Sunday, October 01, 2017

11th Annual CanBook Challenge : October Roundup

1. Click on the icon above

2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)

3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as Melwyk (Anne of Green Gables) 

4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

5. In the comment section below, note whether you've read a book which meets the monthly challenge set via email for participants.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Suitors

The Suitors / Cécile David-Weill; translated from the French by Linda Coverdale.
New York: Other Press, c2012.
421 p.

This was a book I picked up from my library shelves during August's Women in Translation month reading project. I've just finished it, and have to say that it wasn't my favourite read though there were some highlights to it. 

One of those is definitely this cover. That's what caught my eye originally -- the lovely green (the tone doesn't quite come through onscreen, trust me, it's so Martha Stewart celery colour) and the perfect capture of the sense of the book in the cover image. 

The book is set at L'Agapanthe, a country house owned by a rich French family. And no nouveau riche to be found, this is a family of riches ancien. And they are certainly snobby enough for the reader to believe it! 

Two middle-aged sisters, Laure & Marie, discover that their rich and yet somehow unworldly parents are going to sell L'Agapanthe, the summer home of their youth. They panic, knowing they don't want it sold, but unsure how they will be able to afford this Grand Maison on their own. A family friend comes up with an idea: they should marry rich husbands to cover the upkeep. 

While this is a satiric, ostensibly humorous story of longing and nostalgia and light amusement, it comes to feel more like a long and rather dreary monologue by Laure, a psychologist, as she talks about the "right" way to do things: how to behave at a country house, the kind of guests who know how to manage servants and the gauche guests who misstep, the tawdry Russian oligarch neighbours, the difficulty of finding butlers who know what they're doing, and so on. Each of the "suitors" that the sisters carefully invite to L'Agapanthe each weekend have issues; not rich enough, not suave enough, not at the right social level, etc. It's an insider view of high society of the old style, but this in itself is rather offputting.

It just comes across as a tale of snobby class distinctions drawn by a character who is very un-self-aware despite her frequent mentions about her career as a psychologist. In the end, they don't find appropriate suitors and they don't save L'Agapanthe, leaving the reader to wonder what the point of all this was. No increase in self knowledge is evident, and they seem to just shrug their shoulders and move on. There is a sense of ennui in their life story as told here. Very French, I suppose. Although I do love the word "L'Agapanthe", and the actual house was a lovely element. I just needed less detachment and more emotional connection to it by the sisters to really buy in to this story. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Peacock Emporium

The Peacock Emporium / JoJo Moyes 
London: Hodder & Stoughton, c2008.
436 p. 

Sometimes you're just in the mood for a relaxing, light read. I picked up this novel to read in my lunch breaks but it wasn't as light as I'd anticipated -- domestic violence, abandonment, divorce, death, estrangement -- it was all there.

I did finish it, and perhaps reading it bit by bit helped me to do so. I could take a break from the depressive pall the main character Suzanna Peacock cast over everything she did. 

So what's the story? I picked this up because it was ostensibly about Suzanna's Emporium, the curiosity shop she opens to stave off boredom when she and her husband Neil return to her English hometown, having to leave London to economize. Though if her idea of economizing is opening a shop and buying lovely stock that she doesn't really sell much of, sign me up for that budget!

Suzanna is fairly unhappy; she and her husband are distant from one another, she doesn't get along with her family too well (her mother abandoned them when she was an infant; Suzanna was always told her mother had died but....surprise, she didn't!), and she's not very good at shopkeeping, what with being standoffish and private and all. But when she hires local girl Jessie to be her clerk, Jessie's sunny extroverted personality and business acumen make the shop fairly successful. But disaster lurks ahead....

Meanwhile, in another story line, Alejandro, from South America, has come to England to intern as a midwife. He and Suzanna hit it off, rather well. He also has to decide what he wants from his life -- will he change direction, stay in England, or go home? 

Moyes also includes the back stories for Alejandro's family, for Suzanna's parents (all 3), for Jessie, and quite a lot about the other local shopkeepers. It felt at times like a bit too much of a jumble. I didn't feel that the characters rose above middling interest - they were not complex enough. Suzanna was so miserable for so long it was kind of tough to keep reading about her. I was quite honestly much more interested in the early chapter telling the story of her mother, her father, and the young girl who became her stepmother -- I would have liked to read that story instead. 

So while I enjoyed parts of this, and liked the descriptions of all the shops (a favourite fictional subject), I did find it a bit disjointed, and the requisite happy ending was not 100% believable. I've really enjoyed some of JoJo Moyes' books, but this one was just okay. It's not at the level of her more recent novels, though it is still better than others I've read in this genre! 

A middling read all in all. Recommended for fans of Moyes who want to read all her books.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

The Literary Sewing Circle

If you're wondering why it's been kind of quiet over here for the last few weeks it's because I've been busy getting another reading challenge going... this time a readalong & sewalong at my other, sewing, blog. 

If you are a reader who also loves textiles -- sewing, knitting, quilting, embroidering and so forth -- and I know there are a few of you! -- then you are welcome to join in on the Literary Sewing Circle. All the info and the reading schedule can be found in this launch post. 

The most important detail is the title of our first group read!

If you're also reading along for the RIP Challenge, this would be a great book to pick! It is spooky but not terrifying, and has some fantastic imagery to inspire you.

If you want to hear more about this project, I'm also thrilled to be able to tell you that I was a first-time guest on a podcast! The wonderful sewing podcast The Clothes Making Mavens was interested enough to have some bookish sewing chat this week. Check it out if you are into sewing -- it's very sewing oriented although we are talking books. 

Happy Fall and Happy Creating!

Friday, September 01, 2017

11th Annual Book Challenge - September Roundup

1. Click on the icon above
 2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)
 3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as Melwyk (Anne of Green Gables) 4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")
5. In the comment section below, note whether you've read a book which meets the monthly challenge set via email for participants.

And in prize news, congrats to Marie Landry for reading & reviewing a book published in 2017 and winning a copy of Mitzi Bytes by fellow Canadian author & blogger Kerry Clare (you can find her at Pickle Me This)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Moshi Moshi

Moshi Moshi / Banana Yoshimoto; translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda.
Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2016, c2010.
206 p.

I was really excited to get my hands on this Yoshimoto book; her book Kitchen was one of my favourite discoveries ever, and I've really enjoyed her work for a long time.

Moshi Moshi was even better than I'd hoped. While the plot is fairly straightforward, the execution was dreamy and satisfying.

Yoshie is a young woman whose father dies in a bizarre murder suicide pact with a strange woman he was distantly related to. She and her mother are dealing with the aftermath of this traumatic event, and Yoshie decides it's time to become more independent.

So she moves to the Tokyo neighourhood of Shimokitazawa. In fact, the Japanese title of this book is Moshi Moshi Shimokitazawa, since the neighbourhood itself is such an important element of the book.

When I came across this lengthy section of the book about the value of individual lives and the power of place, I was really struck by it, reading it over a few times. I feel like it is the heart of the book. Since it's too long to copy out, I took a quick photo to share with you.

The setting is so strong and meaningful in this story; in the afterword, Yoshimoto talks about how this real neighbourhood is changing, how chain stores are moving in and changing the slow, out of the common round kind of feeling it once had. How it offered a place for people who wanted to live at a different pace, and that this loss is an important thing to notice. Her statement is melancholy but not hopeless. 

But the story itself also includes wonderful characterizations of both Yoshie and her mother. Through their tragic event, "Mom" rediscovers her earlier, younger self, gets a job and leaves off being a wealthy housewife. It's a powerful image of middle age that resonated with me, even though I've never lived a wealthy housewife lifestyle! 

Through Yoshie's attempts to find her role in her own life, and Mom's reinvention, and the setting itself, the questions of authenticity and belonging echo through the narrative. Yoshie has a job in a tiny restaurant across from her new Shimokitazawa apartment, and even that changes -- impermanence is also a theme -- when the owner decides to close after their building is purchased by a large company. But the possibility of a new direction appears at the same time, when Yoshie is invited to study food in France. 

So there are ups and downs, changes, melancholy, beauty, relationships, spirits/ghosts/dreams, food, and more to enjoy in this quiet, leisurely told book. I found it a little slow at the start but once I slowed myself down to the pace of the story, I really, really liked it. 

There were a few elements that I wasn't keen on; Yoshie's attraction to a friend of her father's for example. It seemed like Yoshie was also looking for some boundaries in her life...

But I was taken with this story; it was thoughtful, evocative of a specific time and place, and had a lot of internal dialogue going on -- all things I like. Yoshimoto's afterword was almost as interesting as the story itself, and the book is a lovely thing, with black & white prints interspersed here and there. Thank goodness for interlibrary loan, once again! 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

In Other Words

In Other Words / Jhumpa Lahiri; translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein.
New York: Vintage, c2016.
233 p.

This is a collection of small essays written by Lahiri, in Italian. They are about her fascination with the Italian language, and her attempts to live and write in Italian; her idea that language is meaningful to thought and expression in a very visceral way.

The book is small and beautifully made, with Italian on the left and English on the right. Although she could have translated it herself, she chose to use translator Ann Goldstein (who has also translated Ferrante) instead -- in the opening lines she says that translating it herself would have been difficult, she'd have wanted to rewrite instead of translate, smooth out the language and elaborate in her more native language. And this theme carries through the essays.

She talks about the longing to understand, the difficulties of grasping a new language in all its intricate and deep shadings. She became so obsessed with Italian that she and her family moved to Rome in 2012, where she spent three years living completely in Italian. And began writing these pieces, in Italian, about her sense of belonging - or not - when living neither in English nor Bengali, her first languages. 

She says, "I have to start again from the beginning, as if I had never written anything in my life. But, to be precise, I am not at the starting point: rather, I’m in another dimension, where I have no references, no armor. Where I’ve never felt so stupid.”

And these essays are not as gloriously literary as her work in English; they are more hesitant, with references to the actual putting together of words and sentences. But they are remarkably fascinating, a self-reflective study of language's role in identity, creativity, perception of the world as a whole. 

This is a slow paced and thoughtful examination of her own obsession with Italian, and what it means to her way of life. Some pieces are a little more interesting than others, to my personal taste, but the book has a theme that is expounded on in different ways, which each essay supports. 

As a book to read during a month which celebrates women in translation, it is perfect. The ideas of language itself and how you are situated within a language and a culture are powerful to ponder no matter which language you are reading in, or living in. This is a quiet book, a stone thrown into a quiet mind, which causes ripples that grow and grow upon reflection.

This was a find. I really enjoyed it, and was challenged by it.