Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones
There are no limits to what a mother will do for her child, and in Hand Me Down World Jones explores the reality and consequences of that statement. In the first chapter, a hotel maid in Tunisia recounts the story of how one of her co-workers fell in love with a hotel guest. She got pregnant, and he rented a house where they both could live. Every one at the hotel was so happy for her since she seemed to be coming up in the world. However, a week after her son was born, Jermayne (the hotel guest) made her sign papers in a language that she could not read and then left with the child. The rest of the novel follows the consequences of that action, as the woman tries to reach her child again in Berlin.
The first half of the novel is all told from other people’s perspectives as they tell the story of their experiences with the woman they call Ines. Their versions allow each person to present his or herself in the most positive light. However, all their stories have a black hole in them when it comes to Ines. Through their eyes, she is made mysterious or unknowable. Even those who think that they know her, seem to be completely wrong. All they see is what she lets them see, her bright blue coat or her hotel uniform. In the last third of the novel, she tells her own story, and the reader comes closer to understanding her than those she met seemed to. I liked the Rashomon quality of having both versions of the story available, always leaving you wondering what is the truth.
I must admit that when I started this novel, I wasn’t really enjoying it. There wasn’t a very long description of the novel on its back, so when I started it, it seemed completely different from what I had expected. However, the more I read the more I enjoyed it. I started to really wonder about truth. What is it? How do we know it? Don’t we change it just by being? I also became more and more concerned for Ines and wondering how she would get to have her son back.
I picked this book up because I had adored Mister Pip, which left me crying like a baby on a Greyhound bus. Hand Me Down World was not as intense, for me at least, but there was something really wonderful about it. It left me thinking and it made me worry more about the people I see on the streets. What is the truth of their life? Can I ever know it?