Picks and Pans Review: Annie Magdalene

updated 03/31/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/31/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Barbara Hanrahan

Once the reader gets over expecting a plot and just settles back for a meandering reverie, Hanrahan's ninth novel is an engaging salute to a life whose most notable aspect is its ordinariness. Annie, the narrator, is a salt-of-the-earth spinster who talks about growing up and old in Adelaide, Australia. Annie passes along her anecdotes matter-of-factly, never stopping to analyze, seemingly unaware of an event's tragic, or funny, implications. She recalls an early date who got her home safely, but who an hour later "was smashed to pieces by a train and they had to shovel him up." Her job as a wealthy woman's companion entailed seeing "that the cleaning lady didn't damage the family Bible when she dusted it." Such scattered observations coalesce like the dots of a pointillist painting into vivid images of simple lives. By the end of her 121-page monologue Annie has described working as a button sewer, butter packer and airplane-part scraper. She's been through both world wars, is in her arthritic 70s and can no longer fix her own hair. "They always want to put a colour on," she says of the salon downtown, "but I say no thank you; they have a great habit...of teasing hair, though the hairdresser says they don't call it that now. I say I don't care what they call it, I don't want my hair teased because I can't get the comb through, and that's the end of it." None of Hanrahan's previous novels has made her a star in Australia, let alone here. Annie probably would approve of her creator's anonymity. "I stopped buying the newspaper because it was only full of other people's troubles," she says at one point. "If you'd known the people you might have sympathized or gone and helped them, but when you didn't, I couldn't see any sense in reading about them." (Beaufort, $13.95)

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