The Incident Report, Martha Baillie

The week before I left my internship, I checked out six books from the university library, and the only two paperbacks (The Incident Report and Mothernight, of which more later) had nothing on their back covers except for quotations about time. It was like they were mocking me, like: Hey, your time in this internship is coming to an end, and pretty soon, oh no, you will run out of time there, and you will have to worry about the future! Mean old paperbacks, reminding me about time and how it never stops going and no matter how much you want it to grind to a halt and let you carry on doing the nice thing that you’ve been doing, IT WILL NOT. Stupid time. Time and I are not friends. It wasn’t very nice of the books to remind me about this. Books are mean. Maybe books and I are not friends either, and I need to reexamine my life.

(I had no idea this post was going to be so soul-searching.)

The quotation with which The Incident Report‘s back cover mocked me: “There are moments when time dilates like the pupil of an eye, to let everything in.” I know, right? So pointed. Why not make the back cover say “There are moments when Jenny’s internship is almost over and she has to go home and deal with a difficult job market”? You know?

The Incident Report is a more-or-less epistolary novel, composed of incident reports written by a public librarian in Toronto, Miriam. She meets a man with a book, and she starts finding letters more or less about herself, the librarian “with freckled hands”. Someone at the library appears to believe that he is a character from the opera Rigoletto. This reminded me of the film Rigoletto that we used to watch in choir class when our teacher didn’t feel like teaching, about the deformed guy who teaches the girl how to sing, and she sings a song about harmony, and that song has been stuck in my head since reading this book. Martha Baillie undoubtedly did this deliberately. The time thing too.

Do you see? Do you see how Martha Baillie tries to make my life hard? Plus, this:

His skin, and under his skin. What his left toe knew. The smell of him. The orbital smell of him. That our knees spoke willingly. Inexplicably, the taste of raspberries filled my mouth.

Yeah. There were times at which this book was rather lovely (“She paused, testing the air for the electricity of my approval”), and times at which I thought it was trying too hard. Guess under which heading the “left toe knew” passage falls. No, guess. You can guess.

But the lovely times were frequent enough that the trying-too-hard passages didn’t destroy my enjoyment of the book. Baillie is very good at working by implication and deduction. For every small thing Miriam says about her past and present life, the reader can hear a hundred things that she isn’t saying. The incident reports tend to be short, making this a very quick read, but I wouldn’t call it a light one.

Other reviews:

an adventure in reading (thanks for the recommendation!)
Buried in Print
The Indextrious Reader

Let me know if I missed yours!