And speaking of Drew Banks, my review of his second novel is long overdue. So, here goes.
In my review of his first novel, Able Was I, the first in this trilogy, I wrote, “Each character is intriguing and well developed enough to deserve novels of their own,” and Drew Banks accepted the challenge. Ere I Saw Elba follows Brigitte, an ancillary character from the Able Was I , while she rides a train and remembers her life.
And this novel is very much about making sense of memories. It’s also about making family. It’s also about forgiveness.
Full disclosure: I have worked with Drew on multiple drafts of both these books, so it’s hardly fair to call this a review. Instead, I hope to simply point out a few aspects of this novel that may interest you as a reader.
If Able Was I was Drew’s “gay novel” (and it wasn’t!) then Ere I Saw Elba is his “woman’s novel.” And it’s not a woman’s novel–not exactly. But the themes may appeal to a chick lit readership, and I have heard more than one reader exclaim that this story could only have been written by a woman.
Perhaps it’s the focus on the development of Brigitte physically–of a woman’s body, the tender unfolding, discovery, shame, and joy that comes through in Brigitte’s character. Certainly he’s developed a believable character.
And that’s what this novel comes down to for me: character development. I had the pleasure of observing a reading group’s discussion of this book recently. Conversation turned to another character, Madeleine, Brigitte’s mother, and whether she was a good mother. Women in the room shared personal stories of their own lives as mothers and of their own experiences with their own mothers.
And that’s when it struck me–a year prior I’d spent hours arguing over what verb tense this character should use, but now we were arguing over whether she was a good mother. And that’s at least one solid definition of a successful story–the character morphs into a human being once it gets read.