Omens are medieval. But – so are masks and dominoes, and a merrie singing cuckoo and a song called Greensleeves that will probably haunt me all my life. To me that whole fading summer has rather the flavor of medieval music. It had the shifting key changes, the gay, skipping rhythm and minor melody, and that unresolved, inconclusive end.
I never feel that any review I could write of Greensleeves will ever be adequate. But I lent it to my friend Teacher to read during the hurricane, and she loved it a lot, and it made me jealous that I didn’t have it with me, so I read my mum’s copy, and damn, is it ever a good book. It’s my favorite book, my desert-island book.
Greensleeves is about a girl called Shannon Lightley who has spent her whole life in transit, shuttling back and forth between separate parents, schools, and continents. She’s eighteen years old, and when she pictures her entire life ahead of her, she is filled with dread and misery. So her uncle Frosty offers her a job, to live in a little apartment and keep an eye on the people in the area. He’s a lawyer, and he’s got a really weird will from one Mrs. Elizabeth Dunningham, who left people weird-shit bequests like scholarships to study subjects of no practical use and money to take skydiving lessons. So Shannon’s job, basically, is to meet the people and check out whether there’s grounds for contesting the will.
It’s brilliant because Shannon is so tired of being herself that she decides to become someone different. She changes her hair and her clothes and her accent and is a completely different person altogether. And she meets all the people in the will – the taxi driver with the dependent family; the professor of Greek who yearns to go to Greece but keeps putting it off to finish writing his textbook; the overweight girl who wants to be a sexy flight attendant; the delightful Sherry who draws wavery cartoons and wants to know everything about everything. And so forth.
This book is terribly successful at what it does – both in bringing to life all the characters, as well as Mrs. Dunningham, but as well in reflecting on the nature of cages and the things we let stop us from doing what we want. Greensleeves resonates with me in a way that few books do, I suppose because Shannon’s so confused by life, and really – life is damn confusing.
Eloise Jarvis McGraw is so mysterious. She has written what is probably my favorite book of all time ever – I wish she were still alive so I could tell her so, or that I had read Greensleeves earlier than 2000 instead of waiting until I was in high school, though it was a singular joy to suddenly discover it – but most of her other books, I can totally take or leave. Heavy on the leave. I remember quite liking The Moorchild, but I’ve never been able to get through Pharaoh, and many of her books for kids I just can’t be bothered with. They’re not bad, they’re just not that interesting. I loved Mara, Daughter of the Nile when I was twelve or so, but I think now I’m rereading it for nostalgic reasons rather than because it’s such a good book. But then she has written Greensleeves, which completely speaks to me and contains possibly my favorite fictional couple since Jane Eyre & Edward Rochester.
If you read it, tell me what you thought. You will of course love it. Nobody could not love it. I wish J.K. Rowling would read it and then shortly before the release of whatever her next book is, I wish that she would say, “You know what’s a good book? Greensleeves. Wish that were in print,” and then two days later it would be BAM back in print and probably optioned for a movie, as was the case with I Capture the Castle (for which, may I say, very very many thanks, J.K. Rowling). I would rather have Greensleeves back in print than The Ghost of Opalina, and that’s saying something.
(In selfish terms I’d rather have The Ghost of Opalina, because I don’t own my own copy of The Ghost of Opalina and I do have a copy of Greensleeves – though I always want to buy more copies of it, just in case. Backup copies. You never know what’s going to happen. What if I got in a huge fight with one of my friends and they decided to hit me where it hurts and shred Greensleeves? YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN.)
Anyway. Read it. I swear. I wouldn’t lie to you.