- About the Author
- On Active Service
Anne Tyler is one of my favourite authors. She has a way of getting under her protagonists’ skins like no one else I know. We scarcely need a physical description, we know these people inside and out, know what makes them tick, practically know when they clean their teeth and what they like for breakfast.
From the start I could tell “The Ladder of Years” wasn’t written recently. There is no mention of mobile phones or laptops. When I checked it was, in fact, written in1996. But this doesn’t detract from the story.
Like all her novels, this book is very American. The dialogue, way of life and family values are quite alien to the English way of life.
The use of language and the descriptions are just wonderful, concise, tiny snippets that sum up a person or a situation in a very few sentences. I particularly liked this:
“She sat against her headboard, jostling the cat, and switched on the clock radio. They were playing jazz, at this hour. Lots of lonesome clarinets and plinkety-plonk pianos, and after every piece the announcer stated the place it was recorded and the date. A New York bar on an August night in 1955. A hotel in Chicago, New Year’s Eve, 1949. Delia wondered how humans could bear to live in a world where the passage of time held so much power.”
And this amazing “thumbnail” description:
“Easily past seventy, doughy and wrinkled beneath her heap of dyed black curls and her plastering of red rouge and dark-red lipstick, the woman advanced on absurdly small, open-toed shoes that barely poked forth from the hem of her shapeless black dress. She was clutching a drawstring purse in both fat, ringed hands, and diamond teardrops swung from her long earlobes.”
The storyline is fascinating: a housewife, who feels herself taken for granted, walks out on her family one day and disappears to start a new life. However unlikely, I did particularly enjoy the next section of the story: the way she forges a whole new life, discarding the old one like a dead skin. I say “unlikely” because in real life she would suffer paroxysms of guilt and worry. But Tyler writes it in such a way that we don’t consider this.
At this stage of the book there does seem to be rather a proliferation of single females trying to “go it alone”, but maybe this is the point Tyler is trying to make: that it is hard for a woman to make it on her own, that we are all of us “looking for someone.”
The main protagonist quickly finds herself back in the same situation she found herself in before, and the ending is rather too formulaic, but where else could the story go? And overall it is still a book I enjoyed tremendously and one I would highly recommend.
What sets Tyler apart is her knack of getting to the nub of any situation, her acute observation of relationships and family life, her awareness of human frailty and above all her way of injecting an element of wry humour into even the most dire of situations. She is simply quite brilliant.
Bethany Askew is the author of five novels:
The Time Before, The World Within, Out of Step, Counting the Days and Poppy’s Seed.
She has also written a short story, The Night of the Storm, and she writes poetry.
Future projects include a new short story, this one for the young adult market, and another full-length novel.
In her spare time she enjoys reading, music, theatre, walking, Pilates, dancing and voluntary work.
Bethany is married and lives in Somerset.