The heat wave has continued all through last week, but is hopefully ending soon, as we are experiencing an unbearably humid Sunday, with the temperature at 32º, feeling like 42º! I set the A/C to a slightly cooler temperature and baked a Date Loaf, which I am going to enjoy with my steeped chai. I also made a big pot of tomato soup with fresh Ontario tomatoes - YUM! But I’m definitely staying inside today, reading and cleaning the house and reorganizing my bookshelves.
Since my last post I read two books that I’d picked up from the library. The first was a short-ish novel, The Girl Who Wasn’t There by German author Ferdinand von Schirach, translated by Anthea Bell. I thought it was a mystery, and yes, there was an investigation into a missing girl and a suspect being held in jail waiting for his trial, but it was absolutely not a mystery in any traditional sense. Sebastian von Eschberg grew up in a crumbling countryside estate. He was neglected by his parents, which made him lonely enough to ruin his childhood, but he was also different; he saw everything in a myriad of vivid colours, alienating him from others, even as he chose to alienate himself from them, preferring to observe life around him rather than participate in it. When he was still a young boy, he witnessed his father shoot and gut a deer, then go on to kill himself. We know this can’t lead to a normal adulthood for Sebastian, and so it was not surprising to read that he has grown up to become a famous, if controversial, artist. He seems to have difficulty forming relationships, which is, once again, not surprising, but the surprise comes when he is picked up by local police for the murder of a teen-aged girl. This reader wondered if his childhood was bad enough to turn him into a murderer. Sebastian doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help his case, but his defence lawyer does a good job of digging into his past and the lives of his family to uncover truths that may just set him free. As I’ve said, this was not a mystery, but more of an exploration into questions of guilt and innocence, appearance and reality, and what "the truth" really is. It was slow to get going, and I was thankful that it was not a long book, but it was interesting enough that I just got von Schirach’s first novel, The Collini Case, from the library. I’ve never read The Trial, but while reading this book, I imagined that it might be similar to Kafka’s famous book. I will close with a passage from the novel that really made me think:
“We get up every morning… we live our lives, all the little things that go into them, our work, our hope, making love. We think that what we do is important and that we mean something. We believe we are certain, love is certain, and the society and places in which we live. We believe in all that because otherwise nothing works. But now and then we stop, time tears apart for a moment, and in that moment we understand, all we can see is our own reflections…. Then, gradually, things come back: the laughter of the strange woman in the corridor, afternoons after rain, the smell of wet linen and iris and dark green moss on the stones. And we go on in the same way we have always gone on, and as we will always go on again.” (p 216)
I was then looking for something else to read and was going through some of the books I picked up from the library. One was a collection of short stories by Ted Chiang. I didn’t realize that these were sci-fi stories, but I ended up reading a very short story that had a similar message to the one quoted above:
From “What’s expected of us": “...my message to you is this: Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important; what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma. Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has.” (Exhalation by Ted Chiang, p 60)
I ended up finding a book that I thought was mainly a mystery but once again, I was wrong. How a Woman Becomes a Lake by Canadian-born author Marjorie Celona opens in the small fishing village of Whale Bay on New Year’s Day, 1986, when Vera takes her dog, Scout, for a walk near the lake and never returns. At the same time, Leo takes his young sons to the lake with the intention of teaching them to shoot, but, instead, something happens that will change their lives forever. What unfolds is the investigation into Vera’s disappearance, laying her life bare for all to see, her thwarted ambitions and her failing marriage to much-older husband Denny. Leo is of course a suspect, and we learn of his failed marriage to Evelina, his love-hate relationship with his sons, Jesse and Dmitri, and his desire to start a new life with his girlfriend Holly. The investigating officer, Lewis Côté, works on discovering the truth about the disappearance but along the way he becomes enmeshed in the lives of those left behind. Yes, it was a mystery, but oh, it was so much more! It was an exploration into life, death, grief, and the complex relationships that make up a family. Celona examined issues of loneliness and the need to connect to others. Regret, lost opportunities, and the ways various individuals cope with past mistakes and forge ahead with their lives are all dealt with beautifully and compassionately in this quietly brilliant novel. This is one I might put on our book club list for next year (if we ever have book club meetings again!), as it managed to peel back the many different layers that make up the lives of these characters. I would highly recommend this deeply moving, thought-provoking novel to readers who enjoy books that explore the vast complexities of life. (I'm so excited to finally have a title to offer when people inevitably ask me if I've read anything good lately!!)
WOW, that was a much deeper post than I expected to write. I think I need a light read this week. It’s really raining right now, with a chance of thunderstorms and even tornadoes, so I’m definitely staying in and reading!
Stay cool, stay dry, stay safe, and pick up a good book!Bye for now…