As I sip my chai tea and nibble on a cinnamon bun from the market, I’m wishing that we could somehow manage to get an extra hour every Sunday, or even the last Sunday of every month. That would be awesome! Alas, it is only once a year, and then there’s the extremely difficult “payback” in the spring, so enjoy it while you can!!
Last week I read a book to be reviewed for the local paper, the latest novel by John Banville, The Blue Guitar. I was really excited to get this title, as I recently listened to an audio version of the Booker Prize winning The Sea by Banville, which I really enjoyed (see my post from August 19, 2015 for a full description of that one). So I will admit that my expectations were already high, even before I opened the book. And it started off really well. Oliver Otway Orme is a painter, a thief and an adulterer. While he enjoyed a brief period of moderate fame, he has recently lost the ability to paint. But he continues to commit petty thefts and engage in affairs. He steals items that he neither needs nor particularly wants, but which he hopes will be missed by their rightful owners. He also engages in passing affairs with whomever will have him, though why any woman would desire him is beyond his understanding, since he is “fat, with a big head and tiny feet”. These affairs are as meaningless to him as his thefts, until he meets Polly. A more significant affair ensues, until, like one of the items he has stolen, the novelty wears off and he falls out of love with her. All of these events take place without anyone being aware… or do they? At the time the novel takes place, he is trying to extricate himself from his connection with Polly, a tangled and messy situation that is sad and pathetic and comic in its absurdity. As Olly contends with the external storms that occur around him (“oh, pathetic fallacy”), and the one that rages within, he condemns his past and all he has experienced and is experiencing, while also searching for the very essences of these experiences in order to sing their praises. It is this search for the essence of things, for the “true subject”, for “authenticity”, that brings Olly to the state he is in as he sequesters himself away from everyone he knows. And it is only when the truth of himself is revealed, as seen through the eyes of others, that he is he able to begin the journey of self-realization and self-acceptance. This book is divided into three parts: In Parts I and II, the narrative is delivered in a contemptuous tone, portraying Olly’s scornful attitude towards others. But the tone in Part III changes from lording and cynical to woeful and self-pitying, which, while not necessarily making for a likable narrator, perhaps makes for a more realistic one. The “blue guitar” of the title comes from a poem written by Wallace Stevens, “The man with the blue guitar”, a poem influenced by Pablo Picasso’s painting The Old Guitarist. So it is no wonder that Olly sees himself as an actor in his own life, and views life always as an imitation of art. Banville’s use of language, his imagery and descriptions, are amazing - I was regularly stopping to read passages out to my husband. But this book seems to lack the narrative flow that I found in The Sea, feeling instead as though the story was somehow cobbled together with no real plan, and Part III was, in my opinion, not nearly as convincing as the first two parts. Perhaps this was done intentionally, to demonstrate Olly’s deterioration, and if so, it was fairly effective. Unfortunately, while I’d love to give the benefit of the doubt to this talented and seasoned author, my feeling as I reached the final page and closed the book was one of disappointment. Perhaps due to my exceedingly high expectations, or my previous reading experience, I felt that this book just didn’t measure up.
And I finished listening to a rather scary book last week (just in time for Halloween!) by Simone St James, The Haunting of Maddy Clare. This novel tells the story of Sarah Piper, a twenty-something single girl trying to make ends meet in London in the early 1920s, working for a temporary agency and living in a shabby bedsit. She receives a call from the agency asking if she is interested in a week’s work, beginning immediately. She is to meet the client at a pub that afternoon. Since she has not been working recently, is falling behind in her rent, and is dreading another night alone in her room with no prospects, she agrees. She meets young, handsome Alistair Gellis, a writer and ghost hunter, and becomes his assistant on his latest excursion to the English village of Waringstoke, where the pair are tasked with getting rid of the ghost of Maddy Clare, a young servant girl who hanged herself in the barn but who continues to haunt the barn and cause mischief. Gellis needs Sarah’s help because, according to her employer, Mrs. Clare, Maddy hated men, and advised that it would take a woman to successfully contact Maddy and convince her to leave. As she goes into the barn to face Maddy alone, armed with the latest audio visual equipment (a recorder and camera), she encounters some truly terrifying events, including being raised up and then abruptly thrown down again by Maddy. Maddy also speaks to Sarah and gives her haunting visions, asking her to find out what happened to her before she mysteriously arrived at the Clare household seven years before, clearly battered and beaten, terrified and mute. Shaken, but resolved to helping Maddy, Sarah sticks with Alistair despite the danger she feels she may be in. Meanwhile, Alistair’s regular assistant and wartime friend, Matthew, shows up, and the sparks begin to fly. Maddy is obsessed with Alistair, threatening to “take him” unless Sarah finds out who attacked her all those years ago, the only clues the visions Maddy shares with her. Sarah and Matthew must solve this mystery before Maddy possesses Alistair entirely, yet they must also contend with their strong attraction towards one another. St James is a star at creating atmosphere, and this creepy story kept my listening eagerly to the very last line. I’ve read another book by this author, An Inquiry into Love and Death, and I think I enjoyed this one more - it was certainly creepier and more exciting! And the love story… whew! Very passionate, very emotional and very descriptive! I would highly recommend this gothic novel to anyone who feels in the mood for a traditional English village ghost story.
That’s all for today. What will you do with your extra hour?
Bye for now…Julie