May 7, 2007
Life is about to change for Jude Turner in Emma Donoghue's novel, Landing. The 25 year old archivist/curator of a one-room schoolhouse museum in her very small town of Ireland, Ontario, Canada, is "celebrating" New Years Eve by flying to the United Kingdom to see her mother, who has been visiting her sister, Jude's aunt. This mysterious request from Jude's aunt heralds illness and loss for Jude. Thus for the first time Jude, the self-proclaimed Luddite, is on a plane. It will be one of many firsts as an unusual incident during the flight prompts her meeting Síle O'Shaughnessy, a meeting that will have long term effects on both women. Síle is a 39-year-old flight attendant of Indo-Celtic heritage with nearly 20 years of experience in her career. A resident of Dublin, Ireland, Síle is a cosmopolitan, high-tech, and high energy lesbian whose fast-paced vagabond life suits her. She was born, after all, at 40,000 feet.
The "LDR" --long distance romance-- that slowly takes off between the two women is witty and charming, though sometimes rocked by the bad weather of miscommunication and time zones, it is carried up like the magic of flight. Themes of distance, travel, and change are woven throughout the novel as the women re-prioritize their lives with each other. Landing is a romance filled with the ache of distance and longing, and Donoghue is wonderfully skilled in her quiet little illustrations of it as when "She conjured up Jude, or rather her absence, a hot ghost for Síle to wrap her body around." (151)
The charm of love's preoccupation is reflected as Jude confesses to a friend, "Daily life becomes this sort of epic: The First Time I Saw Her Face, Our First Walk by the Lake, The First Phone Call, The Night I Stayed Up Making Anagrams of Her Name ..."
Gwen stared. "Anagrams?"
"When I can't sleep ...," admitted Jude. (159)
Donoghue reminds us that life can be messy yet interesting in this story peopled with vivid and surprising individuals struggling to deal with the limitations of their communities, families and careers. Wry observations of the practical, political and legal realities for international relationships, as well as the internal conflicts of national identity and individuality, prejudice and labels, self-worth and love, commitment and independence, are deftly charted and navigated throughout the story. For example, there's Jude's view of history and her efforts at her museum "Uncutesy, I guess," she said, after a second. "In North America we tend to Disneyfy the past into this sugar-coated nostalgia product, all bonnets and merry sleigh rides--" (24) Or Síle's friend, Jael's struggle with herself as a "hasbian" now married with a child and revealing that she's also seeing a woman, "Without it, I swear I couldn't hold it together: the house, the husband, the job, the child. Maybe I need a secret." (298)
Would that most plane flights were as pleasantly distracting, charmingly complicated, and warmly engaging as Landing. Donoghue's writing is a pleasure to read, so much so that pulling quotes, for this reviewer, became a difficult choice. Frankly, I recommend reading the whole book. Please fasten your seat belt and enjoy.
BN: BBC Audiobooks America has produced an unabridged audio version of Landing, skillfully narrated by Laura Hicks. You might check to see if your local library has or can get a copy, it's fun to listen to as well.