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May

Naomi Kruger
ISBN-13: 
9781781724286
Publication Date: 
Monday, March 12, 2018
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‘A deftly-written and highly moving account of the effects of dementia’ – Everybody’s Reviewing

‘A triumph... contemporary, funny, relevant and personal’ – Buzz Magazine
 

The door to the past has been locked to May but fragments of memories still remain: a boy running on the green, his fiery hair, a letter without a stamp, a secret she promised not to tell. She can’t piece together the past or even make sense of the present, but she revisits what she knows again and again. The boy, the letter, the secret. She can’t grasp what they mean, but maybe the people she’s loved and lost can uncover the mystery of the red-headed boy and his connection to May.

Like memories, the book moves through the decades, weaving together the lives of May’s family and the woman who cares for her at the nursing home. Their recollections are linked by feelings of doubt, remorse and a sense that they are mourning the paths their lives could have taken. Aftershocks from the past reverberate in the present.

Afsana remembers her mischievous sister, Amina, and her stoic grandmother, the family she left behind to pursue a forbidden relationship. Karen recalls a chance encounter with a charming man and the drink that inevitably led to more. Alex regrets the indecision that left him stuck in the town he was born in while the girl he cares about travels the world alone. Arthur pursues the woman of his dreams but reflects on the times he didn’t say enough. Like May, they are each trapped by the past and struggle to envisage their futures. It is only when their stories are connected that the fragments of the past become whole, and the secrets haunting May are finally revealed.

Naomi Kruger’s debut novel is a contemplative tale of what it means to carry the past with you and the power of letting it go.

 

 

REVIEWS

Review by Megan Thomas, Buzz Magazine

Monday, June 25, 2018

Naomi Kruger’s debut novel, May, is a triumph. We follow the contours of dementia through our primary character May over one day in an old age home. Her chapters form a series of memories and a stream of consciousness that represents the confusion and diaspora of thought as well as the poetic tragedy of the illness and the human condition.

May’s day is interspersed with flashbacks from the people relevant to her life and story. Each character is valuable within their own chapters and story, as well as to May’s life. They all work together as pieces of the great puzzle that is Kruger’s story. It is done with such craft that there remains a clear structure throughout, despite its largely non-linear progression.

I was incredibly impressed with the use of first-person speaker throughout the novel, regardless of which character was speaking. This isn’t an easy task, but it was necessary and effective in portraying each character’s unique thoughts, personalities and experiences. It can be difficult to maintain a clear voice from just one character, let alone multiple characters.

The characters deal with the unglamorous occurrences of life – unhappy marriages, prejudice, peer pressure, rebellion, anxiety and much more. The plot retains a consistent realism without ever seeming boring, and was always rich in complex emotions. This, however, meant that there were points at which I thought the writing was a bit too simple for the depth of the content.

The novel is contemporary, funny, relevant and personal. It was easy to read, and constantly engaging. Reading it was a pleasure.

Review by Paul Taylor-McCartney, Everybody’s Reviewing

Saturday, May 12, 2018

This is a deftly-written and highly moving account of the effects of dementia on an elderly woman, May of the title, and those around her, including staff at the nursing home where she is resident. The story is actually centred on solving the mystery of a figure from May’s past that no-one around her can recall; and all wonder if he is merely a figment of her rapidly disassembling mind. 

Krüger uses two specific narrative devices to help convey her story and subject matter. Whole chapters are assigned to a number of unique characters - including May - each competing for our attention and wonderfully depicted. The narrative also shifts back and forth through decades, helpfully indicated by a date at the top of each chapter, which very much reflects one of the disorienting aspects of the condition: the unravelling of time itself. These alternative perspectives on May’s life allow us to see her at her worst, but also as caring wife, mother and friend, before the disease takes hold and her mental deterioration commences. Here is a central character that could be any of us; the familiar settings and landmarks of an ordinary northern town, Preston, help further ground the work in the domestic, the everyday, and give it a real authenticity.

Beyond structural experimentation, Krüger’s talent lies in the assured command of her prose. Short, rhythmic sentences relay the steady beat of conscious thought, allowing her to show subtle differences between her characters, whilst also unifying them. In May’s own chapters, the formal constraints of syntax and grammar are abandoned and prose becomes verse: “but I remember         the boy    He/runs into the trees. He doesn’t have       words.” These passages are not only beautifully written, they also contain all the clues required to assemble multiple interpretations of the novel’s conclusion. By the time it ends, the reader is very much left to reflect on the ways in which the past comes back to haunt each of us, despite our best efforts to bury it - which is especially difficult for those, like May, at the mercy of such a debilitating disease as dementia. 

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