Monday, 6 April 2020

Tea and so-so treats on a bright spring morning...

I’ve got a cup of steaming chai tea on the table in front of me, and I hope it will be delicious enough to make up for my so-so treats.  I made Banana Bread late last week, and it was good the first few days, but I think it's reached its limit of "edibility", so I’m going to eat the last big slice this morning. I also have three Timbits left over from the pack we bought yesterday, not even my favourites, but still, they’ve got to be eaten, so this morning I feel like I’m doing a bit of “cleaning up” in the treats department.  They’re not a delicious Date Bar, but hopefully they will see me through the writing of this post.
I finished reading something I picked up at the library conference I was at in January, an Advanced Reader’s Edition of Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, which has been heavily marketed by the publisher and promoted by Indigo.  It tells the story of the sexual abuse of fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye by her forty-two-year-old teacher Jacob Strane while attending a boarding school in Maine.  Vanessa was an intelligent, eager, ambitious, yet shy student who begged her parents to attend this prestigious school, and was awarded a scholarship, the only way her family could afford it.  During her second year there, she seeks approval from Strane, her English teacher, and when he begins to single her out for special attention, she is thrilled. But what fifteen-year-old Wye sees as special attention the reader can identify as grooming, and this reader cringed even as I sped through the disturbing pages.  We also see Vanessa at different ages throughout this novel, from fifteen to thirty-two, and see how the abusive relationship with Strane has affected (or should I say “infected”?) every aspect of her life, as she refuses to see what happened to her as abuse. This novel explores the fine lines between coercion and consent, victimhood and culpability.  It was a disturbing read, and while I’m glad I read it, I will be very careful about recommending it, as it may hit a bit too close to home for many people.
I also finished listening to an audiobook last week, The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre, read by my favourite narrator John Lee.  I almost never read or listen to non-fiction, but I’ve listened to another book by this author in the past, Agent Zigzag, also narrated by John Lee, which was awesome.  This book tells the story of the exfiltration of a British double agent from the Soviet Union, and it was a real page-turner - well, I wasn’t turning pages, but I was trying to find every opportunity to listen to more of this story!  Oleg Gordievsky was a well-respected and highly placed KGB officer, but for 11 years during the Cold War, he was also spying for Britain. This book tells his fascinating story, from his early years when he learned German and began reading western newspapers to his recruitment into the KGB and his various postings, where he became disillusioned by the grey totalitarianism of the Soviet regime.  He was sent to Copenhagen in the late-1960s, at which time he decided to fight communism from the inside. After returning to Moscow, he contrived to secure a posting in the west, and ended up in London as a KGB officer spying on Britain, but also spying on his own country for MI6. In 1985, Gordievsky received a telegram from his KGB superiors requesting his return to Moscow. Was this a routine visit, or had he been found out?  He returned with apprehension, and what follows is the detailed recounting of one of the most exciting escape plans I’ve ever read, in fiction or non-fiction. I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone, as it has everything you could want: espionage, politics, history, character studies, even a love story, and it read like a novel by John Le Carré.  
That’s all for today.  Thank goodness walking outside and reading are still two acceptable ways to fill our days during these stressful times.  I plan to do alot of both in the coming week, and will share my thoughts about book(s) and audiobook(s) again this time next week.
Bye for now…
Julie

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