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Book DetailsISBN: 9781925773132
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Book Review: The Fragments by Toni Jordan - Reviewed by CloggieA (17 Oct 2018)
The Fragments is the fifth novel by award-winning Australian author, Toni Jordan. For most of her life, Caddie Wilson has been enthralled by the story of her favourite author. In New York in 1935, Inga Karlson’s first novel was published and became a world-wide best-seller. Hounded by an adoring public, she withdrew into seclusion to write, but in 1939 every copy of The Days, the Minutes, her second novel, was destroyed in the warehouse fire that took her life and that of her publisher, the only people who had ever read it. Scorched fragments were all that remained.
In the first months of 1986 those Fragments are on display at Brisbane’s new State Gallery, and Caddie is waiting in a lengthy queue to see them. She knows each of them by heart, having read all there is to know about her idol. But she is stunned when another visitor to the exhibition quotes the words on a particular fragment with an extra line. It absolutely fits, but how could that be?
Almost fifty years earlier and quite by chance, nineteen-year-old waitress Rachel Lehrer meets the author of one of the few books she has loved enough to own, All Has an End. Incognito, Inga Karlson trails about New York City trying to escape the pressure from her publisher to meet the deadline for her second novel. An unlikely friendship between a farm girl and a Pulitzer prize-winner ensues.
The two narratives alternate between chapters, so Caddie’s efforts to discover the truth about the fire, the lost manuscript and that inexplicable extra line, run in tandem with the events that find rural Rachel in New York with Inga. With Nazi sympathisers, imposters, covert surveillance of a post office, and a posthumous letter, this is a gripping historical mystery with quite a few twists and red herrings to keep the reader guessing until the final pages.
Jordan’s depiction of the mid-eighties Brisbane summer is absolutely spot-on: not just the weather, the clothing, the food and drink, but also the social attitudes, the politics, the in-jokes, the leisure activities and the dialogue. And of course, the lack of mobile phones, digital records, internet and Google. It’s easy to forget how tedious doing research could be, with the microfiche being at the cutting edge of technology; and how inconvenient personal contact could be, tethered to a landline that was shared by many. Similarly, the nineteen-thirties are well-rendered with plenty of allusions anchoring it firmly in pre-war America.
Jordan gives the reader some excellent characters, most of whom have appeal despite their very human flaws; and of course a few suitably nasty ones who are meant to be despised. Caddie’s emotions affect her good judgement for a while, but she gets it right in the end. There’s some delightful banter between the characters as well as one or two lump-in-the-throat moments. Once again, Jordan shows she is a very talented author, with more than one string to her bow, and it will be interesting to see what she turns her hand to next. Recommended!
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