Friday 11 July 2014

Tea and book talk on a perfect summer afternoon...

It’s really a perfect day as I sip my tea and think about the books I’ve read this week.  That’s right, “books” – I love having lots of free time to read!
The first book I read was Montreal author Jo Walton’s most recent title, My Real Children.  This novel opens with the main character, Patricia Cowen, who is nearly 90 years old, in a nursing home in 2015.  “Very confused”, her nursing chart reads.  As we find out later, of course she is “very confused” – although she is the same Patricia, she has led two parallel lives, her reality splitting when she makes one decision that changes her fate.  She remembers that she had one life up until this decision, but then it becomes difficult to distinguish which of her lives and memories are real.  In one life, she is Tricia, then Trish, unhappily married to Mark, and has four children.  In the other, she is Pat, and raises three children with Bee.  As Tricia/Trish, she lives a traditional, sheltered life, overshadowed and belittled by her husband.  As Pat, she has independence, freedom and happiness.  Both take place over the same period in history, 1933-2015, but the events taking place in the world are very different in each life.  Both lives are filled with tremendous joys and heartwrenching sorrows, and both are equally real.  As we come to the end of the novel, Patricia once again has to choose, and we as readers are uncertain which life is the better one, and which of her sets of children is “real”.  I am not a science fiction reader at all, but this is a sci-fi novel that reads more like domestic fiction.  It is only the subtle dystopian elements fed into one storyline that lends a sense of pending destruction and eeriness to the novel, while the other storyline has a certain utopian aura underlying the narrative.  Upon reading it, I was reminded of all the times in my life when I had to make a difficult decision, and I wished that I could see into the future to find out how things would be with each option.  In this sense, it is a bit of a cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for, since Patricia has had to live both realities and, in the end, has had to choose once the lives converge.  I was immediately sucked into this short novel, then towards the middle I felt that it was becoming too predictable and clichéd.  I’m glad I stuck with it, though, as it rose above that and became a novel of quiet importance, one which focused on life’s greater meaning, the importance of parenthood and family, and how we measure personal happiness.  I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys novels about making choices in life, and dealing with the consequences of one’s actions.
I also read Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird, which we will be discussing on Thursday with my “friends” book group.  I have read this novel before, but more than 20 years ago, so I had almost no recollection of it.  It tells the story of a six-year-old boy with dark features who may be a Jew or a Gypsy, and who, at the beginning of WWII, is given to a man to relocate while his parents go into hiding.  Things do not go as planned, and circumstances force the boy to wander alone from one Eastern European village to another, where he is routinely abused, ridiculed and exploited.  His experiences lead him from childhood innocence to adult experience in a most brutal, heartbreaking, and unnatural way.  I felt, upon rereading this short novel, that it was ceaselessly depressing and unnecessarily graphic, but there were certainly some redeeming aspects to the story as well, mostly toward the end where things become a bit more uplifting.  At this point, the narrative shows that the boy is more insightful, as he ponders the passage to adulthood, the sense of pleasure one experiences when having power over the lives of others, and the nature of “freedom”.  He reminds us, however, that he is still just a boy when he repeatedly searches for role models in the various men he encounters on his journeys.  He also likens himself to the different animals he remembers during his stays in different villages, such as when he says he suddenly felt like Lekh’s painted bird, or when he comments on the hare that was captured and fought his captivity, until he became domesticated.  When the door of his cage was accidentally left open one day, he hopped out but, becoming dull and listless, he hopped back in his cage – the boy remarks that the hare “now carried the cage in himself”.  Overall, it was not an uplifting read, but it was OK, and, fortunately, short.  I may comment more on this novel after the meeting, although I know at least three people gave up after a few chapters, deciding it was too graphic and depressing.  I’m not sure that I would openly recommend this to anyone, but his other famous novel, Being There, is a very good read, if I recall correctly (yes, that’s the book on which the film with Peter Sellers and Shirley Maclean was based).
That’s all for today.  Have a good weekend!
Bye for now...

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