Sunday, July 31, 2005

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

This is an amazing book. "Some people say that the best stories have no words. They weren't brought up on lighthousekeeping. It is true that the words drop away, and that the important things are often left unsaid. The important things are learned in faces, in gestures, not in our locked tongues. Words are part of the silence that can be spoken." excerpt from Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson. The woman who sold me this book at Borders Books and Music said she raves about it to her friends, and that it is her favorite book of the year. She was a young gal, and probably had as little in common with me, a 40-something, as possible, yet I felt a connection with her in her love of juicy prose. I'd been putting off buying this book because it's a hardback, and they are expensive, and now is not the time to buy expensive books in my household. But I couldn't deny this young clerk, or myself, the pleasure of a great read, so I threw caution to the winds and bought it, along with three other trade paperback books, The Hotflash Club, Three Junes and a historical fiction novel about Ireland. It turns out that I was right to invest in Lighthousekeeping, which is an ache of a book, poignant and rife with succulent paragraphs that are all the richer for their sparseness. Winterson's prose is rather like that of Hemingway, but devoid of his macho BS posturing. It's lean, spare and yet not at all wasteful of each carefully-chosen adjective. There is a great deal of thought, of internalized emotion, and of solitude of soul in this book, which tells the story of Silver and old Pew, Mr Dark and Molly, and the dried twig of Mrs Pinch, so very aptly named. The clean prose only serves to help us delineate the characters and their lives against the backdrop of night, and death and life. I get the strong feeling that the fine line between genius and madness is something that Winterson has struggled with herself, and it has boiled away all foolishness in a kind of life-crucible. This is the kind of book that is refreshing to read after a long, hot day, when complications arrise like house spiders from the corners and come after you en mass. Once the battle is won, this book will read like a reward. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Finished Books and Books I'm Reading

I read Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in the first 24 hours after I purchased it, and was amazed at how dark and sad Rowling had managed to make the book while still keeping it riveting reading. The death of Dumbeldore took me by surprise, as did the revelation that Snape was the Half Blood Prince, as I was certain it was going to be one of Harrys relatives or someone in the Order of the Phoenix, but at least one of the good guys. Snape shows his true evil colors in this book, much to my horror. I was beginning to believe he was a good guy in disguise. Harry is, in the 6th book, just as angry and upset as he was in the last novel, but this time, he seems more bitter and less apt to let things go, or to forgive. I am anxious to see what becomes of Harry in his quest to destroy Voldemort, and I'm equally anxious to see if Hogwarts remains open, and if Harry continues his relationship with Ginny Weasley. The romance in the book seemed ridiculous and embarrasing, but most teenage romances are, so that didn't come as a surprise.
I've also finished Peter Mayles "French Lessons" about the various food and wine festivals in France, and found it to be a a mild and enjoyable read. Mayle obviously loves to eat and drink, and shows his love of the subject on every page.
Next up are Star Jones memoirs, "You Have to Stand for Something or You'll Fall For Anything" which wins the prize for the longest paperback book title. So far, it is like reading an advice column with a bit of personal history thrown in. But I am sure there will be more about her background as we go along.
I am also reading Hanna's Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson, about several generations of Swedish women, and Isabelle the Navigator by Luke Davis, a book that eludes categorization, and Cat on the Scent, a Sneaky Pie Brown mystery, just for fun. I read a couple of Rita Mae Browns mysteries written by her cat when they first came out, and I enjoyed them, but found them to be somewhat formulaic, and there was a bit too much droning on about politics and sexuality. But I am hoping that Brown has matured somewhat in writing these books, so that by now, her mysteries read like zippy little things, and not like some political text surrounded by a layer of cheap mystery plot. We shall see. It's a paperback gotten at a garage sale, so if the book turns out to be drek, I can always toss it into the "give away" bin.
It's been hot and sunny here in the Emerald City, so I haven't been inclined to read heavy books lately, but I am hoping that I will soon find some good science fiction to perk things up in my TBR pile.
Meanwhile, keep cool and keep reading!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Lady and the Unicorn and others by Tracy Chevalier

I just finished The Lady and the Unicorn, which was a well-designed novel about the famed French Lady and the Unicorn tapestry from the 16th Century. Fascinating as it is to glimpse inside the world of Europeans in that era, Chevalier likes to grip the reader with her characters, always full-bodied and fully realized, and taut plotlines that make you eat up pages like potato chips. This novel was no exception, as we meet the lustful painter Nicholas des Innocents (and I am sure the irony was completely intended) who enjoys relieving women of their innocence/virginity, and then leaving them to their own devices. He's a talented rogue, of course, and he creates the paintings for the tapestry and makes the faces on them those of the women he'd like to have bedded, but due to class restrictions, can't. Claude, the noblewoman he can't seduce, though he tries hard enough, becomes a sad figure by the end of the novel, yet we are again reminded of the plight of women through the centuries, when they were considered property of their fathers or husbands, and not allowed to make decisions for themselves, especially when it came to marriage. One of the tapestry workers, a blind girl, does take matters into her own hands by getting pregnant via Nicholas, so that she won't have to marry a stinking thug of a woad dyer who is too crude and pungent to bear.
Most of the women in the novel seem cruel, catty and often stupid, which is odd, as Chevalier would seem to highlight their imprisonment within a system that only values them as chattel.
I didn't like this novel as well as I did the lush "Girl With A Pearl Earring" which had some intense sexual tension and more emotional scenes that did the Lady and The Unicorn. I invested more in Griette, perhaps because she was such a sensitive soul in a world and an era that devalued such traits in women. Plus Vermeers wife was such a shrew, as was her mother, that it was difficult to see how Giette would survive at all, with such hawks. The Virgin Blue was another of Chevaliers books I've read, and it was more violent and harrowing than the other books I'd read, probably because it discussed the Reformation and how it was dealt with in France, in small towns and villages. There was bloodshed and death, and the usual theme of a woman caught by the mores of her time, and treated badly, with a child paying the price this time. I believe Chevalier is a historical feminist, highlighting the indignities and cruelty that women have faced over the centuries.
The next Chevalier book on my list is "Falling Angels" and I will be curious to see if she changes perspectives, as she did in Lady and the Unicorn, from one character to the next each chapter, or if she will keep to one narrator throughout the novel. I am also curious to see if the novel takes place in Europe or in America, as Chevaliers other novels all take place in Europe or the Netherlands.
Following the Chevalier books in my TBR pile are two books by Lynn Sharon Schwartz, "Ruined by Reading" and "The Writing on the Wall." I've read three of her books in the past, and enjoyed them, so I'm hoping for some great entertainment, as well as enlightenment.