Monday, July 07, 2014

'Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant'

7 July 2014

Regular readers will remember I am a big fan of the novels of Anne Tyler (see, for example, 'Noah's Compass' reviewed here in May 2010 and 'The Beginners Goodbye' reviewed here in March 2013). My first experience of Anne Tyler was her 1985 novel 'The Accidental Tourist' (still a favourite) so it was interesting to go back to an earlier work, from 1982, 'Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant', which I have just read as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Suzanne Toren. Like nearly all Anne Tyler's novels, 'Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant' is a family story set in Baltimore. In this case we follow the lives of Pearl and Beck Tull and their three children, from the 1940s to the 1970s. Each chapter is written in the third person, but from the point of view of one member of the family. The narrative is non-linear, with some seminal events revisited from different viewpoints to reveal more than was originally obvious. It's a beautifully constructed and beautifully written novel, full of delicate, heartbreaking moments. Anne Tyler achieves the same trick as Jonathan Franzen did (much later) in 'The Corrections' (and Andrea Levy did in 'Small Island') of making us empathise and sympathise with each member of the family in turn, allowing us to root simultaneously for the opposing sides in each argument. Whereas, in 'The Corrections' the mother is desperate to bring her children together for one final family Christmas, here Ezra is forever trying to get his relations to remain at the same table for the duration of one proper family dinner. Ezra, his brother Cody and sister Jenny, are brilliantly drawn characters – each with distinct voices and characters but sharing enough traits to make them totally believable siblings – clearly three parts of a singe whole, demonstrating both the frustrations that drive families apart and the ties that inexorably bind them together. 'Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant' is a very sad tale – none of the protagonists has a happy life and there is little of the humour that characterises later Anne Tyler novels. Nevertheless it is an excellent executed and painfully moving book.



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