Wednesday, May 1, 2013

An old man remembers his life

The Book of Ebenezer LePage by G.B Edwards (1981) is as unique a novel as you are likely to read. Ebenezer is an old man who has spent his entire life on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. Now he decides to write the story of his life.

There is not much of a plot, although toward the end of the novel Ebenezer goes on a quest for an heir, someone to give his property to when he's gone. He has never married and has no living relative, so he must choose someone he considers worthy of his modest gift. He's a cranky old man who doesn't care much for modern ways, so he eliminates one candidate after another for flimsy reasons. Finding a suitable heir brings both his life and the novel itself to a meaningful conclusion, but until this quest, Ebenezer's life is, like most lives, just a series of incidents and accidents.

These incidents and accidents are interesting, however, especially as one gets used to Ebenezer's unique voice. (A glossary at the end helps the reader understand the Guernsey slang he uses.)

The Book of Ebenezer LePage is the only novel written by a man who spent much of his life on Guernsey. Edwards wrote the book as an old man, and it is autobiographical to some degree, yet Edwards was not Ebenezer. Edwards seems to have been a serious writer with high standards who threw away most of what he wrote. Only this one book apparently met his high standards. It was published shortly after his death.

One thing the two men do have in common is a negative attitude toward women. Edwards once wrote that "all my relationships with women have been a fight to the death," and he lets Ebenezer and other male characters voice similar sentiments. He has one man say, "Once a man marries he's alone for the rest of his life."

As he ages and his friends die off, Ebenezer becomes more and more alone even without benefit of marriage. Throughout his life he longs for Liza, a woman who lives on the other side of the island and refuses to marry him, even though she seems to long for him, too.

The novel offers a commentary on the 20th century from the narrow perspective of Guernsey Island. Ebenezer observes two world wars and a depression from this perspective. The second world war comes to Guernsey when the Germans occupy the island for a time. One German soldier becomes Ebenezer's friend. He kills another one. After the war, Guernsey is invaded by tourists, and Ebenezer seems to hate them more than the German Army.

Every old man has stories to tell. Ebenezer LePage's stories may be more intriguing than most.

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