Monday, January 19, 2009

The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi (Jill)

The Hiding Place
By Trezza Azzopardi
Completed January 18, 2009

Trezza Azzopardi in her debut novel, The Hiding Place, took readers on a journey of heartbreak, family dysfunction and lost dreams. For sure, this book was not for the weak of heart. It’s meant to be digested slowly and in parts, so that each chapter wields its literary punch in slow succession.

The Hiding Place was narrated by Dolores (Dol), the youngest of six daughters. Dol’s father was a Maltese immigrant who settled in Wales after World War II. In many families, the youngest are “babies,” Dol never was coddled or overly adored. At one month old, she was involved in a house fire that left her hand disfigured. Most of her older sisters tormented or ignored her, and her parents were too busy to give her much attention.

The rest of the family was interesting, but they were heart-breaking characters. Dol’s father was a gambling, two-timing, disloyal man who would do anything (including “selling” one of his daughters) to get ahead. Dol’s mother was emotionally unstable, forced to look the other way at her husband’s indiscretions. The older sisters came in and out of focus, but much of the attention was paid to Fran – a pyromaniac who loved to watch houses and shops burn down. This was not your Ward Cleaver family.

The story opened and ended with the daughters facing the funeral of their mother, with the family history told throughout the middle. As I read the family’s past, I was cautious about Dol’s memory because she was only five years old when her family disintegrated. How much could she really remember? How accurate was the retelling of her family’s past?

Despite the darkness of this book, I found The Hiding Place to be an enthralling read. It showed how the ones you love can hurt you the most. Family dysfunction, while the stuff of good stories, is a hard pill to swallow when you’re reading it. If you like books about family relationships, secrets and dynamics (much like The Gathering by Anne Enright), then I think you will find The Hiding Place a novel worth reading. ( )

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