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The Facts of Life: A Novel [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Graham Joyce
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 17 2003
A remarkable young boy, Frank Arthur Vine, the product of a passionate encounter between his mother Cassie and an American G.I., is brought up by his mother's six very different--and idiosyncratic--sisters and his charismatic grandmother after his mother is determined to be too unstable, in a emotio

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Warm with nostalgia and flecked with the subtle fantasy that seasons nearly all his fiction, Joyce's latest novel (after Smoking Poppy) is an uneven mix of the charming and the self-consciously peculiar. The setting is Coventry, England, in the years after WWII, where the surviving Vine family-mother Martha, her seven grown daughters and their various offspring-are all trying to build lives out of the ruins left by Nazi bombs. The bittersweet events center on young Frank, the illegitimate son of psychologically unstable youngest daughter Cassie, who like his mum has inherited a fey streak that makes him receptive to precognition and restless spirits. As Frank and Cassie bounce from household to household, cared for by different family members, their peregrinations evoke in miniature the British postwar experience, mirrored in the lives of Cassie's siblings: one is married to a man who relives the war through his affair with a dead soldier's wife; another is a politically liberal participant in a comically self-destructing socialist commune. Virtually plotless, the book unfolds as a series of vignettes, interrelated loosely through shared, affectionately realized characters and seriocomic treatments of death and (especially) sexuality. Frank's supernatural experiences, which include frequent sessions with a mysterious figure he refers to cryptically as "The-Man-Behind-The-Glass," are hints that he shares hi relatives' powers. Indeed, the subtlety with which Joyce presents clairvoyant episodes makes them entirely credible in a novel that celebrates the strong bond of family and the deep well of sensitivity on which they all draw. In the end, this is a haunting story about flawed but good-hearted people who bear the hallmarks of eccentricity but also the beneficent aura of human connectedness.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In this moving novel, Joyce traces the boyhood of Frank Vine, born into a loving and ramshackle family in the English countryside during World War II. The product of a brief liaison between an American GI and a local woman, Frank is marked with an extrasensory gift that he shares with his matriarchal grandmother and his emotionally unstable mother. Shortly after his birth, Frank's mother is deemed unfit to care for him, so his grandmother makes the executive decision that his care will be divided among his six aunts, each highly unconventional in her own right. During the next 10 years, Frank makes his home at a farm, a commune, and a makeshift mortuary, slowly finding his place in his eccentric but loving family. Joyce's emotional tale skirts sentimentality by presenting the family warts and all: each of the sisters is a complex and contradictory figure, and Joyce fully examines the consequences of the small feuds and squabbles that characterize a close-knit family. A beautifully written tale that entwines domestic drama with magic realism. Brendan Dowling
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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5.0 out of 5 stars Joyce's best July 12 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Graham Joyce just keeps getting better. This novel is beautifully written, flawlessly plotted, with very well drawn characters. It is quite funny in places, and it vividly evokes the bombing of Coventry and its aftermath. The elements of fantasy are woven seemlessly together with the more "realistic" elements. You really come to care about this family. In his earlier novels, Joyce's endings are sometimes disappointing, but that is not the case here - the ending is perfect.
Joyce's supernatural thrillers with exotic settings(such as Smoking Poppy, Indigo and Requiem)are among the best of their kind, but he is even better at coming of age stories set in working class Britain, such as The Tooth Fairy and this book. The Facts of Life reminded me more of magic realists Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabelle Allende than it did of "genre" fantasy or horror.
I can't think of any contemporary novelists whose work I enjoy more than Joyce. I can't wait for the next one.
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Format:Hardcover
Everyone who lived through the War still feels its effects though Hitler and the Nazi machine have been dead for a few years. In Coventry, Mrs. Martha Vine is the hub of eight spoke-families consisting of seven daughters, several grandchildren, and a reticent spouse. Martha is a brilliant tactician running her field officers (her daughters) better than any Five Star general could lead. She also has a gift of being able to foretell what will happen. Of her seven children, Cassie inherited the forecasting skill and so has her daughter's illegitimate Anglo-American son Frank too.
Though her siblings think Cassie is mentally unhinged and at times have her committed, they also rotate who takes her and especially Frank, based on General Martha's orders that no one disobeys. Thus, the wandering Frank grows up in a vast assortment of households that range the gamut of the 1950s so that he learns a great deal about the world around him through his not so stable aunts as the people of the Coventry area try differing means to recover and heal from the intensity of Hitler.
This is a deep look at the varying ways that the battered and tired people of Coventry recover from World War II. Through Frank's wanderings between his relatives, the audience obtains an incredible picture of the heart and soul of a bone weary England struggling to recuperate on individual levels. Though more a series of interrelated shorts as seen through Frank's observations than a novel, the theme of Graham Joyce's deep tale is that THE FACTS OF LIFE are humanity can face its darkest moment and its aftermath yet confidently start over.
Harriet Klausner
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5.0 out of 5 stars A truly unique and special novel Jan. 31 2004
Format:Hardcover
A friend insisted that I had to read this book since he had loved it so much. I also greatly enjoyed it, and I won't give a synopsis of the story, because you can read that elsewhere. The characters are so vivid and alive. There is Martha, the matriarch of the family, and her several daughters. Cassie, the youngest has an illegitimate son named Frank, whom she almost gave away when he was a baby. The story follows Frank's growing-up years near Coventry, England before and during WWII. Graham Joyce has a knack for vivid descriptions. The bombing of Coventry during the war is described in such detail, that I could feel the horror and also every tremor. There is a description of an undertaking parlor as seen through young Frank's eyes that is wonderful. Also, the ending is so extremely satisfying and unexpected. We find out who "The Man Behind the Glass" is, and I never guessed it at all. I would really recommend this book as a compelling read. This should become a classic.
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