May 23rd, 2006 at 11:38 pm (Books)
It has been months since I blogged about a book. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading (a complete impossibility) but simply that I haven’t found time to write up Never Let Me Go, A Feast for Crows, The Penelopiad, or any of the other numerous books I have read or re-read in the past few months.
However, I’ve decided to break the drought with Jaclyn Moriarty’s new book, The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie.
It’s amazing how Moriarty never repeats herself. This is the third book in the Ashbury High series, and all of them have similar presentation methods (though she has expanded from the letters/postcards of the first book to a variety of first-person media) but they are totally different from each other.
Feeling Sorry for Celia has a slightly surreal aspect, with all the letters from The Association of Teenagers, the Society of People who are Definitely Going to FailHigh School (And Most Probably Life as Well), the Best Friends Club, and so on. I also find it far and away the funniest of her books, particularly the fridge-note exchanges between Elizabeth and her mother (the idea of an “emergency meeting of the poetry club” will be with me for life!) And yet, it still has its serious – and painful – moments.
For me, Finding Cassie Crazy wasn’t laugh-out-loud – and I found Emily’s malapropisms irritiating rather than amusing – but it still had a lot of larger-than-life comic scenes. However, the emotional traumas Cassie goes through made it distinctly darker than Celia.
Bindy Mackenzie is far and away the darkest of the three. I know some people still find it funny, but I found it more like watching a slow-motion train wreck – horrifically compelling, but absolutely nothing to laugh about. I also know that some people find Bindy a distinctly unlikeable character, and I agree that she’s not really someone I would like to meet in real life. But I didn’t actually dislike her. Mainly, I just felt sorry for her – her view of the world and her place in it was so much at odds with reality that I couldn’t help but sympathise with her, even as I was mentally screaming at her not to do things. And it also became very obvious that her skewed personality was largely the product of her father’s treatment of her.
If Cassie showed someone who was in an emotionally vulnerable state (but who also had great emotional strength), Bindy is a picture of someone going through a complete physical and mental breakdown. It was a totally gripping read. I didn’t actually like the fact that it was ultimately a thriller/murder mystery, as that seemed surprisingly conventional, but it didn’t really detract from the powerful presentation of Bindy’s emotional journey. Of the three books, Celia is still easily my favourite, but Bindy was certainly unputdownable.
One thing that fascinates me about Moriarty’s writing is her interest in the strength and importance of friendship – in particular, female friendship. Celia shows the slow development of a mutually supportive and rewarding friendship between Elizabeth and Christina, as well as the gradual death (or, at least, Elizabeth’s outgrowing of) the childhood friendship with Celia – a friendship that had become unbalanced and almost emotionally parasitic. Cassie, on the other hand, shows a three-way friendship that has lasted since childhood, and shows no sign of being outgrown: Lydia, Emily and Cassie have an exceptional level of support, understanding and commitment to each other. Bindy, however, has no female friends at all, and so nobody she can turn to – or who will pro-actively turn to her – when things start to go wrong. She does have a male friend – Ernst – but a possible flaw in the book is that I never got a real sense of where this friendship came from, and how deep it went. Or maybe I just missed this. In any case, this friendship doesn’t seem to offer the same type of emotional support and commitment as those of the earlier books. And unlike Elizabeth (who goes through a period of confusion about her friends) Bindy doesn’t have a strong connection with her mother – Elizabeth’s mother may not have been “nurturing”, but there was an exeptionally strong and open level of mother-daughter communication. More than any of the other characters, Bindy seems to be compeltely alone in the world. Ultimately, though, she does get the help she needs from the other members – boys as well as girls – in her “Friendship and Development” group.
So I guess if there’s one theme that links all of the Ashbury High books, it is the idea that close and supportive friends are a vital part of surviving adolescence.