I had selected An Audience of Chairs from the bargain section, as filler to reach the free shipping mark, during one of my many online book-buying sprees last year, and accordingly did not expect much from it. It sat patiently waiting and collecting dust on my bookshelf, in hopes that I would one day give it the attention that it so rightfully deserved. In an effort to finally make a dent in the copious amount of unread books that are taking up the diminishing space on my oversized shelves, I finally picked up this Canadian piece of fiction, and am I ever glad I did.
And so began my love affair with Moranna MacKenzie, the proud, self-absorbed, impetuous and free-spirited heroin of Joan Clark’s imagination. I am left with an impression of melancholy and bewilderment, now that her story has been told and she is no longer a part of my existence, as I have spent the last two days completely enthralled in hers. On more than a few occasions I found myself breathless, anxiously awaiting her next unbridled move that would only further her unfortunate descent into madness.
Although those closest to Moranna were quick to blame her mental illness for all that befell her, it was quickly apparent to me that it was also those accusers that needed to shoulder some of the blame. Her father failed her by keeping her mother’s illness a secret, as she might have found help for herself before having children, thus avoiding many of the hardships she was faced with. Secondly, the real tragedy of Moranna’s story is not her abandonment of her children, but her husbands abandonment of her, as she was sick and in need of help, while he was of sound mind and had vowed to be there for her in sickness and in health. Alas, it may be that her forced independence is what led her to a place of contentment, as her anger and will helped her to eventually weather the storm.
That being said, one of the most telling parts of the story, for me, was Moranna’s aversion to the story of the crucifixion of Christ, and his dying whilst taking responsibility for our sins. This cherished Easter story proved too much for her to bear, as she, in true form with her illness, was never able to take responsibility for any of the adversity or mistakes arising from her instability.
In the end, it is the unyielding empathy that Joan Clark affords this tragic character, and that I, as the audience filling one of those chairs, feels for her, that makes this story such an amazing and affecting journey into the complex, isolating and misunderstood abyss that is Manic-Depression.