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Annie John: A Novel Paperback – June 30, 1997
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“So touching and familiar it could be happening to any of us . . . and that's exactly the book's strength, its wisdom, its truth.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“So neon-bright that the traditional story of a young girl's passage into adolescence takes on a shimmering strangeness.” ―Elaine Kendall, The Los Angeles Times
- ASIN : 0374525102
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (June 30, 1997)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 160 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780374525101
- ISBN-13 : 978-0374525101
- Lexile measure : 1130L
- Item Weight : 5.1 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.58 x 0.44 x 8.32 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #85,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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Annie's ambivalence shows up in all sorts of ways: in her different ways of responding to her mother; in her friendships with the "good" Gwen and the "bad" Red Girl; in her sometimes outrageous behavior and her stellar academic performance. And the world remains even as she grows up something of a mystery to her -- her mother seems to get angriest with her for behavior that is far from her most outrageous, and it is her mother who seems to spark the separation at the time she starts calling Annie a "young lady," although it might well be that Annie is ready at that point to make an issue of something that will establish some distance. She often says that she doesn't understand why she does what she does, and at such times, I think, Kincaid has nailed something about adolescence truthfully and unsentimentally.
I like the way too that the book develops a cultural-political subtext that puts Annie's growing freedom in the context of the colonial heritage of Antigua. When Annie sees a picture in her history book of Columbus in Chains, she defaces it by writing under it "The Great Man can no longer get up and go." Columbus, of course, is the godfather of European colonialism, and Annie is being educated in a school run on English lines (Queen Victoria's birthday is celebrated). So her defacing can be seen to represent the impotence of these old structures -- as can the girls lying on the tombstones of the old colonial masters as they discuss their changing bodies in adolescence.
I haven't even mentioned the picture that we get throughout of Annie's parents' marriage (apparently close and sexual, despite a 35-year age gap), as well as the tension between the old ways that are associated with the Caribbean ("obeah" magic and healing) and relatively modern medicine. The whole effect is to enrich a familiar story line ("growing up") in a way that makes the narrative voice distinctive and, in its concreteness, plausible and that embeds it in a very specific culture at a particular historical moment. Very much worth reading -- and very readable.
It's surely not incidental or accidental that the closings of four early chapters end with the phrase "When I got home, . . ." The stories describe Annie's adventures away from family, and the consequences of each return trace the weakening of the bond with her mother. In the first chapter, an attempt to lie about a small act of forgetfulness is punished with an appropriately light sentence, but by bedtime all is forgiven. In the second chapter, Annie has learned which of her activities to reveal and which to hide upon her arrival home. By the third chapter, Annie looks at her mother and "could not understand how she could be so beautiful even though I no longer loved her." And by the middle of the book, Annie "gets home" and the tables turn, as her mother tries (and fails) to play a trivial trick on her "because it's very good for you." From then on, it's a psychological war of wills; home, rather than a refuge, becomes a prison from which Annie needs to escape. "It was as if my mother turned into a crocodile."
As their relationship deteriorates, we follow Annie as her exploits become less innocent and more audacious. Her experiences are often humorous and sometimes misguided but always filled with adolescent angst and curiosity. Her two girlfriends, the pretty schoolgirl Gwen and the transgressive Red Girl, teach her about love; a horrible illness teaches her to appreciate life. Her mother, however, disapproves of her after-school absences, her friends, her public flirtations with boys--even playing marbles sets the woman off. Annie mistakes discipline and worry for tyranny and scorn; Mrs. John, for her part, becomes unduly suspicious and overprotective. The intensity of the quarrels increase until a line is crossed with a reckless, instantly regretted salvo, causing Mrs. John to exclaim, "Until this moment, in my whole life I knew without a doubt that, without any exception, I loved you best." As any older teenager (or parent) knows, once this summit is reached it is a difficult journey back down the mountain.
Kincaid's coming-of-age story certainly isn't the first novel to feature a mother-daughter rivalry, but what distinguishes hers from most others is its calm prose and unsentimental stance. Annie's reminiscences are tempered by the mature reflection of adulthood--by a mixture of love, regret, melancholy, and nostalgia. The subdued tone might deceive some readers (especially, judging from some of the reviews, younger students) into thinking that not much "happens." But what is really going on is a war of attrition between two people who love each other dearly and continually fail to let the other know.
Annie and her mother start off with a wonderfully intimate relationship that Annie likens to "paradise" only to see it crumble as Annie matures into a sexual being, becoming TOO MUCH like her mother. It is at this time that Annie goes looking outside the home to replace the mother she now calls "serpent." Once expelled from paradise, Annie does what she can to spite her mother by thieving and hanging out with girls her mother disapproves of.
Like "Lucy," "Annie John" seems to have an evil side to her. She is angry and flawed as well as self-loathing and arrogant. In other words, she is turmoil personified. Her dark side is one reason I found this book so readable, but perhaps the most compelling thing about the novel is the mother/daughter relationship. Perhaps no one has figured out why such relationships are seemingly always fraught with intense animosity and competition, but Kincaid certainly relates the horrific reality of the fact quite convincingly.
While this story certainly contains no idealistic or happy ending, it is rich in psychology and what can only be deemed as troubling personal experience on the part of the author.
I recommend this one to any woman (or man)who ever experienced the fine line of love and hate with her own mother once upon a time.
Top reviews from other countries
It's a nicely written book and an easy read, depicting the self-centred and often selfish innocence of youth totally realistically and yet, for me, it just wasn't that appealing a read. Annie John is not a sympathetic character and for all I felt that I was supposed to side with her in her rebelliousness, as she broke free from childhood, this often just felt like being asked to side with a spoilt child's petulance. Additionally, as a portrait of a mother-daughter relationship it is completely one-sided; we never know how her mother really feels about her. It is also somewhat strange that a novel about teenage years runs its entire course without any mention of the opposite sex: Annie's adolescence is marked only by a curiosity about her own changing physical appearance. And then there is the inexplicable weather-related illness which seems neither to forward the plot nor add to the characterisation of either Annie or her parents.
Kincaid writes beautifully about Antigua and its people and creates a very evocative picture of childhood there but for me, I just never really cared about Annie John and that's a key problem in a novel bearing her name.