FABER AND FABER - BOOK OF PROPER NAMES

The Book Of Proper Names is one of the most surprising books I have read in a long time. The author's writing style was very fresh and broke all the rules of what I have come to expect from a novel. It is narrated in a rather deadpan style and is magical and violent, like a fairy tale.

The story begins with a teen-aged girl murdering the father of her unborn child and giving birth in prison before committing suicide. Her dying wish is to name the baby Plectrude. Unaware of the terrible way in which her life has begun, Plectrude is raised by her aunt, who pampers her, dresses her in ridiculous clothing and sends her to ballet lessons. This is meant to honour the memory of Plectrude’s mother, who was a ballerina herself. Plectrude is somewhat socially stunted and is shunned by the other children at school, but she excels in ballet and is eventually admitted to the top ballet school in France. The programme is tough and rigorous and there is so much pressure on her. There she develops anorexia nervosa, which leads to early-onset osteoporosis. She breaks her leg and has to quit dancing forever. To add to the heartbreak, her aunt, who has been living vicariously through her, is so crushed by this news that she reveals to Plectrude the true story of how her parents died.

I don't want to ruin it, but I will say that things end well for Plectrude. There is an interesting stylistic flourish at the end, when the author enters the story as a character and is promptly killed off. The Book Of Proper Names is quite a disturbing book, dealing with the pain of adolescence, and also the theme of mothers and daughters and how they create and annihilate one another. The writing was poetic and funny, and afterwards I felt quite haunted by the story. Reading the Book Of Proper Names reminded me of being a child first discovering the power of books, the excitement and amazement that I felt, the sense that anything is possible.

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