The steaming cup of chai tea and yummy date bar from City Cafe sitting on the coffee table in front of me will hopefully be enough to cheer me up on this dreary morning. It’s been wet and overcast for days now, albeit milder than normal at this time of year. I imagine this is what Vancouver winters are like and I absolutely hate it. A friend of mine who grew up in Edinburgh taught me a new word a few years ago, “mizzling”, when it’s more than misty but less than drizzling outside, and I’ve been able to use that word more than a couple of times over the past week. Ugh… I don’t think we can hope for much better over the next few days, either. Thank goodness for good books to keep us busy and book clubs to get us out of the house!
Speaking of book clubs, I read a book for my Friends Book Group, which will be meeting tomorrow night. We will be discussing The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson. This debut novel tells the story of Kitty Miller, a single woman in her late thirties living in Denver in the early 1960s. She owns a small independent bookstore with her best friend Freida and has a cat named Aslan (yes, like the lion from the CS Lewis books). She lives in a rented townhouse and, at the beginning of the book, is taking care of her parents’ house while they are away on an extended vacation in Honolulu with Kitty’s aunt and uncle. She had hoped to meet a man and marry, even took out a personal ad in the local newspaper about eight years earlier, but things never worked out that way and now she’s resigned herself to her single life. Unfortunately, business at the bookstore has been declining ever since the streetcar that used to run down Pearl Street has been replaced by buses that bypass the area, and Kitty and Freida have been struggling to pay the rent for the past few months. They have to make a decision: move to the new shopping centres in the newly developing suburbs of town or close the shop and move on. Then Kitty’s dreams begin: She is married to a man named Lars and is living in one of the new houses in the very suburbs she has been avoiding. She has children and even a housekeeper, and she goes to fancy parties and wears beautiful dresses. Her husband (she can’t get used to saying that word!) calls her Katharyn, her real name which she hasn't used since childhood, preferring her simple nickname instead. She is a stay-at-home mom, as many women still were in the ‘60s, but this world is foreign to Kitty, who has worked all her life. At first she thinks it’s just a strange dream, a one-off, but when she finds herself in this other dream world night after night, she begins to look forward to it, even longs for it during the days in her “real” world. She seeks out people who inhabit her dream world and strives to confirm the existence of certain places or facts. As Kitty/Katharyn is drawn further and further into this alternate reality, the reader, too, is pulled along, and we discover along with the main character which world is real and which is just a dream. I think this will be a good book for discussion, as it will give us a chance to discuss how women's choices have broadened over the past fifty years. Also, I enjoy books that explore alternate realities, that look at a character’s life and consider how things may have been if one particular moment were different, one decision made differently. It was not great literature, but it brought to mind the excellent novel by Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, which also explored women's choices in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This book also reminded me of a book I read a few years ago by Canadian author Jo Walton called My Real Children, about an elderly woman in a nursing home who is visited by two different sets of children from her two alternate realities. This book, too, was set in the early 1960s. I think writing a book about alternate realities and making it convincing is difficult, and I don’t think either The Bookseller or My Real Children completely managed to do this. Having said that, I’m still glad to have read The Bookseller - again, not great literature, but it was still a compelling read. I’m curious what the people in my group will have to say about it tomorrow night.
And I finished listening to an audiobook last week, Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver. This novel, the first in a series, reminded me a bit of an Agatha Christie mystery, though not as good as Christie. Set in the early 1930s, it tells the story of Amory Ames, a young woman in an unhappy marriage who is tempted away to a seaside resort by her former fiancé, Gilmore Trent, in the hopes that Amory will have some luck convincing Gil’s sister Emmeline not to marry the shiftless womanizer Rupert Howe. When Rupert ends up murdered, the hotel guests are all suspects, but when Gil is arrested, Amory conducts her own investigation to determine who the real murderer is, often at the expense of her own safety. As an added complication, Amory’s handsome, yet wayward, husband Milo shows up at the hotel and throws himself into the investigation as well, despite Amory’s reluctance. When another murder occurs, the plot thickens as more clues are revealed and the suspect pool narrows. Can Amory discover who the murderer is and free Gil before more bodies turn up? This cozy mystery was narrated by Karen Cass, and I am happy to have the occasion to use the word “languid” in a sentence properly. Cass’ narration can be summed up as languid: slow, easy and relaxed, almost sluggish. At first I didn’t like the way it was being read, as I felt that she was reading too slowly and that it would take too long to finish the book, but then the style kind of grew on me and I realized that it was exactly the way a book about wealthy aristocrats at the seaside in the 1930s should be read. She was very expressive and captured the mood of the novel well. It was a light, easy listening experience, and I may check out others in this series, but not right away - I need something a bit more substantial right now.
That’s all for today. Stay dry and keep reading!
Bye for now…