A. L. Kennedy is a Scottish novelist from Glasgow. So I Am Glad is her first full-length novel to be published in the United States. Told in first-person point of view by Jennifer Wilson, the protagonist, the story immediately thrusts the reader into the sexually active yet emotionally devoid and depressing life of the narrator. Kennedy has taken quite a chance here in choosing a main character who not only is emotionally aloof and self-contained, but also proves to be a temporarily repentant sadist. Many readers might be tempted to abandon this novel from the beginning, but sticking with the story through the end yields an incredible reward, a bittersweet ending wherein both Jennifer and Cyrano/Martin irrevocably change. When so many other novels flounder at the end, this is a rare exception.
Jennifer introduces herself in the first chapter, explaining her active sex life forthrightly and unashamedly, taking the practical view that sex is good for filling time. She goes on to remark upon discovering her own lack of emotion, her failure to build any human relationships with her lovers, and credits her inability to experience emotions as responsible. While others might see her as remote, a “cold fish,” she simply sees herself as calm. She fantasizes that other people are filled with emotions like rioting “moles” that they learn to keep more or less to themselves after early childhood, but she has none of these secret tunneling mammals inside her. She claims to have learned over her life to mimic emotional responses appropriately, and she states that nothing bad has ever happened to her to make her the way she is. In that statement, she is self-deceiving. Little by little, readers learn of the odd and abusive childhood that made her what she is as the novel begins.
In the next chapter, Jennifer meets Martin, a young man who has appeared magically in an empty bedroom in the house she shares with three other young people. One of the housemates is away, and those remaining are expecting someone named Martin to replace Peter while he is gone. When this strange man wanders down into the common parts of the house, Jennifer mistakes him for the new roommate Martin and addresses him as such. Having at first no memory of who he is, where he is, or why, he accepts this christening as fact, but can offer nothing more about himself. Martin’s demeanor, however, quickly leads to Jennifer’s realization that something is wrong with him, and she also notices that he seems to have a faint shine in the dark, not only when he opens his mouth, but also a silvery gleam that covers his body. Jennifer decides it has something to do with his tears, sweat, and saliva.
Jennifer and Martin begin the long process of sorting through what he knows and does not know, but Jennifer decides to keep her knowledge that this man is not the Martin they are expecting to herself. She seems to enjoy having this secret, mysterious person who assures her that he is no danger to her, even though he does not know who he is. Her Martin is philosophical and poetic, weaving a tale of his experience before waking up in the upstairs room that he believes was his afterlife.
The other roommates accept Martin, although they begin to wonder why he is not forthcoming with his share of the rent. To cover for him and to keep him in the house, Jennifer begins to pay his rent. Martin both appreciates this, because he seems helpless in the modern world, and agonizes over causing her such trouble. Jennifer is fascinated with his unfolding personality and memories.
The day comes when Martin remembers his name, an occasion that fills him with joy. After describing a scene from his life as a soldier, kneeling to pray before battle, he says, “I was Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac and I was true.” By true he means to God; God enters into Savinien’s conversation often as he tries to understand why he has come to life again centuries following his death.
The real danger here is that Kennedy delivers this information and then steps back without giving any hints about its truth or fiction. Immediately following Savinien’s declaration, readers follow Jennifer to the radio station and learn more about the work she does, and about her former lover Steve, who used her recommendation to gain employment and now records the words she reads. Readers share Jennifer’s memories of the sadistic and masochistic relationship they had, the game they played where she was Captain Bligh, punishing a wayward sailor, played by Steve. She admits to having enjoyed the game somewhat; it somehow compensated for the empty areas of her life.
The chapter that follows reveals the experiences of Jennifer’s early life at the hands of her parents. Interestingly, Jennifer begins this chapter by saying that it is not about her, when it seems to be at the heart of her emotional life. She cautions readers...
(The entire section is 1992 words.)