An alternative cover for this ISBN can be found hereEliza believes she could never hurt anybody Her beauty, her religion, her concern for friends and neighbours give hershe thinksan oracular power Then, mysteriously, the newcomer across the road disappears, and no one will tell Eliza why Eliza Peabody is, it seems, a woman who is disintegrating Through a series of letters written to Joan, a neighbour who appears to have run away to Bangladesh and makes no reply, she describes the breakdown of her marriage and her mental health It is not always clear how reliable she is, but much is clarified towards the end of the book There are many flashes of humour but my predomninant feeling was one of great sadness Her life appears to be overshadowed by tragedy and it is only as the novel draws to a close that we begin to understand why that might be Wonderful writing A beautiful novel. There is no way in hell I can write a fair review of this novel I adore Jane Gardam I am a FAN I am totally prejudiced She is one of the best writers on the planet That said, this is 4 stars, not quite 5 Say 4.8 stars.Gardam may be best enjoyed by people who are no longer young Her insights are continuous but tempered She has enormous sympathy for the wounds that life inflicts but without an ounce of unbecoming sweetness Gardam remains clear eyed, observant and sane She has a perspective that only time allows The protagonist here, Eliza, is complex and thoroughly real, even when the events become unreal Massively lonely, she nonetheless tries to create a self that is whole, well informed, helpful and participating in life She fails at it She writes letters to a former neighbor that, eventually, she realizes will never be returned and probably never received, but she must write, must try to have a presence in someone's life She explains her life even as it tilts She needs to matter to someone else even if that person becomes a fiction, a pretense She needs a venue for her own point of view which her daily life does not allow Her husband leaves her, which isa tipping point than the reason that reality slips away Gardam first shows us the that Eliza's world believes that her contributions are wrong and inappropriate Her neighbors and acquaintances distance themselves from her strong and inaccurate opinions They rightly see her as lacking perception as to what the social graces are She is odd and wrong Unable to fit in, and lonely beyond bearing, reality becomes tilted The slippery seas of her mind disorient the reader just as Eliza is disoriented Then slowly, nearly accidentally, Eliza the crazy woman becomes a truer self, the insanity a road back to connection, perceptive about things that matter Magically, Gardam redeems her character without losing faith with the essence It is so well done that, as you believe in the madness, you can believe in the redemption She is finally 'seen' by her neighbors, recognized as a person and as having value As she is mad, she cares less about returning to the 'real' world until she slips back into sanity, finds a shore where she can rest and live There is nothing I can say that does justice to the balance, skill, and insights of Jane Gardam Aside from her intellectual and emotional maturity, she controls plot, page and language superbly She is a master.So why not the full five stars? During the 'completely mad' pages, I lost my way for a little while I suspect it was my failing, unable to let go of my own sanity enough to ride the wave with Eliza It may be the reason some readers will fault the book But it is so close to exactly right, it is a very small complaint. How can a book be hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time? In Jane Gardam’s hands, this epistolary novel never takes a potshot at anyone (without good cause), but becomes increasingly specific, focusing especially on how women of a certain age manage their fallingapart lives All kinds of lives are looked at: those who left; those who stayed; those who worked; those who did not There is a distressing yet comforting sense of being a victim at a disaster, being looked after by those very same women of a certain age, all of whom have seen your life and others far worse—their own, perhaps—and who are willing to wrap their experience and compassion about one like a newlysewn quilt, beautiful and awesome, and sometimes painful to behold.Why painful? Because of all the work, mistakes, choices, energy that goes into making a quilt Sometimes it’s a success, sometimes it isn’t But sometimes we won’t know this until it is done This book is also like a quilt, in that set pieces are created, and we laugh with jollity at the cleverness of the creation When, finally, the time comes to stitch the pieces together, the whole suddenly becomes something else altogether and we stand mute at the meaning and magnificence of what Gardam has managed to do.Our narrator, Eliza Peabody, begins to write letters to Joan, the woman living down the street Eliza does not know Joan very well, but has come to have opinions about her, and feels it quite within her area of expertise to offer advice on her marriage, on her state of wellness, on her husband She begins broadly, with two paragraphs one February, signing it Eliza (Peabody) and progresses, with increasing familiarity, through “Your sincere friend,” and “Your affectionate friend,” to “E,” and finally, dropping the signature altogether The letters become much longer andintimate Joan, meanwhile, leaves the country and never responds to Eliza over the years of the correspondence What we learn about Eliza, then, is all there is She is generous, thankfully, for it is her perceptions that guide us through the lives of her neighbors, her husband’s infidelities, her own housekeeping failures She makes us laugh, cry, and beg for mercy She makes me realize that Jane Gardam should be a household name and celebrated widely throughout the world She is a national treasure. A fascinating book, told entirely in letters from the protagonist to a woman who had been a neighbour But is Eliza sane, and how reliable a narrator is she?Jane Gardam is a wonderful writer, and I could hardly bear to put this book down because I wanted to work out just what was going on, and I cared about the various characters. This is a novel of a woman in crisis, but, and it's a big but, it's difficult to identify exactly what the crisis is Her life, her marriage, her neighborhood, all appear to be disintegrating before her eyes, behind her back and in her mind So she writes letters Welcome to the world of Eliza Peabody And what a world it is Full of pathos, farce and very funny vignettes Don't miss this chance to experience someone else's crisis rather than live your own.Highly recommended (and just what I needed on this dreary, rainy day). A modern epistolary novelI think that's how you say it Eliza Peabody, opinionated, rich and confident writes a well meaning if insensitive letter to one of her neighbours and from then on her life with all its clear boundaries and comfortable middle class interests begins to disintegrate Everything we see, everything we hear is through the eyes and ears of this, initially, maddening woman Gardam challenges us as the book goes on to try to understand what is reality, what is imagination and what is misunderstanding A large number of characters traipse past her; someclearly drawn and believable then others but then perhaps that is the point of the book Is Eliza seeing clearly ? Is there a conspiracy of silence on the part of her neighbours or a patient attempt at understanding her weird decay There was some really amusing dialogue reported by Eliza and some lovely gentle opening out of relationships Some surreal incidents and one heart stopping moment on a lake serve to keep the reader unsettled until the very end of the book where a resolution of a sort leaves you 'satisfied but not surfeited ' I enjoyed it and would have no problem in recommending it A strong 4 stars Difficult to describe without sayingthan you want to know before you enter this book Every review I read told me something that felt a bit too much, but it’s hard to avoid with this book It’s a revelatory tapestry of a story If you know Gardam, it’s enough to say she doesn’t disappoint A story about a 50 year old woman writing to a woman she barely knew and possibly had a bit of a hand in running out of the neighborhood and country It isn’t a correspondence, but a one sided story unfolding, always of questionable perspective and veracity An unfolding of selfawareness and revelatory personal history with a touch of mystery An examination of relationship, loneliness, and the dimensions of necessity of other people in our lives It is also “about” a number of other subjects and themes Looking at some other reviews makes me think it’s a Rorschach test of a book, because, Gardamlike, she evokes something particular in every reader A superb, mildly disorienting without being offputting, read that leans well into 5 stars. What is truly amazing about this book is how all the different pieces hold together! I would say that this is what characterizes Gardam’s books.We are given a complicated puzzle that is begging to be solved For people who love solving puzzles or mysteries, it is a must read When I started I was totally confused On closing the book I marveled at how all the intricate details that had at first befuddled and exasperated me did make sense! By book’s end all is crystal clear My first thought was that I ought to go back and reread the whole book, just for the delight of observing how all the parts made sense At the same time I have to admit that I had been frustrated and annoyed during the first half of the whole book! What gave me trouble was that I didn't know what was true and what were imaginings I guessed early on that the central character was not to be trusted! This is a book consisting of letters from Eliza to her neighbor friend who had gone off to Bangladesh She is in her fifties and works in a hospice Well maybe….and where is her husband, and how many dogs does she really have and does this woman have any mentally stability at all?! I enjoyed the satirical humor, particularly that found in the middle of the book Digs at modern day life on feminism, on contemporary literature, on our need to stay busy, on what is proper to say and think There are some really great lines I enjoyed the love Eliza felt for the Fish family kids Yet I wouldn’t say that I came to care for any of the characters, not even Eliza! Rather than focusing on individuals, one’s attention is focused on making sense of what is true and what isn’t! I need to intimately relate to the characters in a story, and the book did not give me that The audiobook is very well narrated by Hollis McCarthy Seriously, she made me smile with her wonderful intonations of different English and American dialects Perfect speed and easy to follow ******************Bilgewater (4 stars) Every now and then I have a craving to read something that is beautifully crafted, a book that is all lovely words I heard about Jane Gardam on NPR(I had never heard of her) she's a British author and she has won the Whitbread Award TWICE (Nobody else has done that, so this author I had never heard of ought to be good, I thought)And she is The book is all letters written by Eliza to her neighbor Joan, who never responds to the letters Eliza is witty, intelligent, weirdly insightful about her neighbors but something is very, very wrong and her neighbors though often overwhelmed by their own problems are strangely concerned about Eliza Because we come to see that Eliza is going crazy, and she has secrets she cannot tell, even to Joan If Joan exists.Here's a bit I liked, where Eliza is being examined by a doctor whom she calls The Son of Dreariness he is asking about her female problems And how old are you, Mrs Peabody?I'm fiftyone.Ah, fiftyone Menopause going all right? Everything drying up nicely?I had a hysterectomy at thirtyone That's the scar.Ah, long gone, long gone Now I do congratulate you Well done, well done.For getting rid of the good old nurseryfurniture, my dear Best removed when no longer needed.What a perfectly horrible thing to say What a foul phrase What? Ha?I was thirty one Then I added, Fuck you.You tell 'em, Eliza.