Marina Lewcyka novels are unusual. They are eclectic and not what you’d call tightly plotted when it comes to narrative, but they are always fun. This novel encompasses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (along with some history), glue composition, the Miners’ strike, the writing of a really bad romance novel, the class divide, Geriatric care, the exploitation of the Elderly, and the shortcomings of Social services. We Are All Made of Glue is narrated by Georgie Sinclair, a London-based writer of articles about glue. Georgie’s boring, self-important upper-class husband Rip has departed, as it turns out, to take over someone else’s greener pastures. So Georgie remains in the family home with teenage son, Ben.
Georgie’s split from Rip comes as a shock and as the result of a petty disagreement over the installation of a toothbrush holder. It seems ridiculous in retrospect, but it’s the excuse Rip needs to leave, and Georgie waits, fruitlessly and lost, for his return. She decides to take action by throwing his belongings in a skip, conveniently parked out front. And this is how she meets Naomi Shapiro who is digging for discarded treasures in the skip.
Scrambling to her feet, she shook herself like a cat. Her face was half hidden under the peak of the cap–it was one of those big jaunty baker boy caps that Twiggy used to wear, with a diamanté brooch pinned to one side.
Considering that Naomi is followed by a horde of cats, rather dirty and smelly, and pushing a dilapidated pram full of junk, Georgie assumed that Naomi is homeless, “one of life’s casualties.” But then soon after Georgie runs into Naomi again at Sainsbury’s.
The sticker lady was doing her end-of-day reductions. A crowd was milling around her like a piranha tank as feeding time.
The most aggressive customer is Naomi. Georgie watches as the same “bony gnarled, jewel-encrusted hand” grabs items just as fast as the reduced stickers appear. This meeting leads to Naomi inviting Georgie to her home for dinner. As it turns out, Naomi is sitting on a valuable piece of real estate; yes Canaan House may be falling down, but it’s worth a packet.
When Naomi falls ill, avaricious real estate agents, scenting blood aided and abetted by a corrupt social worker move in for the kill. Naomi has no family, and so Georgie, who needs a cause to shift focus from her own problems, steps into the fray, but since she has no legal standing, her efforts are limited. Plus there’s a mystery surrounding Naomi’s identify which clouds the situation even further.
As with all Marina Lewycka novels, there’s a lot of humour. This is mostly found in Georgie’s recreated married scenes with her insufferable spouse, the constant edits of her truly terrible romance novel, and in the character of Naomi, a woman who defies the constraints of age and is ready to flirt with any man within a ten foot radius. Naomi’s speech is written with her foreign accent but it’s not too hard to decipher. The Big Question here is that while Naomi is potty at what point, ethically, should The State step in and take over?
She was wearing a long-sleeved dress in carmine velvet, shaped at the waist and daringly cut away at the front and the back to reveal her wrinkled shoulders and the loose skin from her chest. A double string of pearls gleamed around her throat. Her dramatic black curls were piled on top of her head with a collection of tortoiseshell combs, and she’d painted on a dash of matching carmine lipstick–not all of it on her lips.
For this reader, the sections with Ben were weak. Wouldn’t Georgie have done a bit more to intervene as she watches her son slide down the rabbit hole? Georgie’s husband is a caricature rather than a fully dimensional human being but then he’s drawn with humour so it was easy to accept his characterization. And this characterization is matched by Georgie’s lurid affair that seems ripped from the pages of a tawdry romance novel. We Are All Made of Glue covers a lot of serious issues, but the author’s light touch and quirky world view make this a fun read.