Get ready for one-of-those reviews, where I can’t decide what if I liked a book or not.
Aganetha* “Aggie” Smart is an 104 year Olympian living in a home for the elderly. She is taken on a joyride by an Olympic hopeful and her brother/filmmaker. While Aggie wonders what they want of her, she thinks back to her life as a runner, from her childhood on the farm to her time training in Toronto and beyond. The sibling pair just think of Aggie as a means to their own ends and never realize the secrets she’s been carrying around inside her for decades.
Girl Runner was quick out of the gate. Aggie has a complicated family. Lots of death and secrets. For me, the novel was great until after Aggie came back from the 1928 Olympics. The Olympic Games should have been a much bigger part of the novel. Aggie trained hard and she was one of the first women allowed to participate. (FYI, Aggie is fictional.) Instead of revelling in her success, Aggie has such angst over beating her friend. I found this fretful woman hard to reconcile with the girl who did hand stands on her barn roof. Aggie was reckless and loved attention as a child, but wants to give it all to her friend as an adult? It didn’t add up for me. Years later, she’s still torn up about it, even after her friend did something really shitty to her.
The book fell apart for me after A Man appears. He’s not even remotely interesting. He’s so typical and the plot goes in an obvious direction at this point. I was disappointed. Maybe I’ve read too much Sarah Waters, but I thought things with Aggie were going to go in an entirely different direction. It really seemed that way to me! Take this paragraph, for example:
Glad seems very near to me, although she isn’t, not really. We are staring at each other and I can’t read her eyes. They aren’t laughing, like they almost always are. This does not seem, suddenly, to be a joke.
Then there are the secrets. So many secrets. Everybody’s got a secret. Secrets that aren’t even necessary. Secrets that are not even that secretive. It created a false sense of suspense.
I might be giving the impression that I didn’t like Girl Runner at all but that’s not true. I did like Aggie and her compulsion to run. I think that her creator, Carrie Synder, piled on the suffering too much. I know that’s it’s a Canadian thing to make characters suffer over and over, but Aggie should have been allowed to have fun sometimes too. The Olympics should have been fun. She was doing what she loved to do! Let her have that. The time period and the difficulties of women, or any athlete, training during that time was fascinating and I wanted more of that.
Girl Runner is told in first person from Aggie’s point of view. Aggie is 104 years old and sometimes she can’t remember what has recently happened. She can remember everything that’s happened far in her past. That feels very realistic. The plot isn’t linear, it leaps in and out of the past. It can be discombobulating. I didn’t mind it too much. I didn’t like the little foreshadowing statements sometimes made, “considering what happened later…” etc. Those kind of things always take me out of the present, whenever that happens to be.
So, in the end, I recommend Girl Runner, but with tempered enthusiasm.
*Thankfully, she’s called Aggie. I can neither say nor spell Agneathaha.