Sunday 18 September 2016

Book talk on the last weekend of summer...

It’s officially over, the first day of fall is Thursday September 22nd. So while we still have a few days left, which, according to the forecast, are definitely going to feel like summer, by the time I write my next post, it will be autumn, my favourite season of the year.  

I have two books to tell you about this week, both recent Canadian publications.  The first is the much-talked-about thriller, The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena.  This debut novel opens with Anne and Marco Conti attending a dinner party to celebrate next door neighbour Graham’s birthday, a party thrown by Graham’s wife Cynthia.  Anne and Marco have left their six-month old daughter Cora home alone after the last-minute cancellation of their babysitter.  Against her better judgement, Anne agrees to attend the party, despite worrying about leaving Cora alone.  Anne is suffering from post-partum depression, and her worry is exacerbated by gorgeous Cynthia’s blatantly flirtatious behaviour with Anne’s decidedly attractive husband.  They have scheduled to go back and check on Cora every half-hour, taking turns in this duty, but Anne feels terrible, wondering “What kind of parents leave their six-month old home alone to go to a party?”  When they finally return home, they face every parent’s worst nightmare - Cora’s cot is empty.  They frantically search the house, and finally have to admit that she is gone.  They contact the police and Detective Rasbach arrives with his team of investigators.  Unfortunately, they find no trace of a break-in and have no leads.  Anne calls her parents, mega-rich Alice and her husband, Richard, Anne’s step-father.  Her parents have never liked Marco, and this dislike only manifests itself more strongly as the investigation progresses.  What follows is a roller-coaster ride of plot twists as the characters’ personalities, histories and relationships are explored and outward appearances are shattered.  I don’t want to give too much of this book away, which means I can’t let you in on any of the details, but let me just say that no one is above suspicion and nothing is as it seems.  I have heard this book compared to Gone Girl and  Girl on a Train, but I can’t comment on that as I haven’t read either one.  I did, however, find that this novel had many similarities to The Silent Wife by A S A Harrison.  Both novels dealt with couples who, on the surface, seem to have it all, but whose characters and relationships deteriorate as the truth is revealed.  Both depend on unreliable narrators, and both use writing styles that, for this reader, created a claustrophobic atmosphere.  Harrison’s book was far deeper and more complex than Lapena’s novel, but I think that Lapena shows promise and definitely has talent in creating suspense.  It was certainly a book that I couldn’t put down.  I would give it 7.5 out of 10, and will watch for future novels by this author.

And I finished Winnipeg author David Bergen’s latest novel, Stranger, recently as well.  This novel tells the story of Iso Perdido, a young Guatamalan woman who works at a fertility clinic in the mountain village of Ixchel.  She is in a romantic relationship with one of the American doctors, Eric Mann, who loves to ride his motorcycle through the mountains.  When Eric’s estranged wife Susan arrives at the clinic, Iso is assigned to be her keeper, and must work with Susan throughout the extensive and extremely intimate fertility process.  When Iso, not Susan, becomes pregnant, things get complicated, and become more complicated still when Eric is seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and is taken home to America by his wife.  Things get worse when Iso, while disoriented and in labour, signs forms allowing the Manns to take custody of the child, who is removed barely one day after her birth.  What follows is Iso’s journey to reclaim her daughter and return her to her rightful land and family.  I’ve never been a big fan of Bergen’s books, and have possibly read one years ago, I think The Time In Between, and this book was exactly what I expected. It got great reviews in The Globe and Mail and Quill and Quire, so I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it, but I can be honest in my blog:  this book did nothing for me.  Yes, it was beautifully written and evoked a real sense of “paradise” in the descriptions of Ixchel, the lake and surrounding mountains (Iso’s full name is Paraiso Perdido, or “Paradise Lost”), but I found it to be too surreal, too dystopian and even (dare I say it?) too obvious in its symbolism.  What was lacking, in my opinion, was depth of character.  Divisions of class and disparity between wealth and poverty are all explored, but so clearly was everything in this book presented as either black or white that it didn’t inspire this reader to think about and ponder the situations.  While reading this, I was reminded of that excellent novel, The Colonial Hotel by Jonathan Bennett, that I read and reviewed for the local paper a couple of years ago, and in my opinion, Bennett's novel was just so much better. I would give this book a 6 out of 10, but that only reflects my personal experience.

The sun is coming out and dispelling the fog of the morning, so it’s time to get outside and enjoy the sunshine.  Have a great day and Happy End-of-Summer!

Bye for now…

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