Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Read recently: famous people doing bad things, people off (various) rails, housewives, Edith Wharton homages, and reincarnation

I've been on a good run recently for books, except for poor Helen Humphrey's Nocture, which just came in for me when reading it would be scratching a raw wound (another time, another place....)

So, here are some goodies I digested of late:
  • A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee: an unintentionally funny choice of literature during the Rob Ford debacle. Corporate lawyer husband Ben betrays wife Helen with a front-page scandal involving an intern in his office and a car accident. Forced to make her own way with her husband in jail, Helen finds that she has a talent for a certain type of PR work: crisis management. An interesting look into the privileged class in America, one troubled but redeemable marriage, and the modern rite of the public apology. As Helen tells a client, “People are quick to judge, they are quick to condemn, but that’s mostly because their ultimate desire is to forgive.” 
  • The Age of Hope by David Bergen: Canada Reads, and all that. I loved this book because I loved Hope, with her tender ambitions and her introspective emotions. People are always bothered about books with a female voice (in this case, almost exclusively a female perspective) by a male author. Read this because it's amazing, you'll wish you knew Hope, then realise that you probably do, and not because of the author or the CBC news.
  • The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout: Her Olive Kitteridge blew me away at Christmas 2008, when I read it sitting on a chair in my mother's office at church in between services (feeling like I was 12 again). The Burgess Boys, although very different in theme, also delves deeply into human emotions and motivations, family secrets, and small-town life. Strout distinguishes herself here in deftly moving between very distinct, and unknowable to each other, viewpoints.
  • The Innocents by Francesca Segal: OK, I read to the end because I was compelled to, and this was an interesting book, but ultimately I am going to have to say that the premise was really the best part (and that may reduce this to a footnote in literary terms)... And you know I read my way through the Women's Prize list every year. The Guardian described this book as having "transport[ed] Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence to NW11." A modern Jewish family plans a wedding, and things go awry.
  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple: Something about the runaway mother made me think of Veronica Mars, here, and the wry humour and us vs. them mentality didn't help! An oddly charming novel about a traumatised architect, her gifted daughter and successful husband, annoying neighbours who aren't always what they seem, some renegade shrubbery and an Antarctic voyage.
  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: Oh, those characters, you know the ones, who you feel are friends and you can't bear to close the book and leave their tight circle. This was one of those books, full of those characters. On my bad days, I am jealous like Jules. On my good days, I am on fire like Figman. What inspired me about this novel was the way the characters invent and re-invent themselves, staying the same and yet changing. A lesson for us all, and we're lucky if we have people like these with us on the journey.
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: I'm clearly veering off into crazy now, but I wanted to gobble this novel up. My favourite country and time period, a main character with my grandmother's name, a great fox metaphor and a Hitler assassination attempt? Heck, yes. Someone at the Guardian made a great link from this book to Rushdie's Midnight's Children, in that "to understand just one life, you have to swallow the world." Or, as blogger and reviewer Kerry Clare wrote, "Think Sliding Doors and The Post-Birthday World, though not with parallel lives exactly but an array of them instead, strung together like a garland of paper chain dolls." So, yes, this is a novel about reincarnation, and Ursula, our main character, has a particularly difficult time getting through both the Spanish influenza and World War II (but then, who didn't?). You have to love the characters, the relationships, the familiar walk-ons in variations of themselves, and the "and then what did [he/she] do?" aspect of the plot threads, to not get frustrated as Ursula dies again and again (in what begins to resemble an Edward Gorey-esque efficiency), and I did.

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