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The Queen of the Tambourine by Jane Gardam

The Queen of the Tambourine (1991)

by Jane Gardam

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4901720,897 (3.43)69
  1. 10
    Miss Peabody's Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Another epistolary novel where the writer is gradually revealed to be delusional.

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Sorry to say that, in the end, I'm rather disappointed with this one. Gardam uses an epistolary framework--although it's hard to remember that midway, when the letters become so lengthy and self-absorbed that the reader forgets there is a supposed recipient. The writer/narrator, Eliza Peabody, is a middle-aged know-it-all who initially feels compelled to proffer her superior wisdom--gained a s a hospice volunteer--to her neighbor, Joan, who apparently suffers from debilitating pain in one leg. Eliza has decided that Joan's pain is psychosomatic and advises her to just get over it, offering her own help as an amateur psychotherapist. Surprisingly, after a few more letters, it is discovered that Joan has run off, leaving her leg brace in the marital bed. Although Joan never replies to Eliza's letters, we learn that she has embarked on a new life, travelling to exotic locations and having affairs with much younger foreign men. Periodically, gifts from Joan arrive--but never a letter. In the meantime, Eliza's own life takes a turn for the worst as her husband moves out to take a flat with Joan's abandoned husband. The letters continue, with Eliza portraying herself, narcissistically, as the abandoned spouse, now abandoned as well by any borderline friends she might have had, and making herself out to be the heroine of everyone's lives, from Joan's university-student daughter to Barry, a young man dying of AIDS in the hospice.

Initially, I was intrigued by Eliza's voice, which Gardam conveyed with much humor. But as the letters dragged on and the descriptions of her own escapades and musings became longer and more self-pitying, I got bored. Yes, I do understand that what Gardam was trying to portray was the sadness and near-madness of a woman who has isolated herself from everyone; it just didn't particularly interest me, and I found the one-sided epistolary device tedious.

Three stars for the writing and the creation of a complete character, plus the initial humor is Eliza's self-deceptive letters to Joan. But Gardam has written much better novels. ( )
  Cariola | May 29, 2014 |
I can't remember when I last read something that was so funny and so sad at the same time, and not sad in a sentimental way or funny in a slapstick way. A very bittersweet novel, with the emphasis, pleasingly, on the sweet. And deeply compassionate while at the same time managing to poke fun at everyone. Quite a surprise, and now I'm looking forward to the rest of my Gardam reading. ( )
1 vote lisapeet | Oct 3, 2013 |
Really didn't like this book! ( )
  shirley8 | Jan 15, 2012 |
i loved the main character of this book. then she starts going mad and it was hard to tell what was really happening. the book was filled with humor though and included lots of interesting and vivid characters, each with of story of their own. if it weren't for my confusion with the madness, i would have given it more stars. will definitely read more of jane garden's books! and i love these little europa editions! ( )
  amanaceerdh | Dec 29, 2010 |
The reviewer before me called this a "modern twist on The Yellow Wallpaper." I see where that came from, but that doesn't describe the book I read. Yes, our dear Eliza has hallucinations, but she isn't trapped anymore than she chooses to be. Perhaps she's mad, but perhaps as one of her neighbors suggest, she has the most annoying type of madness, deliberately chosen madness.

Although I would never want to be Eliza's neighbor, friend, and definitely not her charge, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the world criticized through her "naive" eyes. She's only as naive as one of Shakespeare's fools. Eliza has traveled the world as a Foreign Service Officer's wife, she's seen political upheaval and poverty, she's done her round of ladies clubs and ladies charities, yet she's living in an upscale suburb of England where the world's problems, in theory, don't exist.

Eliza knows better. Her madness tears a little hole in her sheltered road that she lives on, her community called "The Road," so gentrified that it deserves capital letters. As for the people around her? Maybe they need a bit of her madness. ( )
4 vote cammykitty | Nov 13, 2010 |
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For she's the Queen
Of the Tambourine
The Cymbals and the Bones.

Music Hall Song
For Rhododendria
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Dear Joan,

I do hope I know you well enough to say this.
Why should I spend hours all by myself in a room writing books just to amuse some people I've never met for a few hours on an aeroplane before they get pulped? I mean the books get pulped. They have a shelf-life of six weeks most of them and a good thing, too. They're like package puddings. It was in the Guardian. There are dozens of novels spewed forth, most of them tripe and all the poor authors think they've started out on an immortal career. Might as well masturbate.
The old women of the tribe have almost always been the wiser. If they keep their marbles long enough. Old men forget - or tend to reminisce, and reminisce falsely and sententiously as a rule. We are often very sill in our middle years but we tend to improve - as our marriages often do. Women who survive, survive better than men. It's because our lives - our physical lives - are more dramatic.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0349102260, Paperback)

Eliza Peabody is one of those dangerously blameless women who believe they have God in their pocket. She is a modern-day Florence Nightingale, always up at the Hospice or the Wives' club; she is too enthusiastic; she talks too much. Her concern for the welfare of her wealthy south London neighbours even extends to ingenuous, well-meaning notes of unsolicited advice under the door. It is just such a one-sided correspondence that heralds Eliza's undoing. Did her letter have something to do with Joan's abrupt disappearance from number forty-one? What to make of the long absences of her husband and Joan's, and of the two men's new, inseparable friendship? And why will no one else on Rathbone Road speak of Joan? As Eliza's own life seems to disintegrate, she finds that, despite the pity and embarrassment with which her neighbours greet her, she is at last being drawn into their lives - although not in the way she had once fantasised about. This is a sharp, poignant and wickedly funny tale of love, heartache and disillusionment.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:19 -0400)

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In England, a housewife eggs on another to liberate herself and when the other abandons her family to travel the world pursues her with letters. The missives, a jumble of apologies, condemnation, admiration, envy and confessions of her own unhappiness, portray the loneliness and boredom of suburban life.… (more)

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