Vivian lives alone in the house she's inherited from her great aunt. She collects chairs, glares at the urn containing her great aunt's ashes, and frequently sniffs things to see if they've acquired her "meaty" scent yet (she's not big on hygiene). Her sister, also named Vivian, doesn't have much to do with her, clearly wanting to protect her children from their off-kilter aunt. Our main character Vivian actively avoids the neighbors but posts flyers on trees advertising for a friend named Penelope (the balance between consonants and vowels in the name is just right), cultivates a jungle of a front garden to encourage mice to move in, and walks all over Dublin looking for the portal she's convinced will send her back to fairy land, believing that she's a changeling. So you might say that she's a bit of an odd duck, an eccentric. Or you might wonder if she's so neuro-atypical that there is something more going on with her. She's an odd mix of amazingly insightful and strangely ignorant. There are textual hints that Vivian has been damaged in some way, especially by her father, but there's only a whisper of that, and only two or three brief times at that.
Vivian's character is sometimes fanciful and other times just weird. Her obsession with smelling herself and wanting her unwashed scent on everything is almost animalistic and the repetition of the same adjectives to describe this tick becomes tedious throughout the novel. Her interactions with others, almost none of whom play any sort of real major role in the novel, are telling and allow the reader to see how she is viewed in general. She's clearly considered batty, not quite right. She is definitely childlike, operating most days on a whim. Appropriate social interactions are certainly a struggle for her. And so she goes about her days walking different routes around the city, trying to get back to the fairy world she's been looking for her whole life. The structure of her days is made up on the fly and only makes sense to her. These daily perambulations are broken up by a couple of small events, her uncomfortable meetings with Penelope, a woman almost as odd as Vivian; an unsolicited and unwelcome visit to her sister's family; and their rather unsuccessful return visit to her (she, however, considers it a success because "only 50 percent of the guests left in tears").
Other readers have found Vivian charming and whimsical. I fear I am more like her annoyed older sister. She made me nuts. I wanted to get social services to intervene so that she had someone looking after her. And in the name of all that is holy, I wanted her to stop sniffing herself and take a bath. There was very little plot to the book to distract me from the fact that I wasn't enjoying spending time with this character either. Lally is obviously a talented writer given her beautiful turns of phrase and descriptive skill but she needed more than just a character who thought she was a changeling to hang a story on. As a starting concept, it was intriguing, but without a well-developed story around it, this feels like one long character exposition, not a fully fleshed out tale. I really wanted to be able to slip into Vivian's world. I just couldn't.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and Melville House for sending me a copy of this book to review.