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Mother and daughter Caroline and Erica are best of friends and worst of enemies.
Set in the American mid- and south-west, their story unfolds over more than 50 years against a backdrop of sweeping social change. Feisty and argumentative, they roll with the punches, surviving car crashes, awkward family gatherings, relationship disasters—and plastic surgery.
Sharply observed and darkly comic, Magnetism by Ruth Figgest notches a riveting new path through this most fundamental of family ties.
Sussex Life28 March 2018
Debut novelist Ruth Figgest was born in Oxford and lives in Eastbourne, but grew up in the USA.
She draws on her knowledge of the US in her latest novel, Magnetism, set in the American mid-and south-west where everyday life spanning the 1960s until 2015 goes under the writer’s microscope. It’s also an in-depth exploration of a mother/daughter relationship through 50 years of social change.
The writing is sharp and evocative, the narrative cleverly allusive – sometimes overly so. The reader doesn’t get a lazy ride here, especially as most of the story is revealed in reverse. The device lends itself well to uncovering secrets and delivering dramatic irony, but it’s also rather challenging.
It’s well worth the effort, however, for the sheer pleasure of witnessing the humour, joy, anger and pain as the two women push and pull against this closest of bonds.
Susan Osborne, A life in books28 March 2018
There’s a puff from Patrick Gale on the jacket of Ruth Figgest’s debut. It’s not one of those slightly gushy quotes with a few too many superlatives to feel sincere. It simply says ‘Ruth Figgest knows how to make a story’ which at first may seem too far the other way but by the time I finished Magnetism it felt precisely right: this is an expertly spun story about a mother and daughter apparently locked into a dysfunctional relationship which seems to consist of a lifelong argument.
Erica and her mother live many miles apart. When she gets a call from a neighbour telling her that Caroline has died, she drops everything, catching a flight to the home she is used to visiting whenever there’s a crisis or a holiday. Her father died many years ago and her mother had long hoped that Erica would move back to Arizona from Oklahoma. Now fifty-three, divorced, childless and orphaned, Erica is left only with her mother’s despised poodle to care for. Figgest’s novel traces Erica’s story, opening with her first episode of mental illness, aged sixteen, and ending on a note of excited hope.
Such a slight synopsis makes this novel sound a little hackneyed, trite even, but what marks Magnetism out is the skill with which Figgest reels back the years, telling Erica’s story backwards, from the news of her mother’s death to her parents’ wedding when Caroline was pregnant with Erica. It’s a structure that could easily backfire if handled sloppily but Figgest is too deft for that, dropping clues and hints into Erica’s narrative which are neatly clarified later. The relationship between Erica and her mother is acutely observed and painfully dysfunctional: the hypercritical Caroline never misses an opportunity to mention Erica’s weight, smuggling diet books into the hospital after her daughter’s suicide attempt; the pubescent Erica is whisked off to the plastic surgeon for a nose job. Yet they love each other. Erica is a convincing narrator but we know, of course, there’s another side to the story, left for the reader to infer as Caroline’s character is revealed along with the difficulties she’s faced and the secrets she’s kept. All of this is underpinned with a pleasingly black humour. A very clever and satisfying piece of storytelling which ends with the hope of liberation.