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The Hiding Place

Review

The Hiding Place

by

Trezza Azzopardi's
first novel, THE HIDING PLACE, is many things: a thoughtful and
luminous meditation on the bonds of family; a stark depiction of
life in an impoverished ethnic neighborhood of Cardiff, Wales; and
a window into the mind of Dolores Gauci, a girl crippled by
horrible burns. But more than any of these things --- and perhaps
the aspect of this book that makes it infinitely worthy of its
ranking among the likes of Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, and the
rest of this year's Booker Prize shortlist nominees --- THE HIDING
PLACE is a brilliant literary rendering of the ebb and flow of
human memory.  

This novel changes perspective constantly, shifting from Dolores's
memories of her childhood (slippery and changeable things, as
childhood memories are) to her father's flashbacks of his arrival
in Wales to third-person accounts of the actions of minor
characters. All of these diverse perspectives are woven together in
such a masterful and entirely natural way that we never question
the author's intent. Instead, we watch as Dolores reconstructs the
tragic events of her childhood by piecing together her own memories
along with the "truths" told to her by her sisters, parents, and
neighbors.

The tale of the Gauci family is certainly not a happy one. Rather,
this novel has aptly earned comparison with ANGELA'S ASHES for
painting a rather dismal portrait of life in the United Kingdom.
Frank Gauci is a violent, absent father to his six girls, most of
whom are named with feminized versions of boys' names, a symbol of
their parents' unfulfilled wish for sons. Their mother, Mary,
mourns greatly for the dissolution of her family --- Frank barters
off their daughter Marina to local don Joe Medora when he finds
himself in financial straits; daughter Fran is sent to a home for
troubled children when her pyromania turns into criminal arson; 17
year old Celesta is married off to an unctuous 40-year-old soda pop
merchant; and infant Dolores is irreversibly scarred by a fire.
This is certainly a dark tale. Frank eventually schemes a way to
pay for his escape from Wales, and abandoned and without money,
Mary witnesses the complete breakdown of her family: her remaining
three daughters, Dolores, Rose, and Luca are sent off to different
foster families. The girls all grow up separated from one another
and only reunite many years later for Mary's funeral, an event that
is far from a cheery Hallmark ending to this bleak and sobering
novel.

THE HIDING PLACE is composed entirely of short paragraphs and brief
passages; this is certainly not a novel modeled after Trollope or
Austen, Updike or Irving. Rather, Ms. Azzopardi has managed to
create an entirely "novel" sort of novel. Images surface and recede
rather quickly, yet Azzopardi's writing is so good, so succinct and
vivid that it does not require long discursive explanation. In a
few, humble lines Azzopardi depicts the adult Dolores's thoughts
upon entering her dead mother's house, and so demonstrates the
lasting impressions that other lives make upon our own: "Here's the
living room with the bed, the tea-towel, an armchair, a television
set perched on a table in the corner. Next to the gas fire is a
brass coal scuttle wedged with magazines: Word Search,
The Puzzler, Take a Break. A biro gathers dust in the
corner of the hearth. On the mantelpiece is a scuffed blue
spectacle case. I cannot touch any of it ... A month ago --- two
weeks ago --- my mother breathed in this space. She moved in it,
watched television at night with the sound down low, a magazine in
her lap and a pen in her hand."

Few first novels make it to the ranks of Booker Prize nominees.
But, then, THE HIDING PLACE does not read like a first novel. It is
a confident, perfect, original world that Azzopardi creates in
these pages with her effortless and mesmerizing prose.

Reviewed by Meredith Blum on January 22, 2011

The Hiding Place
by

  • Publication Date: January 9, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802138594
  • ISBN-13: 9780802138590