What a joy it is to kick off my first review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge with Toni Jordan’s debut novel, Addition, published in 2008. Addition is a gorgeous book, funny, sad, intelligent, quirky and involving. I found it in a State Library sale and started reading it while standing in a queue and put it down reluctantly to pay and drive home so I could finish.
Grace Vandenburg is easily the funniest fictional heroine I have come across in recent years. She is 35 years old and she counts the letters in her name (19), the pieces in a slice of orange cake and the number of bananas (10) she will buy. She keeps a photograph of Nikola Tesla by her bedside table and talks to him. Nikola gets numbers, like she does. When she is obliged to leave Nikola to venture out and buy food, she makes sure she counts the numbers of steps to the supermarket.The boy at the checkout is “a handsome boy, twentysomething, with too much enthusiasm on his pink face,” while the man behind her in the queue is “reading Celebrity Nosejobs, or some other Pulitzer-winning publication picked from the display.” Imagine her horror when she discovers that she has only 9 bananas in her trolley. What is there to do except steal a banana from the man reading the magazine while distracting the boy at the checkout.
Grace, against her better instincts, falls in love. Seamus Joseph O’Reilly looks good in jeans and has sweet teeth, “like the milk teeth of a child.” He makes her blush and asks her if she’s a surgeon after watching her cut a slice of lemon tart into 38 equal pieces and she agrees to see him again. She tells herself sternly to stick to her rules because “who knows what could happen if I start making arbitrary decisions and upset the synchronised pattern of the universe?” What if the “Irish git” is so boring that she will once again lose the will to live?
Grace has a mother with a cat called Mr Parker, and a sister called Jill who “simmers French casseroles in a cast-iron pot and freezes the leftovers,” and a niece called Larry who is “all ungainly arms and legs like a new-born fawn.” She may have had a brother, or a puppy, or neither.
This book packs a punch. I laughed out loud at the acerbic Grace’s observations, even as I grew increasingly concerned with her slow decline into the darkness she dare not name. This is a modern story, set in a modern city (Melbourne) and these are people we may have seen or known without really seeing or knowing them. “Most people miss their whole lives, you know. Listen, life isn’t when you are standing on top of a mountain looking at the sunset. Life isn’t waiting at the altar or the moment your child is born or that time you were swimming in deep water and a dolphin came up alongside you. These are fragments.” Exactly. I think I would have missed so much if I hadn’t met this book.