What I’m Reading: Anne Peile – Repeat it Today with Tears

*gasp* It’s… an actual, for real blog entry! Right after the cut!

Repeat It Today With Tears by Anne PeileApparently, this is the debut novel of British author Anne Peile; I came across it because it was longlisted for this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction. The reason it caught my interest was partially its subject matter – a father/daughter incest story (yes, yes, I know I’m shallow; I’ve been mostly reading romances the last couple of weeks, after all) – and partially the place and time it is set in – London in the early seventies.

I’m not one for lengthy synopses, and this isn’t exactly an action-oriented novel in the first place, so here’s a very brief outline: The story is told in the first person by it’s female protagonist Susie who is sixteen years old when the novel starts, and a quite precocious teenager – even a bit too much so, I thought. Whlie on the one hand it helps to build up the height that makes the tragic fall at the end of the book have all the more impact, and also helps to explain her assured narrative voice, it has the downside to make her come across as just a bit Mary-Sue-ish in the novel’s early parts. But that is a very minor niggle, and just about the only one I can think of in what is otherwise a beautiful and intense  novel, one that is likely to stay with me as one of the most emotionally involving reading experiences of 2011.

Susie, who lives in a rather dysfunctional family meets and seduces her father who has not seen her for many years and is not aware that the beautiful young girl showing an inexplicable interest in him is actually his daughter. The first thing one notices about Anne Peile’s novel is how very understated it is considering all potentially sensationalist subject matter, and how subdued considering the penchant for garish colours of the period it is set in. This turns out to be not so much a contrast, but rather an enhancement of the story, like some photographs grip the viewer all the more powerfully because they are monochrome. This is a story about Love with  a capital L, and emotions run high and large in this novel, but thanks to Anne Peile’s calm and lucid prose, it never comes across as overly dramatic or in any way overdone, but, in spite of the scandalous nature of the relationship, is touching and beautiful instead. Until, that is, thing take a turn for the bad.

It is pretty clear from the start that this love between father and daughter is doomed and can not end well, and what I was expecting was something along the lines of a bittersweet coda. Which is probably the way a lesser writer would have handled it – the love story taking up most of the book, with a more or less catastrophic reversal at the end and a few paragraphs to wrap it all up. Not so Anne Peile, though – the tragic event occurs two thirds into the novel, and the final third is given to describing the aftermath. And even as she always remains understated and lucid in her writing, the author spares us nothing – while I was pretty much breezing through the first 120 pages of the novel, I spend days on the final 60, because I just could not bear to read more than a few pages in one sitting. I don’t want to give away any details here, suffice it to say that I was utterly heart-wrenching and quite literally in tears for the most part of it. It’s been a long time since any novel had such a huge and powerful impact on me, and while some of that might be ascribed to me being particularly susceptible to it at the moment, I don’t doubt that most of it is due to Anne Peile’s masterful writing and storytelling, making Repeat it Today with Tears one of the saddest stories I have ever read. This is a very impressive debut indeed, and I hope it makes the Orange shortlist, and even wins the prize. I for one am eagerly looking forward to Anne Peile’s next book.


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