Friday 1 August 2014

Books, audiobooks and tea on the first day of August...

We have rented a cottage for a week and are headed there tomorrow, so I wanted to take this opportunity to write an early post while listening to CBC and enjoying my cup of tea this morning.
I read a wonderful book this week, All My Puny Sorrows by Mariam Toews.  You may be familiar with this author’s name in connection with her most popular work so far, Governor General’s Award winner A Complicated Kindness, about a defiant young Mennonite girl growing up in a small town in Manitoba.  This novel is said to be autobiographical, and so, too, is her newest title.  All My Puny Sorrows, whose title refers to a line in a poem by Coleridge to his dead sister, tells of two sisters, Elfrieda and Yolandi, who couldn’t be more different.  Elfrieda, or Elf, is a beautiful, world renowned classical pianist with a loving husband, Nic, and all the wealth that her talent has afforded.  She lives in Winnipeg near their mother.  She is also determined to end her life.  Yolandi, or Yoli, is a struggling writer of young adult books, the Rodeo Rhonda series, although she carries around the manuscript of a literary novel.  She has two children from two different fathers, and is going through her second divorce.  She lives in Toronto, and doesn’t know where her life is leading, but she definitely wants to stick around to find out.  The novel opens with Yoli returning to Winnipeg to be with Elf in the hospital after she has attempted suicide.  She has determined that it is her duty to keep Elf alive, and she does her best to coax the will to live from her.  There are reminiscences about their childhood in East Village, and the Elders who disapproved of the girls’ behaviour.  She tries to get Elf excited about her upcoming concert tour, and to coax her into living if only for the sake of Nora and Will, Yolis two children.  We learn of their father’s suicide by train when they were young, and how they used the money he had in his pockets to buy takeout food, because, “at times like these… you still have to eat”.  What Elf really wants is not to die alone, and begs Yoli to take her to Switzerland, where it is legal to assist someone who suffers “weariness of life” to die.  While this book is desperately sad, it is also, at times, darkly humourous, and the moments of insight, particularly about becoming middle-aged, are spot on.  It is not just about suicide and death, but about grief and grieving, and what our responsibilities to our family members are.  The girls’ mother is also an amazing character, from whom Yoli, and this reader, took inspiration and strength.  Toews’ own father committed suicide, and her sister followed ten years later, which may be the reason the characters and experiences in the book are so “real”.  While it is heartbreaking, it is also inspiring and uplifting, and I would hate to dismiss this as just “a book about suicide”.  It is broad in themes and beautifully written.  It brought back memories of Helen Humphrey’s Nocturne (too self-indulgent, and not as compelling, at least to me) and Edeet Ravel’s The Cat (also very good, but much sadder, in my opinion, and narrower in focus).  I did not enjoy A Complicated Kindness, and so was reluctant to pick up another book by this author, but I’m so glad I did, as it was an amazing book that I would feel comfortable recommending to just about anyone.    
On a lighter note, I’m nearly finished listening to The Brothers of Baker Street by Michael Robertson, narrated by Simon Vance, which is fabulous.  It is the second in a series, but the first I’ve listened to, and features two barristers, brothers Nigel and Reggie Heath, who lease the office at 221B Baker Street for their chambers.  As part of their leasing contract, they agree to respond promptly by form letter to any mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes.  This is Nigel’s job, and Reggie generally lets him take care of it.  But one day a letter catches his eye, one offering a tip about the case he is working on at the moment, involving a black cab driver accused of murdering an American couple.  Reggie follows this tip, and discovers that it is not only useful, but that its origin is suspect.  As murder follows murder, and leads disappear, Reggie begins to fear that Moriarty, or some descendent of his, has returned to take revenge on the inhabitants of 221B Baker Street, no matter who they are.  I’m really enjoying this witty, suspenseful, light novel, and the narrator is fabulous, too.  I’ve downloaded the first book, The Baker Street Letters, and look forward to listening to it sometime soon.  It’s interesting that I’ve discovered these books, purely by chance, because I’ve just finished watching Season 3 of “Sherlock”, starring Benedict Cumberbach and Martin Freeman, which I also really enjoyed.  Encouraged by this BBC series and now this book, I think I will read some of the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (shamefully, I’ve never read any, so I will plan to do so soon – I have two collections upstairs on my bookshelf right now).
OK, that’s enough posting for this week.  I’ve got lots to do to get ready for the cottage.  Have a great week!
Bye for now...

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