THE VINEGAR JAR by Berlie Doherty


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 Doherty's first fiction for adults (she's a two-time winner of Britain's Carnegie Medal for children's literature) draws on her familiar theme of emotional abandonment but adds sexual repression, superstition, and madness to the mix. The story, set in an economically and spiritually impoverished Ireland, deals with the hard life of Rose Waterhouse. When she's eight years old, her imaginative older brother Desmond dies, and when she's 15, her dull-spirited parents, still grief-stricken, relocate, indifferently leaving Rose behind. Rose moves in with a friend and learns typing; then, at 18, she meets a handsome nightclub performer, has sex with him, swiftly falls in love, and moves into his grumpy, incontinent old grandmother's house. Soon the performer abandons her, but by then she's already caring for his baby by another woman, and when she leaves, she takes the baby with her. Before long, though, Rose realizes she'll have to find the baby a father (i.e., a means of support) and plots to marry sexless, shuffling Gordon, the middle-aged brother of the owner of the boardinghouse where she stays; Gordon possesses a job, stability, and a suburban house. But she also requires sex, and Gordon won't sleep with her, so the drama begins: next door to Gordon's house lives a hunchback named Paedric, a gothic gnome with a fevered imagination. As Rose's abducted ``son'' Edmund grows from a baby into a fat, unhappy child, Rose and Paedric spend their time spinning ever more elaborate tales of lust and adventure, eventually conceiving an imaginary baby of their own; meanwhile, Rose, in erotic rapture that seemingly approaches madness, increasingly neglects and mistreats Edmund and profoundly alienates frigid Gordon, who soon deserts her. Finally, Rose, rejected by Paedric, haunted by Edmund, runs away and starts over again, as she did at age 15. Rich in imagery, full of atmosphere, and certainly consistent with Doherty's earlier writing about orphans and unstable families- -but dour, rather cryptic, and uninvolving.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-14442-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1996