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Strange Fits of Passion
by Anita Shreve,
Paperback 336 pages,
Abacus Book 1991
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Strange fits of passion

STRANGE fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the Lover's ear alone,
What once to me befell.

When she I loved looked every day
Fresh as a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath an evening-moon.

Upon the moon I fixed my eye,
All over the wide lea;
With quickening pace my horse drew nigh
Those paths so dear to me.

... (more)

by William Wordsworth

The title is a strange one, from a poem by Wordsworth, not about passion as it implies, but about grief. Until I read the poem, I thought "strange fits of passion" in Anita Shreve's novel was about the secret passions behind closed doors that came about irregularly --- in fits and starts.

Having read Shreve's "The Last Time They Met" and "The Pilot's Wife" earlier, I was prepared for her style of weaving between the present and the past. What's unique about this novel is that the writing is in the first person throughout. My neighbour who lent it to me said that she didn't like reading in the first person and thus had not read it. Writing in the first person was necessary because the story was told by different people.

The other interesting thing about the way it was written is the nested way in which it was told. I felt like I was peeling an onion, trying to get to the truth. There were stories within stories. Shreve scatters hints across time and across the storytellers, transforming the reader into a detective.

And like a responsible detective, I could not put the book down. I forgot about the long queues at the airport and the irritating passengers on the full flight to London. I wanted to abandon everything else to finish the book, to solve the mystery of what exactly happened so many years ago.

At first glance, it is a story of a journalist going after a story about two journalists. Upon closer look, it's about domestic violence and the gradual way in which the abuser and the abused become co-dependent on each other. I could see how the truth, as told by different people, could be coloured by one's prejudices and blinded by unacknowledged feelings. Just what went on behind closed doors is anyone's guess.

Reading this novel reminds me of the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of a friend who had also suffered as a victim of domestic violence. I have the handwritten notes of her mother and my own interview notes to transcribe and summarise in an article I had promised to write. Perhaps this book is an indirect way of telling me that it's time I write about a truth that is dying to get told.

15 February 2004 Sunday

analytical personal book reviews
Patty my friend, how could this be your end
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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku

writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page.
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