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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Long Way From Verona

Jane Gardam

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To purchase A Long Way From Verona

Title: A Long Way From Verona
Author: Jane Gardam
Genre: Novel
Written: 1971
Length: 211 pages
Availability: A Long Way From Verona - US
A Long Way From Verona - UK
A Long Way From Verona - Canada
Weit weg von Verona - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 7/5/1972 Barbara Bader
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 20/11/2018 Franziska Augstein
The Times . 24/12/1971 Elaine Moss

  From the Reviews:
  • "The book is Jane Gardam's, and this, her first novel, makes her immediately an author to watch for, but the story is Jessica's in all its glorious passage from self-intoxication to tentative self-searching. Read her." - Barbara Bader, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Ihr Buch ist ganz ungemein lustig. Die Komik erwächst nicht allein aus Sprachwitz und Esprit, wofür die britische Literatur bekannt ist, sondern auch aus ihrem Sinn für die Psyche unterschiedlicher Menschen, seien es Erwachsene oder Kinder. Das solide Fundament von Gardams Komik ist ihre genaue Schilderung der Lebensverhältnisse in der Ortschaft, in der Jessica heranwächst." - Franziska Augstein, Süddeutsche Zeitung

  • "Jane Gardam is a new author of rare quality and astringent wit. (...) If you want to be 13 again (...) then read A Long Way From Verona -- which is about a 13-year-old schoolgirl's deep-seated belief, not shared by her English-mistress, that she is going to be a writer." - Elaine Moss, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Long Way From Verona is narrated by young Jessica (pronounced Jessie-Carr by some) Vye, just entering teen-age in Cleveland Sands in England, early during the Second World War. She begins dramatically, the novel opening:

     I ought to tell you at the beginning that I am not quite normal, having had a violent experience at the age of nine.
       The 'violent experience' isn't anything like what comes to mind from such a description, but is what sets her on her way to becoming a writer. Indeed, the novel is bookended by those early steps to becoming a writer, concluding then with her first public success with one of her works. Along the way, there's also one of her teachers, critical early on of what Jessica handed in for an essay assignment:
It isn't even as if you were telling a story -- you were trying to make a story where there was no story. It was an ESSAY I asked for. I'm afraid what you gave me looked awfully like a lie.
       She also advises Jessica that: "When you have written something that you think is really good, destroy it. Destroy it" -- words which do haunt Jessica some later. (Later, too, this teacher does find some words of praise for Jessica's efforts: "I am really quite impressed with your spelling and punctuation, though the actual handwriting is very wild. Very interesting use of the semicolon".)
       The literary plays some role in the novel -- from the books Jessica does (and doesn't read) to several letters and other pieces of writing -- but most of her account is focused on experience, on what she does and feels.
       The novel is divided into three parts, the titles -- 'The Maniac', 'The Boy', 'The Poem' -- each describing a significant circumstance that figure in Jessica's coming-of-age adventures, but the book is also crowded with more events and people. From younger brother Rowley to mentor-figure from school, old Miss Philemon, as well as her school-friends, Jessica engages busily, but she is also a very independent figure -- alone, in many respects, too. Among her adventures is a stay at a weekend party in a much fancier house, as well suitor Christian, who reads Jessica's father's newspaper articles and wants to expand her horizons by taking her to have a look-see at some nearby slums -- an outing that goes terribly wrong, as the war that is mostly in the background (as in the gas mask that Jessica carries around with her, or the emergency ration cards everyone has) comes horribly to the fore.
       Jessica is strong-willed and somewhat flighty, veering, age-appropriately, often between being determined in her actions and being completely unsure of herself and everything. Gardam captures her voice very nicely, down to the sometimes scattershot presentation of Jessica's mind at work, as well as how some things only really hit her a ways after the fact. There's an effect of an almost deadpan humor throughout, the tone of which Gardam gets just right in a novel in which much that happens is deeply serious.
       Ostensibly a novel not just about but for young adults, Gardam treats her characters and audience seriously; there's nothing childish about the novel. It is, in every respect, a mature work (despite being Gardam's debut), and an impressive and engaging one, the kind of work that continues to resonate long after one has finished it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 September 2023

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A Long Way From Verona: Reviews: Jane Gardam: Other books by Jane Gardam under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Jane Gardam was born in 1928.

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© 2023 the complete review

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