Becoming Strangers Hardcover – Jan 9 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
What keeps an unhappily married couple together? In her impressive debut, long-listed for the 2004 Man Booker, Dean dissects two hollow unions against the sultry backdrop of a Caribbean resort. George and Dorothy Davis, an English couple married more than 50 years, are worn down by neglect and boredom; Jan and Annemieke de Groot, Belgians married 31 years, are pulled apart by Jan's terminal cancer, which exposes issues they've suppressed for years. Dean is at her best in interior moments, when characters ponder their lives with private, brutal candor. "This was how they had always been," Annemieke reflects on her marriage, "his illness had simply developed the difference between them as light develops photographic film." As for George and Dorothy, they seem awfully reminiscent of Edward Albee's spiteful George and Martha. "You couldn't tell him that there was any marriage that wasn't equal measures love and hate," George Davis reflects, who decides bitterly that his wife now "wasn't content to have the last word; she had to have it twice." On holiday, friendships form, affairs spark and revelations startle. Adept at sharp dialogue and brisk plotting, Dean is also attentive to character development, choosing authenticity over sentimentality in a book that is poignant, often funny and unexpectedly redemptive. (Jan.)
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Travel can broaden the mind, but it can also serve to affirm old habits and prejudices if, as is the case with the Europeans populating this novel, emotional baggage is lugged along with the suitcases. At a Caribbean resort, elderly Britishers Dorothy and George Davis are thrown together with a younger and more urbane Belgian couple, Annemieke and Jan De Groot. Although this is the Davises' first trip abroad (courtesy of their pushy daughter), it may well be the unhappily married De Groots' last, for Jan is slowly dying of cancer. Although he hopes the holiday will help them become better friends, Annemieke spends most of her time in pursuit of extramarital sexual adventure. George and Dorothy, meanwhile, are coming to terms with the fact that Dorothy is in an increasingly advanced stage of Alzheimer's. The novel might have sunk under the weight of its themes of loss, but Dean suffuses it with a comic touch and handles her several narrative threads with skill. Give this to readers who enjoy thoughtful -character-centered fiction. Mary Ellen Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
cared less about any of these dysfunctional people. Jan and Annemieke
should have parted years ago and I think George could have had a bit
more compasssion for his failing wife Dorothy. The "Americans" came
across as completely consumed with themselves. I started skipping
pages half way through as all their past lives were just boring and
it ended quite unsatisfactorily, Jan's wife couldn't even stick around
long enought for him to die!!!!!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This thirty-four year old writer has unusual insight into the complex way a long term marriage can develop a significance beyond the mere routines which come with the bonding of two people. In some ways the individual identity of each person becomes lost because the memories from each of their lives are inextricably linked to this other person. What the characters in this novel are struggling to decide is if they will lose their own sense of themselves if they leave their partner. George tries to meticulously record his past by writing a memoir and Annemieke attempts to completely rediscover a self worth in anonymous sexual encounters. Dean's writing is incredibly enjoyable to read in its richly detailed short chapters and startlingly emotional scenes. At the same time it is able to explore some very complex ideas about the nature of relationships and personality in original, meaningful ways. This is a unique and beautiful first novel.
George makes friends with Jan, though Dorothy and Annemieke could hardly be less compatible. Yet the heightened awareness of distance brings a flavor of friendship, at least for the men, who surprisingly find a sympathetic ear as they exchange stories and disappointments, lingering over drinks. While Dorothy drifts along in her own musings, George's complaints turn to a more honest appraisal of their shared years: "You couldn't tell him that there was any marriage that wasn't equal measure love and hate." Even Dorothy enjoys occasional insights, although she'd rather be at home amid her things: "Being an old lady was not as hard as being an old man." With a supporting cast of other resort-goers, a South African with a penchant for honesty who has a short fling with Annemieke, a long-haired, tattooed tile-setter, "the Americans" who demand their needs be instantly attended and the resort director, Jan and George sort through memories and plans for the future, limited though it may be, while Annemieke thrashes about in an effort to avoid her own shortcomings.
The characters are drawn with deft precision, their flaws and eccentricities stark against the lush background of the Caribbean resort. Each couple suffers the detritus of years of marriage, the petty rivalries and jealousies, silences and resentments. The author writes with such clarity that each page bespeaks a glance into a mirror, these protagonists as familiar as the spouse who snores when sleeping or habitually remarks on the other's failures, days of meant-to-do-better, years finally passed. In a novel that is neither maudlin nor depressing, the author carefully manipulates the myriad contradictions of each marriage with a compassionate eye and a talent for incisive observation, balancing flaws, fictions and attributes in an incisive characters study. Luan Gaines/ 2006.
Jan and Annemieke are from Belgium and have been given a Caribbean 'last holiday' by their two sons. Jan has cancer and has been told that there is nothing more to be done. His wife, has come along to look for a really good time. This is a couple whose marriage has come apart. Annemieke is tired of waiting for Jan to die. While Jan wants to take a car an explore the island, Annemieke is is restless and spots a man that looks interesting. She initiates sex with a complete stranger, Bill Molloy, who by the end of the novel may be looked at as 'one of the good guys'.
At the same time, an elderly couple, George and Dorothy from England have been given the gift of a vacation by their family.
These two people turn out to be the kind of folks you would want to meet at any time. George is outgoing and friendly, his wife Dorothy, we find is in the beginning stages of dementia, probably due to Alzheimers. Jan and George strike up a grand friendshipo and Dorothy comes along for the ride.
There are several other people who bring their personalities to the novel, one a rich American couple who are the complete package of the hateful, rich, conspicuous Americans. Annemieke gravitates toward this group, and she finds that her aging body is not looked upon as kindly as the others. She is ignored at times and uses Jan's upcoming death as a means of sympathy. Annemieke looks for sex whereever she can find it, and it seems this has been her manner throughtout the marriage. Jan in the meantime reads, takes his morphine pills, and spends his time with George and Bil Molloy.
Louise Dean has given us a a book that is completely real. The rich characters are so fully formed. We come to know them and accept them. The writing is so superb that you are tempted to go back to the beginning to start again. I will most certainoy read her other novels. It is rare to find a writer, like Louise Dean, who grabs you with the first words from a new novel.
Highly Recommended. prisrob 01-29-12
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