When a book reminds you of what you feel is important about writing stuff...
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
One of the best things I’ve read. All afternoon and evening taken up with this tiny novel from 1978: the story of a grumpy teen fobbed off onto foster homes and longing for her glamorous mother to ask her to join her in San Francisco. Gilly is stuck in a household of people she comes to appreciate too late.
I think it’s perfect, and gobsmackingly succinct. Every character is wonderful and has that magic thing of feeling like someone you already know, as soon as they shuffle on. Paterson writes about strong emotions better than anyone and never obviously and boringly.
It has all the features I love in a novel – I can’t even pin down what that is: a combination of wounding pathos, a down-at-home slightly dusty and messy atmosphere, a rag-bag cast of characters who erupt easily into hilarity and chaos, and who are doomed to part. No outright villains – just bad behaviour at the wrong time. Someone struggling with being clever and doing the wrong things and trying to be good. The way hope can let you down but people can surprise you. Even a ruffle of letters at the end.
It’s a lovely book. The copy I read is even signed by the author – a 1980s Puffin – and the kind of book that reminds me why I’m still trying to write my best.