By Ana Ingham
Brighton: A Pen Press Publication, 2008
ISBN # 978-1-906206-35-2
185 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
June 2008

I tried hard to dislike this novel. At times it seemed easy, I really didnít like the people. Yet little by little author Ana Ingham won me over, but not without great resistance on my part. It was as if I were in a pitched battled with her, growling at her at times, disgusted at others, but strangely drawn to read on. Eventually the crest of the flood came yesterday while waiting for a bus in a shelter with winds blowing light sprinkles on me and the last pages of the book. Inghramís characters finally won out over my doubts and frustrations.

I came away believing this painful little book is well-written, extremely challenging, and in the end, quite rewarding.

The basic story is quite simple and unremarkable. Artist Ben is dying. His former wife, Suzan, who lives near-by in the artistic enclave in Cornwall, is conflicted about his illness. She is both angry and hurt by his way of treating her both in their marriage and in recent times, and she seems about ready to enter into a new relationship with Anthony, another local artist.

The drama is in the last days of Benís life with Suzan emerging by process of elimination, as the last friend at Benís side.

The experience of this read was exceptional for me, a virtual pitched battle with the author. I tried so hard to dislike the novel and succeeded in at least disliking every character of significance. They seemed so self-absorbed, living extremely insular lives as though the larger external world didnít even exist. Privileged, educated artistic pretenders whose lives seemed so trivial, even disgusting, that I was strongly given to detest them. I wouldnít have wanted to spend ten minutes with a single one of them.

Ana Ingham had a very hard uphill struggle to make me believe their story was worth telling. That she did this, building her case slowly, cutting through some of my deep biases toward such people, to make the human suffered and the complexity of their inner lives come to life with such gut-wrenching feeling that, in the end, I had to care, had to feel their pain and to be sympathetic, convinced me of Inghamís power as a novelist. This reading was like a pitched battle and in the end Ingham won.

How did she win? In great measure it was by convincing me of the complexity of their feelings and the humanness of their suffering coming out of the competing and contradictory emotions they lived.

The power of the character creation is most focused on Ben and Suzan.

Ben is exasperating. He is an artist of some talent with the first major commercial success coming in a show at the same time as the announcement of his terminal disease. He has many positive virtues, which make many people like, even love him. Yet he is often so cruel as to be despicable. Perhaps most offensive was his habit of trying to hurt women who cared for him by demeaning them in front of other of his women.

Suzan accurately describes him as:

Looking at his lean, noble profile, Suzan found herself reviewing his faults and virtues: his arrogance, deceptiveness, cruelty, egoism: then, his virtues marched forth, his legendary virtues: his charm, his enthusiasm, his generosity, his gallantry, his boundless creativity.

Suzan herself is no less complex. We learn she is a poet about to be published in Paris, but little is revealed of that part of her life. She never speaks much about it and the one poem of hers we hear is in no way impressive. At times she seems strong and resolved, at other times a wimp of a doormat that others, especially Ben, walk on with impunity.

The rest of the people are less developed, but toward the very end when Benís estate is at question, the scene reminded me of the vulture-like gather of people in the novel Zorba the Greek when the French widow died and the villagers descended upon her home, even before she was dead, striping it naked of anything of value, much more like wild animals, beasts of prey, than humans.

Yet Ingham convinced this reader of the pain which Ben and Suzan suffered in life, their terrible emotional conflicts as they tried to balance their failures and successes. Ingham left no doubt that the emphasis of each of their lives was on the suffering.

Ana Ingham seems especially sensitive to the potential of human existence to create suffering, self-doubt, struggles and isolation, with the attendant pain and resistance to risk.

I have always been attracted to people with some involvement in the larger world who moved beyond their more limited personal lives and plunged into the complex and difficult world of social justice, world situations, involvement and interest in the world of intellect, art and history. But the characters of this tragic novel are presented as people living in a tiny place and tiny time, yet still experiencing such powerful and convincing pain. Itís a special gift to be able to create this insight and deep feeling in the reader and yet do it with such uninteresting characters! I tip my hat to Ana Inghram and recommend this read to any open to be touched by real human suffering.

I do come away from the novel still a bit confused by the structure and form. The novel has short choppy sentences and very short chapters, at times less than a page long. It seems the author is definitely wanting to convey something with the form, perhaps the shallowness of their lives, interchanges and events. The narrator even mentions once that while they are artistic people, a few at least even talented, that their conversations seldom have any seriousness of content. The author demonstrates that! They seem to float along without connecting to the world at large, shutting themselves up in the pettiness of their short-lived affairs and the trivialness of everdayness.

If one chose to expand that notion and read the form itself as a social commentary, then Ingram could be seen as writing a critique or expose of the shallowness and emptiness of these people despite their pose or even reality of being among the artistic pretenders, by letting the form suggest a narrowed down view of existence. However, I fear that may well be stretching a point and Iím not convinced thatís what Ingham was up to with the form. It is a puzzle that I havenít yet solved in my own head.

Bob Corbett


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