“Reading is partly the weight of the book in your hand, the feel of a page as you turn it. It is not an experience you can approximate.”
When I start by telling you that Being Here begins with a teenage girl interviewing an elderly lady as part of school project – do not judge. A tried and tested plot possibly – but not like this. This isn’t just some frail old lady happy to tell tales of horse, carts and the days before TV, this is a stubborn lady who will tell her story, her way – and boy is it a story.
When sixteen year old Carly interviews Leah Cartwright what evolves is a story of Leah’s isolated childhood. Her grim relationship with her fanatically Christian mother is re told to Carly. The complexity of the relationship means Leah both adores and fears her mother,
“She was like a force of nature, a small dust-devil, a pocket of pent-up energy searching for release.”
The key to Leah’s story is that which underlies the title, ‘being here.’ Adam. Adam is there for Leah as a young girl. He appears in the opening pages. When Leah’s mum insists on being left along for hours each day, Adam is the one who steps in. He is a comfort, company … you need to delve in to the pages yourself to discover him further.
The first person narration from Leah’s point of view is a great piece of characterization. She effortlessly slips between past and present observations. Her narrative is both poignant and sharp. The difference in tone when she slips in to memories of the past is palpable and cleverly executed. Conversely the rhetoric from Leah of the present is sharp. Her observations of Carly reveal an acute and at times painful realisation of her weakening body and fast approaching mortality.
“I am a shadow in the land of the vibrant. Time will not lend me substance.”
Being Here is a powerful and moving journey. It is a novel full of beautiful descriptions which remain with you long after the final page has been read.