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Seattle Times: "British author Gardam, who won a Whitbread Award for this jigsaw puzzle of a novel, keeps up the suspense to the end, writing like a sorceress in the meantime."

Date: Oct 4 2007

The Queen of the Tambourine is hilarious, poignant.


“Dear Joan,” writes Eliza Peabody in the letter that opens this hilarious yet poignant novel. “I think you ought to try to forget about your leg. I believe it is something psychological, psychosomatic, and it is very hard on Charles.”

Within pages, Joan — “undiagnosable leg” and all — has fled her “eventless” London suburb for Prague, Kurdistan and, finally, India, where she seems to settle down, although she never writes.

Eliza, left in the lurch along with Joan's husband, two teenage children and dog, keeps up her end of correspondence in unanswered letters that get longer and longer and more and more preposterous, culminating in an account of an Oxford professor who goes, quite literally, “down the drain” — at which point, readers may wonder just how unreliable a narrator Eliza is.

Entirely unreliable.

British author Gardam, who won a Whitbread Award for this jigsaw puzzle of a novel, keeps up the suspense to the end, writing like a sorceress in the meantime. Though the book's last-page revelations are bluntly abrupt, Gardam's portrait of an insanely imaginative woman in an elusive midlife crisis is impeccably drawn. Let's hope Europa Editions, who brought us Gardam's more recent Old Filth, continues to publish this gifted writer's backlist.

By Michael Upchurch