Friday, October 18, 2013

I was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn

Amelia Earhart is arguably one of the best known aviatrix of the twentieth century. Earhart set many records most notable being the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic. Her death has fuelled as many conspiracy theories as those that surround 9/11.
On June 1937, during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, lost radio contact, ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
Jane Mendelsohn’s novel is a fictionalised account of what happened to Amelia Earhart after she lost contact with Howland Island, her destination, and the navy.
Mendelsohn’s novel is at once a story of a driven, unhappy possibly reckless woman who does not feel alive unless she is flying. The author weaves fact and fiction, the present and the past using first and third person narrative. First person narrative is used as Earhart’s own personal point of view while third person narrative is utilised to portray Earhart’s life. This moving to and fro, in and out of time and space allows the author to blend, like some exotic biographer’s cocktail, layer upon layer of fact and fiction, present and the past, real or imagined until the reader feels drunk from bibliophilic  pleasure.
But there is no hangover or altitude sickness as a consequence of imbibing this particular cocktail. Instead one feels the need to continue drinking the book without stopping for breath or coffee.
The novel is written in the style of a diary with short, usually one paragraph long, entries.

“Back then, a plane was called a ship. There were still cabins and a sense of voyaging. There was a reverence for flight because it was so dangerous. People lost themselves. There was no safety.”

This diary style way of writing gives the novel a sense of urgency. One feels that Amelia Earhart is writing down her thoughts before either she dies, possibly by her own hand, or before she forgets. In the author’s hands Amelia has something of a death wish. The aviatrix is trying to make sense of the world she lives in and the decisions she made. She enjoys the celebrity that has come with her exploits but feels guilty at doing so. She regrets her marriage to the publisher George Putnam but understands that were it not for him she would not have had the success she achieved.

“He’s the husband who made her famous, who devoted himself to her, even when she hated him, even when he hated her back. She needs him so that she can fly, so that she can escape from him, so that she can escape from the very people who worship her.”

At only 146 pages in length the book is short but very sweet. Jane Mendelsohn has taken the ‘goddess of flight’, as she was described by the press, and brought her down to earth by encasing her feet in clay. But, though the author has endowed Amelia Earhart with flaws, insecurities and an occasional hint of self loathing, Amelia Earhart still remains a heroine.


Naida said...

This one sounds interesting. Amelia Earhart's story has always fascinated me, such a mystery surrounding her death and such an amazing lady. I like the sound of diary setup in this one.
Thanks for sharing the review.

Christopher Sullivan said...

You're welcome Naida. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.