Tuesday 18 July 2023

Long overdue...

WOW, it’s been a whole month since my last post, and all I can say is that there have been some unexpected events happening in my life that have disrupted my routines significantly.  On top of the disruptions, I’ve also been reading many Silver Birch nominee contenders, which I can’t tell you about, so it’s not that I haven’t been reading, I just haven't been posting. We’re headed out to Niagara-on-the-Lake for a daytrip today, so I’m taking advantage of the solitude of the early morning to write this post, and I apologize if this seems a bit disjointed, as I'm not quite fully awake. 

I read a pretty good book a couple of weeks ago by Canadian author Amy Stuart, A Death at the Party.  I’ve read a couple of her books in the past, and like fellow Canadian novelist Shari Lapena, while bestsellers, in my opinion, Stuart’s books had so much potential but somehow always fell just short of reaching them, leaving a sense of disappointment after the final page was read.  This book, however, delivered on all fronts and was a tense, gripping read from the very first paragraph.  The book opens with Nadine Walsh in the basement of her house standing over a dead body while her mother’s lavish birthday party is in full swing one floor above.  Rewinding to the morning of the party, the reader is taken through Nadine’s day of preparations while she also struggles to find answers to questions about her past that have haunted her for decades.  For this is not just her mother’s birthday, but another significant anniversary as well, one that Nadine has been encouraged to forget about for most of her life.  As the tension builds, we are drawn into the mystery along with Nadine until the final satisfying truth is revealed.  This was a great “unreliable narrator”-type story that really kept me turning pages, and while it may have verged on the less-than-credible at times, it was, for the most part, a good, solid thriller.  If you enjoyed Paula Hawkins’ Girl on the Train or Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, chances are you’d enjoy this book, too.

And my Volunteer Book Club recently met to discuss Alan’ Gratz’s Young Adult novel, Refugee.  Here is what I wrote when I read it for the first time in April 2019:  

“On this long weekend, I finished two Juvenile/Young Adult books.  The first is Refugee by Alan Gratz.  I love this Young Adult author, who is best known for his historical fiction set in WWII.  Refugee is a bit different in that it weaves together three stories set in different time periods, focusing on three separate families who are seeking refuge from a life set in areas of political controversy, war and almost-certain death.  Twelve-year-old Josef and his family are trying to escape Germany in 1939 after his father is released from a concentration camp and told that if he remains in Germany, he will be returned to the camp.  They obtain passage on a ship heading to Cuba, where they, along with nearly 900 other Jewish passengers, have been guaranteed asylum.  When, in 1994, Fidel Castro announces that anyone who wants to leave Cuba could do so without interference, Isabel and her family join forces with their neighbours and head out onto the Atlantic Ocean in a manmade boat to try to reach Miami before he changes his mind.  In 2005 Syria, amid bombing and riots, Mahmoud and his family also try to escape and head for asylum in Germany, where they believed they would be welcomed.  All of these families seek safety, and all face obstacles, take risks and encounter perils as they journey into an uncertain future, a future that they believe must be better than what they leave behind.  These stories, all based on real historical events, kept me forging ahead even when I knew I had other things that needed to be done - I just couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.  It had me cheering for these children, forced to grow up too soon and live through things no one of any age should ever have to experience.  This was a moving, heart-wrenching, yet ultimately uplifting and informative novel that I would recommend to readers between the ages of 10 and 100.”

Everyone in the book club seemed to have enjoyed this book, or maybe “enjoyed” is the wrong word, as it was, at times, so very heartwrenching.  One member said that it was so interesting to read about these types of experiences from a child’s point of view, as we so often read books as adults that are from an adult POV.  We spoke about the struggles immigrant and refugee children face when trying to settle into their new homes in new communities and new countries where they don’t know the customs or the language or the expectations.  Someone commented that refugees live three lives:  one before they leave their homes, a second as a refugee, and a third as they settle into their new home.  Imagine how that would feel, and what you would have to give up in order to have a hope of going on.  It was a good choice for our group, and I would recommend it to just about anyone.

And finally, my Friends Book Group met last night to discuss Herman Koch’s disturbing yet brilliant novel, The Dinner.  Here is what I said about this book in June 2013:

“I read The Dinner by Herman Koch last week.  This book was originally published in Dutch in 2009, and the English translation became available in 2012.  I only heard about it about a month ago when I read a review in our local paper, but I had to wait for a copy to come in for me at the library (I guess many others also read the review!).  This short novel poses the question:  how far would you go to protect the ones you love?  The entire novel takes place over a dinner in an expensive restaurant where two couples, brothers and their wives, meet to discuss something which is revealed about midway through the meal.  The sense of family secrecy hangs heavily over every aspect of the evening, from the choice of restaurant to the lack of reservations to the choice of appetizer and dessert to the conversation.  It is a dark, dangerous look inside one family’s secret closet, and the reader is caught up in the drama and shifting dynamics of these two families as they are revealed, parceled out as each course of the dinner arrives.  It was a really fabulous novel, but a story I felt I’ve read before.  It was biting and sarcastic, critical and opinionated, and as the story unfolds, the reader is increasingly doubtful of the narrator’s reliability.  As one reviewer stated, “Koch has mastered the non-feel-good novel” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/dutch-author-herman-koch-has-mastered-the-non-feel-good-novel/article9211457/)  I would definitely recommend it, but I would warn potential readers that it contains disturbing scenes and acts, not detailed explicitly, but with enough force to be unnerving.”

Our book club meeting last night was really more of a social gathering than a book club meeting, and I’ll admit that we spent most of the meeting catching up and discussing other topics, something I usually frown upon when we’re supposed to be discussing a book, but I wanted this discussion to come about organically, which it eventually did.  We discussed the violence in the book, the narrator (whom no one liked), the narrator’s wife, and of course, the ending.  Did Koch go over the top with this story?  One of my book club friends thought so.  She said that it started off really interesting but that it veered into the realm of the absurd before the final pages, and I have to admit that she’s not necessarily wrong.  I’d forgotten much of the story, but it all came back to be as I reread it, and I marveled at Koch’s skill with language, the way he can draw you in and make you feel as though you are in the restaurant with these fictional characters, maybe sitting at the table in the corner, trying to eavesdrop on the conversation.  I stand by my original assessment of the book, that it was a brilliant, disturbing look at how far some parents would go to protect their children.  

That’s all for today.  Have a wonderful day and get outside to enjoy the lovely summer day! 

Bye for now…

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