Shelf Indulgence: As she sews…

ARTS_The Incomparables

‘The Incomparables’ book review

By Joshua Grant, Senior Columnist


Some novels grab you right away with strong, specific detail, forcing you into the head of a relatable character. Such novels are easy to fall in love with. Alexandra Leggat’s The Incomparables is not one of those novels. Its surface is resistant at first, and difficult throughout.

The Incomparables follows Lydia, a theatre costumer who is freshly unemployed, split from her husband, and returned to her family home, which is now a small-town bed and breakfast run by her mother. She’s used her art to take revenge on her unfaithful ex and lost her job because of it. Now shamed, she swears never to sew again, but the guests at her mother’s B&B, a mysterious group known as “the Counsellors,” have other ideas, and she soon finds herself caught up in the preparations for a bizarre wedding ceremony, involving a mysterious masked bride.

Thisis a dense novel that should not be read quickly. Leggat’s attention to detail—particularly tactile detail—is extraordinary, and some sections leap out and come to life only on careful reading. It’s also an immensely frustrating, restricting read, as we spend the novel firmly stuck in the head of Lydia, who is never very sure of what’s going on, distracted and haunted by everything, and caught up in the tactile, almost to exclusion. This is a bold choice on the part of the author, and it plays out consistently; after reading the book, you get the sense that you know how every surface in Lydia’s life feels.

There’s a lot to get from The Incomparables, but it’s not light, nor fun, and not terribly satisfying. The plot unfolds slowly, tortuously, and the characters seem to be invested with unrevealed secrets. Even Lydia is difficult to like until a flashback halfway through the book describes her theatrical, almost comical, fall from grace.

As difficult as it is, the interesting writing and odd plot make The Incomparables a worthy read—if you’re willing to give it your full attention.