Saturday, January 30, 2010


Authors often use children at different ages to narrate a novel. It is sometimes easily apparent that the child narrator is not that reliable, for different reasons. In “Mathilda Savitch”, Victor Ladato, a well known poet and playwright, uses the voice of thirteen year old Mathilda Savitch as the narrator. Victor Ladato’s first novel is a gripping story about a family’s overwhelming grief surrounding the death of Mathilda’s older sister, Helene. Mathilda is a child who is totally lost. She adored her older sister but fought with her the last morning she saw her. Mathilda’s mother is in a fog of grief and guilt, drinking her way to oblivion. Mathilda’s father is trying to keep it all together. Mathilda thinks “if she is bad, really bad they will notice her”. When that doesn’t work Mathilda decides she will find out for herself how and why her sister died.

Here the author skillfully lets the reader know that Mathilda is an unreliable narrator. Everyone else seems to know how and why Helene died, but Mathilda is in denial. In the hands of Victor Ladato, Mathilda’s cluelessness can be laugh out loud funny. When Mathilda slips into a church she meets a nun who suggests that Mathilda could say the words of a prayer to comfort her. Mathilda thinks to herself, “She was a lunatic, I decided. You almost have to be in her profession.”

The story moves quickly as Mathilda follows Helene’s footsteps and emails to retrace her last day. The writing is very good. Using Mathilda’s skewed view of the world, after Helene’s death, and beautiful imagery, Ladato brings the reader to a point of total empathy with Mathilda. There are subplots involving friends, school, boys and terrorists but they all add up to an adolescent girl’s sad life, one that she is trying desperately to make sane.

I enjoyed Mathilda Savitch, the novel and the voice. I think it is definitely a feat when a man can make a young girl’s life, her angst, and her heartbreak so real to a reader.

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