Sunday 1 June 2014

Sunday morning tea and book talk...

The weather has been fabulous the last few days, which has made it a difficult task to justify reading when I really should have been outside, but I managed to fit in a fair bit of it along with other activities to balance out my scorecard. 

I have a book that I was planning to read and review for the local paper, and once again, I spent most of the week trying to get through it, but at the halfway point I just had to put it down and move on, first because I had my next book club selection to read for next week, but also because the book just was not grabbing me.  This is disappointing, because the author is one I have read and enjoyed in the past.  I will not mention the title here, as I may go back and finish the book, which may turn out to be worth the struggle in the end.  So I set it aside and started on Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, a book that I have read several times over the years, for school and for pleasure, but which I have not read for quite some time.  I was worried that it might have been a poor choice for my book group, but once I started it, I remembered why I had included it on the list.  It is quite literary but so wonderfully written, humorous and heartwrenching at the same time, and able to convey the melancholy that is ordinary life for a young man from a small town in the first half of the 20th century.  Dunstable Ramsay is ten years old when the story, written as an address to the Headmaster of the school from which Ramsey has recently retired, begins.  He and his friend, Percy Boyd Staunton, are racing home one winter evening when they encounter the Reverend Amasa Dempster and his pregnant wife, Mary, walking along the road.  In an attempt to dodge a final snowball that he suspects Percy is going to launch, Ramsay ducks in front of the Dempsters, and the inevitable contact is made with Mrs Dempster’s back, knocking her down and causing her to go into early labour.  Shortly thereafter, Paul Dempster is born, premature and ugly, and the guilt Ramsay feels follows him through his life as he befriends the Demspters, works at the local library and his father’s newspaper, lies about his age and enlists to join the troops in the trenches in WWI, comes home to a hero’s welcome, attends school in Toronto, becomes a teacher, and pursues his research of obscure saints in Europe as well as a study of religion and myths.  This is as far as I have read, and I think the book is awesome.  It speaks of the guilt Ramsey feels throughout his life:  he is convinced that the shunning and ultimate ostracizing of the Dempsters from the village was his fault, for if he had not ducked in front of them, Paul would not have been born prematurely and Mrs Dempster would not have “gone mad”.  It is about boyhood rivalry, which also follows Ramsay throughout his life, and he must learn to overcome his envy and jealousy of Percy in order to understand who he really is.  And it is about the fiction that is life, that we are all cast in different  roles at different times in life, and it is often our obligation to fulfil the expectations others have for us in order to maintain normalcy, even when we recognize the absurdity of it all.  Ramsey sees himself as “fifth business”, supposedly a theatrical term applied to those roles, being neither hero nor heroine, neither confidante nor villain, that are nonetheless essential to move the story along and bring about the conclusion.  I hope my ladies enjoy it, and I will comment on the discussion next week.

I finished listening to On Borrowed Time by David Rosenfelt, and I must say that I found this stand-alone title to be a big disappointment.  I have always enjoyed listening to Rosenfelt’s “Andy Carpenter” books, so I had high hopes for this audiobook, which tells the story of a New York journalist, Richard Kilmer, whose life seems to be going extremely well:  his girlfriend, Jen, has agreed to marry him, and they decide to celebrate by driving to a beautiful waterfall Jen used to go to when she was young.  They are caught in a freak and sudden storm, and Jen disappears.  As Richard tries to find her, he is faced with shrugs and denial all around him – no one admits to every having met Jen, yet Richard is certain that she exists, for he has clear and dinstinct memories of her and of their time together.  As his search continues, he uncovers clues that lead him deeper and deeper into a maze of cover-ups and conspiracies, until at last he finds the answers he needs to uncover the whole truth.  With audiobooks, it’s often difficult to tell how much the narrator influences the relative enjoyment the listener experiences.  Take this book.  Grover Gardiner usually narrates Rosenfelt’s “Andy Carpenter” books, and he is able to emphasize the humour in the novels, while still providing a reliable reading, which makes these somewhat farfetched thrillers a good listening experience for me.  The narrator of this extremely farfetched novel, however, was far too serious for me.  He was so serious, I often missed the humour at first listen, and only after thinking about it did I get to appreciate it.  So perhaps it is not the book, but the narrator, that was disappointing… oh well, it was short, and now I can move on to something else.

That’s all for today.  Happy sunny Sunday!

Bye for now…

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