Maggie's mother is mad, locked away in a mental institution, leaving Maggie to grow up the only kid on a tawdry cruise ship in the care of her drunken father, a third-rate ventriloquist. Then the man who rescues her from her sadness leaves her pregnant and alone, and she has to take refuge with her grandmother, a scarily vital old woman who runs a boarding house in a gloomy London terrace. Maggie ends up frozen so solid with despair that she can't connect to her baby daughter and passes thirty years of her life in which the thought of being left alone in a quiet room is her only vision of heaven. But then it is suddenly up to Maggie to rescue her daughter from her own spiral into the family madness. The biggest mystery of the wounded is not how they were wounded but how they sometimes manage to heal.
In the UK, Idioglossia is being praised as a cross between Kate Atkinson and John Irving, and indeed as she works through the consequences of madness in four generations of women, Bailey manages to combine a sharp satiric edge with an epic, sometimes comic reach. Her wit and uncanny characterizations bring all the secret languages of Idioglossia to luminous life. And her writing is simply breathtaking.
Even now, after more than thirty years, Maggie still felt the movement of the sea. Sometimes, in the morning, when she was almost awake, she could feel a shifting motion where her skin touched the sheets, the slight purring of the engine. And when she thought about it, she could see the dark green water through the porthole. Dazzling where the sun pierced the surface. She could still imagine the line of the horizon, flat against the sky. Infinite. It was the backdrop of herchildhood.
idioglossia n. 1. a secret language between a few people, a private language; 2. a lallation; the babble of babies or the murmur of lunatics.
Toronto : Random House Canada, 2000