Sunday, 23 December 2012

Mmm... tea and book talk...


It’s been a rather disappointing reading week for me, so I’m not really excited about writing this post.  At least I’ve got my cup of tea beside me to cheer me up.

I finished reading Stray Love last week.  This novel by Canadian writer Kyo Maclear tells the story of Marcel, a man approaching his fiftieth birthday, as he looks back over his life.  He was a “stray”, growing up with Oliver, a foreign correspondent who is not his real father, never knowing who his mother was, sometimes the only “beige” boy at school, moving from London to Saigon and back, sometimes living with the neighbour, Pippa, and her sister, sometimes living with Mrs. Bouwn, Oliver’s “Blitz” mother (his own parents died during the war), in love with Kiyomi, his childhood friend and soul mate.  As he cares for Kiyomi’s daughter, Iris, for a few weeks while Kiyomi tends to her ailing mother, these memories all rush back to Marcel, although this reader suspects he’s never really moved past these memories of “what could have been”.  While it was beautifully written and heartbreakingly sad, I found that this novel was just a bit too emotional, that every sentence was imbued with sadness and meaning, almost too heavy to read.  One can understand that, if this was the kind of childhood Marcel had, it’s no wonder the adult Marcel has never been able to move on.  It's not even as if Marcel is yearning for "what could have been" - it's as if he's never known what that option was.  I have never read anything else by this author, who has written a previous novel and has recently won an award for a children’s non-fiction title, Virginia Woolf, but she clearly has skill and talent as a writer, and I believe that she was drawing on her own childhood experiences for this novel as the daughter of a foreign correspondent.  It really was a “good” novel, well-written, emotional, sensitive, multilayered;  I guess it was just not my style, non-linear and too emotional.  Or maybe it wasn’t the right time for me to read it, having recently read The Cat by Edeet Ravel, another emotionally-charged Canadian novel. It also reminded me a lot of Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, in that it dealt with mixed-race individuals in Europe in recent history, the 1960s (Stray Love) and WWII (Half-Blood Blues).  The main characters in Maclear’s novel are a writer, Oliver, and an artist, Marcel, while Edugyan’s novel features jazz musicians.  The authors are both Canadian women writing from the points of views of (sometimes elderly) male characters.  I probably wrote a post about Half-Blood Blues, which I read in the spring of this year for my “friends” book group, and if I did, I probably noted that this novel did not “grab” me, but that I was glad I had a reason to read it.  I feel the same way about Stray Love.  I’m glad I had a reason to finish reading it (it was one of the titles from my “required reading” box), and I really want to love it… maybe I will read it again at a different time in my life and will think it was fabulous.  Would I recommend it?  Well, I already have recommended it to a friend who loved Half-Blood Blues.  I think I would recommend it to others, but I would warn them that it may be a bit slow, and the story shifts from past to present, often offering stories that seem to be randomly plucked from the characters’ lives.

I picked up a copy of Virgin Suicides from work and started reading it last week.  This novel by Jeffrey Eugenides was written in the early 1990s and tells the story of the suicides of five sisters over the course of a year, told from the point of view of the neighbourhood boys.  These girls, the Lisbon sisters, are elusive and mysterious, and the boys who watch them are obsessed by this elusiveness and their unattainability.  While I feel that I should read something by this Pulitzer Prize-winning American author (The Marriage Plot, I think), I’m really having a hard time getting into it.  So far the novel has consisted of nothing but the yearning and angst of the narrator and his friends over the death of the youngest daughter, Cecilia.  It’s probably a good novel, too, but I think it’s not the type of book that would suit my reading mood right now, so, because I can, I will put it aside and take up something else.

And I’ve been having a hard time choosing an audiobook, too.  Circle of Friends was a delightful listening experience, and I’ve had challenges following it up with something else.  I’ve listened to Murder on the Orient Express (good old reliable Agatha Christie) this past week, but am now at a loss.  I’ve downloaded a few titles and have tried to listen to something by Mary Higgins Clark (not my style) and Anne Perry (still not sure, but I think I will not finish it).  I have also downloaded some books by Alice Hoffman, a writer I have never read and don’t actually think I will like, but I’m willing to give it a try as an audio book.  Maybe I will try Blue Diary, a novel about which I know nothing.

That’s all for today.

Bye for now!
Julie

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