Year 4 / Book 46: The Cracked Looking-Glass

46) The Cracked Looking-Glass by Katharine Anne Porter

First of all, I’d like to be very clear that in no way did I choose this book because it was barely a novella and therefore enabled me to play catch up when behind on reading books. Absolutely not. That sort of behaviour doesn’t wash on this blog. However, as it turns out, this short story was a pretty easy read for someone with little time left in a year to read 52 books.

I actually rather enjoyed it: it’s the tale of a rather unhappy marriage, in which an older husband and his younger wife have somewhat grown apart as he has aged and she feels increasingly unfulfilled. Porter cleverly balances the viewpoints of both to give a rich picture and an insight into how this feels from both sides – although it is the wife, Rosaleen, who garners more sympathy.

When I read some other reviews of this story, quite a few people said “nothing notable to highlight or that I can really remember, but it charmed me”, and I kind of know what they mean – it’s simply, sparely written with small details becoming freighted with meaning, and depth being conveyed by the shortest sentences of dialogue or a short line. What it does have, I think, is a genuinely realistic portrayal of old age and the psychological effects that has on the couple. It’s beautifully done.

The section that moved me most was when Rosaleen goes off to New York, on the face of it to see her ill sister, although both we and Denis (her husband) think that may be shielding other reasons – trying to find old flames or simply getting away from it all (temporarily or possibly permanently) or perhaps seeking support from her family. When she finds none of the above, it is quietly heartbreaking.

If you have a spare 45 minutes or an hour, there are worse vignettes and stories to lose yourself in, and it is as skilfully crafted and poignant as much longer novels by much more celebrated authors.

Score: 8/10

BUY IT NOW: The Cracked Looking-Glass (Penguin Modern)

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