"A Little Stranger"
(Reviewed by Guy Savage DEC 27, 2008)
“They weren’t cut out for parenthood. It was too much to expect. The baby took too much away from them, from Fran, from Nick. Not the baby, not Louis himself, but his existence. The very fact of his being alive. She didn’t know what to do with him, how to stop him from crying. She wanted to send him back to where he came from, wherever that might be. She wanted her old life returned to her, intact.”
I’ll admit that I was about halfway into Kate Pullinger’s novel A Little Stranger before I became interested in its characters. I’ve become accustomed to UK publisher Serpent’s Tail for their edgier titles. A Little Stranger, with its early emphasis on the drain of motherhood on a young married woman, feels, at first, like a throwback to early feminist novels. I almost gave up on the novel, but I preserved, and I’m glad I did.
The novel’s main character is a young woman named Fran. Originally from Canada, Fran is now settled in London with her husband of twelve years, Nick. He’s a restaurant manager, and Fran used to work in a trendy clothing shop. But since the birth of their son, Louis, one and a half years earlier, Fran has stayed at home. Nick is quick to point out that many women would love to be able to stay home and raise a child, but don’t count Fran among those women. Fran confesses she’s a “crap mother,” and she doesn’t enjoy all of the tasks associated with Louis’s care. She would love to return to work, but Nick says it’s financially impossible to do so. This leaves Fran stuck in the house longing for her friends and her old life, and secretly thinking that Louis was a "mistake."
After a particularly trying day with Louis, Fran simply walks out of their flat, gets on a plane and flies to Las Vegas, of all places. Here she latches onto an affluent, middle-aged real estate woman from Vancouver.
Up to this point in the novel, I had little interest in either Fran or her problems. Call me cold-hearted, but from my viewpoint, Fran had little to bitch about; there was nothing that bad in her life that a good babysitter and a part-time job couldn’t fix. Add to that the rather timeworn escapist fantasy (written about by many authors in far more interesting ways), and the novel seemed a little passé.
After Fran hits Vegas, the story swiftly became more interesting. While the first half of the book concentrates on Fran’s unhappiness with her parental role, the second half concentrates on connections—the connections with Fran’s present and her past, the connections between Fran’s alcoholic mother and her past, and also the connection Fran makes with Leslie, the Canadian real estate mogul.
For the last half of the novel, author Pullinger pulls together a fairly compelling narrative, and while some elements could so easily have been heavy-handed (the comparisons between a woman who doesn’t want her child, and a woman who would give anything to get her child back, for example), the author only allows subtle, fleeting comparisons. Ultimately the novel argues that we all have ghosts that haunt our lives, and that seemingly bizarre acts are deeply seeded in our troubled pasts.
- Amazon readers rating:
Read a chapter excerpt from A Little Stranger at author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Tiny Lies: Stories (1986)
- When the Monster Dies (1989)
- Where Does Kissing End? (1992)
- The Last Time I Saw Jane (1996)
- My Life As A Girl in a Men's Prison: Stories (1997)
- Weird Sister (1999)
- A Little Stranger (2006; May 2008 in US)
- The Mistress of Nothing (2009; January 2011 in US)
With Jane Campion:
- The Piano (1994)
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- Official website for Kate Pullinger
- British Council on Kate Pullinger
- Literature Chick interview regarding A Little Stranger
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Mistress of Nothing
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About the Author:
Kate Pullinger was born in Cranbrook, British Columbia, and went to high school on Vancouver Island. She dropped out of McGill University, Montreal, after a year and a half of not studying philosophy and literature, then spent a year working in a copper mine in the Yukon, northern Canada, where she crushed rocks and saved money. She spent that money traveling and ended up in London, England, where she has been ever since.
Kate Pullinger has lectured and taught widely and has been writer-in-residence in many places. Currently, she is Reader in Creative Writing and New Media at De Montfort University, Leicester, where she teaches on the online MA in Creative Writing and New Media that she helped set up.