ANNIE MAGDALENE is a fictional oral history which, like much contemporary oral history, chronicles an ordinary life; that is, a life without fame or extraordinary occurrences.
Annie provides details that give an authentic feel to the story: In the flu epidemic of 1919, people wear masks in the street and carry camphor bags around their necks; the baker calls door-to-door with loaves carried in a wicker basket lined with white towels; the children study McDougall’s sensible speller, and buy licorice straps.
Annie herself is a fairly simple soul who, after a happy childhood, works as a seamstress and in a wartime factory. Toward the end of her life, she lives alone and gardens. She is a survivor around whom events are played out: Her friends marry, or separate; World War II shatters families; her own family dies off.
Such an ordinary tale of daily life calls for an imaginative structure and lively writing to sustain interest. Here, however, choppy paragraphs and terse sentences, moving from one anecdote to the next, are a bit too much like the reminiscences of a not particularly insightful grandmother with a captive audience--one’s attention wanes. Annie describes her life flatly, matter-of-factly, which is perhaps realistic, but makes for rather dull reading. Nevertheless, the novel is a slice of life for a particular time and place, and of interest within that context.