can offer no higher praise than that.