On this cool, sunny Sunday morning, as I drink my chai tea, I'm thinking about what I've been reading recently and what I'm planning to read soon.
My book group met yesterday to discuss Kathryn Stockett's The Help, and they all loved it! This is a book that tells the story of a woman in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s who writes a book about what it is like to be a black maid working for a white family at that time. The book is told from the perspective of three different characters, Abileen, Minny and Skeeter, using three distinct voices. It is the author's first novel, and according to Wikipedia, it was rejected by 60 different literary agents before being taken on by an agent, and going on to become a bestseller and a popular film adaptation. I don't recall off-hand if the film was nominated for any awards, but that wouldn't surprise me. Some of the things we discussed at our meeting were the many different types of relationships Stockett explores in this novel, relationships between maids and their employers, maids and the white children they help to raise, the black community in general at that time, and the community as represented by the church in particular, the relationships of white women and their children, white women and their parents, and white people, in particular white women, and their social hierarchy. The novel really does explore many different types of relationships and social interactions, and not just superficially; these relationships are presented with enough detail that they could each be explored individually on a much deeper level. Having said that, we did note that the relationships between women, both white and black, and their husbands was not explored in as much detail as the other relationships, and we couldn't come up with a suitable explanation for that except that perhaps it was just too much for the author to tackle in a single novel; perhaps she realized that she just couldn't try to cover everything and do it well. As it is, this novel is over 500 pages, but it is very accessible for readers. We also talked about the relationship between Skeeter and Stuart, the friendship between Skeeter, Elizabeth and Hilly, and how those relationships may have changed over time and as their lives changed. We noted that there was an air of suspense and a feeling of doom as the reader nears the end of the book, wondering what they reactions to the book might be and how these may impact each character's life. Another thing we discussed were the similarities between The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird, in particular the ironic situations presented in each novel of the white ladies in the community raising money to help the poor children in Africa, when right in their own communities, black people were being treated unfairly or even killed. This led us to discuss the possibility that things are happening in our communities and in our lives right now that are harmful to some, and yet we are unaware of these situations. The novel reminded me of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar in a few different ways. Although Plath was writing about her own experiences at the time they were happening and Stockett is writing about a situation 50 years ago, both involve women as their main characters, and these women want to become writers. They are on the cusp of change, and feel that the written word can help move that change forward. For Plath, it was the changing roles of women in society in the 1950s; for Stockett, it was relationships between whites and blacks in society in the 1960s. This novel, then, is one that is thought-provoking on many levels if the reader considers the various aspects presented by the author.
I feel a little bit guilty because I received a second box of books to read for a committee I am on, but my reserved copy of Peter Robinson's newest "Inspector Banks" book came into the library this past week so I'm reading Watching the Dark instead of one of the many books from my "required reading" box, but I hope to be finished soon and so able to move on to one of those titles. This novel is classic Robinson; Banks is investigating the murder of a fellow police officer who was convalescing at St Peter's Police Treatment Centre, but because the officer may have been involved in questionable activities, a member of the Professional Standards Department is brought in to assist with the investigation. I'm halfway through, and it is everything I have come to expect from Robinson. Some new characters are introduced, but many of the original investigative team members play a role in the investigation. I have to say, I wish Banks and Annie would get back together and make a go of their relationship. There is so much pining and yearning for the "good old days" of their brief relationship on the part of both Banks and Annie that, to this reader, it would make sense to give it another try. And while I understand that Robinson has to make each new Banks novel more interesting and complex than the previous ones (this is his 20th in the series), I would love to have a new novel where Banks investigates a good, old-fashioned murder mystery, one that takes place in Eastvale involving perhaps a illicit relationship between upstanding members of the community, family secrets, and a successful love connection for Banks or Annie, or maybe both! These days, his novels tend towards counter-terrorism, MI-5, spies, and human trafficking. He's also incorporated the Professional Standards Department into his novels a few times. Perhaps he's considering a new series where they are the main investigative team, much as Ian Rankin has done in his new "Malcolm Fox" series, where the main character works for the Complaints and Conduct Department. Anyway, I think Robinson is still a great mystery writer of police procedurals, but I wonder if it's time for him to move on and try something new, maybe even more stand-alones (I thought Before the Poison was an excellent mystery).
And I'm listening to My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru, a novel that tells the story of a 1960s radical who has gone into hiding and now, 30 years later, is looking back on his days as an activist as the past is intruding on his present life among the capitalists he once sought to overthrow. I know nothing about this novel or the writer, but the summary sounded interesting. I just started listening to it yesterday, so can make no comment yet on the novel, but so far it's proving intriguing.
I want to get a start on the day, so I'll finish my delicious cup of tea and end this post.
Bye for now!