In no particular order (well, actually, starting with real literature so I look smart even if you don’t finish this whole post), the reading material that’s been in my hands poolside so far this summer:
Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay (author of the Scotiabank Giller Prize-Winning “Late Nights on Air” , which I disliked, but I’m all for second chances)
This was Canadian literature, but not in the obvious “I’m being deep and hard to understand so I can win an award” kind of way. I really enjoyed it, although I felt like I had to stop and review periodically to keep all of the characters and their time periods straight.
Rather than recapping it myself, here’s the publisher’s description:
Hay’s runaway bestseller novel crosses generations and cuts to the bone of universal truth about love and our relationship with the past. In 1930, a school principal in Saskatchewan is suspected of abusing a student. Seven years later, on the other side of the country, a girl picking wild cherries meets a violent end. These are only two of the mysteries in the life of the narrator”s charismatic aunt, Connie Flood.
As the narrator Anne pieces together her aunt’s lifelong attachment to her former student Michael Graves, and her obsession with Parley Burns, the inscrutable principal implicated in the assault of Michael’s younger sister, her own story becomes connected with that of the past, and the triangle of principal, teacher, student opens out into other emotional triangles — aunt, niece, lover; mother, daughter, granddaughter — until a sudden, capsizing love changes Anne’s life. Alone in the Classroom is Elizabeth Hay’s most tense, intricate, and seductive novel yet.
This was one of those books where I kept jotting down the quotes that stood out for me:
“A child lies like a grey pebble on the shore until a certain teacher picks him up and dips him in water, and suddenly you see all the colours and patterns in the dull stone, and it’s marvellous for the stone and marvellous for the teacher.”
“The older you get, the closer your loves are to the surface.”
“They say that the past goes on and on, but what I love about the past is that it’s over. The past is on its own, just as your children in some essential way are on their own, and your parents, no matter how dependent they might have become, are still on their own.”
“It’s easy to fall in love with someone who writes excellent letters.”
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize and #1 international bestseller, The Sense of an Ending is a masterpiece.
The story of a man coming to terms with the mutable past, Julian Barnes’s new novel is laced with his trademark precision, dexterity and insight. It is the work of one of the world”s most distinguished writers.
Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they swore to stay friends forever. Until Adrian’s life took a turn into tragedy, and all of them, especially Tony, moved on and did their best to forget.
Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a marriage, a calm divorce. He gets along nicely, he thinks, with his one child, a daughter, and even with his ex-wife. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove. The unexpected bequest conveyed by that letter leads Tony on a dogged search through a past suddenly turned murky. And how do you carry on, contentedly, when events conspire to upset all your vaunted truths?
A short yet heavy book, you think you have it figured out, and then you pat yourself on the back for being so wise, and then realize you didn’t have it figured out. If you’re anything like me.
“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”
“But time…how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time…give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.”
This one threw me a little. Is it telling me that I’m living my life all wrong, or is it an easy way to rationalize immaturity and irresponsibility?
Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy by E.L. James
Perhaps you’ve heard of these books? They aren’t necessarily well-written, but the first two kept my attention. Too little character development, too many euphemisms (if you can call them that)…but my book club forced me to read them. Well maybe just the first one. And “forced” might be a strong word. There were no handcuffs or cable ties used or anything. Just the peer pressure. And the need to be prepared to give my two (fifty?) cents during the 10 minutes of our four hour meeting usually spent discussing the book. Not surprisingly, we actually spent way more time discussing this title than we have any other.
In terms of the content, personally I’m not too worried about what couples are doing in private…but can’t get the idea of wanting to be with someone who wants you to be in pain. But obviously the author did something right when I felt the need to read the second and third instalments.
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
I saw the movie (Hollywood version) of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and loved it. A friend then loaned me the book but it was too thick to get through when I already knew what was going to happen. So I jumped to the second and couldn’t put it down, and now I can’t wait to read the third.
After that, I’ll be ready for another stack of books….any suggestions?