Over the past few days, my dreary tube journeys have been made just a little more tolerable thanks to Tiffany Baker’s debut novel ‘The Little Giant of Aberdeen County’ , a modern-day fairytale about the trials of being different. Baker’s heroine and narrator, Truly Plaice, is a girl who literally doesn’t fit in; born so oversized that her mother dies pushing her out, she keeps on growing upwards and outwards long into adulthood, leaving her towering over the menfolk of her small-minded hometown, Aberdeen. Her future appears bleak from the outset; so vast that she can’t find girl’s clothes to fit and is forced to cross-dress, Truly’s appearance provokes nothing but amusement and revulsion in her pitiless neighbours. Her beautiful sister Serena Jane, by contrast, is admired by all and seems destined for great things...
It’s hard to continue without giving away the entire plot, so I won’t. In any case, ‘plot’ seems like the wrong word to use in relation to this book; it’s best described as a story, and a very lovely one at that. Subtle it’s not, of course, but since when have fairytales been subtle? Aberdeen is peopled by a range of larger-than-life characters who possess attributes rather than personalities, each individual being representative rather than realistic, and no-one’s actions are really sufficiently motivated. This isn’t necessarily a failing; after all, it’s nice to be able to root for the goodie and boo the baddie once in a while, without any of that bothersome ambiguity as to whose side we’re meant to be on.
In case there should ever be any doubt about exactly what message we are intended to take from the lives of our cast of caricatures (there isn’t), we are helped along by useful explanatory paragraphs. Truly, for example, reflects at one point on the misfortune of her nephew Bobbie having been born male, because ‘he’s such a beautiful child’ and ‘Boys weren’t meant to be pretty. They were meant to be sturdy, and rough, and rugged as mountains . . . they were meant to be just like me.’ This - along with numerous other similar passages - helpfully ensures we understand that sometimes people just don’t conform to society’s expectations and that’s OK.
Strangely, the sledgehammer approach works far better than it logically should for Baker. This is largely because her fairytale style actually demands thematic simplicity and clarity; this is a story with a moral after all, so it has to be apparent what that moral is. The lesson offered by Truly’s narrative is far from ground-breaking: beauty is on the inside, different does not mean bad, even ugly ducklings can find love, flouting conventional gender roles is ok, and so on and so forth. In other words, ‘accept yourself and accept others.’ Hackneyed, yes, but also heart-warming in a way that just can’t be denied.
What the book really owes its success to, however, is Baker’s extraordinarily visual imagination. Each page of the book is peppered with beautifully rich and seemingly effortless metaphors which showcase the author’s eye for a unique image. These act as the perfect complement to a tale which is propelled along by characters’ reactions to external appearances, and it’s obvious that this is the area in which Baker’s strength as a writer truly lies.
Like all fairytales, this one ends with a happily-ever-after for the protagonist, and you’ll find yourself turning the pages so quickly you’ll have reached it before you know it. This book is definitely one for the ladies, but anyone who has seen the pretty floral cover and read the enthusiastic praise from ‘Marie Claire’ and ‘Good Housekeeping’ magazines adorning the jacket is at no risk of being misled as to the novel’s intended market.
‘The Little Giant of Aberdeen County’ is released in the UK on March 28th, 2009.
Posted by Eilidh