Sunday 1 September 2013

Books and tea on a long weekend...

On this first day of September, when the forecast is for thunderstorms and the air is heavy with humidity, I’m inside my climate-controlled house waiting for my tea to steep and anticipating the cooler, less humid weather that usually comes in the month of September.  Unfortunately, no Date Bread in the oven this morning…

I’ve read a couple of books this week that I want to talk about.  The first is The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, which is the next book for my book club discussion on Friday.  I have read this novel before, and have even blogged about it (see post for November 23, 2011), but I sort of forgot what it was about, since it’s been nearly 2 years between readings.  I wanted to write about my impressions of the book before the group discusses it, then next week I can recap the highlights of the discussion.  I did remember that, when I first read it, I was less-than-impressed, considering that it was a Booker Prize winner, but I couldn’t recall why exactly I was disappointed.  I didn’t reread my earlier post until this morning, as I didn’t want to taint my new reading experience by my past experiences.  This novel tells the story of schoolhood friends Tony and Adrian, and the woman with whom they were both involved during university, Veronica.  Tony dated her first, a tempestuous relationship that ended rather badly, as youthful relationships often do.  During their time together, he spent a weekend with Veronica’s family, and had curious experiences with each member of the family, patronizing father, supportive but vague mother, and disinterested Brother Jack.  After breaking up, Tony receives a letter from Adrian, requesting permission to date Veronica, to which he responds heatedly and impulsively, as is common at that explosive age.  There is some mystery as to what exactly happened in the next few months or so, but then something happens that changes everything.  Fast-forward 40 or so years, and Adrian is again brought into Tony’s life via a letter from a solicitor informing him that Veronica’s recently deceased mother has left him some money and a few documents.  This now causes Tony to think about and analyze the relationship he had with Veronica, and his friendship with Adrian, so many years before, relationships he had not contemplated for years, having grown up and moved on.  The resulting inquiries lead to some astonishing revelations, and some unresolved mysteries, too, as Tony strives to understand what happened all those years ago.  I have to say, this time around, I really enjoyed the novel.  It was a meditation on youth and age, and a study of the essence and ultimate malleability of time.  I never underline in books, but I felt on many occasions that I would have liked to mark this or that passage in this novel, as Barnes has a real talent for expressing thoughts on the human condition succinctly and with grace.  I thought the ending was a bit vague and a little bit of a let-down, but I didn’t think that this would be reason enough to dislike it as much as I had the first time around, so I reread my earlier post to find out why I disliked it.  This was a good example of how one’s personal reading history affects the response to a current book.  At that time, I had recently read a couple of books dealing with adult male friends who are, for some reason, recollecting schoolboy relationships with the same women, and the subsequent rivalry these relationships caused and which are brought to the surface with new information.  One example is Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam; another is Blake Morrison’s The Last Weekend.  I remarked then that I felt inundated with these types of stories, that I felt I had read this one before, and didn’t male authors, particularly British male authors, ever write about anything else.  I concluded with a thought that, perhaps if I hadn’t just read these other books, my reaction to Sense of an Ending would have been quite different.  How right I was!  It has been a while since I have read any books with this storyline, so I could look at this novel with fresh eyes and really appreciate Barnes’ excellent use of language as he meditates on the passing of time, and the comparisons of life in youth and old age.  I found myself identifying with and nodding my head in agreement with his thoughts so many times.  So my revised views of this novel are duly noted, and I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in character-driven or language-driven novels.

And I just finished Peter Robinson’s new novel, Children of the Revolution.  Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks is back, and is better than ever!! This time, he is investigating the suspicious death of a reclusive loner in a nearby village who seemed to have either jumped or been thrown over the high, steep sides of a bridge.  To complicate matters, the deceased had 5000 pounds in cash on his person, and research into his history indicated that he was dismissed from his job as a local college lecturer some years earlier under suspicion of sexually abusing two female students.  Any of these could be obvious leads, but of course, Banks searches for the most complicated explanations, stepping on the toes of the higher-ups on his quest, and nothing, once again, is as it seems.  I remember when I read the 2 titles in this series before this one and found them disappointing, I wrote in my blog post that perhaps Robinson should write more stand-alones, that I found his novels have become too complex, far-fetched and “international”, and that I was hoping he would write a few novels that involved more local people and spots and less international characters and locations.  Maybe he read my blog (Hahaha!  I wish!!), but that is exactly what I got this time around.  It was an excellent mystery, with interesting plot and characters, and it left me wondering if promotion was in the near future for Banks.  I was, however, disappointed with the last few pages, which I will not give away here, because I thought it was highly implausible and perhaps a bit of “wishful thinking” on the part of the author, but I guess I can forgive him for this small error in judgment.

And I’m listening to Henning Mankell’s Troubled Waters right now, part of the “Kurt Wallander” series.  I will talk about it next week, when I finish, but I just wanted to comment on the similarities between Robinson’s book and Mankell’s novel.  Both detectives are nearing retirement age, and contemplate the changes in the police force and their imminent retirements.  Hmmm… maybe I need to vary my reading material a bit more.

Enjoy the rest of the long weekend!

Bye for now…

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