Tennyson, by Lesley M.M. Blume

Welcome to this week's edition of Timeslip Tuesday. Please leave a link if you'd like to share a Timeslip review of your own (and it dosen't have to be posted today!). This week's book is Tennyson, by Leslie M.M. Blume (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008).

Eleven year old Tennyson, growing up in Mississippi during the Great Depression, knows that she has to keep her mother aware of the poetry of everyday life--the moment she fails, her mother will leave. And Tennyson and her little sister Hattie will be left behind in a ramshackle little house on the banks of the Mississippi River, while their mother heads off to chase her dream of being a famous writer.

One day it happens, and their Mama is gone. But instead of staying put, with their loving father to look after them, the girls are left at Aigredoux, the family plantation house, while their father searches for his wife. He had turned his back on Aigredoux, and the blood money that built it, years ago, but now his girls are given back to it, to the care of their Aunt Henrietta, whose only thought is to use them in marriage to rebuild the glories of the past.

Aigredoux has become an almost inhabitable ruin, described by Bloom as colorless, built of ice, melting like sugar in the rain, with its residents sheltering under mosquito nets to keep the falling plaster out of their hair. But her first night there, Tennyson travels back into the plantation's past, and sees
"...Aigredoux, basking in the flame of dawn sunlight, resotred to its former glory.

It asn't until she saw Aigredoux like this, blinding and beautiful and powerful, that Tennyson truly understood what it meant to be a Fontaine."
Her dreams show her the tragedies that happened at this place a hundred years ago, and she learns what her father meant by "blood money." She turns the past to her own use, writing the stories down, and sending them off to be published, so that her mother might read them, and come back to save her daughters.

At first I thought that Tennyson's trips back to the past, where she is just an observant ghost, were "extras" that enriched the book, but weren't as important as the present. But this slipping through time makes the house, and all it represents, real. Tennyson's travels through time are a pretty powerful way of showing the power of the past to effect the present. And in providing her with her stories, the past becomes an active agent in shaping the course of events.

A bit of light relief is provided by a New York editor and his ghastly journey south, but in the main, it is the ghosts of a dark past, and the unhappiness of a decaying present, that dominate this book.

Incidentely, if I were writing an essay for school about this book (and I'm sure many are going to be--this is the sort of book with so much depth to it, so much history and so many layers of meaning that I'm sure it will be assigned reading in many classrooms), I'd focus on the house. Blume's writing consistently makes the house a living entity--"War was coming. The house was losing its color, like a woman whose face goes white with fear." Or one could write quite a bit on why "Tennyson," as opposed to, say, "Shelley," as a romantic poet to be named after. Perhaps Blume was thinking of Tennyson's poem, Mariana--"With blackest moss the flower- plots were thickly crusted, one and all." etc. Perhaps not.

Other reviews of Tennyson can be found at .com/?p=2558">Semicolon and at The Reading Zone, and here's one from Miss Erin, who jumped the gun and reviewed this last fall. There's an interview with Bloom at Bookworm Readers, and here is Blume's own webpage.

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