Visible Amazement, by Gale Zoe Garnett

Visible Amazement by Gale Zoe Garnett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With a meagre 95 ratings and 16 reviews on Goodreads, “Visible Amazement” by Gale Zoe Garnett can probably safely be called an “insider tip” or “Geheimtipp” in my native German.

It might also be due to the somewhat problematic subject matter… So, to get it out of the way immediately: Roanne tells everyone she’s just turning 16 whereas, in fact, she is 14 and Pascal with whom she proceeds to have a sexual relationship is 42.
This is in many ways, a significant and, yes, troubling aspect of the novel that raises important questions about consent, power dynamics, and the sexualisation of young girls.

The portrayal of the relationship between Roanne and Pascal is done carefully and in a complex and nuanced way, exploring the emotional and psychological dynamics at play.

At this point, you should choose: You can follow me and choose not to render judgement. I will neither condemn nor condone this relationship which would be illegal in my and most other Western jurisdictions and for good reasons as well. I simply refuse to judge ethically.

The reason for that is that Roanne in many instances acts beyond her age: Growing up with her single mother Delores (whom she calls “Del”) and Del’s partners, moving often, she has made many experiences that separate her from her peers.

»I think when you move around a lot and don’t relate really well with kids your own age, books can be an important alternative to suicide.«

Her journey, which is triggered by her mother sleeping with a man whom Roanne has a crush on (he’s also older and she also slept with him). Thus, the novel after a short introduction quickly becomes an unforgettable roadtrip, a journey of self-discovery, and a coming-of-age story.

It’s told in Roanne’s own dialect (»superamazingbrillianterrific«) and words (because it’s told somewhat episodically as diary entries), which is a mix of Canadian vernacular and big words. It’s a funny, sad, and surprising story that explores themes of sexuality, identity, and family.

From the very beginning, my heart went out to Roanne who feels misunderstood, lonely and isolated in pretty much every aspect of her life. Her adventures are wild, highly entertaining and emotionally immensely touching.
She meets various eccentric characters along the way, such as a gay dwarf cartoonist, his brother Pascal, a son of evangelist celebrities, and a rich heiress.

Roanne immediately captures pretty much everyone’s hearts – including the readers’ – because while she presents stories that will often raise more questions than answers, in her dealings with her newfound friends, she’s direct, honest and authentic. The gay French dwarf with a humpback, smelling like strawberries? She loves his work, he’s kind to her and that’s all that matters to her. She accepts people’s “weirdness” at first sight and treats people with respect and kindness herself. And get this: We’re in the early 80s where such kind of acceptance was the rare exception…

The novel drew me in irresistibly; I just couldn’t get enough of the strange, outlandish and yet believable adventures of Roanne. Especially the authentic, sometimes rough and raw tone of the narration prompted me to research Garnett’s life, as the novel read like a memoir in parts.

»Thank you, sir,” I said. “I hope a whole family of starving scorpions nests in your fat ass,” I thought.«

Some parts were very relatable for this German potato…

»When I was seven, and Del was seeing Brian, who was Irish, he said, “When all else is out of the question, a person needs to eat a potato,” that potatoes would “soothe you, whether you were sick at heart or sick in body.” I don’t know if it was just the power of suggestion, but ever since he said it, baked potatoes have been one of my major comfort foods.«

(Try it for yourself!)

There were a few points during which a potato would have been very, very welcome…

»It is called GRID, “Gay RelatedImmune Deficiency.” Can you imagine, my very own influenza!«

If you can suspend judgement, or are a Del (if you are, I salute you), and you want to go on an amazing, brilliantly told, wonderful, laugh-out-loud and cry, and sometimes both at the same time, trip; if you like roadtrips and coming-of-age stories, I challenge you, I implore you, read this novel. I’ve never read something alike before. One might say, I was visibly amazed!

Five out of five stars.

Ceterum censeo Putin esse delendam

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