BOOK REVIEW: Whispers Through a Megaphone by Rachel Elliott

BOOK REVIEW: Whispers Through a Megaphone by Rachel Elliott

Penguin Viking
August 2015
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

6/10

9780670078844

 

Miriam hasn’t left her house in three years, and cannot raise her voice above a whisper. But today she has had enough, and is finally ready to rejoin the outside world.

There was an unbroken stranger inside Miriam Delaney – the same age but louder, the same height but taller.
That stranger is now a woman and she is still buried deep. She is a doll inside a doll. Pull a string on the outer doll and nothing happens. Pull a string on the inner doll and she speaks. Trouble is, no one can hear the inner doll. No one knows she’s there.

Meanwhile, Ralph has made the mistake of opening a closet door, only to discover with a shock that his wife Sadie doesn’t love him, and never has. And so he decides to run away.

Feline logic told her that he had dragged himself here to die. Why else would he have turned up in the woods at 11.30 p.m. on 4th August with no bag, no possessions, just a wallet, a phone, and a guitar?
But the cat was wrong.
He hadn’t come here to die.

Miriam and Ralph’s chance meeting in a wood during stormy weather marks the beginning of an amusing, restorative friendship, while Sadie takes a break from Twitter to embark on an intriguing adventure of her own. As their collective story unfolds, each of them seeks to better understand the objects of their affection, and their own hearts, timidly refusing to stand still and accept the chaos life throws at them.

“My dad used to make people swoon, back in his heyday. Women used to stare at his bottom.”
“His bottom?”
“He had a nice one, apparently.”
“And did he?”
“What?”
“Have a nice bottom?”
“I couldn’t say.”
“Why?”
“Well, I’m his son. It would be really weird if I went around saying that my dad had a nice bottom.”
“Technically speaking you do go around saying that, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

 

At the opening of this novel, the reader could be forgiven for confusing it with Lost & Found. We’re presented with a similar style of writing – quirky, funny, entertaining; and a similar theme runs through both novels – people finally discovering who they are and what they want after years of unhappiness.

This is a quick read, which is easy to lose yourself in, but it has its downfalls.

All of the quirk: This is a book full of quirky writing about quirky characters, whose heads are full of quirky thoughts. The thing about quirk, though, is that its power comes from being peculiar or unexpected, and when everyone is quirky, it loses its edge.

Omnipresent point of view: Observing the thoughts and actions of many characters isn’t always a bad thing, but when a scene jumps back and forth between the thoughts of one character and the thoughts of another, it can get mighty crowded. Perhaps this was intentional, to try and show how the noise of our technology obsessed lives can get in the way of what’s really important, but it did detract from the reading experience for this reviewer.

Dialogue as narrative: A fair chunk of the “dialogue” in this novel was told in narrative, in a somewhat passive way that isn’t always bad in small doses, but started to grate after the first  hundred pages of this novel.

 

At its heart, and if we look into who I suspect to be the real main character under all the noise of the others, this is a story about a girl who grew up oppressed. Miriam spent her whole life under the shadow of her overbearing mother, who trained her not to speak louder than a whisper, treated her terribly, and manipulated her out of thinking that anyone else cared what happened to her.

I whisper therefore I am not told off.
I whisper therefore I am not an irritation.
I whisper therefore I am.

Her mother died three years before the novel begins, but Miriam still can’t raise her voice above a whisper.

Miriam lost many mothers that day. The mad one. The one who was sometimes nice. The one she loved, despite herself, and the one she hated. The one who provided a roof, water, food. The one who made her feel unsafe. And most devastating of all, the mother she never had – all hope of her, gone. The mothers had drowned, they were all underwater.

She doesn’t know how to live in the world because her mother never taught her how, so she decided to remove herself from it.

Miriam’s hibernation is three years old today, but numbers can be deceptive, three years can feel like three decades. Hibernation ages like a dog, so three is about twenty-eight, depending on the breed, and this one is kind, protective, it keeps the world at bay.

This is the story of her deciding to leave the house and figure out what her life is going to be, how she climbs out from under the memory of her mother, how she comes to see her mother’s lies and realise that people care about her, even now.

At its heart, this is a touching story about one woman’s attempts to reclaim her life, and all the people whose paths she crosses. It’s just a shame they were all loud enough to drown out her whispers.

 

*It should also be noted that this book contains some pretty heavy spoilers for the film The Awakening, as a way to explain some of Miriam’s psyche, so watch that first if you were planning on it.*

BOOK REVIEW: Whispers Through a Megaphone by Rachel Elliott

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