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The Queen of the Tambourine Paperback – September 1, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 226 pages
  • Publisher: Europa Editions; Reprint edition (September 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781933372365
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933372365
  • ASIN: 1933372362
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #162,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Winner of Britain's Whitbread Award, Gardam's darkly comic novel is in the form of a series of letters written by a mentally disintegrating woman.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Eliza Peabody, a slender woman of 50 with dark, flashing eyes, is married to a terribly aloof dignitary and lives in a very posh section of London where everyone knows everyone else and their dogs, or at least pretends to. Eliza, a bit outre because of her lack of children and abundance of imagination, becomes obsessed with Joan, her enigmatic neighbor. We know this because we're privy to some very patronizing letters Eliza writes to Joan just before Joan ditches husband, children, and, yes, dog, and sets out on an arduous journey to such unvacationy places as Bangladesh. Joan's abrupt departure coincides with the disintegration of Eliza's marriage. Eliza slips into a rather mad frame of mind, which we learn about solely through the hilarious and poignant letters she continues to write and not necessarily send to the ever-elusive Joan. Gardam, recipient of two Whitbread Awards, strikes an unusual balance between wit and sweetness, creating a smart but gentle novel that seems to be from a far less explicit era than our own. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

I never got involved in this book.
Alice Jolis
Few writers can match Gardam's sense of irony, and she is subtle and clever in creating Eliza's letters.
Mary Whipple
I look forward to reading more of Ms. Gardam's work.
E.B.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
(4.5 stars) Eliza Peabody begins writing to her neighbor Joan, not a close friend, almost immediately after Joan leaves her husband Charles and disappears, leaving behind only a series of addresses around the world where she may be contacted. Eliza takes it upon herself to write to Joan repeatedly, offering unsolicited advice, observations (unintentionally insulting) about Joan's husband and children, and comments about her role as a woman, which she knows that Joan does not share. Joan never answers.

Over the course of more than a year, the letters become longer and more revealing, ultimately showing Eliza to be a frustrated and mentally disturbed woman who may need hospitalization. As she spirals downward and begins to hallucinate, most readers will empathize with her (as much as one can empathize with a meddlesome and impossibly tactless woman) while questioning if anything she says is the truth.

Jane Gardam, with her supremely subtle humor, creates in Eliza a character few readers will be able to resist. Thinking herself a realist who calls a spade a spade, Eliza has no clue that others regard her as rude, unthinking, and self-centered--someone whose lack of awareness leaves her open to accusations of malice. Her messages to Joan, filled with dramatic irony, show her to be far from the "helpful friend" she thinks herself. When Joan sends her a pair of elaborate earrings, resembling tambourines, she is called the "The Queen of the Tambourine" by Barry, a young man dying in the hospice she sometimes visits.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on November 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
Winner of the Whitbread Award for best novel, this is a witty and affecting journey to the brink of madness.
The narrative takes the form of letters from Eliza Peabody, affluent 50ish wife of a senior civil servant, to her equally middle-aged but less dutiful neighbor, Joan. The first letters begin as brief notes, reproaches from a stiff-necked busybody to her hypochondriac neighbor.
But then Joan absconds to wander the Middle East, leaving husband and children behind, and Eliza wonders if she is to blame. She takes in Joan's husband and encourages his attentions. The letters lengthen and become more erratic as Eliza's personality spills out on paper. Her own marriage dissolves when her husband goes off with Joan's husband, and Eliza traces the years of its unraveling between visits to a young man dying of AIDS in a hospice, long walks with the two dogs (hers and Joan's), and musings about the other neighbors.
As it becomes apparent how isolated Eliza is in her South London home, her narrative becomes increasingly suspect. It seems less certain that her husband and Joan's have any relationship other than a desire to escape Eliza. Far from being a most important personage at the hospice, Eliza is shunted off to do the dishes, possibly because she talks too much and inappropriately too.
Yet her self-revelations to Joan are plaintive, appealing and sometimes hilarious. As Eliza reveals herself less of a figure in the world, she becomes more of an individual - a wildly imaginative individual with a flair for anecdotes.
But it seems that not all of Eliza's anecdotes are real. But what is real and what is not becomes increasingly difficult for Eliza herself to determine.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Furshong on August 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Slowly working my way through the Whitbread winners, it was a treat to come across Jane Gardam's tale of Eliza Peabody's sadly entertaining descent into madness. Lonely Eliza, abandoned by her husband during a mid-life crisis, tells her story through letters to Joan, a departed neighbor she barely knows. Gardam weaves a compelling and utterly convincing tapestry that illustrates the delicate balance between madness and sanity, and how the balance tips day to day, minute to minute. The language is beautiful, the ending surprising, the memory haunting. Certainly deserving of it's Whitbread accolade, "The Queen of the Tambourines" is oddly foretelling of Michael Cunningham's recent Pulitzer winner, "The Hours."
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By KatPanama on December 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
Gardam is amazing and this novel is one of a kind, superbly so. Just read it. If I tried to talk about it at all I'd make a mess of it.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Reynolds on July 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Angela's Ashes" is alternately funny and sad, but Jane Gardam's book is three times as funny and three times as sad. A work of genius!I can't recall admiring a novel more.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By E.B. on August 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
Dense with delightful detail and shot through with wit and pathos, this is a wonderful novel. It works on several levels: a caustic commentary on contemporary Britain, an unsentimental portrait of stifling Britain past and, at its heart, a moving story of a lonely woman come unhinged. No word is superflous, no character without meaning. The end was disappointing: too tidy and less than convincing, but that's a minor complaint about a startlingly fresh, entertaining and affecting story. I look forward to reading more of Ms. Gardam's work.
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More About the Author

Jane Gardam has been awarded the Heywood Hill Literary Prize for a lifetime's contribution to the enjoyment of literature; has twice won a Whitbread Award and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She was awarded an OBE in January 2009.

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