Archive for January, 2013

Diving Belles

diving belles

It is said that the stones cannot be counted,
they move, they shift, they come and go

Rita could feel it in her toes; it was always the toes first with her. They were heavier and they ached and when she reached down to touch them they felt harder and colder than usual. She moved them around in bed but it didn’t take the edge off. The middle of each toe had already turned into stone and the weight of them reminded her of the marbles she and her brother used to play with – grannies, kings, cat’s eyes – so that she could almost hear the soft clicks the marbles made when they hit each other. The top layer of skin had started to dry out and soon it would harden like that brittle layer of sand that breaks and hardens on a beach. And then there was the first pang of craving for salt that she always got when this happened.

How long did she have? About ten hours. The whole thing usually took about ten hours. It was slow, but not slow enough that she couldn’t feel it if she concentrated; each skin layer seizing up and turning into stone from the inside out, a sort of tightening, a sort of ache, a sort of clicking as stone was added to stone, as if someone were building a house inside of her. (Countless Stones, page 20)

On Sunday I said that I was having a difficult time reading the stories in Lucy Wood’s book Diving Belles: And Other Stories. So much so I was unsure if I would be able to finish and I really didn’t know why I felt that way. After some time and reflection and after rereading a story in the beginning that I really liked, I decided to go on and I have to say I am really glad I did as some of my favorite stories were at the end. While I felt most of the stories do stand on their own, it is as a collection that you get a sense of the scope, the details, and the skill the author provides her work.

The stories are set in Cornwell and they very much evoke a sense of the place – the sea, the cliffs, the small towns, the moors, and the houses – small and weather-worn. Most of the stories have a surreal aspect to them; a old woman who descends in a diving bell to see her young husband who was lost at sea years ago, a nursing home for those with unusual familiars and even more unusual talents, a young woman living for the first time in the hot, close quarters of the city and haunted by a wrecker – some sort of Cornish ghost dripping sand and seaweed all over the apartment.

Upon reflection, it was the latter story that gave me pause. Most of Wood’s stories have a sense of melancholy to them. The melancholy ranges from having a slight sentimental twinge to an oppressing pallor which leaned heavily on my spirit like a thick, dank fog. It was that kind of  melancholy that hit me in reading Lights in Other People’s Houses; I found the story depressing and suffocating as if the wrecker were in my own house lurking around corners and filling it with flotsam and sea water. I realized I had to let the story go before I could continue reading.

Lucy Wood writes beautifully weaving the folklore,myths and stories of Cornwall in and out of her stories with little people and wishing trees, house spirits and people who turn to stone, the scavengers of the shipwrecks, and details such as leaving a fish on the beach to keep your loved ones safe at sea. You can almost see the crashing of ocean, sense the tang of the salt air. Here she uses brief sentences to describe the habits of a lifetime and the psychology of a couple:

The man and woman glanced at each other once, shrugged. They weren’t holding hands. They didn’t walk next to each other; they left a gap, as if they were making room for someone else. The droll teller used to be able to see exactly who the lost person was, standing in the empty spaces people left for them. This time he hardly noticed (Some Drolls Are Like that and Some Are Like This, page 213)

She is an author who notices things and imagines things – such as wondering what the house spirits would think about in an empty house about the objects left, what it would feel like to turn to stone, how it feels to gain new perspective on your mother. She is very aware of houses and how they sit in their environment, how their inhabitants feel about comings and goings and about their houses themselves:

What her father said was that people leave places for more reasons that she could understand…people sometimes leave quickly, you wouldn’t understand . It didn’t sound right – why would they? It was evening, lights on and curtains open, and she suddenly pictured their house from the outside – small and fragile, the lights barely reaching into the dark, like a tiny boat in miles and miles of water. (Wisht, p. 195)

Lucy Wood certainly has a way to making the reader an inhabitant within the story – evident by my reaction to the story with the wrecker. My favorite passage appears in one of the later stories after a long build-up by the author to this single stunning image:

She looked and then saw two stars fall out of the sky; trailing a brief silver thread behind them. Then there were more stars moving, dropping like spiders. They faded slowly into the black sky like ink being absorbed into paper. It was as if the whole sky was dropping stiches, unraveling itself ready to fall and drape over them like a blanket.  (203-204)

Diving Belles: And Other Stories is certainly worth reading. I found it well worth my while to take my time and figure out why I was having difficulty with the collection. Along with melancholy, the stories charm and depth and are well written. However, if the surreal doesn’t appeal to you or if atmosphere weighs heavily upon your soul, certain stories will not be to your taste.


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Sunday Caught My Interest

This week we have had snow, freezing rain, ice, hoar frost, pouring rain, and more snow all of which makes life interesting in the Hinterland. I started the week watching the Inauguration. Our high school band marched in the parade so I went to a sports bar with a group of parents to watch on the big screen. It was very exciting to see them for their minute of fame on C-Span. Eldest, who was my band kid, was very jealous that the band got such an awesome opportunity. On Friday I braved the theater to go see Zero Dark Thirty (closing my eyes at times) and it is one intense movie. I thought both the Director and Jessica Chastain did an excellent job.

I spent a lot of time this week recreating my what I read list for the past 14 months which meant going through my Kindle, my blog, my book group lists, and my reading notes. I think I still have missed a few. So far for 2013 I have been better at keeping track and I hope to keep it up because recreating is not easy. For reading I read The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb which was delightful. I started Diving Belles: And Other Stories by Lucy Wood. I have wanted to read this book since it first came out in England and finally picked it up at the library and I must say I am disappointed. Not in the writing, which is very good, but there is something about these stories that is not for me. I don’t think it is the combination of the magical and the real (I generally don’t have a problem with that) and the only other thing I can think of is the melancholy that seems to permeate the stories. I am halfway through and have to decide it I will continue on.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I grew up in a Nancy Mitford house and even now, my mother’s morning book group has been devouring all the non-fiction my mother has concerning the Mitford Family. So I was surprised to read Book Snob’s review of Marghanita Laski’s first novel Love on the Supertax, written in 1944 and predating Love in a Cold Climate by five years. Surprised because I have read Laski’s Little Boy Lost and I would not have compared her writing to Mitford. But Booksnob does point out that each of Laski’s books is different. Love on the Supertax “is a light and frothy comedy of barely 120 pages that explores the class divide on the impoverished Home Front.” Clarissa, the daughter of an impoverished Duke falls in love with a young communist. The world she thought she would have is completely different from the reality of the home front but will the world offered by her young man suit her any better? You won’t find this one on Amazon but it does sound worth watching for.

I love to eat salads and Diane from Bibliophile by the Sea reviews two new cookbooks –  Salad for Dinner: Simple Recipes for Salads that Make a Meal by Tasha DeSerio and Salad for Dinner: Complete Meals for All Seasons by Jeanne Kelley. Like Diana, I prefer cookbooks with lots of photos so the latter book looks more interesting – and I am more intrigued by the titles of the salads Diane puts in her review but the black olive vinaigrette in the first book also looks interesting. I hope my library gets these in soon.

I am a Watergate baby – I would come home from high school and watch the hearings and read everything I could about the scandal. I am also a big fan of Muriel Spark particularly enjoying Loitering with Intent and Momento Mori. I have not heard of her book, The Abbess of Crewe until reading Savidge Read’s review but now it is definitely on the list. Written in 1974, the novel is about an election at an Abbey with microphones and tapes and delicious scandal. It sounds like it is Spark’s take on Watergate. Watergate with Spark’s wicked sense of humor – what a combination!

Pultizer Prize winning journalist Alice Steinbach took a sabbatical from her newspaper in order to travel, look for spontaneity, and get to know herself as herself and not in relation to something or someone else. JoAnn from Lakeside Musing reviews the book that results from that journey – Without Reservation: The Travels of an Independent Woman. I love the quote JoAnn includes at the beginning of her review:

Although I do not believe in love at first sight – not with a man, anyway – I do believe it’s possible to fall instantly in love with a place. As soon as Marta and I emerged from a narrow lane and entered Ravello’s pristine town square, I felt the ZING of Cupid’s arrow hitting my heart. I was smitten instantly. But why Ravello? I wondered. Why hadn’t I fallen for sparkling Amalfi or dazzling Positano? For some reason I found myself comparing the three towns to men. If Amalfi were a man, I thought,he’d be dressed by Calvin Klein and reading Tom Clancy. Positano would wear Armani and carry a book by John Le Carre. But if Ravello were a man – ah, Ravello!- he would be in chinos and a fresh white Oxford shirt with no tie, buried in a book by Graham Greene.  Page 229

Even with my difficulties with Diving Belles I find myself drawn to A Floating Life by Tad Crawford, reviewed by Dolce Bellezza. The unnamed narrator wakes up one morning in his middle age with a serious case of uncertainty about who he is. His life seems upside down (or inside out) and in complete disarray. He meets a model shipbuilder named Pecheur and from there things get a little bizarre with talking bears and oddly shaped apartments. The review speaks of how layered it is and other reviews mention how imaginative it is – a potent combination.

Finally three links:

If you are a Downton Abbey fan, Reading the Past – a blog by Sarah Johnson that focuses on historical fiction, has a post of Downton Abbey read-a-likes. Even if you are not a Abbey fan but you like historical fiction in general, her blog is well worth checking out.

Alyce of At Home With Books has a wonderful list of time travel books (along with a giveaway that ends January 29th.

On a more serious note, Winston’s Dad reminds us that today is Holocaust Memorial Day in the United Kingdom. He has a powerful list of suggested reading.

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Sunday Caught My Interest

It has been a busy week around here starting with a wonderful book group meeting discussing The Weird Sisters, our high school’s big basketball game with all the hoopla of halftime shows and lots of spirit, and the actual reading of three books: The Crime of Julian Wells by Thomas H. Cooke; The Life of Pi by Yann Martel; and Chapter and Hearse and Other Mysteries by Catherine Aird. Finally I wrapped up my week by seeing the movie The Live of Pi followed by one of those great conversations that friends have with each other. One point of discussion was the first book we read for a summer read (for one friend it was Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk and for the other it was Hawaii by James Michener.) I don’t remember any particular summer read – what I do remember was themes. One year I would be obsessed with illness based books, another year was dedicated to the Holocaust.  I do remember a brief obsession with American Prisoner of War stories from WWII. And I would often reread Louisa May Alcott as well as dabble in other classics. But a specific book that stands out as my first summer read….alas no such luck.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Chrisbookarama led me to a post on Book Riot which talks about a Kindle book ($2.99) called Start Here: Read Your Way Into 25 Amazing Authors. Each chapter discusses a single author, why you might want to read them, and recommends 3-4 books from the author’s catalog . The authors range from Jane Austin and Charles Dickens to Stephen King, Zadie Smith, and David Foster Wallace. This might be fun to download and peruse on occasion when you feel stuck and don’t know what to read next.

As I mentioned last week, I saw The Silver Linings Playbook which features a character with bi-polar disease.  I have heard that the novel on which the movie is based is much darker. As someone who has battled depression all of my life, I find myself drawn to reading about this particular type of mental illness – it seems so much more dramatic than my own issues. I really liked The Tricking of Freya by Christine Sunley (my review can be found here) and I highly recommend it. And Sophia of Page Plucker brings another book featuring with Bi-Polar Disorder at its center, Too Bright to Hear, Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey. Grayson Todd is a Los Angeles movie executive who is Bi-Polar. He is able to ride his mania to success in an industry that is rife with flamboyant individuals. However, the lows are difficult to negotiate.  Todd leaves his family to travel the world, ends up in New York City and eventually undergoes electric shock treatment. I love what the Los Angeles Times said about the book, “A fine, sharp-tongued debut. “Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See” is a novel deeply wrapped around its subject, but it has its sights on grander themes — namely, how to survive in a world not made for you.” Although a difficult subject matter, this one seems worth checking out.

I love to read essays and I am particularly fond of essays by poets. So I was pleased to read LitLoves review of Findings: Essays on the Natural and Unnatural World by Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie. These are quiet meditations of a woman observing the world, and the interaction of an individual with that world. If you like action, this may not be the book for you. However, if you look for meditations on what an individual observes of the world before her – this may work. I love what Litlove writes about the book:

These are quiet essays, even when the subject is her husband sick in hospital with pneumonia; she eschews the footlights of the stage to take her seat in the stalls and maintain her calm, thoughtful viewpoint. It turns out to be a very illuminating one…But essentially, these essays are about the way we interact with nature, our inevitable thumbprint on its dead and disappearing elements, the amazing beauty and grandeur we can find if we take the time to look, the pleasure it bring us to see ourselves and our habits reflected in the natural world.

Having just finished The Crime of Julian Wells which is, in part, about the Dirty War of Argentina, I found myself rereading Mary Whipple’s review (Seeing the World Through Books) of The She-Devil in the Mirror by Salvadorian author Horacio Castellanos Moya (translated by Katherine Silver). The novel takes place in post-civil war San Salvador and is a nine chapter long monologue given by wealthy divorced Laura Rivera who finds out her friend Olga Maria has been murdered. Laura is self-centered, unaware, and gossipy as she reflects  on the investigation and Salvadorian society itself. While not directly a political novel, it seems the author does may some critical statements about El Salvador through Laura’s long commentary.

Happy Reading!

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Sunday Caught My Interest

Still recovering and wondering if I had the flu instead of a cold because getting back to health has not been easy. I skipped seeing Les Miserables (too tired and I didn’t need to cry for two hours) but did get stir crazy on Friday so went to see Silver Linings Playbook which I liked. I did not know the movie was based on a novel of the same name. Has anyone read Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick? I haven’t done much reading this week other than rereading The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown for book group on Monday.

This is what caught my interest this week:

Fleur Fisher introduced me to Canadian author L. R. Wright and her mystery series set on Canada’s Sunshine Coast with her review of The Suspect (Karl Alherg Mystery #1). Written in 1886 and winner of an Edgar Award, the novel is not so much a “who-done it” but a “why done-it” and how will RCMP Karl Alherg prove it. The third character in the novel that helps drive things along is the town Librarian who has conversations with the murderer. Character driven mysteries can be so much fun and a new series is also nice to stumble onto. The first one is available in the United States but the others seem more difficult to locate. However, I am putting the author on my used bookstore list and hopefully I will be successful.

India and its justice system is very much in the news these days and Witness the Night by Kiswar Desai (reviewed by Savidge Reads) also takes a look at India and the dark intricacies of the justice system. A young girl is found barely alive, surrounded by dead bodies, after a devastating house fire. The police accuse the girl of the crime but Simran Singh, a female social worker, believes in her innocence and works to prove it. Savidge Reads writes:

Desai gives you a mystery which as uncovered gives you a story and insight into Indian society and one that I was genuinely shocked still exists. It is a book that brims with a dark underlying atmosphere and has all those page turning qualities, though never at the expense of the prose or characters.

The novel won the 2010 Costa First Novel Award.

The Indextrious Reader is hosting a Postal Challenge and has quite a few links to lists of epistolary fiction. And Jen of Devourer of Books just finished listening to a novel that would be perfect for the challenge. The Confidant by Helene Gremillon (translated by Alison Anderson) is set in Paris in 1975 and Camille is sorting through all the letters of condolences she received after her mother’s death. Included in the lot is a letter from Louie telling Camille the story of his first love, Anne. A new letter arrives each week with the story of Anne, her desire to help a barren couple, a love affair, a baby, a jealous wife, and WW II. As Camille becomes invested in the story she receives the wife’s journal telling the other side of the story and she begins to wonder what all of this has to do with her. Jen warns that this novel is slow to start so that is something to keep in mind if you decide to pick it up.

Finally, my mother called to tell me about a book reviewed in this Sunday’s NY Times – Madness, Rack, and Honey by poet Mary Ruefle. The book is a collection of her lectures and was published in August 2012.  I have looked at the table of contents and already I want to read Someone Reading a Book is a Sign of Order in the World. And below is one of Ruefle’s poems that I found on the internet. She definitely has a way with words.

by Mary Ruefle
The mountain skies were clear
except for the umlaut of a cloud
over the village.
The little girl wore yellow gloves.
She looked in the peephole and saw
a stack of unused marionettes.
Yet, she wondered.
Happy Reading!

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Back from Europe and recovering from the resultant massive cold that descended upon me. Saturday was the first day I could even look at book blogs and have them make any sense. With 578 blogs in my feeder to go through it took me a while. But here is what caught my interest out of the bunch:

Climates by Andre Maurois was reviewed by three bloggers: Guy Savage of His Futile Preoccupations; Teresa of Shelf Love; and Mary Whipple of Seeing the World Through Books. All three are bloggers I pay attention to and they have rarely steered me wrong. Maurois was born in 1885 in Normandy, France the son of a successful manufacturer. He is the author of several literary biographies as well as novels and other writings. Climates was originally published in 1928 and is the story of a man and his two marriages – the first with the imaginative, mercurial Odile who he adulated and the second with the more stable Isabelle who loves her husband while he tolerates her presence. The book is told in two parts, a letter from Phillipe Marcenat to his second wife detailing the story of his first marriage and the second is Isabelle’s letter to her husband. What initially caught my interest was Guy’s reference to Balzac biography by Maurois. Balzac is my favorite French author and I like him because of his ability to detail people’s emotions and interactions. Maurois sounds like he will provide the same.

One of the books my mom got for Christmas was Diana Athill’s memoir Somewhere Towards the End so when I saw a review of her book of short stories on Buried in Print, I sat up and took notice. The collection, A Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, contains stories originally published from the 1950’s to the 1970’s covering the experience of women from many different angles. Known more for her memoirs, Athill spent 50 years in the publishing industry in England working with many famous authors. Sandra writes in the review, “Reading Diana Athill is, for me, like having a cup of tea with a good friend at an old garden table with the first leaves of fall dropping softly and the sun warming the air just enough to keep you there the entire afternoon.”

Kimbofo of Reading Matters reviews Jane Harris’ first novel The Observations which was short-listed for The Orange Prize in 2007. Harris’ latest novel, Gillespie & I was longlisted for this year’s Orange Prize. The Observations is set in 19th century Scotland and the heroine is a 15 year-old Irish lass named Bessy Buckley. Bessy finds a new situation working for Arabella, who as part of her duties, asks her to keep a journal of her life. Bessy obviously has a back story and Arabella is obviously up to something as maid and mistress maneuver around each other.

One of my goals in going to Europe was to walk the labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral. I knew it would be a long shot and I while I could not walk the one inside, I was able to walk the smaller one in the gardens outside. And underneath our hotel window I could see another labyrinth made of stones in an overgrown garden – alas, the hotel said the steps to the garden were too dangerous. So I was quite pleased to see that Carol Shield’s wrote a book about a labyrinth/maze creator reviewed at The Indextrious Reader . (This is where I cautiously admit I have never read The Stone Dairies, Shields’ more well known prize winning novel). Larry’s Party was written in 1997 and won the Orange prize that year. Larry is a florist who starts building a hedge maze in his yard. This leads to the dissolution of his first marriage and he moves to Chicago, becomes a professional maze builder, and marries again – a marriage that also fails. He ends up in Toronto with his sister and a new girlfriend and they throw a party attended by many people including his former wives.   I have to add that I am also intrigued by Stone’s Swann: A Mystery.

It was the cover, displayed on The Mookse and the Gripes, that drew me to December by Alexander Kluge, Gerhard Richter, and translated by Martin Chalmers. The cover features one of Richter’s stunning black and white winter photographs. The book is a Calendar book with a story for each day of the month (as well “a short series of pieces about time and calendars” at the end) each accompanied by a photograph. This sounds like one of those books that are great to keep by the bedside dipping in and out of at leisure.

Finally, Conflower Books is collecting titles of books that suit a particular kind of weather such as The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It is an interesting concept and a fascinating list to explore.

Happy Reading and best wishes for the New Year!

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