PODCAST BOOK REVIEW #7 of 2017
by Viga Boland
Good heavens! Whatever made me think I was reading a memoir when reading The Shape of the Atmosphere by Jessica Dainty? It might have been the fact that it was written in first person. But more likely, it was because this riveting story, set in the fifties, with a 16-year-old as its protagonist, has such a ring of truth that one completely forgets it’s fiction.
On her 16th birthday, the very lonely Gertrude, who hates her name and considers herself ugly, learns that her beloved father and her older sister have been killed in an accident. Reeling from the shock and completely unable to process that she will no longer spend time discussing the stars and constellations with her dad, an activity that meant the world to her at bedtime, she holds back her tears and self-mutilates in an effort to feel something beyond the pain of her loss. Sadly, her alcoholic, religious mother is equally lost and unable to comfort her.
When her mother notices Gertrude’s self-destructive behaviour, with no warning, she has Gertie committed for therapy at Willow Estate. Over the 2 years, while enduring the often brutal forms of therapy used during the fifties, like ice-baths and electric shock, Gertie many times questions her sanity and wonders if she truly belongs at Willow Estate. Yet oft-times, she feels more at home, more loved and accepted there than she did growing up with her family.
There is no way I will spoil your enjoyment of The Shape of the Atmosphere by telling you much more. This is a must-read book that, regardless of the era it’s set in, explores young adults’ mind, their insecurities about themselves, their relationships with adults and especially with their parents. Jessica Dainty has woven a fascinating story around characters and events not easily forgotten in order to probe how young people react to, and handle traumatic events. Gertie’s insights into herself, and the motivations behind everything she does to cope with life inside the institution and outside of it are realistic and moving.
The Shape of the Atmosphere will keep readers absorbed to the very last word. Should Gertrude have been committed? And what happened with her mother? Read this 5-star story to find out for yourself. Hopefully, The Shape of the Atmosphere is the first of more books to come from Jessica Dainty.
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