Happy Easter everyone – yesterday the temperature went over 60 degrees for the first time this year – capping a week that gave us rain, snow, blustery wind and cold temperatures. We had our first track meet with nothing but sunshine, people actually in shorts, and we didn’t have to pack an umbrella or a jacket – Yeah! Youngest still hasn’t made a college decision but hopefully this week he will nail things down. Asking him to decide something in track season (along with AP testing prep) is not easy. It was the week of short books for me reading both Triangle and Last Night at the Lobster and continuing with Visitation and In the Country of Men. With all that was going on last week and feeling a bit under the weather, not much reviewing got done but I hope to make up for it this next week. I am off to Salem for a few days and then may drive up to Seattle for a track meet next weekend before heading home. Ransom is on my reading list while I am at my mom’s. My mother really enjoyed it so I am looking forward to getting my hands on it. Himself is reading In Free Fall at my suggestion and youngest finished 1984 for his Lit class and is still working through Infinite Jest as well as adding Wallace’s Consider the Lobster to his wish list. And I know that eldest is in heaven because Dr. Who has started again.
Here is what caught my interest this week:
I have been hesitant to read Roberto Bolano’s final novel 2666 due to its length (over 900 pages) and I haven’t explored his other work. Francis of Nonsuch Book reviews one of Bolano’s earlier works called Monsieur Pain. At 144 pages, this may be an easier book to start with then 2666. This book seems hard to describe; it is about a mesmerist (the narrator) who is asked to help a man in the hospital. The narrator is then bribed by two mysterious men to not help the man. I like the idea of a mesmerist (my mother has used hypnosis for pain relief) and I like the “noirish” aspects of the novel. Perhaps it is best that I end with Francis’ words about the novel, “It was a joy to read for the playfulness with form and language that I always bring up in connection to Bolano’s work (like a broken record). Poets and assassination and dreamlike existence play out in various forms like the cinematic touches, noir influences, surrealism, political dismissal of the forces shaping the upcoming second world war.”
Aths of Reading on a Rainy Day reviews the just released second novel of Canadian poet Alison Pick called Far To Go. This story takes place in Czechoslovakia in the days prior to WWII and in present day. The Bauer family are secular Jews struggling to maintain their existence as the antisemitism in their country grows. They have a gentile servant, Marta who is torn between her affection for the family, particularly Pipik, the son and her relationship with an anti-Semitic. Pipik is eventually sent to Scotland on the Kindertransport. This seems to be a book about choices and identity. It also sounds like it might be a good book group book as many reviewers have talked about how hard it was to put down this novel. Aths, herself, labeled this book a wow saying, “beautiful, poignant and very powerful! ”
Kevin from Canada writes a review about David Bezmozgis’s novel The Free World which outlines the life and travels of Krasnanskys, a family of Jews refugees imigrating from Latvia in the 1970’s. Bezmozgia, imigrated from Riga at the age of six with his family. He is the author of Natasha and Other Stories and was named one of the New Yorkers “20 under 40” list last summer. The Krasnansky family travels from the Soviet Union to Vienna and then to Italy to await papers. In limbo, they must earn money to survive as well as adjust to their new circumstances. Kevin feels this book is good enough to be on the Giller list as well as the Booker list for this year. Luckily the library has two copies so I will be ordering this one when I get back.
The Boston Bibliophile briefly mentions a book that has caught my interest Alfred and Guinevere, a novel by poet James Schuyler. I have never heard of Schuyler so I went looking and found he was a major American poet of the latter part of the 20th century (he was also Auden’s typist). Alfred and Guinevere was originally published in 1958 and was republished by The New York Review of Books Classics. It tells the story of a brother and sister (ages 7 and 11) who are sent for the summer to their Grandmother’s house in the country for reasons unknown. The children bicker, try to figure out why they are where they are, make and unmake friends, play pranks, and generally behave as a brother and sister would under the circumstance. The story is told h dialogue, letters, and Guinevere’s diary and almost every mention I could find calls the book “charming”. I did find and read Kenneth Koch’s original review in Poetry Magazine (as quoted in the book’s introduction) with Koch stating, “It is not, not at all “poetic prose” – any more than is Jane Austin’s. It is, rather, prose as poetry should be: among other things fresh, surprising, artful, and clear; and with a great deal of its joy and shock arising from language…”
Another brief mention of a book found in Nicole’s (of Linus’s Blanket) interview with author Alma Katsu led me to Up from the Blue, a debut novel by Susan Henderson who writes for The Nervous Breakdown, a literary e-zine. Up from the Blue is the story of Tillie who is expecting her first child. When her husband is overseas, Tillie turns to her estranged father for help opening up “the neat closed box that held my past…”. She then finds herself looking back at her childhood as a military brat, to the time when she was eight and her mother disappears. I loved a quote I found from Susan Henderson’s interview with herself, “One level of the novel is about uncovering the mystery of what happened to Tillie’s mother. But another level is a more universal story—capturing that moment in life when your world is turned upside-down. I wanted to really explore the process of grief. I wanted to pit trauma against love, family loyalties against difficult truths to discover which was stronger.” A brief excerpt from the book can be here. This one is definitely going on my list.
In the mood for a novel about a governess, a mansion, a widower – but with a slight twist. The typical storyline serves as the framework for a deeper tale in Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist, not the actress) which was originally published in 1946. I read Laura’s review of the novel and I was hooked. Cassandra Dashwood (an evocative name) goes off to the estate to serve as governess for Marion Vanbrugh’s daughter Sophy. Her attempts to do her job and fit in with both servants and family, her relationship with her employer are part of the story but only to serve as a mirror for the deeper plot which centers around Vanbrugh’s cousin Tom – a drunkard who is engaged in an affair with the wife of the owner of the local puband Margaret, Marion’s other cousin as decisive and calm as Tom is not. From what I have read this is a cleverly written novel so I will be looking out for it.
When I was looking up reviews for Palladian I came across this one from Book Group of One. Carol also liked the book and she includes the novel’s first line, “Cassandra, with all her novel-reading, could be sure of experiencing the proper emotions, standing in her bedroom for the last time…” – From what I have read I think this really sets the tone of the book. I also liked what Carol had to say about the role of the manor in the story – it reminded her of the house in Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger. I haven’t seen Carol’s blog before so I switched over to her current page and was pleasantly surprised to see that she is the author of a book that also caught my eye- Leaving Van Gogh – which was just published last week. Leaving Van Gogh is a look at the last months of Van Gogh’s life as seen through the eyes of his Doctor, Dr. Gachet (who was the subject of a Van Gogh painting). Van Gogh’s brother Theo engages the doctor to look after Vincent and the two men develop a rapport. This meticulously researched novel sounds like an intriguing examination of a great artist and his descent into mental illness. One review called the writing in this novel “beautiful and accessible” and if you need further convincing, other quotes from early readers can be found here.
Enjoy your chocolate (assuming the Easter Bunny visited your house), what sunshine comes your way, and the books you are reading.
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