Sunday 6 April 2014

Books and tea, and sunshine!

It’s warm-ish and sunny outside today, so while I’m enjoying my cup of chai and warm Banana Bread and really want to tell you all about my reading experiences over the past week, I also really want to get outside and enjoy this sudden change in weather, after yesterday’s cold, windy bitterness.
I had to put aside that excellent novel I was reading, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Swiss novelist Joël Dicker, in order to read that other excellent, but very different, novel Property by Valerie Martin for my book club, which met yesterday.  Property is narrated by Manon Gaudet, the wife of a plantation owner and slave owner outside of New Orleans in 1828.  It opens with Manon watching through the window as her husband plays a “game” with some of the slave boys, a game that inevitably ends in a beating of at least one of the participants.   Manon is not a happily married woman, having to face daily the insolent attitude of her maid, Sarah, with whom her husband demands regular conjugal visits, and who has borne him one wild, ill-behaved son and now a young daughter who is described by Sarah as both dark and ugly.  She wishes for freedom from the husband, and as events occur, her dislike of Sarah grows.  When a revolt takes place on the plantation and Manon is attacked and wounded, her fate takes a turn.  As she seeks to assert her power and authority once again, her true character is revealed and the reader is left wondering how much is dependent on inherent character and how much is a product of the social conditions at the time.  I won’t want to say any more about the details in the novel, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may decide to read it, but I feel safe in highlighing some of our discussion points.  We discussed the roles of women during this time in history, and how Manon, for all her supposed “freedom” as the wife of a plantation owner, is as trapped as Sarah, but in a different way, and to a different degree.  We discussed Walter, Sarah’s wild son, who belongs nowhere and so is forgotten or ignored.  We discussed slavery, and what it means to be “owned”, and who really has freedom, even today.  We discussed the title, Property, how such a simple title can be ambiguous, but can also be applied to nearly every character in the novel.  This short novel, less than 200 pages, tells such a strong, dark, compelling story, taking the reader inside the mind of Manon and revealing how the power of ownership can corrupt one’s character beyond recognition.  Winner of the 2003 Orange Prize for Fiction, this novel is compelling enough to read in a single sitting and will leave readers rethinking everything they have come to expect from female characters.

Then I finished the Joël Dicker novel, which did not disappoint.  If you recall, this book is told from the point of view of Marcus Goldman, a young New York writer.  Facing prolonged writer’s block, he turns to his friend and mentor, writer Harry Quebert, and visits him at his seaside house in Somerset for some R&R.  Shortly thereafter, Harry is arrested for the murder of Nola Kellergan, a young girl who has been dead for over thirty years, and with whom Harry fell in love during the summer of 1975, and whose body has recently been discovered buried in Harry’s back yard.  As Marcus investigates people and events in and around Somerset, he uncovers truths and cover-ups that take him further and further into a world he never imagined existed.  Half-truths and lies, characters, stories and past events merge together in this novel-within-a-novel that kept this reader glued to her seat until the very last page.  While it may have seemed a bit overlong and unnecessarily complicated during the initial reading, the surprising ending neatly wraps up any loose ends, and conveniently details the events that actually lead up to Nola’s, and other subsequent murders. While I was glad to finally reach the end of this lengthy novel, I was also a bit sad to say good-bye to the characters I felt I’d come to know during my reading.  Originally published in French in September 2012, the English translation will be available in May of this year.   
Time to get outside and enjoy the day!

Bye for now…

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