by Jenny Jaeckel
Set in the late 1980s and early 90s, Eighteen follows Talia as she navigates love, life, and herself in this beautifully written and unusual coming of age literary fiction.
Eighteen is the third book of Ms Jaeckel’s that I have read, and is so completely, fundamentally different in tone and form to the other two that it took me some while to process that I was reading a work by the same author. Jaeckel is a truly gifted and versatile writer.
Eighteen is written in first-person and has a stream of consciousness inflection; the words tumble over each other with galloping, infectious chattiness which is deceptively well-crafted to appear as if the reader is either eavesdropping on Talia’s life and thoughts, or actually having a conversation with her. I found myself nodding in agreement in various places as if she were directly addressing me.
It takes an immense amount of writerly skill to make the narrative appear as effortlessly easy as it does but Jaeckel nails it, without that slightly forced feeling you sometimes find with automatic writing. By the end of the novel, you feel you know Talia so well, with all her faults, flaws, and fabulousness. She is a complex, quirky, and intriguing character who develops into a measured and matured individual, sharing some wonderfully delicate yet intrinsically insightful observations as she evolves.
Notwithstanding, it took a few pages to really come together. The beginning reminded me a little of the first moments of attempting a jigsaw when all the pieces are haphazard but boy, once Talia’s voice takes off and gets into your head, Eighteen is an absorbing, addictive treat. Jaeckel finds that balance of late teenage angst perfectly; the searingly, agonizing mental anguish over every little perceived slight or moment which, in public, often finds its outlet in excruciatingly self-conscious physical awkwardness.
There are moments early in the novel when her voice is a touch jarring and a little childish. However, in hindsight, given the context of the period in which the book is set, (i.e. not the dystopian smartphone droid world of today), I actually realized Jaeckel has pitched her voice just right for the time.
Through Talia’s conversations with others her backstory is subtle and expertly weaved as is that of other characters, all of whom are brilliantly realized, authentic, and rounded. I especially liked Calvin, her work colleague, he was just so convincing despite not appearing that often and I found myself wishing, on more than one occasion, that I knew him.
But, the nucleus of the novel is the relationship between George and Talia. Simple yet profound, beautiful but heartbreaking; a sublime connection of emotional and physical depth which is movingly but subtly explored without becoming gratuitous or prototypical.
Eighteen is an emotionally rich and superbly crafted novel that is thoroughly absorbing. Highly recommended.