Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Rat by Fernanda Eberstadt: review

Fernanda Eberstadt (pictured, right) has produced four novels which manage to combine a meaty, sensual richness of language with engrossing plots and characters: her territory has, so far, been mainly New York. Her most enduring hero (or anti-hero) was Isaac, who appeared in a brace of novels (Isaac and his Devils, and When the Sons of Heaven meet the Daughters of the Earth), a bumbling, goofy misfit who enters the art world. Now we have a spirited, resourceful fifteen year old heroine in Rat, Eberstadt's latest novel. The terrain is the South of France, and the plot concerns the flight of fifteen year old Rat and her search for her absent English father. Rat is a fascinating character, vividly and boldly drawn, generous, fearless and intelligent, battling to understand herself and the strange circumstances of her life. She manages to get herself (and her young foster brother) across France and into Britain without a passport. Eberstadt delineates beautifully the various milieux: whether it be a market in the South of France, or a grey West London house with its windows barred. The scenes between Rat and her father (an artist, seemingly incapable of true emotional connection) are beautifully realised. The book ends with a powerful affirmation of the importance of family. It is a fine addition to the author's oeuvre, and sits very well alongside her work of non-fiction, Little Money Street, which concerned the plight of gypsies in Southern France.

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