Comments by Bob Corbett
I can’t yet think of this delightful little book as a “novel.” Of course that’s not a clear term, and in some sense an author could call anything she wanted a novel, but would that communicate much if it were so broken from the tradition? Regardless of it’s category, it was quite interesting to read. Lazy Friends. Well, not quite all are really “friends,” at least as I would use the term, but all are acquaintances of the main character, Sandra. She is a young woman who, at least when the book begins, is employed in the library of Harvard University. Her grandfather, whom she never met, has died in England and left her a small cottage in Cornwall. She takes a leave of absence and heads there to get the property situated.
There’s relatively little to the “story.” What gives the novel some cohesion, however, is this constant line of Sandra trying to get the house into her name, and get someone settled into it to rent it or to sell it. However, things do not go smoothly with that venture, and she has to even return to Cornwall for a second visit, giving up her Harvard job to do it.
While in this small village of Cornwall she meets an unending list of incredible characters, most definitely fitting the “lazy” category of the title, but not all really her friends. However, she meets a large number of folks and they tell their stories to her. Sandra is a good and willing listener.
I would view these sections as short literary sketches. I didn’t count them, but there must be more than 20 of them. The book is quite short and each sketch (as I see them) is a few pages long, so there’s not too much left of the book other than these sketches..
However, I hark back to other novels of Ingham which I’ve read and she has a strong tendency to write autobiographically, so I couldn’t help wondering if the “friends” of the title might actually be the authors’ friends whom she writes about, but puts into this fictional frame of Sandra’s house-reclamation project. Not fair of me to claim that this is so, but I certainly couldn’t help but wonder.
Ana Ingham is a good story teller, so each of these many short portraits that make up this work is interesting and sometimes challenging.
Not many of the people have much drive or ambition. No problem for me with that. Most of them seem to be looking for companionship, love and harmony and are content with a quite simple life. I find that notion attractive too, and something not much evidenced in the United States where I mainly experience people.
One character whom she stays with often watches television with Sandra, but as soon as the news comes on she turns the TV off. She tells Sandra:
What’s the point of knowing about all this mess in the world? Either you go there and do something or you turn a blind eye and don’t know at all what’s happening.”
I found that a fascinating notion. There’s much to say for the view, especially here in the U.S. We know there is a nearly perfect co-relation between amount of money spent upon a political campaign and who wins, especially in both national and state races. We also could surmise that people in the economic situations of Ingham’s characters would be highly unlikely to donate money. So why bother at all?
There are other ways of participating, for sure – canvassing, working in campaign offices, writing letters to the editor of newspapers or blogging on the computer and so on. Nonetheless, in our modern elections driven so heavily by corporate and union donations, the individual might well be making a rational choice to act as the woman above.
I do wonder a bit more about the title. “Lazy.” Hmmm. I’m not sure I would describe the bulk of the people as lazy, though certainly some are, and most are quite happy to be on the state dole if they can get onto it, even most of them seem to be. However, what dominates in their many life histories is their ability to embrace a quite economically simple life and not to complain too much about it. Perhaps many of them have simply rejected the seeming universal idea in the U.S. that the meaning of human existence is to increase one’s material standing. Perhaps having modest housing, a seemingly fairly safe food supply, a few possessions, is enough to satisfy their material needs. If that’s the case perhaps rather than “lazy friends,” they are “especially wise friends.” I at least like to entertain the possibility.
In addition to being creative in form and filled with interesting people, there is also a certain gentleness in Ingham’s writing, even in the relationship between Sandra and the scoundrel who won’t pay her the rent he owes. The people are, overwhelming, not really angry or violent or even terribly dissatisfied with their relative underclass situations. I found that quite refreshing.
There is one character who seems sort of typical. He had this dream to found a commune in France and there he would lead a group to live an alternative life form. But, others didn’t do the work or fund it, so it failed. He did nothing at all. That’s the way so many of the characters are, perhaps dreamers, but certainly not doers.
We do learn something quite interesting about Sandra: she is a good listener and seems to care to hear peoples’ stories. This sounds quite a bit like I picture author Ana Ingham.
I would recommend this as a pleasant read, not terribly challenging, but enjoyable throughout.Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Corbett email@example.com