The Tok and Teo families are a model of traditional harmony, with three generations gathered under one roof, enjoying each other’s company over slices of fruit and cups of tea on a Saturday afternoon in Singapore.
There is only one problem: The youngest and oldest generations can barely communicate with each other.
Slates have been getting a slating this week. Get it?! Slates? Getting slated? They can’t use that in the headline now – I’ve nabbed it. A lovely great big apposite yet unenjoyable pun. Stick that on your slate and eat it. Perhaps using some sort of gooey reduction as a gum, just to keep all the wrong-coloured tomatoes in position.
Actually, I stole the idea from the Daily Mail which went with “Slated! Plates back on menu”, although there’s a chance that, unprompted, I could have thought of it myself. I don’t think it’s ridiculous self-flattery to suggest that. It’s just a pun on slate – it’s not the Dyson Airblade. Though both are products of Eurosceptic creativity. Maybe they can make Brexit work if they maintain this level of output. Though some claim it just makes an unpleasant noise and blasts microparticles of excrement all over the place, poisoning the atmosphere. I’m talking about the Daily Mail.
Old-school bibliographers and librarians would probably be mortified by the incursion of pulps, which are fighting not only for shelf space but also for influence. But instead of being corralled and appropriated into old models of scholarship and curation, the pulp sensibility is spreading. Traditional bibliography and librarianship are being reread and reshaped with a pulp mentality.
In reality, there was no Adelina White, but through this fictional creation Giono fantasizes that a brief, intense experience could inspire one of the most celebrated novels in American literature. This fantasy is hardly exclusive to Giono: it motivates the whole experience of reading Melville, or indeed any author. We posthumous readers understand Melville through novels like Moby-Dick that often accompany us for as brief a period as the fictional Adelina accompanied her fictional Melville. Isn’t this what reading is? We spend a week with a novel, it affects us greatly, and we feel we know its author better for it. It inspires us, and we respond with our own fictions, biographies, and translations. We spend the rest of our lives waiting for a response.
Weiss steadily builds the tension to an ending you knew was coming — and, let's be honest, probably hoped for — yet it still arrives as a sudden, powerful shock. It's a shock that lingers, leaving you thinking about what it means to be a strong woman — and what it means to escape.