Tuesday, 31 August 2010

First Grey, Then White, Then Blue (Margriet de Moor)

--The blurb--
"Magda in life - no less than Magda in death - was an enigma. A free spirit, alluring but private, loving yet remote, she effected the lives of those around her in ways beyond measure. For her husband Robert, who wanted to possess her, body and soul, what Magda gave him was never enough. He murdered her, leaving her lover to discover her body. As friends gather for her funeral, the mystery of Magda's life is slowly, tantalizingly, revealed. Who really knew Magda, and what truths has her death revealed?"

--The review--
Dutch writer Margriet de Moor published her first novel in the 1990s, but despite having published three more books since, all of which have been translated into English, is pretty quiet on the British literary scene. It is eminently puzzling, in some ways, as to why this should be the case. Of course this may be out of choice on the part of the author, but it may also be attributable to the work itself.

The latter reason seems to be countered in the negative: de Moor is able to write gruesomely and poetically in equal measure, which makes for a positively unique effect. Sustaining imagery and trains of thought with success, de Moor combines simplicity in terms of the number of characters with complexity as she jumps across time, making the tale of Magda deliberately non-chronological. In addition to spotlighting arbitrary aspects of the lives and relationships of Magda, Robert, Erik, and Nellie, this murder mystery is unlike others in being solved right at the beginning, with the rest of the book theoretically being devoted to unravelling it.

I say 'theoretically' because by the end of the book we are not much closer to understanding Magda. We have already heard from Robert and Erik about their contact with her and their roles in her life, so by the time Magda starts to speak our interest is piqued - her side of the story is already highly desirable and it is possible that the motivation behind her murder may finally be revealed. But while readers are given a lot more detail about her two-year absence prior to the murder, and while this is all very interesting and beautifully described, it does not give any concrete answers regarding the novel's principal premise.

The most intriguing segment is possibly the final one, when Nellie is preparing to go to Magda's funeral with her son Gaby. Even though it is no more illuminating in explaining the causes and background of the crime, it still gives a feeling of tying up the novel satisfyingly, especially since Gaby is finally given a voice here too. But the feeling of a lack of answers is still frustrating, and although this may be partly solved in a reader's mind by further readings of the book, this yawning chasm between mystery and truth, even if part of the book's beauty, may also explain why Margriet de Moor's works are still relatively unknown in the English-speaking world: the work can be as beautiful and poetic and gruesome as it likes, but if it is still too enigmatic for the general population, it may just not make it to the other side.

Other works by Margriet de Moor
Back Views (1988; short stories)
The Virtuoso (1996)
The Duke of Egypt (2001)
The Drowned (2005)

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