Sunday, 7 September 2014

First post for September...

It is a bright, clear, not-too-hot Sunday morning, the kind of morning that is perfect for this time of year.  I have a steaming cup of chai tea and a slice of freshly baked banana bread on the table in front of me, and I’m thinking about what I’ve read and listened to recently.  How could anyone ask for a better way to start the week?
I reread The Silent Wife by A S A Harrison in preparation for my volunteer book club meeting on Saturday.  I’ve read this book before, once to review it last summer, and once to discuss with my “friends” book group this past January.  For the January meeting, I put sticky tags on all the places I thought were significant, either in the use of language or in the character development, but I found that I was putting tags on almost every page!  I left the tags in there so when I pulled this book off the shelf to reread last weekend, I figured everything worthwhile would already be tagged… NOT SO!!  I added even MORE, but different, tags to the book, making it look like some strange attempt at a form of “Book Art”.  I’ve written about this book before, but I’ll quickly summarize it again now.  Jodi and Todd live in a beautiful, spacious waterfront condo in an affluent Chicago neighbourhood. They are in their mid-forties, childless, with a dog named Freud.  Todd is a real estate developer, Jodi is a part-time therapist.  Todd is a perpetual cheater.  Jodi is skilled at ignoring reality and making compromises.  Their 20-year relationship is based on pretense and denial, order and compartmentalization, so when the circumstances surrounding one of Todd’s “dalliances” escalates  and things get out of control, both parties stuggle to preserve what they have and deal with this new reality which just won’t go away.  The novel, told in alternating “Her” and “Him” chapters, follows their downward spiral in a fascinating dissection of each character’s psyche.  Although the narrator reveals in the opening chapter that Jodi would, in just a few months’ time, become a killer, the reader does not feel that the ending is spoiled.  Rather, this reader and those in my book group almost forgot what we were told at the beginning, because the details offered in each chapter were so involved and engrossing, we were totally caught up in the story.  One of my book club members said she didn’t like any of the characters, while another said she felt sorry for all of them, that they couldn’t help being who they were because of their upbringing.  Still another felt that Jodi did what she had to do, given the situation.  We talked about Jodi’s need for structure and control, and how she took care of everything to do with the running of their lives, while Todd just had to work and make the money necessary to pay for it all.  At that point, I brought up something I never considered before – that it was Todd’s secretary, Stephanie, not Jodi, who took care of paying the bills, and we discussed the implications of this arrangement.  We discussed how “traditional” their relationship was, how like their parents’ relationships a generation before, since Todd was the breadwinner and Jodi’s work as a therapist was little more than a hobby, despite her extensive education. We talked about Jodi’s friends, especially Alison, and the uncertainty that the reader is left with at the end regarding Jodi’s guilt or innocence.  I asked whether they thought men might enjoy this book, considering that nearly 50% of the book is told from Todd’s perspective.  They thought not, but a few then considered giving it to their husbands to read (I would like my husband to read it, but I don’t think he will like it, even though he is a social worker who deals with domestic violence situations on a regular basis).  We talked about the film version of this book, which is still in production, I believe, and wondered whether they will do a good job of translating this amazing novel to the big screen.  At this point, someone mentioned another novel, Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, which has also been made into a film.  The Silent Wife has frequently been compared to Flynn’s bestseller by book reviewers, a book I had started some time ago but didn’t finish.  I recently downloaded the audiobook and started listening to it, as I felt it was good timing, but I stopped a few chapters in because I just didn’t like it.  It paled in comparison to the far superior novel by Harrison in so many ways, including character development, writing style, and use of language.  What I would really like to do some day is to read Harrison’s novel with another person or persons and discuss it chapter by chapter, so detailed and engrossing is the writing and character development.  That would be my dream, but I can’t think of any way to make it a reality… yet.  Anyway, we had a fabulous discussion that probably could have gone on for much longer, but another group needed our room at the Community Centre so we had to end.  It was probably the most successful book selection so far, in that everyone, everyone, thought it was a fabulous book.  Hurray!!  Unfortunately, not every selection is going to be this popular, but it’s good to have such a positive response from everyone once in a while.  PS I’ve removed all my sticky tags, so my next reading will be like reading it for the very first time!   
I also finished listening to The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson, the first book in a series featuring British lawyer brothers Reggie and Nigel Heath, and their adventures in mystery-solving.  In this novel, we are introduced to the brothers, Reggie the responsible solicitor, and Nigel the screw-up of the pair, the one who, after the breakup of his relationship with actress Laura, had to spend some time at a “retreat” to restore balance to his life and mind.  He is given the job at Reggie’s office, located at 221B Baker Street, of responding to all letters that arrive addressed to Sherlock Holmes with a form letter provided by the landlord of the building.  When Nigel takes a personal  interest in some letters supposedly written by a grown-up Mara from Los Angeles, requesting the return of the original letter and contents she sent to Sherlock Holmes twenty years ago, when she was a girl of eight, all hell breaks loose.  When a dead body turns up in Nigel’s office, with Nigel nowhere in sight, the police in London are in hot pursuit.  Meanwhile, clues lead Reggie to follow Nigel to LA, where he finds his brother trying to contact Mara and save her from sure death at the hands of some greedy businessmen who will stop at nothing to find and destroy some geological survey maps that could cost them millions and destroy their plans to develop an underground transit system at some very unsafe locations.  The characters were interesting, the plot was fast-paced, and the narration by Simon Vance was excellent.  I am definitely interested in listening to other novels in this delightful series.  I’ve already listened to Book Two, but I believe there are several more books available, at least in print.  I will check their availability in audio format, but if necessary, I may read the books.
OK, that’s enough writing about books.  Time to get outside and enjoy the nearly perfect day!

Bye for now…
Julie

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