Saturday, 6 August 2011

Far to Go by Alison Pick

Far to Go by Alison Pick (House of Anansi Press 2010)

The Toronto based Alison Pick goes over somewhat familiar ground in her tale of a family of well-to-do Sudetenland jews and the events of their lives leading up to and following its annexation by Germany in 1948. At the heart of the story are the Bauers, Pavel who is a Jewish factory owner, his glamorous wife Annelies, their son Pepik and their maid Martha who narrates. Ultimately it is the story of the Kindertransport, for as the Bauers see that their options for escaping ever fiercer grip of Nazi rule diminish their only hope is to see Pepik out of the country safely.

The other aspect of the story is that of another Annelies, a holocaust researcher who is trying to track down Pavel in modern day Canada so that between them they can piece together the true story of what happened back in Czechoslovakia during the war.

This book suffers from the comparison to far greater books such as the immeasurably better Austerlitz by WG Sebald for all its haunting melancholic meta-fictional brilliance, or one can even look to last year's booker prize longlist for a more interesting holocaust novel in Simon Mawer's 'the Glass Room'. Alison Pick barely moves her narrative above the pedestrian and does nothing with her story that has not been done many times before.

Stylistically too the book has its flaws and one would never guess the author to be a poet because her symbolism and analogy are drab and obvious. Pick also hit against a pet peeve of mine by the pointless use of well-known foreign words to try and add an international flair, something usually the preserve of mediocre travel books.

Pick has clearly been inspired to tell the story of her own family history so I can understand why she has chosen to write it, but it's predictable conventionality means that it never lifts itself above the mediocre and I am at a loss as to explain how it made it into the Booker long list. I would be very disappointed to see it make the short list.