The Pequod Review:
Brian Hall's Madeleine's World is a detailed account of his own daughter's life, beginning from her time in the womb (when instinctual actions like thumb-sucking were already beginning) through about age three. Hall is an perceptive and intelligent guide, as he carefully details key moments in his daughter's development. In the best parts of the book, he uses Madeleine's behavior to consider human psychology more generally:
I change while Uncle Jon's mobile sprinkles the rainbow tune all around. When her shirt comes off, she rubs her stomach with evident pleasure, and I wonder why she should delight in her soft skin as much as we do. "Fat tummy," I observe, and she makes soft blowing sounds through her lips: "Pehhh pehhh." Of course she may have learned it all from us, the patting and smiling, the sibilant whistles of pure gratifiction. Am I seeing perfect pleasure or a perfect mimicry of it? How many of our passions begin with such mimicry, masks that grow like sod onto our faces?
Later he describes Madeleine's second birthday party, when her self-awareness and agency are becoming more apparent:
Here the ritual did seem to awe Madeleine. The dimming of the lights, the parental entry with cake ablaze, the singing of the Song, for her, as always, but now with a whole choir singing it, all for her. Unison singing is so evidently a communion and a rapture, it must be powerful before familiarity dulls it, and we almost lost her. I could see it in the widening and flattening of her eyes. But she was saved by the two candles — one, two; two fingers and two friends; she was two! — and the invitation to blow them out. She knew now how to blow, but she blew high, inching closer with each attempt until the flame was at her chin, barely flickering in the backwash of the overhead gale, and Pamela, cheek to cheek with her, surreptitiously helped. At her first birthday, the winking out of the flame had disconcerted her. Now, more aware of her agency, she was abashed. Had she broken, them, killed them? A photography has caught her with fingers in her mouth, worried and guilty, wisps rising from the candlewicks like souls departing. But we cheered.
Think Knausgaard or Proust combined with the wit and playfulness of Nabokov. Yes it’s that good.