Sunday 3 May 2015

Books and birdsong on a lovely May morning...

It’s a gorgeous morning as I finally sit down to write this post.  I’ve had a morning filled with cooking and baking and laundry and cleaning, so I feel I’ve earned the cinnamon roll and tea that I’m enjoying right now... mmm!!!

Last week I gave you a summary of The Dinner by Herman Koch, but I wanted to give you the highlights of the enthusiastic discussion we had at the book club meeting yesterday.  I’ll start off by admitting that not everyone loved it, which is to be expected in a group where everyone is reading the same book.  I suspected that this would be the case with this book in particular, as it is written in a very specific, very pronounced style.  It also presents a story surrounding a very disturbing subject matter.  So it was not surprising that one of the book club members said that this book was “very annoying”, that there were no nice characters in it, that the dinner was just setting the stage for “a family feud”, and that it was just plain nasty.  Another member loved this book.  This was her second reading, and she said that she enjoyed it just as much as the first time, except that she ended up being left with even more questions this time.  She spent much of the meeting laughing aloud as she read passages from the book that were absurd or satirical.  Another member also said that she laughed aloud as she was reading it, something she doesn’t do often.  We all agreed that it was suspenseful, that the story unfolded very slowly, and that the structure of the novel, separated into parts that corresponded to courses in a meal, was clever and effective.  We also agreed that the maitre d’, with his pinky-pointing, was both annoying and hilarious, and this made us feel, at times, as though the dinner would never end.  The setting of the restaurant was clearly a deliberate way for the author to satirize the upper-classes with their “hoity-toity” attitudes and manners.  Some of us enjoyed the creepiness of the story, and we wondered at the obsession Paul had with the term “wife” in reference to Claire, which led us to consider what the basis of their relationship really was.  One member suggested that Paul took on the role of onlooker into the relationship between their son, Michel, and his wife.  We talked about Paul’s brother, Serge, the political candidate, and how he had to eat “right now”;  that is, he sought instant gratification, which one member suggested represented his character's "id".  We all agreed that Paul was aggressive and had anger issues, that he has a psychopathic character which leads him to feel he is superior to others and to destroy those around him.  It was a great book club choice, as it generated so much lively discussion.

I read an awesome book last week that I will be reviewing for the local paper, A History of Loneliness by John Boyne.  It tells the achingly sad story of Odran Yates, a Catholic priest in Ireland as he looks back over his life, from the time he was a young boy in the ‘70s up to the present day, when Odran must face the role he, too, may have played in the vast and far-reaching cover-up of sexual abuse over decades.   Odran tells how his family went from three to five and back to three again when tragedy struck when he was still young.  After his mother became involved in the Church, she told Odran that he had a calling, a vocation to become a priest, and, faced with no better options, at seventeen, he enters the seminary at Conliffe, where he and Tom Cardle become “cellmates” and, by default, best friends.  Tom, unlike Odran, is not cut out for the life of a priest, but he has no choice in the matter.  This relationship, and Tom’s subsequent actions, form the basis for Odran’s conflicted feelings as he struggles to stay true to his calling in a world where priests have gone from being respected and revered members of the community to being blighted and looked upon with suspicion and even disgust.  Told in a non-linear way, with flashbacks and flash-forwards, we struggle, along with Odran, to face the truth about the far-reaching conspiracy and guilt, which is revealed to us only as Odran discovers it.  But even as we read these passages, we wonder if he may not know more than he is admitting, willfully closing his eyes to matters he does not wish to see.  This skillfully told, heartrending denunciation of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the deliberate cover-up of child abuse by the clergy brought me to tears.  Odran reminded me of John Wheelwright, the main character in John Irving’s  A Prayer for Owen Meany and Dunstan Ramsay, the main character in Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business.  The story reminded me of Linden MacIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man, and was told in the style of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes- I loved all of these books. I didn’t realize that this novel was written only after the author himself overcame the shame of his childhood, growing up gay in Ireland and facing his own simultaneous sexual abuse and condemnation by Catholic priests.  It is a spare, moving novel that does not downplay the vastness of the problems or the seriousness of the damages done to children at the hands of the Church.  If you read this novel, and I think you should, be prepared for a deeply introspective read.

OK, that’s all for today.  I have to get outside and enjoy the sun.

Bye for now…

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