Key Porter, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
e first meet Winnie (who's also been '
Patsy, Lillian, Pikey, Princess, Beauty
') of the '
' as an old vagrant - '
a ship at sea
' her '
' - who forages for food and camps out in a corner of a derelict house. She's desolated when a red-headed girl steals her suitcase. How did Winnie get this way? Trezza Azzopardi's atmospheric novel flashes back to the stages in her sad life, what was done to her and what she herself did, to lead to these final years.
e see it all from Winnie's perspective, first as a lost child, named Patsy by her father and Lillian by her grandfather. There's something very wrong with her mother, who's haunted by ghosts and eventually dies. And Lillian herself seems somewhat simple minded. We watch events through her childish, puzzled eyes, not comprehending why she's bundled here and there in wartime Britain, and why adults keep dropping out of her life - mother, father, grandfather, aunty Ena, amongst others.
he one who seems closest to understanding the child's needs is her grandfather's friend, Mr. Stadnik, who calls her Princess and presciently tells her that '
A heart can be broken in many places
'. Lillian loves a boy named Joseph, with predictable results. She's exploited by spiritualists as their '
' and abused by the shoemaker in every other way. The theme of Winnie's hair runs through the novel - her grandfather dyes it blonde, the spiritualists hide it under a black wig, and from it she learns a terrible secret.
is a haunting tale, beautifully written, that reconstructs the destructive course of a long life. It would make a good choice for reading groups, Though depressing, it's also compelling, and will make you wonder what history lies behind the mild exterior of the next bag lady you encounter.
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