The Incident Report, Martha Baillie

The week before I left my internship, I checked out six books from the university library, and the only two paperbacks (The Incident Report and Mothernight, of which more later) had nothing on their back covers except for quotations about time. It was like they were mocking me, like: Hey, your time in this internship is coming to an end, and pretty soon, oh no, you will run out of time there, and you will have to worry about the future! Mean old paperbacks, reminding me about time and how it never stops going and no matter how much you want it to grind to a halt and let you carry on doing the nice thing that you’ve been doing, IT WILL NOT. Stupid time. Time and I are not friends. It wasn’t very nice of the books to remind me about this. Books are mean. Maybe books and I are not friends either, and I need to reexamine my life.

(I had no idea this post was going to be so soul-searching.)

The quotation with which The Incident Report‘s back cover mocked me: “There are moments when time dilates like the pupil of an eye, to let everything in.” I know, right? So pointed. Why not make the back cover say “There are moments when Jenny’s internship is almost over and she has to go home and deal with a difficult job market”? You know?

The Incident Report is a more-or-less epistolary novel, composed of incident reports written by a public librarian in Toronto, Miriam. She meets a man with a book, and she starts finding letters more or less about herself, the librarian “with freckled hands”. Someone at the library appears to believe that he is a character from the opera Rigoletto. This reminded me of the film Rigoletto that we used to watch in choir class when our teacher didn’t feel like teaching, about the deformed guy who teaches the girl how to sing, and she sings a song about harmony, and that song has been stuck in my head since reading this book. Martha Baillie undoubtedly did this deliberately. The time thing too.

Do you see? Do you see how Martha Baillie tries to make my life hard? Plus, this:

His skin, and under his skin. What his left toe knew. The smell of him. The orbital smell of him. That our knees spoke willingly. Inexplicably, the taste of raspberries filled my mouth.

Yeah. There were times at which this book was rather lovely (“She paused, testing the air for the electricity of my approval”), and times at which I thought it was trying too hard. Guess under which heading the “left toe knew” passage falls. No, guess. You can guess.

But the lovely times were frequent enough that the trying-too-hard passages didn’t destroy my enjoyment of the book. Baillie is very good at working by implication and deduction. For every small thing Miriam says about her past and present life, the reader can hear a hundred things that she isn’t saying. The incident reports tend to be short, making this a very quick read, but I wouldn’t call it a light one.

Other reviews:

an adventure in reading (thanks for the recommendation!)
Buried in Print
The Indextrious Reader

Let me know if I missed yours!

  • I guess the left toe passage is trying too hard. At least that’s how I react, not having knees that ever speak willingly.

    • Yes, my knees are strangely taciturn. Can’t imagine why.

  • I just hate that end-of-something-good feeling, when time does appear to telescope. I am always in a terribly bad mood on the last day of a holiday and actually want it to be over because pre-nostalgia is painful. But once you are past the end of something, then usually what comes next is not so bad. I will cross my fingers that some shiny new adventure lines up on the horizon so that time looks completely different again.

    • Well, in this case, I acquired an enthusiastic good mood close to the end, because although I was very sad to leave the internship where I had been happy, I was very very happy to be going home to Louisiana. I’m ready for a shiny new adventure, but glad to have this time at home first. 🙂

  • I personified my knees as a small child. They were elephants who spoke to each other, so it doesn’t see *all* that far fetched.

    You need something sublime to read, to take you through the transition. Do you have anything sublime saved up for a rainy day? I wish I were a bigwig somewhere and had a fantastic, interesting, high-salary, job to give you. I’m not even a little wig.

    • Aw, that’s cute.

      I have nothing sublime to read, but lots of pleasant things to read. Though I may take a break from my library books (to give my reviews a chance to catch up with me) and reread something sublime. Or just something soothing, from my childhood.

  • I sympathise with you on the hatred of time – quite a bit, actually. Interesting review, and since my knees and toes don’t know a dang thing, I might just pick up this book because of your write-up and because my knees and toes could use a good lesson every now and again.

    • Yay! I’m not alone! I think your knees and toes are probably fine–it would be slightly unsettling if they were able to speak.

  • Glad you enjoyed the book.

    Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman will change your perspective about time. amazing book.

    • Will it? Okay. I trust you because you are a Science Expert. I shall add it to my TBR list. 🙂

  • I like what you said about the author doing a lot with implication. It sounds like a complex, interesting book. Though I think things like the big toe part would bother me. 🙂

    • Yeah, the big toe part was only one incident report out of the dozens in the book, but it was disproportionately annoying to me. I’d have felt better about the whole thing if that bit hadn’t been in there. 🙂

  • Jenny, you are a trip. I love it when you go all soul-searchy, and I have to admit that this book sounds oddly tempting to me. The toe part was a little weird, but I might be willing to overlook those types of things!

    • Hahaha, thanks! This is an appealing book, even though it’s fairly quiet. I read it straight through in an hour or two, because I was so curious to see where it was all going.

  • Katy

    Can knees speak unwillingly?

    • If they’re in a fight, maybe.

      • My artificial knee speaks unwillingly after a couple of hours in a car. But I’ve heard other peoples’ knees speak more loudly.

  • Mothernight was my first Vonnegut, I think. I read it more than ten years ago, I think. Unless my gray cells are mucking with my concept of time and memory.

    As always, you made me laugh at this post. I’ll go look for The Incident Report. I do frequent a book shop that sells old paperbacks, whether they are mean or pretending to be nice 🙂

    • Does Vonnegut have a book called Mothernight? That isn’t the same one that I got. Mine’s by a British woman called Sarah Stovell.

      I have to steer clear of book shops that sell old paperbacks. I am weak. :p

      • Ooops, yes. It’s Mother Night (two words) by Vonnegut. But when you mentioned the time references I confused Mother Night with his other novel Time Quake 🙂 Still, wrong book 🙂

  • Epistolary + librarian is a very appealing mix, but yeah, it does sound like it tries too hard at times. But I’ll pick it up if I ever find it used or at the library.

    Stupid time, going by too fast when it really shouldn’t. Hopefully it will also go by fast until you have an awesome job, though.

    • It’s not epistolary epistolary, though, with letters back and forth. I’d have been a bit crushed if it had been. I expect very good things of properly epistolary novels, because they’re so rare.

      Lord, I hope so. I am applying for them like mad. Hopefully the universe will notice and reward my industriousness.

  • Pingback: Mothernight, Sarah Stovell « Jenny's Books()

  • I agree that it’s a book that reads quickly but it isn’t a light read; I was surprised by that because it starts out with a good deal of bookish, public-facing-workplace humour, but then there is another layer to it that’s quite disturbing. Nonetheless, I was impressed.