Monday, May 20, 2013
That's the premise in Kate Atkinson's thought-provoking novel, Life After Life. Ursula Todd is born on a snowy February night in 1910... over and over. Sometimes her life is very short and sometimes it is long, but she always starts back at the same beginning, in the same English family. Nebulous wisps of her previous lifetimes remain with Ursula, overlaid like a palimpsest. In every life, we make choices. Is it possible to always choose correctly? What if you had the opportunity to prevent World War II? Would you do it?
It was serendipitous that I chose to read this while I also had A Tale for the Time Being audiobook on the go. Both novels play the concept of time, so perhaps less surprising is that they both bring Marcel Proust's work into their narratives. (In Life After Life, Ursula's 'shelter book' during the London blitz in 1940 is Du cote de chez Swann.) We all want to know where the time goes. How intriguing it would be to manipulate time to our advantage!
Readalikes: A Tale for the Time Being (Ruth Ozeki); Blackout and All Clear (Connie Willis); The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger); I Killed Adolf Hilter (Jason); and When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead).
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Buddhism, bullying, war, 9/11, the Tohoku tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, the connections between writers and readers, quantum physics -- Ozeki covers a lot of topics while sustaining a compelling, character-based narrative. I especially loved getting to know Nao, the Japanese school girl, as well as her 104-year-old great-grandmother Jiko, a Buddhist nun.
I listened to the delightful audiobook [Blackstone: 14 hrs] recorded by the author, who mentions in the afterword that she always reads her work aloud as part of her writing process. In a tale that plays with the nature of time itself, it is no accident that Nao sounds like 'now.'
Saturday, May 18, 2013
In some of the stories, a parent or relative is of the faerie realm. In Brita's Holiday Village, uncanny things happen during the off-season. In both Cloudberry Jam and Miss Nyberg and I, a sort of child or creature is grown from plant materials. A man falls in love with a zeppelin in Beatrice; this one reminded me of one of Kurt Vonnegut's stories, Jenny, about a man's relationship with a refrigerator.
Tidbeck's stories are eerie marvels, as invigoraing as a brisk morning with the scent of pine in the air.
Readalikes: Black Juice and Red Spikes (Margo Lanagan); Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Karen Russell); Pretty Monsters (Kelly Link).
Friday, May 17, 2013
One centers on a mistress and servant relationship in Colombo. Latha and Thara, two girls the same age, have been friends since Latha, an orphan, was brought at age 4 into Thara's family home to be a servant. As the girls grow into their teens, the inherent inequity of their situation causes friction.
The other storyline centers on Biso, a mother escaping from her abusive husband, travelling with her three young children from the south of the island to relatives in the hill country.
I spent four months in Sri Lanka when I was 18. Freeman's atmospheric details brought back fond memories of milk rice, wood apples, king coconuts, string hoppers and spicy sambols. The dome-shaped dagoba shrines, sacred offerings of flowers and incense, and Buddhist celebrations held every full moon. The astounding beauty of this tropical island, which I last saw in 1979... which was before violence devastated so many people's lives there.
The war stays very much in the background in A Disobedient Girl. This fascinating character-driven novel is about love and betrayal, tragedy and redemption. Very rewarding.
|Canada World Youth Sri Lanka exchange 1978/1979.|
I'm in the middle in the bottom row.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
"this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand."
"i want to tell you what it is that happened but i must be ware not to rush at it like the heifers at the gate for if i do that i will get ahead of my self so quick that i will trip and fall and anyway you will want me to start where a person ought to.
and that is at the beginning."
The event that Mary records in her own hand begins when she is sent to be a servant at the nearby vicarage. I was captivated by her voice and immersed in her life right through to the shocking finish. The story is short (under 200 pages) and unforgettable.
Readalikes: Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks); Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood); and Harvest (Jim Crace).
The Colour of Milk is an adult novel (suitable for age 15 and up), but the character Mary reminded me of Meggy, the sharp-tongued (and much grumpier) disabled character in a children's book, Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman. Cushman has other historical novels for young people that would enjoyable for adult readers, including Catherine Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Danny's mother is the one who spearheads the campaign against the books. In a heated exchange at the supper table, she tells him, "Everything I do is to protect you from the people who want to put your soul in jeopardy -- the damn liberals, the atheists and gays..." Danny leaps to his feet to exclaim, "Damn it, Mom! I'm gay!" There is major fallout after this declaration, as you might expect.
But before all that, on the night of Neil and Danny's graduation from Grade 8, there's the principal's speech. In addition to being hilarious, it reveals a certain mindset within the community.
"I remember a day, not so long ago, when you parents first brought your young boys and girls here to Americus Middle School. That day we began to fill their empty brains with knowledge, teach them obedience, and burn into their minds respect for God and country. But tonight, we open our doors to push these fledgling birds from the nest so that they can be transformed into beautiful butterflies ready to build a better future for tomorrow and defend our nation against all its enemies. As our little pioneers settle the new frontier of McGraw-Coyne High School this fall, they will bring with them the game plan for success. They will emerge from our locker room of education ready to tackle any rushing based offense, block any tight end, recover their fumbles, and turn life's fourth downs into touchdowns, complete with two-point conversions, and by saying no to drugs and yes to Jesus, they will all be winners. Our future parents, teachers, farmers, soldiers, businessmen, pastors, and athletes all sit before you tonight, preparing to soar majestically like our great eagles that symbolize our nation's greatness..."
Scenes from Apathea Ravenchilde are interspersed throughout the book, providing insight into the actual contents of the much-discussed series. Aspects of it -- dragons with the ability to shapeshift into human form, a heroine who has larger things on her mind than the gossiping girls around her -- brought to mind Rachel Hartman's Seraphina.
There are gossipy teens in the contemporary storyline, as well as some sassy girls who demonstrate to Neil how to stand up for themselves. In his Grade 9 shop class, there are only two girls. On the first day, the teacher walks in saying, "Quit screwing around, take your seats and shut your traps. This is industrial arts, not home ec. This is where you boys are gonna to learn how to be men." Stacey puts up her hand. "Mr. Geary, what about me an' Amber?" He answers, "This is where you'll learn you don't need men." "Cool." is Amber's response. Took the words right out of my mouth.
Of course there's a great librarian character, too. Charlotte is a valiant defender of intellectual freedom.
Jonathan Hill's clean, swoopy black and white art reminds me of newspaper cartoons like Family Circus and Dennis the Menace. I enjoyed Americus very much.
Readalike: Friends with Boys (Faith Erin Hicks).
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Rebee is a memorable character, stoic yet fragile, and pretty much raising herself. She and her mother often live out of their van. The pair touch the hearts of other solitary people as they pass through their lives. Rebee's greatest hope is for a real home, somewhere to stay for longer than a few months. I was rooting for her all the way.
The Shore Girl is on the shortlist of the Alberta Readers' Choice Award. Voting ends on May 17 and right now I'm torn between this book and Bowling's The Tinsmith.
Readalikes: Girlchild (Tupelo Hassman); Lullabies for Little Criminals (Heather O'Neill); and The Lesser Blessed (Richard Van Camp).