In the mood for something light and frothy I picked up Sarah Addison Allen’s ‘The Girl Who Chased the Moon’. The story follows the lives of two women one particular summer in the town of Mullaby, North Carolina. Julia, in her late 30s has returned to her hometown for a 2 year period 18 years after her traumatic teens. Emily, a 17 year old has come to live with her grandfather after her mother’s death and is eager to discover more about her mother and her past. The town of Mullaby is peopled with oddities – Sawyer, who can see the thin waft of a cake being baked anywhere in the town and follow it to its source; Vance, Emily’s grandfather who is eight feet tall and perhaps ‘tall enough to see into tomorrow’; a family which has not ventured out in the night for generations; and a wallpaper that changes itself according to its occupant’s moods.
Against this peculiar backdrop Julia and Emily yearn to find that place which is home, the place where they ‘fit in’; a fact that is ironical (as Miss Allen herself points out) considering that Mullaby itself is strange and different from other Southern towns. In fact ‘fitting in’ is the theme of this novel. That Miss Allen is able to show through one of the other major characters that fitting in can only follow after a measure of self-acceptance was something I found commendable.
This is my first encounter with Miss Allen and I would characterize my reading experience as ‘more-or-less pleasant’. The characters were developed adequately but none of them spoke to me in a way that I could be bothered to summon the energy to root for any of them. They each had just about the required necessary back-story to engage my interest. Same with the plot – there were just about enough elements to want me to get to the last page once I started. The one major quibble I have with the plot was the way Emily’s mother who had had a checkered past was suddenly vindicated at the end – it was this bit which made it hard for me to suspend my disbelief.
I did enjoy the soothing pace at which the story unfolded – I had the reassuring feeling of reaching an agreed upon destination with no nasty surprises in between. Incidentally the elements of magic fitted in nicely with the overall plot. [ALERT: The next line could be constituted as a spoiler therefore I have inked it in white. Highlight it to make it visible] My favourite bit was the idea that you could call your loved one to you through the act of baking a cake – what a comforting belief! Indeed cakes and barbeque pop up frequently throughout the book and you should arm yourself with tasty bits o’ morsels if you plan on settling down with this book. (On a side note I have made a discovery – that there is food called Hush Puppies! In my defense the only Hush Puppies I have known so far have involved a pair of comfortable shoes)
Overall, this was a ho-hum experience for me. There was nothing about this novel that sparkled. The characters, the plot, the atmosphere, the mysteries and the magic – none offered anything original or striking. This is generally not an issue because every author puts to use an element, a theme, an archetype which has in all likelihood been employed before. However, in stories that are enjoyable each author brings something fresh to his / her treatment of these archetypes. That treatment is missing in this novel. I could probably try one more book by this author to check whether this is true of all of Miss Allen’s works or just this one and then decide whether or not I will continue seeking out Miss Allen for my comfort reads – which of course gives me a subject for another post! Namely, what elements go into the making of a perfect comfort read. Let me know what you think, dear reader – both about this book and about your perfect comfort read!
P.S. The cover image is gorgeous and may have played a role in my selection of this book!