[Back when lockdown ended, and the world opened up again, one of my first visits was to a street in my town that’s full of charity shops. Each charity shop has its own character. One is very good for antique crockery (I’ll save my blog on cake-stands for another day), another is curiously obsessed with knitting, and another quite often turns out to have a whole stash of children’s classics tucked away in a corner. I’d grabbed a ton of the Tillerman books from there on a visit just before lockdown and then, when I went back several months later, driven by the weeks without books in lockdown (did we all read our TBR pile in the first week or was that just me?), A Solitary Blue was there to greet me. Reader, I bought it. And I loved it…]
A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I tweeted about reading this book, I said that Cynthia Voigt was increasingly proving to be all that I want from a writer. I’d written about my fairly recent discovery of her work , a journey which had made me fall in love with her crisp and clean writing, so full of clarity and heart and texture at every inch, and I had realised that I would read more of her work. And so I did, for some things are inevitable and Voigt’s writing makes me ache with an absolute jealous and love for it is perfect. I don’t quite understand how she can find the emotional nuance of a moment and exploit it, so acutely, without you even noticing what she’s doing. It is magic, perfect stuff.
I’ve read much of the Tillerman saga out of order, picking them up from charity shops and libraries as and when circumstance allowed. I’m conscious that there is an order but I rather love this way of discovering her world, of discovering the echoes within it. A name pops up that’s familiar or a circumstance and suddenly the book becomes a panopticon and I’m stood in the middle of a moment seeing it from a thousand different angles. On a practical level, I’m dazzled by Voigt’s efficacy and memory, but on an emotional level, I’m in the scene and living every inch of it.
What’s particularly remarkable about A Solitary Blue is that it’s a story of becoming, told in a way that I don’t think many other stories are. Jeff’s mother leaves him when he is seven and a half years old. Melody leaves a shattered world behind her: a boy coming to terms with the trauma of her leaving and, as we soon learn, her husband engaged in very much a similar state of affairs. But that’s what Melody does, she leaves shards behind her and they cut. Jeff deals with this by withdrawing so far that he might be nothing more than a dot, until the world and his father and life and Dicey Tillerman start to pull him back.
Voigt has an eye for adolescence and for rendering the complexities of life with such a subtle, sure hand. There are great stretches of quiet here, punctuated only by the briefest and most telling of detail, and it’s beautiful. I read this after Sons from Afar and found some sharp commonalities between the two texts; though Sons From Afar is later, it still has that nuanced, soft, gentle understanding of life and the problems it can throw at you. Of young boys learning who and what they are and what they can be, even when the world works against them.
A Solitary Blue makes me envious and happy in almost equal measure, and this series reminds me how painterly writing can be. Every time I find one in a shop, it shines like gold.
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