It’s raining this morning, something we’ve needed for a while, and I’m officially into the first full week of my summer vacation - HURRAY!! I was at the Mennonite thrift store yesterday to look at books and I ended up buying a really interesting triangular shaped teacup and saucer set, white porcelain with a bold pink flower on both the cup and the saucer, which I’m using right now to drink my flowery steeped Pu-erh Exotic tea. So far, it’s a great morning!
I’ve got two books to tell you about this morning. The first is a book that was on the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Sorrow and Bliss by British Australian author Meg Mason. Now, I know that Canadian author Ruth Ozeki won this year’s prize for The Book of Form and Emptiness, which I’m sure is fabulous, but Sorrow and Bliss was probably one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I can understand how it made the shortlist. This novel tells the story of Martha Friel, a 40-year-old British columnist who has just split up with Patrick, her husband of seven years. She has moved back into her dysfunctional family home where she hopes to come to terms with the mental illness she has been trying to deal with since she was seventeen and a “little bomb” went off in her brain. She recounts for us her experiences growing up with her alcoholic sculptor mother Celia and her kindly not-published poet father Fergus, as well as her younger sister Ingrid, with whom she has a close relationship. She experiences suicidal thoughts throughout the 20+ years leading up to her 40th birthday party, thrown for her by her husband even though she specifically said that she didn’t want a party. Shortly after this, Patrick leaves, and Martha must try to cope on her own, which she does poorly, prompting her to return to her London home. I don’t want to say any more about the story or her experiences because the discovery is part of the joy of reading this book. I will say that it was a hugely moving story of one woman’s struggle to cope with mental illness, and the devastating effects on people’s lives when mental health issues are ignored, denied or go undiagnosed or unacknowledged. It was also incredibly funny, in a dark, insightful way, and the witty, sarcastic banter between Martha and Ingrid were some of the best parts of the book (well, to be honest, the whole book was a string of “best parts”). It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me feel deeply for those who suffer in silence. This book brought to mind Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar: imagine Esther Greenwood in a contemporary setting but 20 years older and having had various adult experiences, including getting married. Actually, both Esther and Martha are writers, so maybe Mason was inspired by Plath’s novel. Anyway, I think if you enjoyed The Bell Jar, you would definitely enjoy Sorrow and Bliss. It will certainly make my "shortlist" at the end of the year!
And my Volunteer Book Club will be meeting on Friday morning to discuss Canadian author Richard Wagamese’s amazing novel Indian Horse, which I finished yesterday. This novel tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway boy whose family was forcibly separated in the late 1950’s and he ended up at a residential school at the age of eight. There he suffered the terrible living conditions and mistreatment by the priests and nuns and witnessed more sorrow and cruelty than any child should ever see, but he had the love of hockey to keep his spirits up and give him purpose and hope during those desolate years. He begs Father Leboutilier to allow him to play, and he exhibits a gift for seeing the game and using the ice to its fullest for strategic passing. He’s singled out by Fred Kelly, a former residential school student, and moves into Fred’s family home to play with the Moose, a team of older boys who play a circuit of other Native hockey teams. Saul’s gifts bring the team plenty of wins and they are invited to play an exhibition game against an older, more polished team of white players. This portion of the book details the discrimination these Native players face in towns in Northern Ontario in the 1960s, when hockey was seen as a white man’s game. Saul reluctantly moves up through the levels of hockey until he loses himself in the face of hatred and discrimination. Although it takes many years, Saul eventually learns to deal with his past and finds a way to restore the peace and joy he felt when he first discovered hockey. This was a fabulous read, a novel that was both incredibly heartwrenching but also filled with hope. Wagamese did an amazing job of making Saul real and relatable, and I was thankful that there were so many moments of joy in what could have been an utterly depressing yet necessary book. Barely over 200 pages, it is a short book that seems so much longer. Like Saul’s hockey moves, each of Wagamese’s words was deliberately chosen and packed with meaning. I think it will spark a great discussion with my group. If you haven’t already read this award-winning novel, I would recommend picking it up as soon as possible.
That’s all for today. Stay cool and dry!
Bye for now... Julie