Gert Hardcastle is thirty-something and unlucky in love. She is also estranged from her mother. As Crocodile Soup opens, she thinks she has found "the One" -- the enigmatic Eva, who serves coffee at the cafeteria in the museum where Gert works as a curator cataloging Egyptian artifacts. As Gert embarks on her hilarious and poignant pursuit of Eva, she looks back on her eccentric, childhood through a series of vivid and surreal flashbacks: her obsessive twin, Frank, with whom she communicates telepathically; her father, George, who vanished to Africa to salvage the family crocodile farm; her vain, neglectful mother, Jean; and the family ghost -- a Victorian poet who haunts the attic.
In a narrative studded with relentless humor and giddy self-deprecation, Julia Darling introduces an endearing cast of characters whose shared and wayward search for love is irresistible.
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Gert Hardcastle and her twin, Frank, can read each other's minds. She knows when he is plotting fiery ordeals for her dolls, and he knows when she is being attacked by river swans. When Frank returns from his sadistic boys school and moves into the ghost-infested attic bedroom that Gert has just fled, she is the sole family member to see the aura of madness collecting around him. But there are limits to their empathy. In adulthood, only she receives begging letters from their indigent mother, and only she is wracked by hopeless love for Eva, the coffee girl at the museum where she works as a curator. Frank remains strangely removed from human concerns, despite his telepathic link to his sister.
Well received by English critics, Crocodile Soup will call to mind Jeanette Winterson's early work, especially Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, yet this fragmented but appealing comic novel is entirely fresh. Julia Darling has the gift of writing from a child's perspective: an ability to see at close range, and without context, making plain the strangeness and wonder of the world. The best chapter in the book is a brief description of the twins' first day of nursery school. Surveying the chubby boys racing wild-eyed around the room, Gert promptly wets her pants, while Frank begins to count maniacally. For the rest of the morning, she is ostracized, and sits in humiliation near the fuzzy felt while her brother, "still counting, drew a picture of an abattoir, upsetting some of the other children."
He had reached two thousand and eighty-three when Miss Lute rang a heavy brass bell, and we were instructed to eat rusks, which tasted of recently ironed tablecloths. We were told to chew them thoroughly. Then we had weak juice, that must have been drugged, because afterwards we all lay down on straw mats and fell asleep, while Miss Lute sang "The Farmer Wants a Wife" in a low monotone.None of Darling's other characters come to life in the way that Gert and Frank do, not even Gert as an adult, with her inexplicable passion for Eva. Narrative, too, isn't the driving force behind Crocodile Soup, which ambles along with an internal logic that may frustrate a plot-loving reader. Nevertheless, the childhood scenes and Darling's comic talents make this a more-than-worthy debut from a quirky new voice in British fiction. --Regina Marler About the Author:
Julia Darling is a playwright, poet, and short-story writer. Crocodile Soup is her first novel. She lives in northern England with her two daughters.
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