Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On the Library Table - Belinda's Rings, Corinna Chong

Belinda’s Rings interweaves the teenage angst of a young woman of two cultures (Asian and British) with the mid-life crisis of her mother.

Grace (who prefers to be called Gray) is the thoughtful middle child of a dysfunctional family who is trying to find her way into becoming an adult while coping with the bewildering conduct of her obsessive mother (Belinda), her emotionally disturbed stepfather, an overly compensating older sister (Jess) and a peculiar little brother (nicknamed Squid by Gray herself) who on the surface of it seems to be autistic.

Gray wants to become a marine biologist, and amid the chaos of her deteriorating home life, she studies and focuses on her chosen field in the plaintive hope that pursuing her dream will bring a measure of order to her existence and prevent her from turning out like others in her family, especially her mother, Belinda.

Belinda is obsessed by crop circles, and when she abruptly leaves home and flies across the Atlantic to research them in the English countryside, she leaves Gray and her siblings to manage the family home and stay afloat amid mounting stress and confusion. Perhaps a good description of their lot in life in the absence of their mother would be "clinging to the wreckage", but what an amazing wreckage it is.

How to describe this book?  It is a coming-of-age story and a mid-life crisis story all rolled into one, and I loved it.  There is humor here and candor; there is warmth and gentleness, and there is, above all else, hope.  I found myself relating to Gray herself all the way through, and very much at times to her impetuous mother.  Both women are beautifully drawn in their frustration, their courage and their seeking, their love for each other and the others in their eccentric family.

The use of the word "rings" in the title is apt, for this fine tale is indeed about circling and community - the circling of Gray and her mother around each other, then their clan, and finally the great wide world "out there".  Their hearts (and their tenacity) are as wide as the world and their circling takes in, not only each other and the family, but the great squids of the deep ocean and faraway crop circles too.  Did you know that squids have three hearts?

One does not expect to encounter so exquisite a lyric voice in such a plot and setting (and a first novel at that), but just about every word in this book sings, and it was lovely reading from the first page to the last.  Three cheers for Corinna Chong!

No comments: