On this lovely, sunny spring day, I can hear birdsong coming in through the open window to accompany my thoughts of books and reading. With my cup of chai and vanilla scone on the table in front of me, one cat in my lap helping me type and another in the window, I would say this was a perfect Sunday morning.
I read The Dinner by Herman Koch last week. It is our next book club selection, and we don’t meet until next Saturday. I don’t usually like to read the book club book so far in advance, but it just worked out that way this time. I figured that, having read it before, I would remember enough of the plot and characters to still be actively involved in the discussion. I will offer a summary of the book and give my initial responses this week, then next week I can just give you the discussion highlights, so you don’t have to read too much of the same thing twice. This novel, divided into parts that correspond to the courses of a meal, focuses on two couples who are meeting at an upscale restaurant for dinner. Narrated by Paul, who may or may not be reliable, we are treated to an internal monologue as he discusses everything from the reason for the choice of restaurant to Paul’s relationship with his wife, Claire. Once the couples get together, their discussion is relayed along with Paul’s commentary. While it at first appears that they are just getting together to socialize, we later discover that they have a serious item on their agenda. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son, who has been involved in a horrific act that binds them together and could change their lives forever. This, then, is the reason for the uncomfortable dinner, to determine what is to be done about the whole situation. Complications arise in the form of one couple’s adopted son, the occupations and aspirations of each husband and the influences the wives have on them. This is a darkly comic, disturbing novel that explores how far people would go to protect the ones they love. I read a review of this book in the local paper a few years ago and thought it sounded like just the kind of book I love. I requested it from the library and remember being wow-ed by it, by the taut writing, the dark undercurrent that was ever-present, and the slow, subtle deterioration of the situation in the story over the course of one dinner. I felt that it would be a good choice for my book club, and so put it on the list. Upon rereading it, I still felt wow-ed by the writing style and the way the book is organized in parts, and the deterioration of the relationships between these couples, all over such a short period of time. But I felt that it was a bit “over the top” at times, and especially at the end. I also felt that there were areas of the story that were touched upon briefly that should have perhaps been explored more deeply. This is one of the problems this reader faces when rereading a book that I have read and enjoyed in the past – sometimes it fails to live up to my expectations. If the novel has a surprise ending, knowing the ending often spoils the reading experience if creating suspense is a key ingredient to the plot or storyline. This was evident when rereading Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson. All of the book club members who had read the book before said the same thing: it was a great read the first time, but disappointing on reread. As far as I know, no one in my group has read The Dinner before, so I’ll be very interested to hear what they have to say about it.
So the big CFUW book sale was this weekend, and it was a great experience, as always. I went after work on Friday, but seemed less interested than I was expecting. Maybe I was tired after a week of work, or maybe I was seeing too many copies of books I already have. I ended up buying a stack of children’s paperbacks for my schools’ libraries, a stack of tatty, well-used Agatha Christie paperbacks just for fun, and five books I consider to be my “real” purchases, books that I chose based on the merits of the book itself. One of the books was The Attack by Yasmina Khadra, another was an Icelandic mystery by Arnaldur Indridason, and one was a non-fiction book that was mixed up in the fiction section, a memoir of a British man who, in 1961, with no experience to speak of, went over to Africa to manage a tea plantation, 500 acres and over 1000 employees. The title is Tea: addiction, exploitation and empire by Roy Moxham. I also picked up an extra copy of The Binding Chair by Kathryn Harrison for my book club (not enough copies at the library, so hopefully this will allow us to keep it on the list). Due to my feeling of disinterest on Friday, I swore that I would not return on Saturday, but, as usual, I did get back there around noon, shortly before they closed. This is a great time to go because all the shoppers from the day before have picked over the books on the tables, so they are restocked with books from the boxes that were under the tables, which is like going to a whole new book sale! And being so close to closing time, which is 1pm, they just want to get the stuff out the door, so they have a half-price sale or “fill a box for $5.00”. That is a deal I couldn’t pass up, and so, between my husband and me, we were able to fill a large box nearly to overflowing with books, books, books! I mostly picked books I had never read before, but I also got a few more for the school libraries and a few titles that I think a friend of mine would enjoy. It’s shameful to say, but offhand, I can only think of the names of a few of the books I got yesterday: Daphne Du Maurier’s biography of her father, Solar by Ian McEwan, Larry’s Party by Carol Shields, in case we ever discuss it at a book club meeting, and The Kitchen Boy: a novel of the last tsar by Robert Alexander, which sounds really interesting. I also picked up The Distant Hours by Kate Morton - I've never read anything by her before, but it looked good so I added it to the box. Anyway, Friday for me is usually a calm perusal of titles, but Saturday is a frenzied free-for-all in a really crowded hall filled with books that beg to be taken home. I loved it!
That’s all for today. Time to get outside and listen to the birds!
Bye for now…