Book Review for “My Counterfeit Self” by Jane Davis.
Lucy Forrester is a poet. That means by definition that she uses her words to express all the emotions she’s feeling, be they personal or be they political. In fact, she’s something of a rebel, but one with a cause she’s not willing to give up; the threat of the nuclear armament policies, in her own country of England as well as across the globe. The problem with Lucy is that if she’s going to use her poems to get her message across, she needs an audience, and one that is as wide as possible. However, Lucy isn’t one for fame, in fact, she’d rather be shamed than honored for her works. This dilemma is one she’s struggled with her whole life, and now that she’s getting older, she wonders if what she’s been showing the public is who she really is, or instead is a persona that she’s carved out to promote her cause.
I’ve been lucky enough to read several of Jane Davis’ novels as they were being published. I first discovered her works in 2014 with her book “I Stopped Time.” Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to read two more of her books (her 2015 book, “An Unknown Woman” and her latest novel “Smash All the Windows” published in 2018). These three books all impressed me very much. So, when I saw that some of her older books were on sale on Amazon, I decided to pick up a couple, and this 2016 novel was one of them (how I didn’t hear about this one at the time is beyond me).
Let me start by saying that this is not an easy book to read, but that seems to be a recurring theme for Davis, which isn’t to say that it is a bad thing. To begin with, Lucy is not your typical lovable type of protagonist, being such an enigma. On the one hand, she’s absolutely the dictionary definition of the word feisty. Every thesaurus entry for that adjective applies to her perfectly. But on the other hand, she’s more than that, because she’s also very sensitive and very loving, despite herself. In fact, she does much to deny anything within herself that might be considered soft at all. For example, she does her best to hide how her childhood bout of Polio crippled her leg, and she’ll push herself beyond her own realistic physical abilities just to prove a point. This, I believe, is why Davis gave this book this title – because the Lucy that’s “out there” isn’t the same Lucy that’s inside.
I need to say that this is a difficult book to review because it was so powerful, and also, perhaps, because it touched me on a very personal level. I started out writing poetry, and I know full well how arduous that type of writing can be; it is practically like trying to become your own psychiatrist, while performing open heart surgery on yourself. You rip your heart out and put it on the page, and letting anyone read it can be both devastating as well as exhilarating. When Davis describes this in her book, she gets it totally and utterly spot on. But Davis takes this one step further, by combining this personal, emotional tsunami with a political cause that is no less disturbing and ruinous – the results of the bombing of Japan at the end of WWII, and Lucy’s wanting to never allow that to happen ever again. Call it a double-whammy, because that’s exactly what this book gives us.
I should mention that Davis wrote the poetry in this book herself, and she has proclaimed herself as not being a poet. However, the poems I found here were very good (not that I’m any judge) and I believe that they were exactly what the book needed to round out the narrative. I’m glad she added these in, because I think that without them, the readers might have felt cheated. I also liked how Davis used various timelines here, mixing them up in just the right measures so that by the end of the novel, we have essentially a portrait of Lucy from her early life as a young girl, through to her as an older woman, who is the type of curmudgeon that I hope to become someday myself! (You know, the kind where if I’m smiling, people will start to worry that I’m about to get up to something!) This isn’t to say that this is a book that will only appeal to lovers of poetry, or only appeal to people who are socially active, or only appeal to women or whatever category you want to put this into. That’s because this is a truly well-rounded character study where the carefully constructed plot becomes a mechanic that helps round out the character of Lucy, and I can find absolutely no fault with it. I’m giving it a full five stars out of five, and I’m only sorry I didn’t read it when it first came out, since I’m sure it would have made my “best of” list for that year.
Oh, and how about the amazing artwork on this cover, right? Jane has the BEST book covers! Thankfully, what we get inside is equally as beautiful. So nice, I’m putting it here twice!