Monday, 18 March 2013

Tea and book talk as spring approaches...


I was in St Jacob’s one day last week with a friend, and we went to the pottery shop where I purchased my special Chai Tea mug, which I’m using this morning.  We talked about the high cost of individual pieces, and she wondered how one can justify a purchase like that, so I told her about this mug, and how, every time I take it out of the cupboard to use it for my delicious tea, it is like giving myself a little gift.  I think she was contemplating going back on the weekend with her husband so they could each pick out a special mug.

I read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith this week.  This novel, set in the English countryside sometime in the 1930s, tells the story of a family of quirky characters who live in a castle rented from a couple of American brothers who have arrived to take possession of their deceased father’s property.  It is narrated by Cassandra Mortmain, a 17-year-old girl who loves to write and believes that she is the dowdier younger sister of Rose, the beauty in the family.  Her father, Mortmain, is the author of one unique and influential experimental novel, Jacob Wrestling, and her stepmother, Topaz, a former artist’s model, enjoys communing with nature wearing nothing but Wellingtons.  Along comes Simon and Neil, the “normal” American brothers, sons of Mrs Cotton, a woman who casts Mortmain under her spell and encourages him to write another novel with her aggressive, no-nonsense attitude.  A complicated love story ensues involving the two brothers and the two sisters, with an interesting outcome for all.  I listened to this as an audio book in February and really enjoyed it, but I now realize that the recording was seriously abridged.  Having read the full novel, I understand the story so much better and appreciate it even more.  How did I never read this before?!  It was wonderful!  The characters are quirky but lovable, the story complex yet interesting and “real“, the language descriptive but very much like that a 17-year-old would use in her diary.  This coming-of-age novel should definitely be on the list of everyone who enjoys the classics by Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters.  I’m going to include it in my book club selection list for next year for sure.

In complete contrast to this novel, I’m listening to an audio book, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, the first in a trilogy by this author set in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and featuring as the main character Leo Demidov, an MGB agent working for the state. I didn’t realize that the MGB is the precursor to the KGB, existing between about 1947 and 1953 as the Ministry of State Security.  I recently listened to the third in this trilogy, Agent 6, and really enjoyed it until the graphic details of the torture and bombings in Afghanistan in the last third of the novel were included.  This novel is Smith’s first, and tells the story of Leo Demidov, an agent who believes in the state and the party and is willing to pursue the objectives of the state at whatever cost, justifying this to himself by “believing” that the actions of the state, which may lead to the wrongful execution of innocent individuals, is always striving to achieve the greater good.  When he and his wife are exiled from Moscow and sent to a small industrial town where he is demoted to a mere cog in the town's ragtag militia, Leo discovers that a series of murders are taking place in the town involving children.  As he seeks to uncover the truth, he is blocked at every turn.  I’m just over half-way through the audio book, and now that this murder mystery has taken over the plot, I’m finding it more interesting, but I have to say, the beginning of the novel, with its descriptions of horrific interrogation methods and unnecessary executions, was really turning me off.  It was so strange… I listen to audio books when I’m walking or when I’m laying on the floor at home stretching, and these opportunities could happen minutes after I set down the physical book I’ve been reading.  So imagine how bizarre it was for me this past week to be reading an idealistic, innocent coming-of-age classic love story and just minutes later, diving into a world of Russian interrogation, paranoid suspicions, torture and execution.  Very strange indeed, so I’m glad to have finished Dodie Smith’s novel - it was just too weird for me.

I’m now trying to decide what to read next, and I think it will be a novel from my new “required reading” selections for the committee I am on, Canadian books that have been published from September 2012 to November 2013.  I have a few Advanced Reading Copies here at home, so it is just a matter of deciding which one to read first.  I’ll let you know what I select.

Bye for now!
Julie

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