Sunday 11 September 2016

Books and tea on a gorgeous Sunday morning...

It is so bright and refreshing this morning, not a hint of humidity in the air, as I sip my chai tea and think about our book club discussion yesterday.

Yesterday my volunteer book group met to discuss The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Swiss author Joël Dicker.  This is a book I reviewed for the local newspaper when the English translation was first released in Canada in May 2014.  Here is a link to that review: I also wrote about this in March, 2014, so here is my summary from that post:  “Marcus Goldman is a young New York writer with a bestseller under his belt, achieved before he turned 30.  Facing prolonged writer’s block, he turns to his friend and mentor, writer Harry Quebert, for support, and is invited out to Harry’s seaside home in Somerset for some R&R.  Shortly thereafter, Harry is arrested for the murder of Nola Kellergen, a young girl who has been dead for over 30 years, and whose body has recently been discovered buried in Harry’s back yard.  Marcus returns to Somerset in order to support Harry and to find the truth about what happened that night so many years ago, as well as the events leading up to Nola’s murder.  He discovers that during the summer of 1975, 34-year old Harry fell in love with 15-year old Nola, and planned to leave town with her at the end of the summer.  He also discovers that Nola, and Harry’s forbidden love for her, were the inspiration for Harry’s career-defining novel, The Origin of Evil.  As Marcus investigates people and events in and around Somerset in 1975, he uncovers truths and cover-ups that lead him deeper and deeper into a world he could never have imagined.”   I clearly loved this novel, but as I reread it, I wondered, as I always do, whether my book club ladies would like it.  When I got to the meeting, there were a couple members already there, and even as we entered the meeting room, discussion of the book and the characters had already started (and a very animated conversation it was, too!)  When everyone had arrived, we went around the table as we usually do to find out what people thought of the book.  Well, I worried for nothing, as everyone loved the book!  Some members said they got a copy from the library and were daunted by the size of the book (over 600 pages), but that it sucked them in right away and they couldn’t put it down.  Another member thought that it was a bit overlong, and that the sections describing Harry’s and Nola’s feelings for each other were a bit excessive and could have used some editing (I had to agree with that).  But in general, everyone enjoyed it.  One member described Harry as “despicable”, and pointed out that there were many controlling women in the book:  Marcus’ mom, Tamara, and Nola, in particular.  Another member felt that the relationships and interactions between Marcus and his mother, his agent, and the lead investigator, Gahalowood, were humourous, and that this comic relief offered a good balance for the seriousness of the investigation, whose subject matter was quite dark.  She also pointed out that there were many “red herrings”, and another member agreed, stating that the author led you down “many rabbit holes”.  One member read a quotation from the book about how Marcus became “Marcus the Magnificent”, that it was all about creating appearances, and that she thought that summed up the entire book, and we all agreed.  We talked about the use of repetition in the book, that Dicker used a format that offered many different versions of the same events from different points of view, all in an effort to find “the truth”, but that the truth is different for everyone.  We discussed “age of consent” and how this has changed over time, in different countries around the world, and in different types of relationships.  I wondered whether a 34-year-old man could, in fact, be in love with a 15-year-old girl, and the group pointed out that Harry had, until his move to Somerset, been a high school teacher, so he would already have been able to relate to his students and to develop a rapport with people of that age group, which I hadn’t thought of.  I guess I had a hard time remembering that, at the time of his relationship, he was only in his mid-30s, that I kept seeing him as the 67-year-old recluse.  We talked about the relationship between Harry and Nola, and wondered whether it was ever consummated - we thought not, but it was never made clear.  Someone else pointed out that Nola behaved toward Harry in an alternately flirtatious and maternal way, which turns out to be significant based on her psychological state as revealed by the end of the book, something I didn't pick up on at all during either of my readings. All in all, we felt that it was cleverly written and that the author used literary techniques to keep the reader guessing until the very last, tongue-in-cheek page.  We thought it would be a good idea to all go to see the movie together when it comes out.  I would give this book a 10 out of 10, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a literary mystery, a book that explores the reality of life in a small town, or the writer’s life.  Note:  If you decide to read it, please don’t skip the Acknowledgements at the end.  

And I finished listening to an audiobook that was in great demand, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.  This novel opens with the declaration that on May 3, 1977, Lydia Lee is dead.  The rest of the novel explores the lives of the Lee family to determine how the eldest daughter ended up drowned in the small lake in the centre of their community.  The father, James, is the son of a struggling Chinese immigrant family, and blond, blue-eyed mother Marilyn is as “all-American” as you can get.  At the time, their marriage is unprecedented, and Ng follows their lives leading up to Lydia’s death.  It was a bestseller when it came out in 2014, so I was quite excited to finally have access to the audiobook through the library.  But I was somewhat disappointed with this listening experience, despite being an award-winning book.  I think it was the style of the narration that put me off - it was read very slowly and expressively, which tended to drag out the story.  I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if I’d read the book instead of listening to it.  I also wonder whether the fact that I listened to much of this book, about an unhappy teen, at the same time as reading All the Rage, about an unhappy teen, influenced my ability to appreciate the book as a separate entity. I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it, so let’s just say that my personal experience failed to live up to my expectations.  

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the glorious sunshine!

Bye for now…

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