Book of the Month March 2020 - Greater Than the Still



I loved the idea of this book. The myriad lives of the people who live, and lived in the big city, all somehow interlinked, albeit some of them briefly with the main character, Juliette. Some of the tales in Greater Than the Still are uplifting, some heartbreaking, some unexpected, unresolved or utterly delightful. These short insights into various lives were well-rounded, and though some were left wanting, they were enjoyable accounts of the yearning for family reunion or world-wide travel, experience of loss and bereavement, affairs, abuse and love. I think the problem for me is that the main character. I didn't dislike her, and her story was sweet (wink wink) and very sad in parts, but her impression on all these people is supposed to be the backbone of the book, didn't come across half as powerful as I expected, and ended up being overshadowed by the rest of the cast.

"An image of me, raw and natural, resurfaced in the mirror. I noticed the fire in my eyes and questioned how long it had been there."

Some of the stories I particularly enjoyed included Gloria's, whose wait for her marine son to return from duty sees her cross paths with Juliette on the subway. It had a strong maternal tone, that showed not only deep love for her son, but also vice versa. It was a lovely hopeful tale, that no matter how far your children may stray, a strongly forged bond will never be broken.


Kevin's story was one of heartbreak. Of a man who didn't know what he had until it was gone. The woman he loved became a convenience for him, and his attention was elsewhere until he realised hers had strayed with it - just in the opposite direction. It also gave a chance for the author to explore a bitter character, as not all of these characters saw uplifting closure.


Emma's story is one of a wandering heart, a child of the world in a way, who finds everything she wants in an equally adventurous man but whose own yearning could not settle in one place. this ultimately breaks up an otherwise perfect union.


Henry's tragedy of losing his young music school sweetheart, who taught him so much about life and love and fun, is heartbreaking. The loss of Elle forced him into a dreary rut, and stale office job, and a rejection of his love of music, for it was what had brought them together, and therefore torn them apart.


Rachel's story was also another where the author wove in a less savoury character, whose own self-consciousness about her successful siblings forces jealously and rudeness - in this case towards Juliette - and ultimately leaves her unable to really fulfil the creativity she holds and find common ground with Juliette.


Robert's story unravels in the supermarket, where he bumps into Juliette not once, not twice, but three times, absolutely by accident, and we're taken through his recent breakup with the married Katherine. It's a sad story, of something ultimately raised to fail, and shows how much we can deceive ourselves about situations because we wish they were true.


And herein lies my issue. I found a lot in these stories that I liked, and the fact that they came in and out of the novel only once was a good parallel for the crossing of paths with Juliette, and also the reading experience of knowing these characters so briefly but their stories still resonating. Still, Juliette doesn't really make an impression in the true sense of the words. She sparks memories in these characters, but a true impression is something that would usually affect the behaviour or choices of another character. Juliette didn't really do that, instead we see people she passes (or that pass her), or people she knows, but whose stories are generally isolated and don't alter in flow when she leaves their tales. I think perhaps a trick was missed.


Though the text would benefit from another edit to enhance its flow and really clarify the power in the story the author intended, plus correct confused POVs, overall I enjoyed it. The above said, Greater Than the Still does have much to recommend it. The author has produced a cast who are wonderfully diverse in character, situation and temperament, and who each tell a tale that someone, somewhere can relate to, which is essentially the message.


Buy Greater Than the Still and find Sarah Dayan on Goodreads!


- JOT

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