So Far Away: A Novel, by Meg Mitchell Moore
So Far Away is American author Meg Mitchell Moore’s second novel. It takes place in and around Boston, Massachusetts. The story opens with the event which causes the two main characters to meet. Natalie Gallagher, a 13-year-old girl with ‘long orangey red hair, and skin that was nearly transparent’ enters the Historical Archives in which 57-year-old Kathleen Lynch has worked for many years, in order to research her family tree for a school project.
As the pair meet, Kathleen’s relief at the prospect of a new acquaintance is paramount. She ‘was happy that she was the first one to talk to the girl, because what if someone else had claimed her?’ Kathleen and her colleague Neil endeavour to help Natalie with her project, transcribing an old diary for her, the work of an Irish immigrant in the 1920s, which she finds in her house.
Throughout, Kathleen reminisces about life with her now estranged daughter Susannah, ‘when she was still young, unblemished, unashamed to love her mother, with sturdy little legs and a smile that turned strangers’ heads’. She sees resemblances between Susannah and Natalie from the beginning, a factor which causes her life to be inextricably linked with that of the young girl.
There are dark aspects in the pasts of both characters and they use each other to fill the holes in their empty lives. Natalie untruthfully tells Kathleen that her mother is dead. Instead, it transpires that her father has recently left home and started a new life ‘just across the river’, leaving Natalie with her depressed mother. She has fallen out with her best friend and is now being bullied, receiving nasty texts from two girls in her class.
With regard to their personalities, Kathleen is rather nosy and seems intent to learn all about Natalie the first time in which they meet. Natalie, on the other hand, feels like more of a complex character. She is made up of a vast mixture of emotions, a fact which causes Kathleen to seem flat and unrealistic. Despite her age and experience, Kathleen seems rather judgmental and naïve about the world around her.
Little emotion is built up as the novel progresses. Events are reported matter-of-factly and there is no real scope for the reader to be able to imagine aspects of the plot for themselves. Nothing is hinted at; instead, different elements of the novel are baldly stated. A real sense of sympathy should have been built up for Natalie throughout, but sadly this is not the case. The flashbacks to Kathleen’s early days of motherhood feel as though they have been included rather haphazardly and they subsequently fragment the narrative.
The third person perspective is used throughout So Far Away and follows both main protagonists in turn. Mitchell Moore has also included first person diary extracts which, despite the vocabulary and style used seeming a little too modern at times, work relatively well when paired with the narrative style. The narrative itself is quite informal and reads almost like a stream of consciousness. This technique is a difficult one to master and Mitchell Moore’s writing does not quite stand up to it. Several of the sentences feel a little clumsy in consequence. The dialogue serves its purpose but it does seem a little flat, particularly when Natalie and Kathleen first meet one another. There is no real emotion in their speech or in Mitchell Moore’s description of their actions and reactions.
The prose is relatively simple and there are no poetic descriptions of any sort throughout the novel. The writing does appear to be a little repetitive at times, particularly with regard to the conversations which occur in the narrative. Mitchell Moore rarely uses anything but the word ‘said’ in such conversations, which really draws emotion out of the book. The names of the characters are also stated repeatedly, even when it is incredibly clear who is speaking or being spoken about. The plot itself feels a little bare. The novel meanders from one situation to another without really getting anywhere, and it only picks up toward the end of the book. Sadly, the first half of the novel does not really hold the attention of the reader and its ending feels rather predictable.