Monday 28 January 2013

Y by Marjorie Celona

"That perfect letter.  The wishbone, fork in the road, empty wineglass.  The question we ask over and over.  Why?  Me with my arms outstretched, feet in first position.  The chromosome half of us don't have.  Second to last in the alphabet: almost there.  Coupled with an L, let's make an adverb.  A modest X, legs closed.  Y or N?  Yes, of course.  Upside-down E peace sign.  Little bird tracks in the sand.
Y, a Greek letter, joined the Latin alphabet after the Romans conquered Greece in the first century - a double agent, consonant and vowel.  No one used adverbs before then, and no one was happy.

Shannon's life begins at the Y.   Abandoned when only hours old she spends her early years in one unsuitable foster home after another, the victim of abuse and unloved.   Finally, she finds a home with Miranda and her daughter, and although she is offered stability and a place in a family, Shannon can never settle.

Shannon has so many questions, and they all start with Y.   Why was she abandoned on the steps of the YMCA?  Why did her Mother do that?  And another question; Who are her family?

At the age of sixteen, Shannon decides it is time to find some answers.  With the answers, she discovers the truly sad and desperate story of her parents.

Y is very unusually written and follows two narratives, the first being Shannon's own story from her conception through to young Adulthood.   The other narrative follows the few days before Shannon's birth, concentrating on her mother Yula (another Y) and the terrible events that lead up to the birth.  The first-person narrative of Shannon is often complex and a little difficult to follow, it's quite hard to believe that these are the thoughts of a new-born baby, a toddler, a child and then a young adult.

Don't expect a heart-warming or uplifting story.  Y is bleak, very bleak.  Shannon is the stereotypical mis-fit child who finds it difficult to interact with anyone of her own age.  The brief glimpses of sunshine come only when she meets Vaughn much later in her life.   Shannon experiences the very darkest underbelly of society, she feels no self-worth and allows herself to stay a victim for most of her life.

There is no doubt that Majorie Celona is a very talented writer and has created some very strong characters and a very unusual and quite different plot.   However, I did struggle to carry on reading in places, the bleakness and sorrow throughout the story impacted on my overall enjoyment of the novel.

Y was published by Faber in hardback on 17 January 2013 and has been chosen as one of the Waterstones Eleven books for 2013.

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