Friday, June 24, 2011

Yet Another Review Catch-Up #s48, 49, 50

Well, we were up north for about two weeks and got home the other day. A massive storm hit the greater Peterborough area, and so many trees were knocked down on our property that we were lucky that no one was hurt and/or no buildings were damaged. But goodness, as my RRHB exclaimed when he drove up just after the storm, "It's like the apocalypse hit." There are empty spaces where trees have stood my entire life. My uncle took this picture -- this pine tree just caught the edge of our sun deck and it took my husband and brother the better part of a day to chainsaw it out of there. For a while, my aunt and uncle were trapped as about six huge trees fell right by our gate making sure there was no way to drive out. I kept exclaiming, "Oh my god!" when the baby and I drove up on the Sunday after the storm. It was crazy. The biggest storm anyone has seen in 40 years. What up weather?

I did very little reading. The RRBB is a moving maniac, inches away from crawling, he's a going concern. You can't leave him alone on the floor any more. Within moments, he's miles away from where you first put him down, and he's going through a funny stage where he fusses a little if I'm not sitting right behind him as he plays. That, my friends, can't continue. But I indulged him a little only because we were at the cottage for the first time and he needs to be comfortable there.

Anyway, I am, of course, behind in my reading, my reviewing, my list-making, my life, my correspondence, just about everything. So here are some mini-reviews:

#48 - The Shape I Gave You - Martha Baillie
I have almost completely forgotten about this book, which doesn't bode well for an extremely positive review. Half-way through reading it, I decided, absurdly conceitedly, that I had solved all of the issues with Canadian publishing, it's that we read far too many Canadian books, publish far too many semi-high-brow literary novels, so that just about everyone, myself included, thinks that's what they should write. First of all, any of you who know me as a reader, know how frustrated I get on occasion with modern novels in epistolary format. It's a rare format one can make successful. This novel, the bulk of which is a long letter from Beatrice Mann (who lives in Toronto), a middle-aged woman who has just lost her teenage daughter, to Ulrike Huguenot (who lives in Berlin) explaining everything about her marriage, her motherhood, and the affair she had with Ulrike's father. It's an odd book -- a little too Ondaatje-esque for me, heavy on "literary" and light on plot, which, in my early years, I adored, I emulated, in fact. But as I get older, I like simpler prose, novels that are well paced and jolt like lightning. This isn't a fault with Ballie's writing -- it's more a personal preference. Anyway, it's not that I disliked the book, I just found it a little rough around the edges, and really wanted it to get to the point.

#49 - Voyage in the Dark - Jean Rhys
This is one from the shelves too, thank goodness, at least I am clearing off some books, even if I skipped my alphabetical order. Funny, just sentences above I lamented about authors who are heavy on the literary and light on plot, and now I am about to confess that modernist writer Rhys (whose lilting, patient sentences might define "literary") is one of my favourites. I might have read this book years and years ago; I picked up my copy to find all kinds of sentences tucked away inside the back cover -- not related to the book, just odd thoughts I must have climbed over a pillow or two in the middle of the night to scribble down on the nearest paper. They don't make any sense now. Anyway, the novel, the story of a young West Indian girl who loses herself in London and becomes a "fallen" woman, caused quite a controversy when it was first published. Now, with the state of the world almost completely fallen, and the stereotypical "hooker with a heart of gold" making an appearance in many George Clooney movies (well, maybe just in the terrifically boring The American), the fate of poor Anna Morgan isn't necessarily shocking, it's more tragic. Truly, honestly, utterly tragic -- if only because of the naivety, the utter essence of the girl's misery (a lack of fortune and a misunderstanding of her place in the world) comes across in every single page. She's displaced, disorganized and utterly incapable of unassisted survival -- yet, you can't help but ache when she makes poor decision after poor decision. Your heart pulls when she describes the relationship with Francine, a black servant in her father's house, with whom she was very close. And when the inevitable happens, and Anna finds herself in a world of trouble, it's not surprising the lengths she goes to fix the situation, and even less surprising, is the outcome. Rhys, whose stream of consciousness style isn't for everyone, inhabits Anna like a tic in a mattress, and its amazing how deep the character runs through language alone, not necessarily action (if that makes any sense). It took me ages to finish this book, both because I was up north alone with the baby and also because I kept starting and restarting paragraphs just because I liked them so much. She's such a wonderful writer.

#50 - Sisterhood Everlasting, Ann Brashares
There's not much to say about this book, it tugged away at my heart because I am sentimental about these novels. I think they are great YA fiction and wished I had them to read as a young girl (vs. the trashy Harlequin-esque crap I filled my brain with). I love their magical quality, and the ethereal nature of all of the characters -- but it isn't necessarily down to earth. Yes, it'll make you weepy, especially because Brashares does something shocking (even if her readers are now mature enough to handle it -- what happens still smarts) and forces her characters, through tragedy (and not just the loss of the pants) to truly grow up. It's a sweet book, a sweet read, just perfect for lying immobile after a kidney biopsy, and that's all I really have to say. Wait, just one other thing to note, having met Brashares in person, I will say that she is as lovely in person as her books, which is always a blessing and means I am ever-inclined to continue to read said author's work...

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