Posts Tagged 'novel'

Reading – The Railwayman’s Wife

RehobothsunrisebWritten by Ashley Hay

Has anyone else had a moment where you have to return a library book, and instead you renew it so that you can reread the last 15 or 20 pages over, again and again?

Guilty. <– that’s me.

That’s the moment when things turn, like a train doubling back on itself … and I think, “There was a moment when one person being in the wrong place at the right time would have been nice”. Set in Australia right after WWII, although with flashbacks we do visit before the war… It follows Anika Lachlan and her child after she’s lost her husband. Some things conveniently happen: the town sets her up as a librarian, two eligible men come back from the war. But other things are less convenient: both men are haunted by the war and their dreams, Ani keeps finding she is losing the essence of Mac, or feeling that his presence is in the way in every conversation. One man is a poet who has lost his words to the war, and his ability to teach young children. One man is a doctor with a surly personal manner. It’s like the perfect setup for a screwball romance, except it isn’t.

In Ani’s own words “The year I’ve had, Dr. Draper, here, with my daughter, making sense of this strange new world. I’ve lost my husband. I have this job. I wake up in my own room, in my own house. And yet everything, everything is different.”  It’s different from the other after-the-war novels I’ve read, possibly due to locale and the characters who seem independent of anything the writer was leading them to. Definitely a book to reread.

Reading: The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid

Some books jump to the front of the queue, even when you have perfectly fine reading material home from the library. Val McDermid’s “The Skeleton Road” jumped to the front, in front of the latest Laurie R. King book, and in front of two other books that are due back at the library tomorrow. And it stayed in the front, and was read and reread in 4 days.

Brief sum up: satisfying mystery, with some comic characters, but painted with a very broad brush by the mixed-up sadness of war torn lands. Not sure this is a book I want to see on television, because some things are best left to the imagination. Probably I’m alone there. 🙂

I’m  glad not to have seen the blurbs about the book, since they would have colored my reading experience. I plowed into Prologue and first chapter from the start, and found it hard to go back to work after lunch break. Good cold-weather reading, when you don’t want to go out into the howling wind and shovel the snow.

 

 

Reading: One of Ours by Willa Cather

Willa Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, One of Ours is an unexpected story of an unlikely hero whose life up until WWI seems rootless. We follow Claude Wheeler, from life as an alienated young boy, to a young college student who finds the culture he craves in Lincoln to have it taken away by life and choosing the wrong wife. I was honestly surprised by the desertion of his wife Enid (and her abrupt removal from the storyline). While I read, I idly wondered what the political climate was in China (siege of Tsingto in 1914?) during the outbreak of WWI, and if the pair would reunite, able to mature into a firmer relationship.

Everything seems set to move him from struggling to keep his father’s farm together while a new farm was being established in Colorado, to odd marriage (with a house built by his own hands on Nebraska farmland), and days drowsing in the corn he’s harvested, wondering what his purpose is. And events prime him to be excited at the thought of going where the trouble is, and enlisting as soon as he could. From Americans he met overseas who had enlisted in the Canadian air force prior to the US being in the war, to other farmers he met from other states, who were also swept up in the tide… the story moves at an introspective wandering pace.  If you want drama, and a look at how Americans (or possibly Nebraskans) of the time might have come to look at WWI and its aftermath, it’s worth checking out the book from the library. I bought mine at the Willa Cather Foundation (I couldn’t resist a paperback with a beautiful scene of Flanders poppies). If anyone else has read it, do you see similarities with The Song of Werther, by Goethe? I think it’s mostly the alienation of the main character, not writing style or subject matter, but I could be over-analyzing both.

Reading and the Pulitzer Prize

It was enough when Werner was a boy, wasn’t it? A world of wildflowers blooming up through the shapes of rusty cast-off parts. A world of berries and carrot peels and Frau Elena’s fairy tales. Of the sharp smell of tar, and trains passing, and bees humming in the window boxes. String and spit and wire and a voice on the radio offering a loom on which to spin his dreams.” — Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See.

Over the years, I’ve read books that lost the Pulitzer Prize (asterisked ones were assigned reading, but still good). How many of these have you read?

  • William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury*
  • Joseph Heller’s Catch-22
  • JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye*
  • Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street

I’ve also read quite a few prize winners: Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Tales of the South Pacific by Michener, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington. Most recently, I read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr — interesting, nuanced, and sort of left hanging, so the book finishes days later in your brain as you resolve the different parts. A tone of wonder and different ways of looking at things (or feeling things) got me past the WWII setting. But it’s a book that demands time (95 pages in, and I finally found my stride).

Now I’m back reading Willa Cather’s One of Ours, (I have a huge case of “Catheritis”)… and enjoying the completely different, tone of smalltown America. Small details like: farmers in Nebraska, during the outbreak of what would be WWI, struggling to understand what Luxembourg was, and heading to the attic for the unused Atlas. The first who volunteered before the draft, and walked into something bigger than them, that changed how the USA thought about itself. So, once I’m done this one, do you think I should start on the ones that lost (because the writing of these is normally quite good as well)?

The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham

But to all that moving experience there had been a shadow (a dark lining to the silver cloud), insistent and plain, which disconcerted her. In the sober gaiety of Sister St. Joseph, and much more in the beautiful courtesy of the Mother Superior, she had felt an aloofness …. There was a barrier between her and them. They spoke a different language not only of the tongue but of the heart. And when the door was closed upon her she felt that they had put her out of their minds so completely, going about their neglected work again without delay, that for them she might never have existed. She felt shut out not only from that poor little convent, but from some mysterious garden of the spirit after which with all her soul she hankered. She felt on a sudden alone as she had never felt alone before.”

The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham. Quite a page turner, filled with scandal in 1920s Hong Kong and then in backwoods China during a cholera epidemic. Kitty, the protagonist if not quite a heroine, makes a poor marriage, then an extramarital affair triggers her husband to volunteer to tend the dying in a cholera epidemic (and to drag her along). The fun is in watching the undertow of emotions slowly take shape, while Kitty becomes a 3-dimensional person. I think one more chapter in the book would have made the ending feel less rushed, and the conclusion more satisfyingly tantalizing.

Pour yourself a glass of iced green tea, pull up a chair on the shaded verandah, and start reading. And then ponder the questions I’m left with:

  • After all those lies, why did Kitty choose that one moment not to lie?
  • Is Charlie Townsend just a lout, or is he a villain of opportunity?
  • What happens to Kitty after the book ends?

Reading – The Care and Management of Lies

Jacqueline Winspear’s book, The Care and Management of Lies had been on my “to be read” list for quite some time. So when it showed up at the library, I put it into my pile of books to read. And then I got distracted by Abdication by Juliet Nicolson, until I realized even if it was frothy and easy to read while I knit, all the characters in the book seemed hateful. So I went back to Lies, and I didn’t regret it. The book is more nuanced, although knowing enough about WWI makes you want to shake some of the characters (back by Christmas… no, I don’t think so).

I spent a lot of time thinking about Dorritt/Thea’s prospects, and her choices that looked outwardly brave, with an inner voice revealing how frightened she is by potential repercussions of being a part of the woman’s suffrage movement. Thea is one of the characters in the book who is able to identify enviable calmness in others, but her choices seem overly driven by a need to be seen “as good as” her brother Tom, who on the battlefront. Kezia – I’m honestly not sure about Kezia and what motivates her, beyond being strong for her husband, Tom. Kezia’s character grows and changes the most, while Tom remains steadfast and terse through everything. The book is well worth a try, even if (like many books set in WWI) it’s a 2 hanky story when the war gets more grim.

The Pink Suit: a novel. By Nicole Mary Kelby

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby brings us back to the days when people were talking about grassy knolls, conspiracies in Dallas, and the days that led up to the loss of the USA’s 35th president. The story is told from the perspective of an Irish seamstress living in a New York boutique, creating the knockoff dresses that allowed Jackie Kennedy to wear French style with an American label. Seamstress Kate and her sweetheart, Patrick, are wonderful, and the story talks about what happens when an immigrants desire to live in the American dream is stood on its head. This book was a real treasure to read, and overshadowed the other books I picked up at the library. The owners of the dress boutique are well-drawn, slightly comic characters. The immigrant neighborhood where Kate lives is lovingly described, as are her family. Kate is a made up character, but you feel like you’re with her, fussing about making hundreds of fabric feathers for one patron or figuring out how to get the president’s wife’s body double away from the paparazzi.

Things I learned (because I’m too young to have seen original footage, and our television was black-and-white anyway): the dress worn by Jackie was pink, not blue. There was quite a shifty world of knockoffs that were done in America with the permission of the French fashion houses, as well as sometimes outright stolen designs. Pictures of Jacqueline Kennedy through the years are available here, through a slideshow at the Cut.


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