It has been a long time since I posted a book review. This brief one is for a novel.
Every Blade of Grass by Thomas Wharton starts with a letter left at the front desk of a hotel in Iceland. The recipient, Martha, is a neophyte journalist from New York and the sender,James, is a young biologist from Vancouver. Very quickly the story progresses as a series of letters back and forth between these two in the pre-internet age. I had my doubts that this approach would be sustainable for an entire book, but it works, 1) because there are intervals of 3rd person narration, particularly when situations arise for which it is difficult for a character to find words, 2) because of the addition of a 3rd distinct voice, Martha’s cousin, a lively spirit named Nancy, and 3) because many of the letters are almost stand-alone stories as the characters, especially James, travel to all corners of the world—the Arctic, Antarctica, Amazonia, Indonesia, Nepal, central China... An odd and entertaining cast of characters is introduced in these places, whose words and actions become touchstones for the main characters.
My first misgivings went out the window - the structure is compelling. I always wanted to read the next letter, and then the next one, and then the next... I found myself studying the dates as the years clicked by, remembering what was happening within my own life on those exact days. You feel your own story growing and changing with those of James and Martha. Finally, there is a fun back-and-forth as the characters regale each other with odd facts, mostly about natural history.
I read this novel in almost a single sitting, which is something I am rarely able to do. Many times I waved the book--well, the kindle--at my wife and said, “This book is wonderful. You have to read it!”
This book is wonderful. You have to read it!