If I were to try and describe this unique work in one word it would be BIZARRE. And I mean that in a good way. But I have 500 odd words to fill so I don’t want to leave you guessing. I’ll take a punt and say that for me it had the feel of a modern picaresque novel. There was nothing I felt so consistently throughout as much as that I was reading a sort of modern Moll Flanders or Tom Jones. Again, I mean that in a good way, even though I’m not a great fan of 18th century literature or the picaresque. Which goes to show that putting a modern spin on such tales can work. And in and of itself is actually quite a remarkable feat.
The tale of Hope Springs is delivered through a sort of diary. Initially the first stage of the diary is/was written when Hope was a small child (no pun intended and I guess it’s at this point that I should point out the central feature of this novel – it’s USP if you like – is that the title character Hope is a dwarf. Or to give it the proper medical term achondroplasia). This brings a whole new level to the notion that a picaresque novel deals with someone ‘low’ in society! I revelled in the language of this first section. It put me firmly in mind of Lee Hall’s Spoonface Steinberg (which if you’ve never read or heard you really should!) and made me laugh even when there were obviously sad and serious points being raised.
Laughing with Hope rather than at her is surely the object of the exercise. Throughout the diary Hope elicits a great amount of self awareness and shows herself ‘warts and all.’ She accepts how badly she behaves a lot of the time (much like Moll Flanders) and leaves it up to the reader to decide how far she is deserving of sympathy.
Of course Hope’s life was never going to be easy. She often doesn’t help herself. She’s aware of that. It seems she can’t help herself in that respect. Throughout the whole story though, this frisson between wanting to feel empathy and not wanting to stereotype or stigmatise her is rife. And perhaps the intention is to show the reader that no one is perfect and that empathy is not the same as sympathy. Being truly ‘sympathetic’ about Hope is often difficult. Empathising is pretty impossible (unless you also have achondroplasia and I’m suspecting most readers won’t) but ‘liking’ her no matter how many awful things she does, is actually shockingly easy. And she does some HORRIBLE things. I struggled to deal with some of them. And with how she flits from great personal insight into complete disregard for the wellbeing of other human beings. But I think this is part of the purpose of the novel. It unsettles and it makes you think. Hard.
Hope goes on an ‘epic’ journey albeit on a small scale (again no pun intended.) It has that unsettling quality of good fiction written in the first person, that you do find yourself wondering if maybe, it just might be REAL not fiction after all.
There’s a lot in this story and I can’t possibly go into it all without ‘spoiling’. I’m still thinking about the significance of the ‘drama’ element in it. What I can say is that having finished reading it, I realise that however random or unplanned things seem to be in this work, they all have a clear and fixed purpose if you are prepared to look deeper. Which is a great tribute to the writer. I don’t think picaresque can be an easy style to write and this really does nail it in my opinion. If you are looking for a straightforward contemporary plot with a happy ending and all the loose ends tied up and a reason for everything that happens this will not satisfy you. But if you let yourself go and go with the ribald modern picaresqueness of it, I think it will. It certainly gave me many a laugh as well as much to think about.
Hope Springs is Available in Kindle format