You know how sometimes you read a book and the narrator so clearly resembles you, says things that you have definitely thought in the past, that you relate so strongly to a book?
Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato was not that book for me.
I was never an angsty, angry, bitter, troublemaking, or experimental tween or teen. My mom often says that I was born an adult. It’s worked out OK for me so far but it does make it hard to relate to characters that are some or all of these things. Mathilda Savitch is all of these things. And sometimes she’s also really ignorant.
I shouldn’t be too hard on her – she’s trying to make sense of things in the aftermath of her older sister’s sudden death. Her parents are emotionally MIA and Mathilda spends her time trying to do horrible things to make them wake up and notice her again. She’s also coming to terms with the circumstances around her sister’s death and is carrying around a dark secret of her own.
When I first picked this book up (library sale!) I read a few lines of the first page and I liked Mathilda. She made me smile. But I also thought she was like 6 years old. The book wasn’t at all what I was expecting, good or bad, and when I realized that she was more like 12, suddenly precocious little Mathilda started to grate on me.
The streaming consciousness narrative reminded me of a cross between The Catcher in the Rye, Chris Cleave‘s Incendiary and Mark Haddon‘s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. But where all of those books’ narrators captivated me (even Holden Caulfield, spoiled little monster), Mathilda Savitch irritated me. In the background of all the personal turmoil the Savitchs are experiencing, there is the turmoil of the rest of the world. Namely all of the wars and the unspeakable horrors caused by terrorists. Nothing in particular, just vague interpretations such as they might be seen by an adolescent girl with a lot going on in her head.
The other thing that I think bothered me about this book was that it didn’t seem like Mathilda could be a real girl. She seemed very masculine to me and I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded that the author was a man. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter if the author is a man or a woman, it’s not something you think about when you are reading a great book. But it was almost like Mathilda was acting the way a man thought a girl might act.
In the end I’m not sure that I got any real resolution either. Yes, Mathilda ended up finding out what really happened to her sister (although she just ends up creating more lies and holding onto more secrets) but things with her parents aren’t any better or worse really. Mathilda makes a resolution where her mother is concerned but it’s anyone’s guess whether that will stand any test of time. It’s got me feeling very restless.
But maybe that’s the point. Maybe Victor Lodato never intended me to get any kind of resolution from his book. Maybe he just wrote what he wanted and hoped that some of it would resonate. I guess in a strange way it kind of did. But I still have no idea what to make of this strange little book. Good or bad.