Reviewed by Alice Farrant
For seven years Florence, Lucy and Edgar have lived in the wake of Frank’s death. No one mentions Frank’s passing and so Grandmother, Daughter-in-law and Son live under the weight of the grief Frank left behind. When Florence dies Lucy is forced to face a reality she has been avoiding, and Edgar – raised predominantly by Florence – is suddenly alone in a world turned upside down.
Edgar & Lucy by Victor Lodato is a heartbreaking, intelligent book. Set predominantly over half a year, but encompassing three generations of a shared history, it offers a new perspective on the kidnapping of a child. While the major event of the novel is Edgar’s abduction, Edgar & Lucy looks at what motivates both the kidnapper and the family events that lead up to and follow on from Edgar’s disappearance.
With chapters from the dead as well as the living, Lodato uses postmodern writing techniques to demonstrate time’s non-linear formation. The language is well chosen and while the novel is a hefty 544 pages long, nothing feels superfluous. Every sentence is key to telling the story, ensuring all characters are well developed.
Time is a constant discussion and experience in the novel. As a reader, you experience time in disorganised chucks. The characters agonise over time. What time means, how quickly it passes and how chaotic it can be. As he slips further into psychosis, Edgar’s father Frank becomes obsessed with time, time is now and so if he is all at once in the past, present and future it doesn’t matter if he and Lucy die – they will always be with Edgar. For Lucy time is something that has slipped by unattended as she has raised a child without Frank, while still trying to cling on to any enjoyment she can squeeze out of her existence. For Florence, time is something that still hurts seven years after her son’s death.
Grief goes hand in hand with time, it prolongs its length from minutes to hours but also steals days and weeks. It’s a storm cloud waiting to rain over the house, the increased pressure of its forever imminent eruption weighing down on them, dulling their existence.
Edgar and Lucy, especially Edgar, live their lives informed by the grief in the house. After Frank dies Lucy mourns him and the family they were meant to have, the one to save her from her abusive childhood. Edgar was born into grief, too young to miss those that have been lost but also too young to learn about what his father had done. He is haunted by ghosts of the past, without any context to understand them. Information from his mother and grandmother in a bid to protect him is unforthcoming. He’s left to create his own concepts about his father, creating assumptions of the barest scraps of fact he is allowed or overhears.
Florence loves Edgar more than anyone else in the world, she is judgemental of Lucy’s mothering style and believes that when married you accept the life you are in and get on with what you have to do. After marrying Pio, Florence was not allowed to be anything other than a housewife and mother. Pio was controlling, Frank, her only child, brilliant but overwhelmed by the world. Edgar is her saving grace, and she would protect him from anything or anyone, in life and in death. She is present throughout the whole novel, although dies fairly early on. Her relationship with Lucy is strained, they never gain the closeness she would have desired, they are very different women. Where Florence accepts things passively Lucy wages war.
“Lucy had too much energy, combined with a stunning ignorance concerning what one could expect from life.”
Although she never wanted a child, Lucy loves Edgar unconditionally. She doesn’t always understand him and lets Florence raise him, but there is never a lack of love. When Florence dies Lucy is forced to face the reality of being a parent without anyone available to help, she is ill-equipped after dulling her sense for so long with drink and sex. When Edgar disappears her world caves in and she is forced to face her demons. As a character Lucy is wonderfully imperfect, a pleasure to read on every page. She mirrors Edgar in her inability to quite see what the world outside of her existence. When Lucy is finally forced to face reality it is as overwhelming as the nightmares Edgar endures.
“He should not have let go of his mother’s hand. He knew that now. It was a terrible mistake. The boy had an urge to punch himself in the stomach to prove his loyalty.”
Edgar is a complicated boy, sensitive and naive. He wants to help, to do the right thing, but has no idea about how he should act or translate his thoughts to something his mother will understand. He doesn’t understand how he fits into her world, and without a male figure in his life, he seeks that help elsewhere. The ease with which Edgar was kidnapped was incredibly uncomfortable, like any child of his age he doesn’t understand the implications of leaving with a stranger and was easily manipulated. Conrad, the kidnapper, is also battling grief having killed his own son in a hunting accident. He wants Edgar to kill him, to balance out the death, but the two begin a deeply uncomfortable symbiotic relationship that Conrad won’t let Edgar escape. Edgar wants to leave, but he also doesn’t want to hurt Conrad’s feelings. The relationship never becomes sexual, but the mental manipulation Edgar suffers is still disturbing.
“Conrad and the boy were no longer strangers. They were blood. What ran through their veins and made them inseparable was the same hallucinogen. Grief.”
My only criticism of the novel is that Edgar seems too aware and verbose for an 8/9-year-old. I often forgot he wasn’t at least 12. His thought processes were both of an adult and a child, which at times threw me out of step with the story. If it can be argued that – due to Lodato’s use of time – Edgar is both old and young while telling this story I will accept the characterisation, if not Edgar’s self-awareness and selflessness were at times unbelievable.
Reading Edgar & Lucy was like walking into a new world I wasn’t ready to leave. It’s emotive and intelligent, leaving me wishing there had been more.
Lodato, Victor Edgar & Lucy, (Apollo: London, 2018). 978-1786698117 544pp., hardback.
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