We are All Made of Glue

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We are All Made of Glue By Marina Lewycka“The first time I met Wonderboy, he pissed on me. I suppose he was trying to warn me off, which was quite prescient when you consider how things turned out”

The singer Moby claimed that “We are all made of stars” whereas writer Marina Lewycka’s third book is a little more down to earth. We are all – according to Lewycka – made of glue. Quite what she means by this is open to the interpretation of the reader and there are plenty of different directions your interpretation can take. If you want to look on the dark side, it’s hinted in places that it could be a reference to the Nazis making glue from the bodies of their gas chamber victims. For those who see life in a lighter way, it’s perhaps her intention that we are all made up of the relationships that bind us together – the glue of society if you like. Mind you, I just think it’s a great philosophical expression – there’s nothing to beat a bit of ambiguity.

She’s a dab hand with titles is Ms Lewycka. Her first novel “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian” must have been in the running for ‘best title of the year’ when it was released in 2005 and soon other books were sitting temptingly on our bookshelves with similar whacky titles – “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” by Paul Torday is one that springs to mind. I can’t help but think Lewycka’s book suffered for being a bit too accessible and might otherwise have stood a good chance in the ‘Diagram of Diagrams’ award for the oddest book title of the last 30 years which went to the non-fiction “Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers“.

Anyway, enough of such digressions and back to the book.

So what’s it all about?

Georgina is having a bit of a mid-life crisis. When her work-obsessed husband, Rip (yes, that’s his name – honest) ignores her request to put a new toothbrush holder up in the bathroom, she flips and throws him out. When he fails to come and collect his possessions, she chucks them in a skip and as a result meets a seemingly batty old lady. Mrs Shapiro, is caught dragging Rip’s books and classical records out of the skip. Despite only the briefest of contact, when Mrs Shapiro has to go into hospital she names Georgina as her next of kin and Georgina is sucked into her weird and wacky world.

Georgina’s new friend has a run-down old house that’s potentially worth a packet to the right people but only if she didn’t live there and if it weren’t full of rubbish and incontinent cats – including the Wonderboy of my opening line. With no apparent family to protect her interests, Mrs S can see the vultures circling to try to get control of the house. Can Georgina rescue her new friend, can she find new love and can she stop her son going completely potty as he succumbs to religious fervour in a sub-plot of the book? Will she find a good man to replace Rip and still manage to juggle life, Mrs Shapiro, the cats, her own family and her job as a freelance writer for an international adhesives magazine? There you go – more gluey sub-plots.

A 21st Century Fairy Tale

If you’ve read Marina Lewycka’s books before you probably already have a fair idea of whether you love or hate her work. I’m a little bit ambivalent. I found her first book (the aforementioned Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian) swung between hilarity and tedium, almost entirely dependent on whether the bit I was reading was about tractors or not. Her second book, Two Caravans, absolutely delighted me as it wove together the lives of a group of immigrant fruit pickers and their dog. By contrast ‘We Are All Made of Glue‘ seems to be trying less hard to be clever and instead focuses on just telling a fascinating and oddly believable fairy story of modern living and contemporary relationships.

Regular readers will spot the hallmark references to previous books – such as the staff at the nursing home referring to a previous tenant who had engine parts in his room (the gentleman from the Short History who also appears briefly in Two Caravans). And of course it’s inevitable that sooner or later she’ll send her protagonists to Peterborough but in this one it’s a rather self-conscious and unimportant aspect of the plot. She has an outstanding talent for writing dialect and accents which is exploited to the full with the cast of characters in every one of her books.

There are the good and bad ‘fairies’ of the social work field – Mrs Bad Eel (Badiel) and Mrs Good Knee (Goodney). There’s the devilishly handsome Mr Diabello with his handcuffs and crotchless panties and his partner the beastly Mr Wolfe and my favourite characters, Mr Ali the Palestinian builder and his nephews – the ‘uselesses’ – who want to do the house up in return for somewhere to stay. If Jewish Mrs Shapiro and the three Palestinians (who she mistakenly refers to as ‘the pekis’) can find a way to live together, surely there’s hope for us all in this lovely morality tale.

Does it work?

For me it works totally. I loved Lewycka’s take on the modern family and the way that we’re evolving our own networks of interconnection. I could relate to the way that friendships, even bizarre strange ones, can occur between the oddest of people and bind them together at a time when their conventional family base is breaking down. Georgie’s husband has gone, her kids are about to fly the nest but suddenly there’s a whole new bunch of people filling the gaps. Despite the crazy almost cartoon-like characters and situations, I wanted only the best for these people in their contemporary take on the battle between good and evil. Lewycka’s firmly back on my ‘must-read’ list, fully forgiven for all the tractor stuff and firmly back in favour. In my opinion she’s getting stronger and better with every book. I just wonder if she’ll ever be able to write one with an ordinary title. Now where did I put the Araldite?

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We are All Made of Glue
by Marina Lewycka

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Written by koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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