Sunday, 19 January 2020

"Same old, same old" on another snowy morning...

After my experimentation last weekend, I’ve decided that the best tea and treat for blogging are my usual steeped chai tea and a delicious date bar, so that is what I’m treating myself to today (pun totally intended!).
I have been struggling to get through the very dense prose of Anna Burns’ Man Booker-prize-winning novel Milkman, but unfortunately I’ve only read half so far and my Friends’ book club meets tomorrow night.  The dilemma I had yesterday, after picking up three bestselling novels that were on hold for me at the library, was whether it was worth continuing my struggle, knowing that I would never finish in time, or give myself a break and read one of these others that are due back in three weeks and are surely on hold for other library patrons.  What I decided was to read yesterday as far as I could get, then pick up a new book today, and with that pressure off, the time I spent reading yesterday was so much more enjoyable. Burns is the first Irish novelist to win the Man Booker Prize, and we decided on this novel last time our group met just as a last-minute selection - none of us knew anything about it.  Told from the point of view of our eighteen-year-old female narrator, known only as middle sister, this novel is set in an unnamed city in the 1970s, where walking-and-reading, watching sunsets, and attending French classes are considered potentially subversive. When she begins to be pursued by a forty-two-year-old paramilitary known only as Milkman, rumours abound: is she having an affair with him?  (disgusting); is she joining the renouncers?; or the defenders-of-the-state?; is she being influenced by political ideas from “the other side”, “over the water”, “that side of the road”, or “over the border”? She tries to stay under everyone’s radar and carry on walking-and-reading, and having a maybe-relationship with maybe-boyfriend, but due to her new association with Milkman (who isn’t a real milkman), she is sucked into the political problems of the state and must make choices that will affect her life and the lives of those around her.  At first I thought this was a dystopian novel, based on the namelessness of everything, but then I realized that it was, in fact, based on the political troubles in Northern Ireland in the ‘70s, and one woman’s attempts to navigate through the murky waters of the ever-changing, volatile rules and expectations which, if ignored or spurned, could have disastrous results. This is definitely a Lee Valley book, as it relies heavily on the author’s phenomenal use of language to create a richly detailed scenario and, by drawing the reader fully into the environment, we, along with middle sister, experience the frightfulness and uncertainty of everyday actions and activities.  It is a brilliant novel, but it is not an easy read. Every word and (sometimes very long) sentence needs to not only be savoured, but the meaning of which often needs to be decrypted. It is also filled with wry humour, which serves to alleviate the novel’s dismal atmosphere, demonstrating, too, the hopefulness that exists within the narrator despite the obstacles thrown in her path at every turn. It is a book I want to finish at some point, but I will stop now and read my other books, since they are in high demand. I can’t wait to hear what my friends say at the meeting tomorrow night.
And I finished an audiobook last week that I want to briefly mention here.  Bunny by Mona Awad, tells the story of Samantha Mackie, an outsider in the MFA program at her exclusive college, where she is able to attend only because of a scholarship.  The others in her fiction-writing course she calls Bunnies, because that is what they call each other: four young women who refer to each other as Bunny, as in “Hi, Bunny!”  What did you do this weekend, Bunny?” “Well, you already know, Bunny, because I was with you, Bunny!”. Samantha and her friend Ava, who does not go to Warren College, hang out, drink on the roof of Ava’s house, rant about the bunnies, and take tango lessons.  But when Samantha is invited into the Bunnies’ inner circle, she quickly falls down, down, down the rabbit hole of brainwashing that is the trademark of cult indoctrination. This novel, which I think is geared more towards what is now termed “new adults”, those in their early twenties, was not one I would have read as a print book, but the narrator did such a fabulous job that I stuck with it even as my patience ran thin.  It had such potential, a dark, grisly blend of the most macabre Grimms’ fairytales with twee Disney princesses, this criticism of elite academia could have been brilliant, but it just tried too hard to be everything. It was not the worst listening experience I’ve ever had, and it’s been fairly well-reviewed, so you could do worse if you’re looking for a satirical, fairytale-ish novel.
That’s all for today.  Time to put on my tall boots and get outside for a walk in the snow.

Bye for now…
Julie

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