well, I promised but I can't deliver! I read some fabulous things in Jan and Feb, then left for a month for the UK and haven't managed much since I got back and there's so much angst going on with my daughter and husband at the mo, that my brain is narrowly focused on that and I can't remember those titles I read and loved! Sorry! You'd think my library account would keep some kind of shadow list of all I have taken out over the last few months, but it doesn't and so I am trying to remember ... I even went on amazon last night to see what it recalled of my previos and recent interests. but all it prompted for me was the one book, and here it comes ...
1) One book I read and remember adoring is this one: "The Light Between Oceans" by M L Stedman.
The author is Australian and the book is set in Australia and it is haunting and beautiful. It's sad, and at one point as I was reading it, I almost put it down because I thought the sadness would be overwhelming for me. I am glad I persevered however, it is so worth it. It ends up being almost a 'feel-good' by the end, although, of course, not in any kind of cheesy way at all, not like a flimsy, feel-good movie. This is a meaningful book. What it is about is this: take some normal, honest, genuine people, who have the normal hopes and dreams for their lives, nothing out of the ordinary at all, and then dash some of those hopes, and then present them with an unexpected circumstance. How will they react? What choices will they make? And, how will those choices determine the path of both their lives and affect the lives of others? Because this is the point, you see: we don't exist in a vacuum, everything we do might impinge upon others at some point, indirectly. So, as humans, throughout our existence, one of the big questions we have to consider and answer is: what do we owe to ourselves and what do we owe to others? Do we have the right to happiness if potentially it comes to us at someone else's expense?
I hope more people come and find this book. In some ways it is quiet and unassuming. It is not one of those almighty block busters books that announces itself from everywhere around you. It is a book that sits and waits for you to come to it and people to discover it, then pass it on and share it so it can be re-discovered again.
And guess what? In the writing of that last paragraph, my brain suddenly seized on another title that I read in Jan and very much enjoyed. Hooray! Here it is:
2) "Fates & Furies," by Lauren Groff.
First off, Groff's book received so much more critical praise, notice from award-giving bodies and advertising than Stedman's book, but that doesn't mean it is actually the better book. Don't get me wrong: I very much enjoyed 'Fates and Furies,' but I am just saying that publicity doesn't tell the whole story!
'Fates and Furies' is the story of a marriage. Well, actually, it is two stories of a marriage: the two sides of the same marriage from the dual but contrary perspectives of the husband and the wife in that marriage. His narrative and perspective comes first, hers second. And, it was interesting to me to see, as I re-read reviews left on amazon by ordinary readers such as you and I, that most people --who are not critics for a living-- reacted to the book as I did. While the prose style is brash, sometimes with glaring notes of the bizarre and incongruity, the style at first seems inappropriate for the character of the husband. Lotto, the husband, comes across almost as an unworthy subject for literature. He's a bit bland really, he assumes his wife adores him and he narrates his passage through childhood --he has a strange family, shall we say, verging on the carnivalesque-- through college and the years of the largely unsuccessful, self-doubting twenties, until he hits on what he is supposed to be doing with his life, commits to it and is finally successful, commercially and critically so. He makes it clear to the reader that his wife Mathilde is the reason for his success: she IS the woman who is behind every successful man. And he assumes she is happy in this role.
So, as we read this first section of the book, we do get engrossed in his narrative, we want to see if he will make anything of his life, but we also read on because we have been promised that there will be another version of this marriage and desperately hope it will be more riveting than this one! Dear reader: it IS more riveting and it turns the first half of the book --Lotto's assumptions about himself and his marriage-- on its head! This second half is the reason for reading this book and for persevering through the first half. So, the book takes a while to set itself up, necessarily so in order to create the tables-turning effect it seeks to elicit, but it is worth it. Mathilde is an amazing character: she is a worthy subject for literature!
And here is where the style of the writing, the bizarre, the incongruity and the brashness suddenly make sense because they have been announcing that all is not as it seems. All the passions missing from the first half of the narrative --hatred, resentment, betrayal, the seediness of life, what people do to survive in less than stellar circumstances, sex, money, greed, self-interest, etc-- is all here, informing Mathilde's account of her life growing up, how it formed her character and needs, and her life as wife to Lotto. Does she really subsume herself to Lotto's career as he thinks?!!
I don't want to ruin the pleasure of discovery of these two wonderful books for you, Peg, so I won't give the game away! I read a stack of other books in between, but they always serve the same purpose for me: how to entertain my scattered mind while I search for the next good book that will actually make me think and feel and find myself bereft when I am done with it? So, I don't remember those titles and they don;'t matter to me because these two are the titles I will carry on with me and recommend to people and buy for people and hope that they also will come to derive pleasure from.
Up next for me will be the new novel from Maggie O'Farrell: "This Must be the Place," coming out in the UK in May and published here shortly after. I have a copy coming here courtesy of my sister back home and she is as excited a I am, in fact, she's heading to London to a large books store, Waterstones, to hear Maggie read and chat about her new book and I am beyond jealous!!
Everything this woman writes is excellent. All of it. Pick a title and you can't go wrong. You could start with "Instructions for a Heat Wave" (2013) and take it from there.
OK, gotta go, loads of stuff to do today and I've spent enough of it here! Enjoy, and I look forward to reading everybody else's suggestions so that I might discover my next great book among them, please!