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FICTION : ANNIE MAGDALENE by Barbara Hanrahan (Beaufort: $13.95).

March 16, 1986|LISA FORESTIER

Annie Magdalene is the daughter of working-class parents in Adelaide, Australia, who forgoes marriage to devote herself to a career as a seamstress. This slim volume chronicles Annie's uneventful life from her turn-of-the-century birth to her final years as an old woman communing with bees. Through it all, Annie casts a cool eye on life and death. In the world of literary geography, "Annie Magdalene" is in the temperate zone. Written in a pure, simple style, the book achieves distinction not through intricacies of plot or fullness of characterization, but through the wealth of significant detail. Chandeliers fall, needles pierce fingers, a mother is buried deep to leave space on top for the still living father.

In Hanrahan's pared-down universe, no motion, no detail is wasted. "Annie Magdalene" is proof that the artist's eye can transform a seemingly uneventful life into a magical one. But make no mistake: This is not saccharine portraiture. Hanrahan may write with finesse, but from her childhood, Annie is blunt and her emotions blunted. By setting herself a simple goal, laboring industriously, and achieving that goal beautifully, Hanrahan reminds one of a medieval illuminator or colonial embroiderer. "Annie Magdalene" is a small treasure.

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