“Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter,
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here.
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say, it’s alright”
Rember that Beatles’ song that seems so appropriate for today? I’m not so bothered by the long cold winter, but the past week of rain has been making me stir-crazy, despite all the fabulous books I’ve been reading, so I’m thrilled to see the sun this morning, as I enjoy my cup of chai and write this post.
Since it’s been raining so much, I’ve had lots of time to read and have finished two books this week. The first is a “required reading” title, The Age of Hope by David Bergen. This novel focuses on the life of Hope Koop, born in 1930 in a small town outside of Winnipeg, and her experiences as a daughter, wife, mother and finally widow in the present day. As the novel begins, Hope is a beautiful young woman, a nursing student with her whole life ahead of her. She meets Roy, a car salesman, and marries him after completing just one year of training. She has four children, towards whom she feels remote, yet she worries about her children and especially about what others in the town may think of her family. Roy becomes quite successful and is a fair and steady employer, husband and father. Hope seems to lead a fairly conventional life, yet she never seems content or connected - she appears to be always unfulfilled, and vaguely aware of this state, although she fails to do anything about it. There are some scenes that are not particularly “in character” for her, such as when she picks up hitchhikers and when she befriends Emily, a liberated woman who attempts to introduce feminist ideas to her. She also has several bouts of depression which lead to stays in the nearby mental institution, but she always returns from these experiences to the same role she has been fulfilling for years. None of these events seem to enlighten Hope, and this reader’s interest was beginning to lag at her inability to act on these insights and make productive changes. Her daughters, unlike Hope, embrace the changing roles of women in society, but their attitudes and lifestyles are almost stereotypes of the new freedom offered to women. I was not convinced. Only towards the end of the novel, when Roy has passed away and she is no longer responsible for anyone else, does Hope show any signs of sustained happiness and fulfilment. But for this reader, by the end of the novel, it was too little, too late. Upon further consideration, I believe this was intentional on the part of Bergen. Early in the novel, when discussing with Roy a book that Emily had given her to read (maybe Lady Chatterley’s Lover), she remarks that a novel about a woman’s life where nothing happens would be boring. Towards the end of the novel, when one of her daughters tells her that she is planning to write a novel about a woman born in 1930, Hope assumes the novel will be about her own life and cautions her daughter that her life has been too boring to write about. And yet here I was, reading a novel about her life. And yes, I did find it boring. In the end, it was ultimately a disappointing reading experience for me. It brought to mid a novel I read last year by Heather Jessup, The Lightning Field, which dealt with similar themes, but in my opinion, Jessup’s novel was far superior to Bergen’s in that it offered more insight, and the language and imagery in that novel was amazing, while Bergen’s was just run-of-the-mill. I guess I felt that this novel lacked depth, which is disappointing because I began reading with such high hopes (no pun intended). Ah well, at least it was a quick read for me. Would I recommend it? I think there are better novels that deal with the same themes that I would recommend before this one.
My “friends” book group is meeting next Thursday, so I reread Tell It To The Trees by Anita Rau Badami in preparation for that discussion. If you recall, I read this novel a few months ago and raved about it. Well, it was just as good the second time through, maybe even better, since I could pick up on the subtlety of the language that would foreshadow the ending. This novel tells the story of the Dharma family, Canadians of Indian descent living in a remote town in northern British Columbia. The household is made up of the tyrannical, controlling father, Vikram, his elderly and frail, yet feisty, mother, Akka, his first wife, beautiful but adulterous Helen (deceased), his second wife, Suman, compliant and naïve, Helen’s possessive and unbalanced daughter, Varsha and Suman’s innocent, naïve son, Hemut. Later in the novel, there is a tenant that arrives at the house to rent the back room, Anu, also a Canadian of Indian descent who wants to get away from her busy life in New York to try her hand at writing. But almost as important as those currently living in the house is Vikram’s long-deceased father, Mr J K Dharma, tyrant husband of Akka, and the mystery that surrounds his life and death. This is a literary mystery, a novel of domestic abuse, a novel that explores cultural norms and expectations, and the secrecy that surrounds this dysfunctional family. It is remarkable that, for such a short novel (less than 300 pages), the author is able to create such complex relationships between characters. It definitely reminds me of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall On Your Knees, one of the best Canadian fiction titles I’ve ever read, but this novel is perhaps a bit more manageable in terms of length, and also more realistic and believable. I would definitely recommend this book, but I would caution the potential reader that it contains scenes which may be disturbing.
And I’m nearly finished listening to the second book in Tom Rob Smith’s trilogy, The Secret Speech. I listened to the excellent Agent 6 first, not realizing that it was the third book in a trilogy. I then listened to the first book, Child 44, which was also amazing. This one is my least favourite so far. It features the same main characters; Leo Demidov, an agent with the MGB/KGB in Soviet Russia in mid-twentieth century, his wife Raisa, daughters Elena and Zoya, as well as other agents with whom Leo works. While it is as well-written as the other novels, I think the reason I’m enjoying this audio book less than the others is that, while the others had a clear storyline, this novel seems to lack a coherent plot. The novel begins with the printing and distribution of a speech by Krushchev denouncing Stalin’s governing strategies of fear and violence. It then explores the ways in which the society copes with the changes this speech necessitates, this new attitude of leniency and fairness, particularly for members of the militia, prisoners and guards, and the “vory“, groups of thieves who are outside the law. There is so much going on in this novel that I can’t remember what’s been happening, and really just want to get to the end. Having said that, this fast-paced thriller has certainly held my interest, and the narrator is excellent. As an aside, I just discovered that Child 44 was inspired by a real-life serial killer of children, Andrei Chikatilo, in Soviet Russia. This is interesting in itself, but it is also interesting for me because the last audio book I listened to, The Crime of Julian Wells, mentions this serial killer as one of the murderers the main character investigates for one of his books. Until that novel, I had never heard of Chikatilo. Anyway, I’m ready to finish this audio book and move on to something else. Perhaps I will have the opportunity to finish it today.
That’s all for now. I want to get outside and enjoy the sun.
Bye for now!