On this last Sunday in November, I'm sitting with my cup of chai tea, thinking about what I've been reading and listening to over the past week.
Last week, I wrote about a book by Canadian author Vicki Delany, More than Sorrow, which I had happened upon by chance and had just started reading. I was really enthusiastic about this book, as it seemed to grab me right from the beginning. To recap, it tells the story of Hannah, a foreign correspondent who had received a head injury in Afghanistan and is convalescing at her sister’s organic farm in Prince Edward County. She befriends an Afghan woman, Hila, who lives with the retired couple down the road. This woman disappears and, because Hannah has been blacking out in the root cellar of the farm and is unable to recall long stretches of time, she is a suspect in the disappearance. The author also weaves in scenes from the original settlers to the area, and parallels the plight of women throughout history, from the 1800s to modern day. While I’ll admit it was no great literary piece, it kept me engaged until the last page. She did an excellent job of creating a gothic atmosphere for both the modern-day and the historical stories. While it may have been a bit predictable and the parallels too heavy-handed, I would say this book was a real treat for me to read, especially since it was a title I knew nothing about. Some of the historical parts of the novel reminded me of Property by Valerie Martin, a novel about a female slave owner and her treatment of her slave, Sarah, in the American South in 1828. While this Orange-prize-winning novel is much better-written, something about Sorrow brought to mind this other novel, which I read more than a year ago. If you like contemporary gothic novels (but not ones so heavy-handed as Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale), then I would recommend this one.
I’ve now started another Canadian novel, Tell It To The Trees by Anita Rau Badami. I didn’t happen upon this title by chance, but have been meaning to read it for quite some time. It tells the story of an inter-generational family from India who are living in northern British Columbia. The body of a woman is found at the beginning of the novel, and the reader is drawn into the domestic stories of Varsha, the 13-year old daughter, and Suman, the second wife of Vikram, father of Varsha and Hemant, Suman’s son. There is also Akka, Vikram’s elderly mother and Anu, the recently-arrived tenant at the house. There is definitely an eerie sense about this novel from the very beginning, and the reader wonders if the mysterious death of the woman on the road, Anu, is somehow related to the mysterious death of Varsha’s mother, Helen, which occurred as she was running away from her husband and child. So much mystery surrounds this family’s story, and there is a strong undercurrent of domestic violence and abuse, that it is both creepy to read and yet entirely compelling. I just stared reading it on Friday evening, and can’t wait to get reading again today. Badami is an author with whom I am familiar, as I have read s couple of her earlier novels, Tamarind Mem (which I loved) and Hero’s Walk (which I hardly recall). I have also seen her read and speak when she was promoting another of her novels, Can You Hear the Nightbird Calling?, which I have but have not yet read. Trees is, in my opinion, a fabulous read, totally engaging, and extremely well-written, a very accessible novel about a difficult subject. Just thinking about it now, it is a bit like Our Daily Bread by Lauren Davis in this way, because that novel, too, tackles a difficult subject in a very accessible, readable way. I highly recommend this title.
And I’m listening to The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. This novel is set in Ireland in about 2003 and recalls the life of long-time patient of a mental hospital, Roseanne McNulty. The novel is told from Roseanne’s perspective as she writes an account of herself, and the notes of her doctor, Dr. Grene, as he must set about assessing his patients to determine whether they can be released in to society, since soon the current hospital will be closed and the patients and staff moved to a new facility. Dr. Grene is particularly interested in Roseanne’s story, as her own account conflicts with the documentation he receives from the hospital where she was originally housed. His obsession with this patient, and her inability to recount her history (understandable as she approaches her hundredth year), form the basis for this novel, set against Ireland’s turbulent history. This author has been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize twice, and this novel is set in the County Sligo, the setting for some of his previous novels. I have never read him, but I am finding this audio book entirely engaging, and can’t wait to continue listening. The narrator is excellent as well, which makes this a wonderful (but not in an uplifting way!) listening experience.
That's all for today.
Bye for now!