Monday 6 May 2013

Spring is definitely here...

On this Monday morning, while I think about what I will write for my post this week, I have all the windows open and the birds are singing their little hearts out in my backyard, possibly in response to the crackers I’ve just thrown out for them to have for breakfast, or maybe just to thank the sun for coming out today.  My own heart is giving thanks for the hot cup of tea I’m about to enjoy… we’re all having a good morning!

We discussed The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery on Friday at my book club meeting.  I had spoken to two of my members earlier in the week for different reasons and both needed encouragement to continue on with this book.  As I mentioned in my last post, I was not really taken with the novel myself, but persisted because it was something I had to finish for my book group.  Just a quick recap of the story:  Renee is the concierge of a posh apartment building in Paris.  She is 54 years old, short, pudgy, unattractive, with bunions on her feet.  But she is also very intelligent, and entirely self-taught, but she must hide this intelligence from the residents of the building and play the part of a stereotypical concierge.  Paloma is a 12 year old girl, the younger daughter in a family who lives in the building.  She is also smarter than she reveals to anyone, hiding her intelligence and “dumbing herself down” regularly when she is around others.  She plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday to avoid growing up and living the rest of her adult life in the goldfish bowl that she believes is her inevitable fate.  Was I ever glad I had to finish it - it was wonderful!  And those ladies I had to encourage to finish the book… they were also glad they had to finish it, as they, too, loved it.  In fact, that was a nearly unanimous response to the book from my group members:  “I couldn’t really get into it at the beginning, but then I started really liking the characters, and by the end, I loved the book”.  Most of us agreed that the book made us feel that we didn’t know much, since Renee knew so much about so much, particularly philosophy, art and music.  She also read a lot (my group suggested we put Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina on our selection list - read Hedgehog  to find out why).  Some of the highlights of our discussion:  the book was about snobbery, not just of the residents in the building, but also of the narrators, Renee and Paloma; it was so philosophical because it was so very “French”, it leaves your head swirling with ideas; also the arrogance is very “French”; it was amazing how so many characters and stories could be taking place in just one building;  it was easy to fall in love with the characters, Paloma, Renee, Manuela, Kakuro, Olymphe, even Leo, and the concept of a “concierge” was wonderful, more than a superintendent, someone to watch over the building and its people, take packages, announce visitors; the novel is about class, about hiding who you are, about perceptions; that for all the learning and philosophy, it is human contact that is really what makes life worthwhile.
Poignant comments by my book club members:
It was a bit of a challenge, I didn’t get all the philosophy, but it was a good read.
There was too much profundity.
It reminded me of the film “Shirley Valentine”.
Maybe you need to understand French culture to really understand the book.
This was a life-changing book.
This book tells you to focus differently.
Everyone agreed that it inspired lively and interesting discussion, and only one book club member held fast to her belief that it could have been much shorter.  I had also entertained that thought, but then decided that nothing could have been removed without seriously affecting the exploration of any of the characters, particularly Renee, and thus changing the way we as readers perceived them, which would have profoundly affected the impact of the events at the end of the novel.  So once again, it was a successful meeting, and I’m always thrilled when my ladies really enjoy a book I’ve selected.  Hurray!!

I also finished reading Y by Marjorie Celona last week.  This Candian novel tells of a young girl, Shannon, who grows up in a series of foster homes after being left on the doorstep of a YMCA on Vancouver Island hours after she is born.  There is also the parallel story of Yula, Shannon’s teenaged mother, which provides the backstory and explains why Shannon was abandoned.  It was well-written and interesting, some parts more interesting for this reader than others, but ultimately a moving and satisfying read.  I would definitely recommend it to just about anyone, but may caution potential readers that the novel contains a lot of teen angst, which some readers may find challenging to get through.

I’m now trying to get into something else, preferably a “required reading” selection, of which I have many from the library, sitting in a pile on the table in front of me, beside my now-empty mug - time for a tea break…

Ahhh, that’s better - my cup is full once again and I am completely happy.  Well, I would be completely happy if I could find a book that “grabbed” me.  I started reading Perdita by Hilary Scharper, a novel that tells the story of a woman, Marged, living in a retirement home on the Bruce Peninsula, who may or may not be the oldest woman on Earth at 134 years of age.  She passes on her diaries to Garth, a man who is working for the Longevity Project, in order to reveal her past and prove that she is in fact the Marged of the birth certificate she so carefully protects.  As Garth becomes enthralled in Marged’s story of love, loss and myth, he enlists his childhood friend, Clare, to help him make sense of the mysteries he finds.  This novel sounds like a great story, and I was really excited when I started it, but so much of the story is told from the point of view of Marged in the form of diary entries that I’m losing interest quickly - diary entry is not my favourite form of storytelling in a novel, especially entries dating back to the 1890s.  I may finish it at a later date, but it’s just not holding my attention right now, although it seems to be fairly well-written.

I’m now giving my attention to Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado, another Canadian novel, this one set in New York, Montreal and Paris in the last years of World War II.  It tells the story of Mignonne Lachapelle, an up-and-coming fashion designer from Montreal who moves to New York to make her name and becomes embroiled in a fiery romantic triangle with the literary figure, Antoine de Saint Exupery of The Little Prince and Wind, Sand and Stars fame, and his talented female partner.  I don’t know if this is based on a true story or not.  I’ve literally just started this novel, and while I can’t say it “grabbed” me, it is a compelling story for this reader, so I think I’ll stick with it for a bit longer to see if it grows on me.  By the way, this author will be reading at Words Worth Books ( on May 15ht along with Colin McAdam, author of A Beautiful Truth, which I recently read.  I'm planning to attend that author visit, so hopefully I can finish this book in time for that event.

I think sometimes I’m an impatient reader.  I often want a book that grabs me right away and pulls me in, a book I just can’t put down… but I realize they can’t all be like that, and that sometimes a book that draws you in slowly can be just as rewarding a reading experience, if you let it happen, like The Elegance of the Hedgehog, something you can mull over and think about.  Once again, it’s all about reading mood, and with the birds singing and the sun shining, let’s face it, I’d rather be outside walking, biking or gardening than reading, so the book has to draw me in and hold me or I’ll abandon it for some outdoor pursuit as quick as you can say “The Little Prince”…

And so I will close and get outside, maybe with a book, or maybe with a trowel, we will see, we will see…

Bye for now!

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