The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things
By Lorna Crozier
Greystone Books, 131 pp., $19.95
The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things, the latest offering from Victoria writer and poet Lorna Crozier, is a treat for anyone who appreciates language. At first glance it is easy to be confused by The Book of Marvels, with short prose musings on the light bulb, coffee pot and Yo-Yo; just what is it that Crozier is offering readers? It quickly becomes apparent that what is on offer is a unique, and often sensual, look at the objects that surround us from an author with great control over her words.
In Crozier's world, the coffee pot becomes the perfect weapon, the fridge stands sentry over the kitchen - "a machine for manufacturing now" and a knife is always thirsty. Crozier doesn't limit herself to the inanimate: people make their appearances as well, warts and all.
Worse than pimples, warts go deeper, back to words like weal and wen and witch.
While the pieces in The Book of Marvels do not tend to be as emotionally powerful as some of Crozier's previous books there are still many examples of her mastery of the the English language to be found here as the 85 objects she has chosen to examine are imbued with strange, yet strangely, fitting histories.
Vacuum Nature abhors a vacuum. So do writers if a page remains blank too long or the pressure seeps out of a story; so do sentimentalists if the heart stays empty, and cats if the vacuum has wheels and a long hose that sucks up hairballs. What to make of the double u, as if the word itself has the suction enough to pull in an extra under-the-bed, among-the-dustbunnies vowel.
The Book of Marvels will be a satisfying read to those already familiar with Crozier's work, but it also works as a good entry point, particularly for someone who may be too intimidated to pick up a book of poetry. As the book is written in short prose pieces, there aren't the varied line breaks or strange rules of form that (regrettably) keep so many people from sitting down with a book of poetry. The language is simple and it is more likely that readers will reach for a dictionary simply to compare their own against Crozier's entry on "Dictionary" than because of a need to decipher any particular word.
Crozier may have filled The Book of Marvels with straightforward sentences, yet the images and metaphors she weaves are so wonderful they often beg to be read aloud. It is a testament to her skill as a writer that she can write about a list of everyday things with everyday language and turn it into something quite marvelous.
If happiness had a body it would be a golden retriever running through the grass, a shot duck in its mouth.
The biggest criticism about the book may be its size. The Book of Marvels is the kind of book that can, and possibly should, be read in a single sitting, in about the time it takes to drain the morning coffee pot. Lengthwise, it is a mere 130 pages, with many that are equal parts white space to text, but it is also the type of book that readers are likely to return to time and again to reread favourite entries and quote aloud to others.
Colin Holt is a bookseller and reviewer in Victoria.