Sunday, 11 January 2015

Tea and books on a cold, bright Sunday morning...

I am thrilled to be drinking my usual Masala Chai tea this morning!  These past few weeks without it have been a real struggle, as I tried and failed to find a suitable replacement.  I ended up ordering it online from Tweed and Hickory (http://www.tweedandhickory.com/) and have 1.1 lbs of this delicious loose black tea blend, so I expect to have enough tea for the rest of the year!  It arrived on Friday, and while I was tempted to make a cup yesterday, I resisted the temptation and waited until this morning, so it makes this “first cup” while blogging a bit special. 
I had my book club meeting yesterday morning, and we discussed Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress.  If you recall from my last post, I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I was enjoying this novel, and I thought it would be a big hit with my book club ladies.  Well, I think I was the only one who actually enjoyed it.  The other three members who showed up yesterday had very wishy-washy experiences with it.  One member was sick, and this was also going to be her last meeting, as she is moving at the end of the month, so she sent in a card to say goodbye to everyone, but she also included a note about the book.  She was not very enthusiastic about it, and felt that there were too many long, drawn-out descriptions of emotions and motives, and too much “soul-searching”, which she thought got a bit tedious.  Another member thought there were too many coincidences in the book to be believable - she thought the stories were too contrived.  She felt that Will’s decision indicated a weak character, and didn’t believe that a real person would choose to act in such a way.  Since this is one of the main stories in the book, it casts a shadow of doubt over much of the plot in the rest of the book.  She did say that the scene with Emma and Frankie near the end of the book, when they went to the beach and Emma was finally able to release her anguish was a very moving scene, one that touched her and rang true. Her conclusion was that she had mixed feelings about the book.  Another member thought that the title was misleading, as the only character she felt she really got to know was Frankie, who was not the postmistress but the reporter.  She liked the writing, and thought that Emma’s concern that she was not valuable or even visible if no one loved her was food for thought.  Another member felt that the author tried to put too many things into the book, that there were too many stories that were not developed deeply enough.  She thought that this book presented a different perspective on WWII, specifically Frankie’s story as an American reporter before the US had even joined the war, and that this book offered an insight into, as the author says more than once in the novel, “the story around the edges”.  This is not the story of the men on the battlefields, but of the people, predominantly women, around the edges, those who are waiting, and doing what they can to help in a situation where they do not know what is really going on.  We thought the scene where Frankie is reporting from France with the German censor right by her side was very vivid, as were the scenes when she was on the train trying to collect stories from the other passengers, especially the scene with Thomas and the little boy (I won’t give away the details, but that scene was particularly memorable).  We also discussed Iris’s designation as postmaster, and Frankie’s comment near the end that, in Britain, she would be called the postmistress.  I pointed out that I felt the book was really about the changing roles of women at that period in history, and I passed around a picture of Rosie the Riveter, the cultural icon in the US that represented American women who worked in factories during WWII.  I also mentioned the movie “Rear Window”, and the fact that Frankie was a war correspondent, similar to Jimmy Stewart’s character in the film, who was a photojournalist.  Stewart doesn’t think his girlfriend, Grace Kelly, could survive in his rough and rugged man’s world of foreign environments that lacked the creature comforts she would need.  Grace Kelly and Frankie both prove that women can adapt to any situation and can survive just about anything the world can throw at them.  We all agreed that there were just too many deaths in the novel, especially the final deeath near the end, which we thought was totally unnecessary.  Overall, it was a great discussion, and I think those who were able to make it to the meeting had a more positive response to the book after the meeting than they had when they arrived, as is often the case.
After finishing this novel, I had time to read All Saints by K. D. Miller.  This book is a series of interrelated stories, with the common thread being the fictional Anglican church called All Saints located in Toronto, to which all of the stories’ characters are connected, either firmly or loosely.  This book, which was shortlisted for the Rogers Trust Fiction prize, was both interesting and varied.  Toronto writer Miller uses different voices for each of her stories, which can be read alone but which, if read in the order in which they are presented in the book, offer a much richer reading experience.  One story tells of Garth, a man who has been in a loveless marriage for years, and who, now in his eighties, is trying to build a room in the basement for his friend Barney, with whom he fought in the war and with whom he may have had a fleeting homosexual relationship years ago.  Another tells of recently widowed priest Simon, who secretly lusts after one of his parishoners.  Yet another tells of Alice Vipond, an elderly woman who attended the church when she was a girl, and who has spent decades incarcerated in a mental institution after murdering her entire grade 2 class.  There are many other stories that are presented in a way that made this reader feel somewhat voyeuristic, a feeling I also had when reading Michelle Berry’s book of interrelated stories, Interference.  There is no official literary term yet that I am aware of for this type of writing, a hybrid between short stories and novel, but there should be, as authors seem to be using this technique more and more.  Anyway, All Saints was an interesting and thought-provoking read, and the writing was excellent.  I would highly recommend this collection to just about any reader.
That’s all for today.  Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Bye for now…
Julie

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