This has been the most enjoyable book I’ve read in a long time. This is my fourth Jennifer Johnston book, thanks to Reading Matters. The books are quite different from each other and I love them all. One piece of business they have in common is an interesting use of sound. In one book an echo across a lake came up several times, in another Christmas carols broke out from time to time. In this one the characters like to sing music from The Wizard of Oz and quote Shakespeare or Tennyson.
Two moons are important to Grace, who loves to swim in the ocean near her home outside Dublin. She particularly loves nights when the full moon appears in the sky and is reflected in the ocean. She mentions the Chinese poet Li Po who, according to legend, drowned when he drunkenly stepped out of his boat when trying to embrace the reflection of the moon in the water. Grace is an actress playing Gertrude in Hamlet at the moment; she lives with her elderly mother Mimi and when her daughter Polly makes a surprise visit bringing her current boyfriend, complications ensue.
The book opens with Grace’s mother Mimi joined in the garden by an attractive man named Bonifacio who explains that he is an angel. She is enlivened by his company and he instigates a trip to the city to find comfortable, beautiful shoes for her. He was born in 1429 in Italy and knew about shoes. He also knows about good coffee and turns up with bottles of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. Of course Grace sees that Mimi is happy and seems to be talking to herself, but she is distracted by her upcoming opening night and the complications with Polly and Polly’s boyfriend.
The chatter is very sophisticated, they call each other “darling,” and speak as if on stage. And yet their difficulties and joys are realistic and appealing to read about. Mimi is forced by Bonifacio to confront her late husband’s anger and self-hate and realizes it wasn’t her that he hated. And we readers understand that the appealing Mimi is coming to the end of her life. Don’t we all wish a kindly, thoughtful angel would appear in our lives? Grace hears her daughter Polly’s accusation that Grace’s career was more important than Polly. And less realistically, Grace has to cope with Paul, Polly’s boyfriend who fell in love with Grace at first sight. Fortunately, as Gertrude, she has been thinking about being accused of sexual misdeeds by her offspring, so she’s equipped to nip that problem in the bud.
Jennifer Johnston, Two Moons, REVIEW, 1998, 232 pages. I read a print copy purchased online.