Book Review - Remedies by Kate Ledger
Kate Ledger's insightful debut novel, Remedies, has the qualities of both literary and popular fiction. Like most literary novels Remedies is character driven and has layers of meaning, literal and symbolic; like popular novels, Remedies has a strong narrative drive. The novel provides the best of both reading experiences.
Both Simon and Emily Bear are successful in their careers— Simon as a physician specializing in pain management, and Emily as a public relations executive—but their marriage is in trouble, a trouble that's exacerbated when Emily meets Will, who once had "adored her". The teenage daughter, Jamie, having been sent home from camp because she's stolen a knife, and Emily are at loggerheads.
Simon tells one of his patients, "Somewhere in the world we have the remedies we need. We just need to find them." The reader recognizes that, as the title Remedies suggests, this quest for remedies refers not only to the patients in his medical pain management practice, but to Simon and Emily themselves. The word "remedy" means both "to cure" "to relieve symptoms." Diminishing a symptom is to alleviate suffering—itself useful, to be sure, but not the same as a cure. And this is a distinction made clear in the actions of Simon and Emily as they act to make themselves feel better.
The sections of the novel alternate between focusing on Simon and Emily Bear. Ledger was right to choose a limited point of view rather than alternating first-person narratives. In so doing she shows Emily's and Simon's full range of emotions (e.g., irritation, misery, panic, guilt, and giddy joy) while avoiding melodrama or sentimentality. This approach also facilitates the inclusion of relevant family histories.
Ledger's prose style is masterful, but goes beyond bravura: e.g., this description, which makes use of domestic imagery, has the additional virtue of irony in that Emily no longer does much cooking: "She cried again, cried until her eyes felt like puffy slits, like cracks in risen dough, and it took effort to open them." Or this, which follows and provides a contrast: "The morning came, showering her with a sense of newness. It came with the daylight, ... on a slant like driven rain."
Remedies is a first-rate novel. We'll be watching for a second novel by Kate Ledger. There's so much to admire in this one, that the next seems certain to rise to the same high standard.
Kate Ledger. Remedies. Amy Einhorn Press, G.P. Putnam's Sons, Penguin Group (USA). New York, 2009. 375 pp.
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