Sunday, October 11, 2009
Set in the 1960's, as the story unfolds, the reader meets the two sisters, their mother and an evolving cast of characters they encounter along the way. We learn that the mother and the girls are English, that they've left home in search of adventure. Though there is a father, he is out of the picture, save for sending money and Christmas gifts to the girls.
Though the mother is a talented seamstress, she appears without further credentials, and makes her way through various adventures either by her wits or with the help of a young Arab man, Bilal. It is Bilal, whom her youngest daughter pointedly asks to be her father, at one point. Largely without resources, the mother and her girls survive from day to day, and she spends a great deal of time worrying whether or not money from England will present itself.
For his part, Bilal also survives by his wits, acrobatic tricks and business schemes, which fall flat, as he is unable to train the narrator of this story to effect more than a handstand. A growing attraction to Sufism compels the girls' mother apart from Bilal as she goes to another town in search of a mystic with whom to broaden her spiritual horizons.
At this juncture, the oldest daughter, Bea, all of eight, announces she's staying put. Headstrong, Bea craves the stability of school and home, as does her younger sister, who dreams of mashed potatoes. Their wandering, self-preoccupied mother, meanwhile, remains oblivious to these needs.
Leaving Bea with an expatriate couple, her mother and the young narrator in this book set out, eventually making their way to yet another town by train, hitch hiking and walking until they find the desired Sufi colony. Gone for weeks on end, growing penury and the event of Bea's birthday finally forces their return to Marrakesh.
Alarmed to learn that Bea is no longer where she left her, the reader finally sees panic set in as her mother searches, eventually locating Bea at a school for children with polio, which is run by yet another ex pat. Meeting her eldest in the midst of her birthday celebration, an event laden with sandwiches, fruits, cake and lemonade, Bea's mother notes a cold reception.
Returning to their previous hotel and its diverse inhabitants, the girls, their mother and Bilal find themselves in dire straits monetarily. It is then that Bilal composes a letter of flourishing prose, exhorting his rich Islamic brethren to show charity and kindness to this English woman. Instructing her to take the letter to the best merchants and others, the girls' mother is thus reduced to begging.
While one would think that this mother would then see sense and return to England, it is not until Bea evidences a nasty gum infection and is taken to see an ex-pat known as Auntie Rose, that the tide turns. Though Rose confirms a gum infection and shows Bea how to gargle with warm water and salt, she is neither doctor nor dentist, advising the girls' mother to simply get them home.
Finally obtaining medication from a doctor, Bea's infection clears, and plans are made to return to England. In a poignant ending, Bea climbs into a barren luggage rack, softly chanting the words hideous kinky to herself as the narrator of this story decides to stay seated with their mother, in case she should suddenly drop her plans to go home, exiting instead at one of the train stops.
While I enjoyed the perspective and narration in Freud's novel, I often found myself wondering what the girls' mother was thinking, first carting them across Europe in a broken down caravan driven by her married boyfriend, while his wife in the back doesn't speak. The only words emerging from her almost catatonic silence are 'hideous kinky', which becomes a soothing mantra for the children as the twists and turns of this otherwise delightful read become too confusing.
The use of the youngest child as narrator in this book provides a comedic, innocent foil against which the restlessness, rootless wandering and spiritual dabbling of her mother contrast sharply. One wonders about the "Daddy in England," whose presents appear at Christmas, the boyfriend John, who leaves with his fragile wife as the others depart for Morocco via ferry from Spain, all of the prostitutes at their hotel in Marrakesh who steal a friend's baby's nappies and other things from them, and the mother's subsequent relationship with an otherwise religious Muslim, whom the narrator claims as her father. The plethora of characters they meet on their various adventures also stand out against the innocence of her narration, sometimes to an alarming degree. The mother's naivete in leaving Bea behind, is but one of many examples of this.
Another is her almost constant penury. Who takes children on a trip with no money and no plan as to how to provide for them? Who makes no plans for a child's education, leaving it to an eight-year-old to announce that she was going to school and needed a uniform? Given that the 60's were an era of hippies and 'free love', some but certainly not all of their mother's preoccupation and longing for adventure, was understandable, but these children seemed more like props on her stage, as did Bilal and John.
The fact that this book is loosely autobiographical is interesting. Freud, an actress turned novelist, appears open to adventure in this book. One wonders whether she is the young narrator of this tale or her more rebellious older sister.
Adapted into a 1998 film of the same title, this book is a refreshing read. As I have yet to see the film, starring Kate Winslett, I've no idea how the movie compares to the book. Has anyone else seen this?
Until Next Time...
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Kit is portrayed as rather manipulative; She becomes guilt-ridden after almost responding to the romantic attentions of their friend, Tunner. Her relationship with Porter is noticeably lacking in both romance and genuine affection. Tunner apparently has amorous feelings for Kit, which are never fully explored or explained by the author.
Another hallmark of these characters is that none of them seem aware of the myriad dangers present around them---from disease and bad food to political unrest. There is also the matter of an over-bearing, extremely racist, anti-Semitic English woman and her thieving son, who attempt to befriend the trio. Aside from feeling superior to Jews, the French and Africans, which the reader learns about via increasingly jarring commentary, her character and that of her son, appear to exemplify the worst of English classicism and racism, while Americans are portrayed as ignorant, adventure-seeking fools. Arabs are seen in a somewhat more sympathetic light.
When Porter dies after an unnamed illness, Kit wastes no time in fleeing, leaving Porter's corpse to be discovered by Tunner and the police. Leaving her old life behind, Kit determines to have an adventure of her own, paying no heed to the possible dangers, cultural differences or vagaries of politics that darken the road ahead.
Eventually becoming the concubine of an Arab, Kit also realises she too is ill, a situation that escalates as the last part of the story unfolds. When she is escapes and is at last located by the police and consulate, the woman sent to organise Kit's return to the United States is genuinely shocked at her appearance and attitude and wonders whether Kit has gone mad.
The reader, at least this one, is left with that unanswered question as well as others. and struck by Bowles apparent dislike of his characters.
As an expatriate himself for over fifty years, Bowles may have seen adventurers of every stripe; he is certainly unstinting in his portrayals. An interesting contrast in his own life is that Paul Bowles writing is characterized by dark elements while his musical compositions, for which he is also well known, are of much lighter tone. For more information about the author, visit the official Bowles website at http://www.PaulBowles.org.
The Sheltering Sky is a provacative read.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
We have 3 winners, with 42% of the votes each!! I have added them to the sidebar for our next 3 months.
I have also added a 'Working List' a bit further down the side bar. I suggest that when any of us thinks of a book they would like to read here, just add the title to this list. Any of the 'contributors/authors' of the blog can do this by going to the edit layout page from the dashboard. Alternatively leave a comment and one of us will do it. It just makes it easier to see at a glance what has been proposed without trawling back through all the comments. I have added all the books which we recently voted on which had one or more vote- and have left off those which had no votes!
Hope everyone is ok with this? I suppose at some stage we should have an explanation of how we choose books on the side bar, but as this is still a work in progress perhaps that should be for later. Feel free to comment if you think anything needs changing....!
Oh one other thing...if we write what we think about each book on one post (ie by adding our comments to the first person's post either by editing that post- because we can edit each other's- or by writing in the comments page) we can link the picture of the books we have read to that post- to make it quicker/easier to find past posts....not sure if I am making sense here...
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Having read e's post below and Jo's comments, I would like to propose that e chooses the book for October, as she has been having trouble getting books. therefore she can choose one she knows she can get hold of. Then I thought I would try to add a poll to the side bar to see if we can choose the next book few books after that.
I am not sure if it will work, because most of us who read here are co-authors of the blog, will it count as one vote? So I have enable 'multilpe votes' to see if that helps. Of course anyone who visits here who is not a 'co-author' can still vote!
I have tried to include all books suggestions from previous comments pages. I am sorry if I have missed anyone's choice- just leave a comment and we can add it in for next time. I propose that we take the 3 top chioces for our next 3 books. Any suggestions about how this progresses welcome....
Monday, September 14, 2009
Obtaining several of the selections for the VBC has been a persistent problem over the last months. I wonder if we might consider coming up with a short list of reading possibilities through December so that I and others can have a bit of advance time to secure the books via either the library or Amazon?
Also, I wonder if anyone has read any of the novels of Philippe Claudel?
Is anyone open to perhaps reading a play or some poetry?
As we've not yet settled on a selection for October, these are some ideas...
Friday, September 11, 2009
note- this may give away details of the plot....
A satisfying read. All the loose ends tied up at the end. A substantial plot with several climaxes. As a crime thriller though, not for the fainthearted. If this were a film it would have a rating of '18' at least. The scenes of sadistic rape and torture were painful to read. Each section of the book is introduced by a presumably accurate statistic about the extent of sexual violence and domestic abuse against women in Sweden. Shocking. I am uncertain whether the cause of these women is served by fictionalising this violence. Larsson makes good points about the role of power and its misuse in these situations. Although Lisbeth's revenge (against her guardian) is clever, I was uncomfortable knowing that our justice systems today are up against people of such cunning evil that no other option would be open to a victim. Abduction, torture and murder of disenfranchised women continues today and the novel seems to suggest that the high-profile serial-killer cases that come to light are just the tip of the iceberg.
The evil of fascist, neo-Nazi politics and the criminal activities of big corporations are other causes for reflection. As is the apparent ease with which it is possible for someone with the know-how to hack into a computer. I have been so naive!
I was surprised when the name of Enid Blyton came up when the authors on a bookshelf (was it Henrik's?) were listed. I later read that Larsson was a fan, also of Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking- on whom he based the character of Lisbeth ( a grown-up version). Mmmm.. a very grown up version!
There were many autobiographical elements- the author himself was a journalist, a vehement anti-nazi campaigner, a publisher of Expo, an independent Swedish anti-racist magazine, and himself a veteran of death threats. So we can surmise the character of Blomkvist is based on Larsson. Sadly the author, a 60-a-day smoker and a workaholic, died aged 50 from a heart attack in 2004- take note any driven authors out there.
I thought the pacing of the book was brilliant- considering the 2 main investigators do not even meet until the middle of the book, the threads of the strory were very cleverly woven. I thought all the characters were plausible (even Lisbeth)- but it is not edifying to think that we are so flawed as these characters are portrayed. It is not edifying to think that relationships are carried on in the absence of love. It is not edifying to think of the skeletons in our family histories- but all sadly plausible.
When we read the Martha Grimes I felt I was an outsider trying to get to grips with a group of characters that had a history together. The same is true of other series of books- Enid Blyton's 'The Famous Five', for example- you can't just read one in isolation- you have to read to read them in sequence. Larsson has 2 more in this trilogy. I am very tempted to see where he takes these characters next...
Friday, September 4, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
I found the first part of this book to be both a sobering and heartening read. 'Enjoyable' is not the word, considering the subject matter- the massacre of seven year-old Jakob's family at Nazi hands, his escape to Greece and the profound effect that witnessing this and other horrors has on his life, including his haunting by his murdered sister Bella. The message is eventually of healing; a peace that comes through the self-expression of poetry.
The relationship between Jakob and his rescuer/'Godfather' ('koumbaros'), was well drawn- the tenderness and respect they have for each other; their shared suffering resulting in a mutual understanding which can only be described as pure love.
Jakob receives a most amazing education from geologist Athos, who literally digs him out of the mud at Biskupin. Athos has a grip on our rootedness (if there is such a word!) in history and on the earth. "What is a man", said Athos, "who has no landscape? Nothing but mirrors and tides." I loved the descriptions of Greece, their friendships, their conversations, their shared discoveries.
Jakob speaks Yiddish, Polish and a smattering of German. With Athos he learns Hebrew, Greek and eventually English. The redemption of language is displayed in this novel. For Jakob, remembering his experiences in Polish or Greek is too painful- the memories are bound up in the language. However he finds that English is one step removed "English could protect me; an alphabet without memory". He starts to write poetry and makes the telling statement "Poetry, the power of language to restore".
Anne Michaels, the author, skillfully weaves in snippets of stories about Nazi occupation of Greece and their treatment of the Jewish people- each atrocity revealed by a hint or a glimpse fills the reader with fresh horror. It is very difficult to write about such subject matter in a work of fiction, but I think the author does it well. Such is her evocation of the effects of these horros on the survivors that when in part 2 Ben's father (a ghetto survivor and escapee) tries to enrol for a Canadian pension and comes face-to-face with an ex-Nazi (one presumes) now working in Canadian civil service, the cruelly whispered words "you do not have the right papers" sends chills down the spine.
Jakob talks about photographs he later sees of Nazi officers carrying out their 'duties'- how their faces are are captured laughing as if they do not believe they are doing anything wrong- as if they really believe that the people they are humiliating are not part of humanity- they are less than human- they are vermin. Jakob does not believe this however- he does not believe that they didn't know. He believes that deep down they each knew their victims were fully human. Their faces are lying, he says, and he finds this frightening. "If truth is not in the face then where is it? In the hands! In the hands!"
The second part of the story attempts to relate Jakob's story and experience to Ben, the son of a ghetto-survivor. The author wishes, I think, to show how history effects subsequent generations on a personal level. Ben comes to understand, for example, that his father's unusual behaviour and intense sadness around food; the fact that his mother sometimes has to soothe his father's head as he eats, can be explained by the dehumanising experiences of starvation in the ghetto.
Whilst the author makes some important observations here, I found this second part of the book more difficult to read- partly because I was still too lost in Jakob's story and still too amazed by his miraculous relationship with Michaela, to really want to focus on Ben and his relationships. The scenes of him picking through the deceased Jakob's possessions would ring true with anyone who has had to clear the belongongs of a deceased family member. I thought it was interesting that Ben found that Jakob had a collection of buttons- maybe this was Jakob's way of connecting with his mother who was sewing on buttons at the time of her death and all the boy Jakob could hear was the sound of the buttons clattering onto the floor...
So those are my thoughts! I am yet to find out if Jakob Beer was a real poet as is implied by the preface, or whether he has any published work. I'm off to google...
Sunday, August 2, 2009
I have read several stories with this narrative style. I've written in this narrative style. I've come to the conclusion that I don't like this narrative style. I especially didn't like it toward the last 50 pages when I completely lost the thread of the story and the narrator changed and started talking in the second person.
What's that about? Again, I've written using 'you' instead of 'I' or 'he/she'. But that was one short story and the narrator never changed. Didn't like it this time.
I guess I didn't like it. Sorry to be so negative.
I did like the point about the gradual instant though. That was nifty. I can imagine long convos dedicated to the gradual instant.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Ok, well through the use of careful deliberation, cold logic, and the process of elimination (eeny-meeny-miney-moe), I got our list down to 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' for August and 'The Sheltering Sky' for September. I have already started on 'The Plague' as our July Reading isn't holding my attention long enough to just read the one book.
What's this 'Book Lust'? I've rubbed a book all over me because it was so good. But that's a private moment between me and my book.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Has anyone a suggestion for August reading? There are a few books I'm interested in reading (actually several). I will list them here. These are just suggestions of course.
-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larson)
-The Sheltering Sky (Paul Bowles)
-The Plague (Albert Camus)
-The Deptford Trilogy (Robertson Davies)
-The Spirit Catches You and You Fall (Anne Fadiman)
-The Windup Bird Chronicles (Haruki Murakami)
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Well, I immediately appreciated the richness of language and imagery. Dense and one I was able to muddle my way through it all, quite beautiful. But as I would explain to colleagues who all wondered why I was reading the same book for over a week, let alone over two, I kept wondering when the f*** the story would start. Yeah, yeah, it’s the story of the life of a woman. I get it. But why not just write my story? Or my mom’s? Or my grandmother’s? Now that would’ve been a story. Like the time she used to hop the trains to Salinas to go dancing and only return home before dawn, her parents never knowing what she did, or the time she wrote the Pope after her divorce and being excommunicated and then storming the church, telling the parish priest what-for. Now that would have held my interest. But as it was, I had to force myself to speed read, which I don’t like to do when reading novels as I enjoy the plodding slowness of savoring every word as it trickles through my mind.
Still, as I said, I did understand that the story was beautifully written, three dimensional and layered. I just couldn’t get into until after the husband died. Then it started picking up for me. But I wondered why this story was written, a devoted wife, loving husband, children. Children who all leave and are barely developed, only developed enough to grasp the idea that they leave home and never want to return. Why? And why not someone else’s story?
Anyway, I’ll wait to discuss more after more posts.
Hope you all have happier reading.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
The opening line of the book is as memorable as the opening line of 'Great Expectations' ('My father's family name being Pirrip...'), which is quoted in this book. The whole book is one of those memorable books, the story, the words, the settings , the characters staying with you for a long time after reading it.
This book was an education to me! Just as reading 'Half of a Yellow Sun' I learned about the Nigerian Civil war, this book told me of a conflict in the Southwest Pacific, the Bougainville Civil War. I love books that send me straight to Google, to find out about peoples and histories I has never even heard of before. Lloyd Jones describes the horrors, the atrocities of this conflict with such a vivid recall and with such an understanding of how they might affect the young minds witnessing them, that you feel that he must have talked to people who had been through these things. I was interested to learn that he was previously a journalist covering the embargo of Bougainville. In some respects he is telling the story of every war-crime victim. This is what fiction can do.
I was also interested to learn (and this may be of interest to other writers and authors) that he wrote no less than eleven versions of this novel. First prize for persistence, for seeking excellence.
Now to the story- where to start? It is such a rich book.
The pace of the book was interesting- very slow at the beginning. Then you realise that you are 'waiting' with these islanders for their fate. As the embargo takes hold, and the last boat leaves, and the school closes, Matilda the young narrator says ..'we had all this time on our hands..' then 'Now we had an idea of what our time was for- it was to be spent waiting'. Waiting for the unknown terrors that await them, for the deaths that must surely come as the medicines run out and malaria takes it's infant victims. With the islanders we are distracted and intrigued by the way the reading of 'Mr' Dickens affects their lives. Needless to say, the pace accelerates as events unfold and in the latter few chapters, years are covered.
I loved the way the book illustrates how reading a novel can be an escape. How precious is the written word. So precious that after their one copy of 'Great Expectations' is destroyed the children, under the guidance of Mr Watts, set about retrieving the book, each contributing fragments from memory. It is later revealed that Mr Watts had been removing the 'embroidery' from Dicken's language, removing difficult, perhaps unnecessary words from the narrative in order to make the story more accessible to the young ears. He does this after a 'discussion' with Dolores, Matilda's mother, who complains about the word 'insensibly'. She makes a good argument and Mr Watts, demonstrating the huge respect he has for the opinions of his fellow islanders, then, in effect, becomes a scriptwriter. Hallelujah for script writers and directors who make works of literature, such as Shakespeare and Chaucer, accessible to modern minds. In doing this, the effect of Dickens' words were not diluted. They permeated the minds of the young listeners, and in Matilda's case they became her saviour, her healing, her 'raison d'etre'.
A nice little denouement, discovering that Mr Watts was an amateur dramatist. Pulling Grace on a cart, wearing a clown's nose- was this an act of humility? After all the 'white' missionaries and governments, the 'white' exploitation of the copper mines had probably served to bring about these awful events. Or was it an act of affrmation of their relationship- their 'communing of minds', their equality?
Another nice little contrast was the contrast between Mr Watts' 'teaching' and the formal teaching the children had previously received- 'to write an essay about the Duke's visit'. The meaninglessnes of such a task is underscored by the children's hilarity that the white people 'weren't any good at sitting on the ground'!
I liked Grace's mother, Dolores. She tries to make sense of her small world as best she can. Her facade of sternness hides a shy, private person, saddened by her enforced separation from her husband. She is determined to make the best of things, but she is ultimately a truly tragic character. Although she is dogmatic, superstitious and fearful in her faith in the end she is a brave witness to the horrific demise of her 'old adversary', Mr Watts. Although it is too late to save him, she sacrifices herself in order to be a witness to the Truth. In the end, what her God requires of her is greater than her fear for her own life. The sucking noise made my the redskin officer as her murder goes on behind him made me shudder. This was awesome writing. I cried.
Storytelling and its power to transform is a theme throughout the book. All the characters- all the villagers have stories to tell, and they are invited by Mr Watts to the school to share their own stories with the children. Mr Watts' 'tales by campfire' to the rebels shows how the stories touched all hearts.
In the end, Matilda's writing of her own story, when rising from her depression she pens the first line 'Everyone called him Pop Eye', is the her own catharsis. Mr Watts becomes her Dickens and his legacy is life-changing.
'..he taught us how to re-imagine the world, and to see the possibility of change, to welcome it into our lives.'
A life-changing book, actually!
Friday, May 29, 2009
I have taken the liberty of adding Fugitive Pieces as the July read, as it seemed from the comments that it was a popular choice.
You are going to have to help me out here! I tried to create a 'poll' on the side bar with all the suggestions for fiction books and non-fiction books so that we could 'vote' for which book we would like to read next. However- it didn't work!! Does anyone think this might be a good idea?
Barbara was asking who the 'paid-up members' are. If you mean the blog 'authors', they are those listed on your profile. However- if we are going to 'take it in turns' to choose, it might be useful to have a list of 'authors' on the side bar with the month they will be expected to choose for. Personally I prefer to throw open suggestions to anyone who wants to come here, read and comment.
What do you think?
ps I will be posting on Mr Pip soon!
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
A while back a friend of mine recommended this book as an excellent read, and then in early April I was wondering around at the local farmer's market and toddled into the prerequisite used book store. A flyer announced that the book store would be hosting a book club featuring this book. Unfortunately, I thought the meeting was tonight, but I realized earlier today that the book under discussion was something by Salman Rushdie and not Junot Diaz.
Anyway, I'm glad I read it even if it was too early.
This book appears to be a biography of sort of one Oscar de Leon. The narrator, Yunior (Junot Diaz) occasionally stops the narration to explain things, sometimes in great detail and always with a great deal of humor, usually of the noirish variety), in footnote form. It reads many times like an unauthorized historical account.
The title character is a young Dominican man who is sooo not the stereotypical Dominican male. He a sci-fi nerd of the highest order and goes through life reading all manner of sci-fi books, watching various sci-fi television shows and films, and uses high falutin language with everyone at all times.
Though really I have practically nothing in common with the title character, I do feel a certain kinship with him. Hispanic, big reader, loves sci-fi/fantasy, and thinks and uses words that are just not in vogue anymore. I actually think in that narrative style, those high falutin words when I frame my thoughts. Then I have to translate it all into everyday language or run the risk of not being understood by friends and family, or just being thought of as an incredible snob and otherwise pretentious.
Anyway, has anyone else read this book?
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Feel free to add a contributor any time you like - just go to the Settings tab, click on Permissions, and then Add Authors.
I am not sure if an author even needs a Blogger profile, I think just an email address will do it.
Enjoyed the posts and comments on Stargazey.
With a series and especially a detective series, there are always many returning characters mixed in amongst the new ones, and I agree it can get confusing if you haven't "grown" with the characters from the start - and it can be hard to keep track!
Looking forward to Mr. Pip and hopefully I will be able to get a post in, this time.
Cheers to you all and for those that celebrate it, Happy Mother's Day to all the mums not forgetting Subby's!
Friday, May 1, 2009
I don’t often read mysteries, so it was somewhat exciting to launch into a book destined to be a “who done it?” I was not disappointed in that regard.
I actually think Martha Grimes’ greatest strength was in her character development. She told us enough about each character, from Melrose to Linda Pink to the Fabricants, to allow us to create a fairly good mental image of them.
But there were so many characters and I often forgot some of the more minor ones as the story progressed and then they would reappear. Whereas Out Stealing Horses might have been criticized for having too few characters, The Stargazey possibly errs in the opposite direction.
I found myself longing for certain characters, like Father Noailles or Linda Pink or young Sophie, to take a more leading role in the denouement, whereas they simply dropped away and in Sophie’s case turned out to be fabricated.
I really loved some of the descriptions of scenes, like the men’s club in London and the home of both Mona Dresser and Ilona Kuraukov.
From the beginning, we see the killer Dana as a ruthless woman who lets no one get in the way of her objective. She kills with no remorse. And yet she lets Melrose and Jury off with hardly a scratch when she had ample opportunity to kill the only two people who had figured her out.
In the end the mystery is explained, but the villain(ess) gets away with the goods. I suppose that sets up the scene for a sequel, but it seems a little unfair after 400 pages to let her get away.
Then there’s this business of stars. They are everywhere in the book:
-- The Stargazey (pub)
-- starry-gazey pie (a real thing)
-- Diane’s interest in stargazing
-- the magical Stardust shop in London with its night wood scene
-- Father Noailles as the amateur stargazer with a telescope in his room
-- Kate McBride (the fake) sitting at an outdoor cafe in Brussels where there were so many stars
-- “It wasn’t in the stars” for Jury to follow Kate (the fake) onto the palace grounds.
-- Jury’s dream of Chief Superintendent Racer at a fun fair at the top of the big wheel, stuck against a black and starless sky
One would think with all this mention of stars, they would have something to do with the plot itself. But as far as I can tell, Martha just seems to be fascinated with stars.
The comment on the art itself was so accurate. The wonderful pieces of Bea Slocum were being totally overlooked because of Ralph Rees’ “Snow” pieces.
I’m afraid there were parts of the plot that I simply could not follow. By the end I sort of knew what happened, but there were many connections I had missed. Perhaps a second read would point them out. In a way, the false leads had somewhat obliterated the real ones, and of course one doesn’t know the difference the first time through.
The Stargazey was nonetheless a good read. I will keep my ear out for news of Dana and the smuggled Chagall.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
I'm furiously finishing Stargazey, but I thought you'd like to have another thing in the stack by your chair or bed . . .
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Time is so very fluid here, and so the central theme of river and the water, and even the fluidity between borders. Where does Norway end and Sweden begin? The characters can’t really tell out in the wilderness. Only at the end, when society and civilization impinge with currency and language as Trond and his mother discover the money his father made is insignificant, is the difference made clear.
This was definitely a man’s/nature’s world. Women were on the edge, or kept out, or marginalized. I was shocked when Trond’s daughter appears suddenly out of nowhere, and he doesn’t immediately recognize her. His wife is killed in a car accident. His sister dies of a disease. This has me thinking more and more about the role of Lars’ mother. At first I saw her also as on the edge, the sexual awakener, the mother. Think of her, riding home all that way not knowing her son had been killed by his twin! But she is very central to the entire book. Without her, nothing would have happened. And yet, we barely know anything about her.
I miss the online format, but I have a few offline groups that I participate in – a fiction, nonfiction and mother/daughter book club -- but I realize I may have to drop at least one of these because I always seem to need more time and flexibility. I love the online format for this and the way it lets you think through and write down impressions. Looking forward to participating and getting to know everyone here!
I enjoyed Out Stealing Horses tremendously. One reason I was attracted to it was because one of the reviews compared it to Haldor Laxness whose book Independent People is one of my favorites. I realize I enjoy reading books about solitude -- maybe because I’m craving it in my life right now. We see Trond adjusting to his new life -- cooking for one, deciding when to build a fire, his companionship with Lyra, nervousness about the snow shoveling and any disruption in routine. These were some of my favorite parts of the book. They felt comforting to me somehow. I read the review that Barbara posted and remember thinking that the book would make a good movie (starring Max Von Sydow as the older Trond! ) but it didn’t feel contrived to me like the reviewer implied. At the end of the review the reviewer said that the book was bound to fall short of American expectation of “showdowns and knockouts.” I got to thinking about that and wondered if the quiet way the book ended was un-American…
Barbara, I was interested in your comments about the flatness of the emotion. I also have to disagree – but I found that often the physical effects of an emotion were sometimes described more vividly than the feeling itself (Jon’s violent crushing of the bird egg, the possible emotions at play that may have contributed to the accident where Jon’s father was injured) But I did feel there were things omitted that would have filled out the picture of Trond just a little bit – there was no discussion of his later life, wives or family life before he decided to become a hermit. Even a paragraph or two would have been enough. Thanks so much for posting those photos. They really helped define what I envisioned- we’re lucky to have your background and perspective!
Cinnamon, I love the fallen tree metaphor that you discovered. How it is pinning shut the door to his toolshed! How appropriate that Lars, who must be dealing with his own conflicting feelings about the coincidental reunion, is helping him pry it open. Speaking of metaphors, I thought the suit that his mother bought for him was a good metaphor for his new role as “man” of the family, his maturation and coming of age.
I have to say that the book did bring up some painful memories for me. I was at a similar age as Trond when I discovered that my father was having an affair (before my mother did). I could relate to Trond’s grief over the realization that his family life would never be the same, that his father wasn’t the shining example of loyalty and manhood that he had held him up to be, that his mother was heartbroken. The difficulty of realizing that his father was a person who deserved love and happiness yet not quite being able to forgive him for what he did to get it. All of these were things that my family went through – I imagine many people with broken families have these struggles. I feel very lucky that my father made an effort to maintain our relationship even though the one with my mother had ended.
Barbara if there is another link you have in mind, I'd still like to read the interview.
Friday, March 27, 2009
The nearest I have ever been to Norway is my handcream- so this book was like getting off a plane and knowing straight away you are in a different country by the landscape, the air, the smell. I loved the descriptions of smells- ' the smell of roasting meat and coffee in the air, the smell of smoke, and timber and heather and sun-warmed stones and some special scent I had not noticed anywhere else...' And the descriptions of weather- 'a grey layer of cloud floats across the sky like a duvet..' and of watching the stars.
'Out Stealing Horses' is the code word for a cell of the resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Norway in 1944. Although Barbara had previously posted about the resistance movement, I stupidly had not realised this was a theme of the book until Franz reveals it to Trond. I was as surprised as Trond! I think this is tribute to the light, subtle touch with which Petterson (and his translator Born) writes. I liked this lightness of touch- the language wasn't florid or fancy, yet the elemental descriptions were so effective- wood, earth, stone, water, sky, wind, green ,river. I felt I was there.
Just like the waterways Barbara previously mentioned, I thought the rhythm of the narrative was like a flowing river, the current overturning stones (buried facts) as the water (plot) twists and turns.
Trond's desire to get attention from his father; his hope that the summer has somehow bonded the two of them together; his simple trust in his father; his hope and faith that his father will soon leave the remote forest and return to Trond and his mother and his sister- all this hope, in spite of having glimpsed the 'other life' his father led as a protagonist in the resistance and as the lover of Jon's mother- all this hope is cruelly dashed with the letter that curtly announces his father's intention not to return.
The ensuing years living without a father has a profound effect on Trond's life, his relationship with his wife and eventually his relationship with his own daughter. His inability to communicate with her mirrors his own father's self-interestedness.
It is not surprising that Trond is drawn back to living in the forest, in a place similar to that which he shared the summer of 1948 with his father. He says of that time- 'I was the forest'. His father goes around sniffing the branches, and the scents of the forest are in Trond himself: 'Before I fell asleep I put my forehead against the coarse timbered wall sniffing the faint scent of the forest it still held'. As if by inhaling these scents he can some how get closer to his father. I found this very poignant, heart-wrenching stuff.
The reconciliation of his abandonment comes in meeting Lars again years later. From the age of 10 Lars has enjoyed the attentions of Trond's father- who has set up home with Lars' mother. Trond does not explicitly say how this makes him feel- you can only imagine. Meeting with Lars is unexpected and at first Trond is not too happy with the ensuing flood of memories- 'it ties me to a past I thought was well behind me and pulls aside the fifty years with a lightness that seems almost indecent'. We think we have put the past behind us but it can rear up at any moment. The falling of the tree is hugely symbolic. We are told elsewhere that it is an unusual event for these trees to fall- they usually bend with the wind. The fallen tree is the huge blockage in Trond's life caused by the abandonment of his father. It almost kills him. He literally cannot get on with his life without removing it- it is pinning shut the door of his toolshed!
The cutting up and removal of the tree by Trond and Lars, working together, not discussing the past but knowing, sharing is also symbolic. Cutting out dead wood. Removing the blockage. Moving on. Reconciliation.
Once the blockage is removed, up pops Trond's daughter. We glimpse how much she is craving Trond's love, just as Trond craved his father's. We feel the daughter's pain. A father's abandonment has affected the next generation also.
What happens to us in childhood shapes our lives. Such a well-known fact, it is almost a cliche. Psychotherapists start with childhood, but most people in the world do not have access to 'therapy'. Petterson has shown very effectively the subtle and lasting consequences that can arise from the decisions we take and that our children will be affected and moulded by who we are and what we do. I wonder- did Trond's father have any idea what he was doing to his son? If so, would he have done things differently? Do we have sympathy with him?- he was a 'hero' of the Resistance after all.
I found myself thinking about what 'blockages' there are in my own life.
'I look back to that time, I see how each movement through the landscape took colour from what came afterwards and cannot be separated from it'
I loved this book- a little gem, with so much in it. I want to read it again and have recommended it to my actual reading group- thank you Barbara!
Postcript: I also loved his relationship with his dog- very accurate interpretations of doggy language!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The book has been criticized for being flat, a story told without emotion. But you have only to know Norwegians to realize this is the way they face life. The challenges and high points are rather flattened into a sort of continuum.
A central theme in the book is that of loss. Lars shoots his 10-year-old twin brother with a loaded gun left out by his older brother Jon. Jon wantonly smashes an egg from a goldcrest nest, possibly out of frustration for his dead brother; he then leaves home to join the navy. Trond’s father’s macho behavior causes Jon’s father to suffer injuries from which he never recovers. Trond loses his father altogether at the end of the summer of 1948. Trond’s second wife dies in a tragic car accident.
I felt a certain sadness as I watched an old guy try to become a hermit as a way of escaping from life. He is not naive to the existing dangers as he prepares for what could be a harsh Norwegian winter. It is only with some reluctance that he meets his neighbor, contacts someone to plough his snow, and talks to his adult daughter.
The language, even in its translation, is beautiful. We ride the horses bareback in Barkald’s field with teenage Jon and Trond. We feel the hormones rise as Jon’s mother approaches most any man or adolescent boy. We watch the ill-fated logs become stuck on their trip to Sweden. We understand the feelings of betrayal and disappointment Trond and his mother feel in the final chapter.
I especially like the very end of the book, where Trond and his mother have a brief respite from their troubles as they walk down the streets of Karlsrud with Trond wearing his new suit. In the last sentence he draws a line from his father’s philosophy “We do decide for ourselves when it will hurt.” And then the story is over for the reader.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
During my 1973 trip to Norway with my parents, we spend some time with a friend's family in Southern Norway. They had been very involved with the resistance movement in World War II. We drove to a remote area near the coast where you could still find remnants of barbed wire from that era. My father was fascinated by the barbed wire and brought home several souvenirs, which I'm sorry I no longer have. For a while my friend (who was a toddler during WWII) lived in that area with his grandparents when things were heating up in Oslo.
Here's a link to Akershus Castle, which houses the resistance museum in Oslo. It's a fascinating place and a good reminder that it took many countries to defeat Hitler's wrath in Europe. The Scandinavians were often silent heroes in that fight!
Clearly the story involves a network of persons committed to this cause!
Sunday, March 8, 2009
But as far as The Virtual Book Club goes, my question is about Mr. Pip a novel by Lloyd Jones. Can we decide if this is our book for May?
And, are there any books suggested for the rest of the year? Do we want to discuss for awhile? Choose just a few books at a time, or the whole 12?
Friday, March 6, 2009
Friday, February 27, 2009
Just to set the stage for Out Stealing Horses, I’ll share a little about Norway with you. Part of the appeal of this book was the fact that I’m half Norwegian. In fact, the Queen of Norway is my (now deceased) father’s 5th cousin. She may or may not have the family book on her bookshelf.
In 1971 after graduating from college, a friend and I backpacked through Europe. We rode a bus into the middle of nowhere to find my Norwegian relatives, who were strawberry farmers in Telemark. Our inability to communicate without the help of the local school teacher who spoke English fueled my desire to learn Norwegian.
Back home I exchanged friendship for language lessons with lonely embassy employees and gradually learned enough Norwegian to be able to accompany my parents on their one and only trip out of the country two years later. I will never forget the thrill at seeing the place for which our family was named and learning the stories of what had happened to those who had stayed behind.
Norway is a wild and beautiful country, a rugged place where only 4 percent of the land is arable. That might explain why so many people decided to leave the country in the mid-1800's, as they searched for land to call their own.
It’s water everywhere that connects remote places, often forming the only way in and out. That was true very recently of my grandmother’s families home on the Sogn Fjord, where it was not until 1973 that a road was built.
The pictures I’m including were taken when my family visited Norway in 2003 to attend a family reunion on that very farm. I gave a short speech in my primitive Norwegian and they all cheered for America. It was quite a touching homecoming.
You will come to have your own appreciation of the waterways that figure into our March book. And you will definitely get a sense of the remoteness of the place. That’s a big part of the appeal of the book.
It had been on my shelf for some time- one of those books you have to wait until you are in the mood to read.
It is one of last year's 'Richard and Judy' book club reads- they are talk show hosts- I suppose the American equivalent would be a recommendation from Oprah Winfrey.
I just wanted something light and fluffy- a mousse (salmon mousse?) of a book!
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It is partly a spoof on British politics, so some of the irony may be lost if you are not conversant with some of the recent British political figures. One of the speeches made in the House of Commons by a politician character in the book made me laugh out loud! It is quite a while since a book made me do that!
It is written as a collection of notes from meetings, emails, letters, newspaper reports and memoranda. It's quite clever the way the plot builds from these. A rich sheikh has fallen in love with fishing, most particularly salmon fishing, and hatches a plan to introduce salmon into the wadi of Yemen. He engages a British Fisheries Scientist to engineer this madcap project, and the British Government try to use the scheme to gain kudos. It is also the story of a failing marriage and of developing friendships. I thought the most enigmatic and likeable character was the Sheikh himself, whose gentleness, calmness, wisdom and faith are presented in sharp contrast to the follies of politics.
An entertaining light read!
I was also wondering if anyone is averse to reading 'Mr Pip' by Lloyd Jones in May- or maybe some of you have read it already? or 'Disgrace' by J.M Coetzee? Why not post your suggestions here?
Monday, February 23, 2009
Here's a home-made one I found in an old Dorothy Dixon book. This also seemed to be a popular thing to do. A bit more personal, if you will. This one is from around 1933 and was the quickest one from the pile, to scan in. More later. I'll have to do some digging. I had to enhance this, due to the faded pencil lines.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
The blog url, laeticiaknollys, was chosen a while ago when I created this blog for possible future use.
I have always had a soft spot for Lettice Knollys, who married Dudley right in Elizabeth I's teeth and lived to tell the tale. And flaunt her style about the court, what's more. Not many ladies got away with that!
The red color is to remind us of the brains behind the outfit, Avid Reader. Seemed appropriate.
I am not sure yet of all the participants, but in this case, expanding a bit on what we've got at Theme Thursday, everyone will have the ability to author a post.
That way, when it comes down to discussion time, you can add your own piece at your own pace.
In fact, I'm inclined to go even further, and give us all the go-ahead to post here at any time in between discussions. Our own recommendation page, as it were. Good finds that you come across, old favorites, the odd essay that may have been percolating in your brain. Just a thought?
At present, this blog is restricted to the authors and cannot be viewed or commented on by anyone else. We can certainly change that if we want to, but just at the beginning, I for one am inclined to keep the circle closed, except of course for those who want in on the discussion!