Sunday, 17 November 2013

Books and tea on a rainy November day...

On this mild, rainy Sunday morning, I’m feeling less than inspired to do much of anything, although I have freshly-baked Date Bread cooling on the counter and, of course, a steaming cup of tea in front of me.  I think it will be a god day for reading.

I did not have much luck choosing a book that really grabbed me this past week.  I thought I would tell you about what I started to read, in case any of the books interested you at all.

OK, so a monk, a pilot and a soldier meet in Heaven…  no, this is not the start of a bad joke, but the setting of a book I started reading  for my committee, Beauty Beneath the Banyan by Crystal Fletcher.  This book is set in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam during and after the Vietnam War, and is the interweaving of six stories told from the points of view of a monk, an American pilot and an American soldier, who are all dead and watching over three women, one imprisoned in Thailand for murdering her husband, one Cambodian woman who is happily married but longs for a child, and a Laotian Hmong refugee.  These three women suffer from the effects that are leftover from the Vietnam War, while the three men died in that war.  It is beautifully written and truly life-affirming, considering the horrible circumstances, settings and situations described in the book.  I got about halfway through and somehow just had to put it down.  I’m not sure if it was too depressing, or the thought of more disturbing scenes and images, however beautifully they are written about, was just too much for me, but I had to stop reading it.  This Barrie, Ontario writer, though, is truly gifted, and I’m sure I will finish the book eventually.  

I also started reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith, which begins on New Year’s Day, 1975, in Crinklewood (which I think is a neighbourhood in London, England), with Archie Jones attempting to commit suicide by inhaling the carbon monoxide fumes from his car while holding his marriage certificate and a war medal, one in each hand, leaning face-down on his steering wheel.  He is saved by the butcher, who is killing pigeons above his shop, when he tells Archie that he is not licensed for suicides, that his butcher is halal, Kosher.  And so Archie goes on to embrace his new lease on life.  I don’t know what the rest of the book is about, but so far it’s reminding me of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, a humourous, satirical, critical commentary on contemporary society.  It is an award-winning novel, and Smith was recently named one of Britain’s notable authors under 40, so I want to keep reading it, but it is quite long and I don’t think it is the right book for me at this time.  I will definitely finish it someday, maybe even someday soon, but for now, I must put it aside.

And I started reading a book that I came across at work last week by Maggie O’Farrell called The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, about Iris, a woman who runs a vintage clothing shop.  She receives a letter informing her that a woman who claims to be her great-aunt, who has spent most of her life in a psychiatric institute, is due to be released.   This book opens with the line:  “Let us begin with two girls at a dance.”  This first line caught me, as it reminds me of the writing style used by Ann Marie MacDonald in Fall On Your Knees, which begins with:  “They’re all dead now.”  The rest of the story, about the outspoken Esme in the 1930s, youngest Lennox daughter, and what she did to deserve a lifetime spent in a psychiatric institute, while Iris tries to find answers from her distracted grandmother, Esme’s sister, Kitty, sounds like just the kind of story I would devour in two bites.  I love novels about family secrets that come to light decades later, and it’s really quite good.  So I must decide between this one, which is a library book, and another which I’m halfway through that I do not have to return to the library.

This other title is The Drowning by Camilla Lackberg, a Swedish mystery writer whom I have never read before, although she is very popular.  I started this book at work a few months ago, which means I read about 6 pages per day on my lunch.  It is nearly 500 pages long, so it’s taken me a while to reach the half-way point.  And it is quite complex, with many characters, so I decided last week to bring it home and read it more quickly in order to more fully enjoy the novel.  It opens with someone confronting their past by walking through an open door on their way to work one day, willing to accept whatever fate decides.  Long hair swings as the visitor is led inside, then is brutally stabbed.  We don’t know who this is or why they have been murdered, but the story then fast-forwards 3 months, when Christian, a first-time author, receives acclaim for his novel, The Mermaid, while shunning the media attention he is receiving for this publication.  It comes to light that he has been receiving threatening letters, which are later connected to a missing man, Magnus, a friend of Christian’s, whose investigation has reached a dead end.  Then a man walking his dog discovers a body frozen in a lake (mystery writers must be ever-thankful for dog-walkers, as they are always discovering dead bodies in wooded or unpopulated areas!), which is identified as Magnus, and the investigation escalates.  This is as far as I’ve read, but clearly there are two other men who have been receiving threatening letters, friends of Magnus and Christian, who may also be in danger.  It is really interesting, and I want to keep reading this one, especially because I brought it home with this intention in mind.  But I can take as long as I want to read this one, unlike the library book, which is due back in 3 weeks. 

Hmmm… decisions, decisions… All of these books are ones I want to finish, but the O’Farrell book and the Lackberg one are definitely the two that suit my reading mood best right now.  Next week is going to be kind of crazy for me, and I don’t think I will get much reading done,  but hopefully I will manage to find time to get through one of these novels.  More on that next week…

Bye for now…
Julie 

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