Sunday 19 March 2023

Last winter post...

It’s Sunday evening on the last day of winter and despite the extra brightness due to Daylight Savings Time, it definitely felt like winter today, snowy and windy and cold for most of the afternoon.  It’s also the end of March Break, and I haven’t written earlier because I hadn’t finished reading anything until a couple of days ago, but now I’ve finished two books to write about in this post.

I spent most of the week before March Break reading a book that was recommended to me by a friend… well, he actually recommended the second in the series, but I thought I should read the first book before I tackled the second.  My library didn’t have them so I made a suggestion for purchase and they bought both.  The book I read and just finished minutes ago was Delta-v by Daniel Suarez, a high-tech thriller set mainly in deep space as a crew of experts undertake a secret mission to mine asteroids.  The novel begins with charismatic billionaire Nathan Joyce inviting adventurers from across the globe to take part in his latest scheme - to mine a near-Earth asteroid for resources in the hopes of kick-starting an off-world economy.   Among those invited to train are an ex-caver, an ex-soldier, a former astronaut and a mountain climber, but only a handful will make the final cut.  When these lucky few are sent out to attempt the first human-guided mining operation, no one knows what to expect, least of all Joyce himself. What the crew and the billionaire face could pave the way for a multi-planet human existence, and could lead to fame and fortune or destruction and death.  This novel, followed by Critical Mass (the one my friend actually recommended), was set in the near-future (the 2030s) and took some time to get off the ground (no pun intended!!), but once the story really started going, it was a deep space roller coaster ride around the galaxy.  I’m not a real “space gal”, so much of the science went over my head (again, no pun intended!), but rather than letting myself get bogged down by that, I just went with it and figured I’d get the gist of the story without dwelling on all the details I didn’t understand.  I had to stop reading this a few days ago because I have a book club meeting tomorrow night and I wanted to make sure I had enough time to read that book, but I was able to seamlessly pick up where I left off, and it got very, very exciting in the last third of the book.  If you like space thrillers, this might be a good choice for you.  It was less literary than Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, but it was certainly an accessible read, even for an astronaut-neophyte like me. I think I'll hold off on tackling Critical Mass, as I have so many other books to read and I need to give my brain a break from all the science!

And I reread Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, which I think I enjoyed a bit less than the first time I’d read it.  Here’s my post from September 26, 2014:

“I didn't get much reading done last Sunday, as it turned out to be a fabulous "outside" day.  But I did manage to get a start on McEwan's novel, The Children Act.  I always enjoy his novels, although sometimes I have to ruminate on them for a bit after reaching the last page before coming to that conclusion - this happened with On Chesil Beach, which I at first thought was a waste of my time, but then decided was brilliant.  The trick with McEwan is to realize that he is a master at the short novel, and what ground he does not cover in terms of time or events he more than makes up for in personal meaning, emotional significance, and  reflections on the human condition.  He is a master at writing about the minutae of daily life and suffusing it with significance, until we as readers are brought inside the main characters' heads and experience his or her thoughts and feelings.  Case in point, Fiona Mayle, High Court judge and main character in The Children Act.  As the novel opens, Fiona is facing the potential breakdown of her thirty-year marriage with husband Jack.  Both are in the “twilight years” of their careers and Jack feels that he must take a bold step before it’s too late.  Fiona is distracted from their “not-quite-argument” by a call from the court advising her that a time-sensitive case involving the son of a Jehovah’s Witness couple who is in hospital with leukemia and refusing the blood transfusion necessary to complete his treatment has been assigned to her and will be scheduled for early the next morning.  Complicating the case is the age of the patient, 17 years and 9 months, that legal “gray area” where he is not quite old enough to decide his fate, but possibly old enough to make decisions regarding his future in an informed and intelligent way.  Fiona hears the arguments of the parents, the social worker/guardian, and the hospital regarding Adam’s condition and the potential outcome of the treatment if he does not receive a blood transfusion.  Despite the arguments by the parents and the social worker, Fiona is not satisfied with their view that Adam’s refusal is truly his own idea, uninfluenced by parents or other prominent religious figures in his life, and decides to go to the hospital to meet Adam herself.  During her visit with this beautiful, intelligent, talented young man, Fiona experiences unexpected emotions that radiate from deep within herself.  Adam, too, responds to Fiona intensely as they share an experience together that will prove to affect them both in their own ways.  When she returns to court after the visit that same evening to present her ruling, she could not have foreseen how profoundly this decision would affect the lives of all involved.  I can’t say any more without giving the story away, but suffice it to say that this novel lives up to the expectations one may have for McEwan’s work.  Now, it does not exceed expectations, at least for me, but considering the bar is already set so high, that would be a difficult feat… I found similar themes running through this novel as earlier works by the author, such as potential marital breakdown (A Child in Time), obsession (Enduring Love), and the possibility that profound moments with total strangers can sometimes change lives (Saturday).  McEwan manages to convey to the reader not just the events of a character’s daily life as they pertain to the plot, but the emotion accompanying these events, until we know we will never experience certain things the same way again.  And don’t be fooled by the length of the novel – it may only be just over 200 pages, but each page is filled with such a mastery of language that you may need to reread sections just to make sure you’ve taken it all in.  And while you will want to read it slowly and savour each and every word, it will be the kind of book you won’t be able to put down.  So enjoy!”

As I read what I’d written nearly nine years ago, I guess I agree with everything, but it just didn’t resonate with me quite as much this time, maybe because it was a reread, or maybe because I was rushing to finish it so I could get back to the Suarez novel.  Whatever the reason, I’m glad to have reread it and will be interested to hear what others at the meeting have to say about it.

That’s all for now.  Enjoy the last evening of winter.  Happy Spring!

Bye for now…

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