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22/02/2008

Book review II

Cherry Ice, de Jill Laurimore n'a pas, à ma connaissance, été traduit en français.

Have you ever picked at a delicious bunch of grapes, only to be « betrayed » by the last one ? Of course, you have. We all have. Same experience with a basket of strawberries. They are all perfect with the exception of the last one which is slightly mouldy and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Instead of grapes or strawberries, I should have talked about cherries because they bring to mind the title of the novel : Jill Laurimore’s Cherry Ice.

Each chapter is seen from the point of view of a different character but only one of these characters is presented in the first person : Ella, a 14-year old girl who boards the Queen Elisabeth on her way to New York in 1964. So, when Ella is the central character, it reads like an autobiography. For all other chapters, we have “she”. There are two “she”s : Kitty, Ella’s mother, and Lynn, Ella’s father’s second wife. The technique is very effective.

We share in Ella’s sense of wonder as she spends an eventful week on the huge liner. She meets Hen, a very beautiful, 17-year old, flighty socialite who finds out that she is pregnant and, in spite of all the flaws in her personality, can also show feelings of fear, affection and loyalty.

Ella then comes across two teenage boys, one of them shallow and boring, the other one shallow and rude.
There is also an encounter with a dirty old man.

Finally, Ella makes friends with two little girls who awaken her maternal instinct.

Meanwhile, back in London, Kitty almost falls for a married man.

There is another main character, of course : the ship herself. Her presence transforms everyday living into a wonderful adventure. She overwhelms the passengers but also the readers. She inhales, exhales and whispers. Like a goddess, she gives and takes and, when you must inevitably disembark she leaves you with a feeling of great emptiness.

The style is light, precise, evocative and peppered with a delightful sense of humour : humour of the best kind, i.e. tinged with sadness.

Making Ella go back to New York in 1994 was a good idea. I particularly liked the passage when she looks nostalgically at the quay where the Queen Elisabeth used to dock. Ella also meets her half sister, Lynn’s daughter : Jackie. Again, a good idea as it fills us in on what happened after Ella had to fly back to London following her father’s downfall and bankruptcy. But that’s where, to my mind, the last grape, or strawberry or cherry goes sour : the inconsequential chatter between Lynn and Ella completely failed to grab me. The style suddenly turns pedestrian. The story has lost its former, considerable charm. I wish the reunion between Jackie and Ella had been kept considerably shorter and that the last paragraph had been the nostalgic look at the empty Queen Elisabeth berth. Oh, well !

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