Monday, September 17, 2018

Emma Hooper, Esi Edugyan and Kirsty Logan: All About the Jellyfish

What serendipity to come across passages describing Atlantic jellyfish in three novels in a row.

It started last week. My friends and I take turn hosting a monthly literary salon and the theme this time was "grace." I chose to share a chapter from the book I was reading at the time, The Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper. It includes the following passage:

     But Martha was awake and was rowing through white ribbons of night mist, everything quieter than seemed possible. She was listening to the quiet when her oar, her left oar, slowed in the water, like it had suddenly become thicker, heavier. And then her right oar too, so she had to push her full body weight up and back to pull through each stroke, like fingers through wind-tangled hair. She stopped, balancing the oars down into their resting places, and leaned out to look over the edge of the boat, into the now-heavy water. Oh, she said. Oh, oh, oh.
     She blinked, squeezed her eyes shut, and then opened them again and saw the same thing. Things. Hundreds and hundreds, thousands, more than her eyes could count, all around the boat and leading on, out, jellyfish. Glowing and bright like the stars had fallen down into the sea, like she was in the middle a new and important constellation. Orange, green, blue, each one pulsed in time with the others. One big heart, thought Martha. Like one big heart.

A snowy September day; good weather for reading indoors.
The next book I picked up is one loaned to me by my next-door neighbour, Karen. She said, "I won a book, something Black, are you interested in reading it?" YES! Washington Black by Esi Edugyan:

Photo by my friend Dee.
     I leaned over, staring. The sea was smooth as a wooden table, and yet I could see upon its surface an odd translucency. The ship's light caught it, and oh, oh, what a sight drifted there, what alien and wondrous beings! For I observed now a wide, transparent green orb, pulsing, and beside it a yellow one, and then another and another, dozens of glistening suns flaring all about in the dark waters.
     I had seen jellyfish before, in visits with Titch to the beaches near Faith. But never in such numbers, and never so vibrant, so glasslike. The black of the sea was far-reaching, as though no light could penetrate it. And yet here these creatures floated, fragile as a woman's stocking, their bodies all afire. My breath left me. I leaned over the edge of the little rowboat and watched the sea pulse in a furnace of colour.

Wow! I could picture them. And then yesterday, my friend Dee posted on Facebook a photo of an orange jellyfish that she took from a dock in Copenhagen. Wow, again!

Finished with the amazing nineteenth-century adventures of the former slave named Washington Black, last night I picked up something completely different, a Scottish novel that borrows heavily from fairytales. What follows is the opening  paragraph from The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan:

     That last summer, the sea gave us jellyfish. Every morning when the water slid back and revealed the stony beach, there they'd be: dozens of squishy, silvered things with their purple threaded innards. The girls shrieked to see them, especially when Bee prodded them with sticks to make them shudder. Dead or dying, they didn't know. And it didn't matter -- no one was giving them back to the sea, so they'd die in the end, and when evening came the tide would creep back in and steal the corpses. The sea takes everything.

Has anyone else had literary jellyfish encounters lately?


November 12, 2018 - another jellyfish encounter:

J’ai traversé un champs de méduses électriques, j’ai parcouru le détroit de Malacca flanqué de raies manta géantes, j’ai combattu des pirates somaliens et des filibustiers turcs.

p 51, Maree montante par Charles Quimper


November 16, 2018 - and another one:

He looked back just once and I saw myself through his eyes. I was his saviour and covered in light, almost weightless, like a jellyfish in a giant fishbowl. Knowing, lonely, perfect.

Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Forward by Lisa Maas

Forward is a tender story of grief and emerging romance, set in the lesbian community in Victoria, BC. It's a setting that comics artist Lisa Maas obviously knows well. I could relate to so much in this graphic novel. These characters are people I recognize. The two central women are both in their 40s: Rayanne hasn't recovered from a break-up, and Ali is grieving the death of her wife. The cast of interesting supporting characters adds to the authenticity, grounding it in reality. The dialogue is spot on, and so is the narrative pacing.  

There's a nice sense of movement in this full-page panel as Rayanne arrives at work, greeting everyone. It also captures so many details of the cubicle office environment: the motivational posters on the wall; plants, coffee mugs and snapshots personalizing work spaces; spare shoes or a bike helmet under a desk; the ease of slipping over to talk to a colleague at a nearby cubicle.

The art is strongest in its portrayal of the urban landscape and layouts like the one above that show the passage of time. Watercolour in muted tones suit the nuanced layers of emotion in the story. I also like the clear, hand-lettered text, which is so much more personal than digital fonts.

The execution of human faces and figures in Maas' artwork gets better and better as the novel progresses. ("I'll have a grande, half-caf, no foam, mocha latte" is near the beginning, while the shot of Ali on a walking path is near the end of the book.)
Private moments are frequent and captured very well, as in the above example of Ali curling up on the floor in sadness, talking to her cat. 

Maas shares good advice for a reading slump. Another type of reading that might get you out of a slump is an excellent graphic novel like this one.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Happy Birthday to Eric Karl Anderson

Eric Karl Anderson
Author, book blogger and booktuber Eric Karl Anderson, aka lonesomereader, is 40 today and our mutual friend Shawn Mooney (Shawn the Book Maniac) has created tags to celebrate his birthday. (Tags are a booktube thing.) I've not embarked on the booktube wagon, and have mostly fallen off the old-fashioned book blog wagon, but here I am. Because Eric is an inspiration through his passion for books and I love reading his reviews and watching his channel.
Shawn the Book Maniac
1. THANKS A BUNCH: A book you first heard about from Eric's channel or blog.

I distinctly remember that I heard about Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea from Eric's review. I loved so many things about it, including the immersive experience of the voice and historical setting. My full review is here.

2. LOOKING FORWARD: A book you want to read because of Eric's channel or blog.

Eric says that Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is similar to, and even better than, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, which I loved. It must be good! I was conflating this title with one that I didn't finish because I disliked it - Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami - so I'm glad to be corrected and I look forward to reading it when the hold list dies down at the library.

Eric's favourite author is Joyce Carol Oates. I've tried and quit a few of her books, so I thought I would try again, this time with one that Eric mentioned recently: The Mysteries of Winterthurn. Except that I read in the synopsis that it's a gothic novel, and I generally hate a gothic style, so I changed my mind. JCO is perhaps just not for me. I'm sorry about that, Eric, but we do have similar tastes in literature otherwise.

3. TABLE TURN: A book you recommend to Eric to read.

Dr Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall by Suzette Mayr, because I think the dark, dry wit will hit the right notes for Eric. It's a lesbian Alice in Wonderland-ish spoof on the politics of academia, set at a university with malevolent buildings infested with jackrabbits. The central character is modelled on Eleanor Vance from The Haunting of Hill House. Here's a quote:
"Edith claws through the chlorinated water in the university's Olympic-sized swimming pool. She squints through her goggles. 7:35 a.m. Soon it will be 8 a.m. and her day basically gone. Wasted!"

Kai Cheng Thom
4. ERIC. KARL. ANDERSON. A book by an author with three names.

Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom. A trans girl with a body full of killer bees is raised by Chinese immigrants in a crooked house in a city called Gloom. When mermaids die on the beach, she packs her switchblade, moves to the City of Smoke & Lights, and comes of age amid the love, magic, miracles and violence of a diverse group of trans femmes, and she learns to bake a cake of forgiveness. The moral of this fabulous fable: "Don't get stuck in any one story, not even your own."

5. EXPATRIATE LOVE: A book by and/or about an American living in the UK, or vice versa.

Rachel Cusk is a Canadian living in the UK. Her writing shines: funny, fierce, piercing, unsentimental, supple and disturbing. Read her.

6. META: A book with a novelist/writer as protagonist.

The Heavy Bear by Tim Bowling is about as meta as you can get, since the main character in the novel (an author who avoids showing up to his other job as a teacher) has the same name as the author. His companions during a day-long existential crisis include the ghost of Buster Keaton and a large, invisible bear-poet. Read my full review here.

7. LORDY LORDY: A book published 40 years ago, i.e. in 1978.

Faggots by Larry Kramer is a gay classic mentioned recently by Simon Savidge and it's one I've been meaning to read for a long time. Simon's co-host Thomas Otto on The Readers podcast calls it "brilliantly spiteful." It's never been out of print since its first publication in 1978.

8. HANDLEBAR NONE: A book by or about someone with a fabulous moustache and/or beard.

What immediately comes to mind is The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins, a bewitching, unsettling study of modern life, in comics format. I reviewed it here.

9. OUT OUT BRIEF CANDLE: A book in which a birthday figures prominently.

Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden. I found it introspective and engrossing when I read and reviewed it in 2009. It has no chapter breaks, so sit down with it when you have time to go straight through.

10. MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Tag some buddies.

I won't tag anyone. I just want to wish Eric many happy returns. If you haven't watched his Lonesome Reader channel, start with this tour of his new bookshelves: