Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Reading. Mahy.

One of the writers I found by absently wandering the shelves of my high school library was Margaret Mahy; as is always the case, when I had read one book I had to read the others (although I was limited by the library's selection). I only remember two titles, Memory, which I can no longer find anywhere, and The Catalogue of the Universe, which I recently found again after a decade's absence, wanting to return to Mahy and her sense of mystery and beauty. I don't remember the story of Memory, but I have a vague sense that it was about a yearning, a search for something, a search for belonging, or family. I could be wrong. The Catalogue of the Universe has that same sense of longing, of Angela's longing for a father, of Tycho's longing for Angela.

Angela May is tall and lovely and distracting, with hair that seems to be (in Tycho's eyes) the color of sunset, and Tycho Potter has been her best friend since they were five years old and started school on the same day. She lives in a ramshackle cottage - two ramshackle cottages, in fact, linked together by a verandah scavenged from a grander house, with a lean-to bathroom and a little path leading to the outhouse - on the part of Dry Creek Road where it twisted and turned up the hills outside the (unnamed) city and was no longer a smoothly paved road but rather more of a steep track. A rambling cottage that she will never let her boyfriend, Robin, visit, her boyfriend who doesn't know about the outhouse and the scrabbled-together excuse for a house, who hasn't properly met her free-spirited mother, Dido.

And yet it is Tycho Angela always turns to, confides in, Tycho who is short and smart and has fine blond hair that reminds her of Christopher Robin, the youngest son of a family whose attention is nearly always swallowed up by his tempestuous elder sister, Africa, off-stage somewhere with her husband and their tumultuous relationship and young baby son. It is Tycho who waits outside as she confronts the man she believes is her father, Roland Chase, the father who left Dido before Angela was born, who didn't want a child then and doesn't want one now. And it is Tycho who Angela comes back to after a raging fight with her mother, Tycho with whom Angela finds herself in love with, in the end.

Everything happens quickly, as it does in life, in the space of a few short days. There are two relationships that form the main thread of this story - the one between Tycho and Angela, and the one between Angela and her mother - two relationships which reach a turning point and change forever. And it's strange, now that I am older and returning to something I first read over a decade ago, it is the relationship between Dido and Angela that I find more interesting, more compelling, almost as if I see the story from Dido's point of view instead of Angela's, that I think more about her story and the choices she made instead of about Tycho and Angela falling in love, or rather, Angela falling in love with Tycho, since he has probably been in love since they were five and he offered to share his felt pens.

I find - although I am a long way away from being a mother - that when I re-read the stories I read when I was growing up, I think about the parents, who worry about their children, who wonder if they have made the right choices but deep down know what they want for themselves, as Dido fiercely wanted a child, taking the money offered by Roland's mother for an abortion and spending it instead on a bottle of wine and baby clothes, and who struggled to make a life for the two of them in that dilapidated cottage high in the hills above the city. Who wanted to protect Angela from the truth about her father, that he didn't want to be a part of their lives, but finds that you can't protect your children from everything, you can't smooth away the hurts and lie to make a happy ending. I hope I remember this, when the time comes.

No comments: