Wednesday, January 18, 2012
A Common Loss, A Cup Of Tea
Reading A Common Loss by Kirsten Tranter is like drinking a cup of Budddha's tears tea. I think I should explain: Buddha's tears are tiny little balls of jasmine tea curled up to look like browny green knots. You put a few of them in a cup and pour hot water over them, and they gradually unfurl into long seaweedy strands of tea, gently colouring and flavouring the hot water. Much about A Common Loss begins with hard, nuggety little facts and concepts but gradually and almost imperceptibly opens up into beautiful, large, sad and soft ideas.
On the surface it is about a male friendship group and a trip to Vegas but the book is not at all what that description makes it sound like. It is, among other things, about surfaces and appearances, and how these can be deceptive; about imagined realities, fabricated realities and multiple perceptions of supposedly identical realities; and authenticity versus falseness and falsehood. So yes, lots of big ideas but they are easily digestible.
The frame of the story mirrors the ideas that the story seeks to explore, and I like that very much. A very thin layer of yang covers a large womb of yin; both in the way the characters people a physically harsh, false environment while attempting to deal with their emotions and memories, and in the way these concepts of memory, longing and grief are the real meat of the book. Also, Tranter has popped in a character who is doing research for a PhD in notions of authenticity and inauthenticity, which is a nice touch.
I give this book four Buddha's tears out of five, dropped into a lovely porcelain teacup.