Friday 28 June 2013

Last post for June, Part II...

Since the long weekend is coming up and the forecast is for mostly sun and cloud, but not really much rain, I thought it best to take the opportunity this afternoon, while it is pouring rain and thundering loudly outside, to have a cup of tea and write my weekly post.

I was planning to write my post on either Sunday or Monday, which is Canada Day, so I was going to focus on my favourite Canadian novels, but I’m a bit early for that.  Conveniently, though, I want to write about a novel I read last week which may become one of my new favourite Canadian novels.  The novel is The Silent Wife by A. S. A. (Susan) Harrison.  It tells the story of the breakdown of a 20-year marriage between Jodi and Todd, and the disintegration of their affluent life in Chicago.  Jodi is a psychotherapist who is always in control, of her life, her language and her emotions.  Todd is a real estate developer and a perpetual cheater.  While he indulges his whims, she represses hers.  When their situation spirals out of control, each character must decide how far they are willing to go to protect what they have.  Told in alternating “Her” and “Him” chapters, this was a novel I literally inhaled in two days.  The controlled use of language in Jodi’s chapters told this reader more by what was not said than by what was written, and I simultaneously cheered for and was frustrated by both Todd and Jodi, but could understand the reality of their situation as not at all unusual; in fact, I’m sure these circumstances occur regularly in our society.  The way this was handled by the author was both skilled and compelling, and the voices of the two characters were distinct and convincing.  I would definitely recommend this novel to both male and female readers, since, although I thought it was mainly Jodi’s story, the “sides” told by both characters are quite fully developed.  This author has been a visual artist and writer in Toronto for many years, focusing mainly on non-fiction books and collections.  This is her first and only novel, as she sadly passed away in April of this year.

I also finished listening to A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming yesterday, and it was excellent.  It tells the story of Thomas Kell, an ex-MI-6 agent who is called back into service on a special project, to help locate Amelia, the Chief-designate who takes a sudden and unexpected vacation before taking up her new post as head of the organization, but who misses several day’s worth of art classes, supposedly the reason she took the holiday to France.  While trying to track her down, Kell uncovers her mysterious past, and stumbles upon a parallel operation by the French Intelligence Service, which leads to unexpected results.  The narrator, Jot Davies, did an excellent job of capturing the essence of the novel, and the writing was top-notch.  It was compelling and spell-binding, but not so complex that this listener could not follow what was going on, although it was complex enough to keep me paying attention.  I believe that this is the first in a planned trilogy by Cumming featuring Kell, and I eagerly await the next two books in the series.  I’ve actually downloaded The Trinity Six, the first novel of his that I listened to over a year ago, since it was fabulous, and based on a true story of the Cambridge Five, a group of British double-agents who were recruited by the Russian Secret Service when they were students at Cambridge in the 1930s.  This novel is about the search for the possible sixth member of the group.  I really enjoy espionage fiction, and recently read an article in which a British intelligence historian picks the fiction that best reveals the secrets of espionage:  I’ve read a few John LeCarre novels, The Quiet American and The Thirty-Nine Steps, but may try to get my hands on copies of some of the other titles, out of curiosity.

And I’ll try to finish the short memoir, Nocturne: on the life and death of my brother by Helen Humphreys this afternoon.  Written beautifully and with emotion, this homage to her brother, Martin, a concert pianist, teacher and composer, who passed away suddenly at the age of 45, is at times heart-wrenching, but also somewhat self-indulgent.  It is almost too intimate, like reading Humphreys’ diary, and there seems to be no structure to the book; rather, it is more a collection of reflections about life with Martin before his death and how Humphreys has coped with the loss since his passing.  Addressed to Martin himself, it is haunting and compelling, but I’m thankful that it is only 192 pages long, or I would have to stop reading.

That’s all for today.  Happy Canada Day weekend!!

Bye for now…

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