Sunday, 7 April 2019

Book talk on a mild spring morning...

I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar, as well as a slice of freshly baked Extra Banana-y Banana Bread, a zesty loaf with lemon and dried cranberries - yum! I have the patio door open so I can hear the birds chirping, and I have my first load of laundry of the year hanging outside. Spring seems to have arrived in full this weekend, and I intend to take advantage of it!
Yesterday morning my Volunteer Book Group meet to discuss The Deserters by local author Pamela Mulloy.  And as a special treat, Pamela came to our group to talk about her book!  This was our first ever author visit, and I feel confident in saying that it was a complete success.  I read the book last year and here is what I said about it then:
I read a book that was passed on to me by one of my book club members, The Deserters by Canadian author Pamela Mulloy.  This short novel, her debut, tells the story of Eugenie, a middle-aged woman living on a farm in New Brunswick, Dean, a man who fled the US to evade a call for another tour of duty  in Iraq and is hiding out in the woods near the farm, and Eugenie’s husband, Michael, who is away in Spain working as a carpentry apprentice. Eugenie is trying to restore the farmhouse and the land, which she inherited from her grandmother, but it is almost more than she can manage alone.  When Dean offers to help out, she readily accepts, and the two form a bond that only shared hard work and private contemplation can bring about. Eugenie is worried that Michael will not want to come back to Canada, and she fears her marriage is over. Well, she fears it, but may also welcome it.  Michael has his own issues to work out, which the time spent alone in Spain is allowing. And Dean is suffering PTSD after his first tour in Iraq, his sections peppered with flashbacks to his time there as he struggles to piece together his memories from that time. When Eugenie’s sister, Ivy, arrives from Montreal, things get complicated, then Michael returns, and we the readers know that things can’t possibly turn out happily for everyone.  Local author Mulloy did an amazing job with this slim literary novel that feels much longer than its 240 pages. While I could have kept reading and finished it in a day or two, the writing style almost demanded a slow, mindful reading experience that allows the reader to take in every word and consider the mounting complications, the emotional turmoil for the characters, that each shift in their seemingly isolated situations create. It was a wonderful book, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough.  I’m adding it to my book club selection list for next year, and am planning to invite the author to come and speak to our group, our first ever author visit!
Well, I did and she did, and what a wonderful discussion it was!  I was quite nervous about this, but Pamela was so wonderful and welcoming, and she fit right into the group.  She began by telling us a bit about herself and her life, and where the idea for the book came from. Interestingly enough, I thought the book was equally about Eugenie and Dean, but the idea for the book originated with her desire to explore the effects of war on soldiers and PTSD, and the relationship and complications with Eugenie came about much later in the planning.  We talked about the names in the book, Eugenie and Michael, Ivy and Dean, and what they meant to the author as well as the way we the readers interpreted them. We discussed the complex and complicated relationships in the novel, between Eugenie and Dean, Eugenie and Michael, Eugenie and Ivy, and the inevitable ending of the story. Pamela shared the ways in which she researched PTSD, and her personal family connection that inspired her to explore this issue.  We discussed why Dean carried around a copy of Homer’s The Iliad, and what Pamela referred to as “the universal and constant narrative of war”.  We discussed the title, and how it could refer to different characters in the novel, deserters from the army, from relationships, from life, from responsibilities.  One member mentioned that, while she understood the internal conflicts and emotions of the characters, she didn’t know what anyone looked like! I’d never really thought about that, but it’s true, there are no descriptions of the characters’ physical attributes, but their internal struggles, as well as the settings, are described in detail.  Pamela said that, for her, the interior of the characters and the settings are more important, but that she didn’t consciously exclude descriptions of her characters, it just never became part of the book. I’m sure we all benefited from this insightful discussion with the author, and I think she also enjoyed hearing the views and opinions of readers who have read her book and thought about it in depth.  It was probably the best meeting we’ll have all year, and once again, I would recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in novels exploring PTSD, complicated relationships, and domestic fiction. Thanks Pamela - you were an awesome guest!
That’s all for today.  Time to get outside and go for a long walk - I may even have to pull out my sandals!  (On Friday, I was wearing boots and gloves!)
Bye for now…
Julie

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