Day 619: The Long Way Home

25 Nov

Cover for The Long Way HomeAfter the traumatic ending to How the Light Gets In, Inspector Armande Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have retired comfortably to the lovely village of Three Pines. Gamache feels none of the restlessness experienced by retired cops in other crime series, so he is not really pleased when Clara Morrow comes to him, reluctantly, with a problem.

Clara’s difficulties with her husband Peter have been growing throughout the series. The two are both artists, and their relationship was fine as long as he was the more acclaimed. But of late, Clara has gained a reputation that has surpassed Peter’s, and he has been jealous and unsupportive.

A year ago Clara asked him to leave. But she made a date with him to come back in exactly a year to see where their relationship lay. That date has come and gone, and Clara has no idea where he is. She wants Gamache to find him.

Gamache finds it easy enough to trace Peter’s movements to Paris and Venice and then, oddly, Scotland through his credit card use. They find he returned to Toronto a few months ago and then disappeared.

With Clara leading, Gamache, his son-in-law Jean-Guy, and Clara’s friend Myrna set off to find Peter, eventually ending up in a remote village at the mouth of the St. Lawrence. In their quest, they encounter a tale of madness and revenge.

This novel makes an interesting start to a new life for the series. I’m not sure how successfully it will continue, as there have been more murders per capita in Three Pines than just about anywhere. But perhaps basing the series in this small village rather than continually returning there to deal with crimes will work better, because the crimes can take place elsewhere and readers can still visit this peaceful village. I have already enjoyed some of the other novels that were set elsewhere in Canada, usually in gorgeous or interesting locations.

Day 618: Giants in the Earth

24 Nov

Cover for Giants in the EarthI don’t usually read introductions until after I read a book, but I began to read the one for Giants in the Earth because I was curious about the book’s origins. I had always assumed it was an American book because it is about settlers in the Dakota territory. But in fact it was originally written in Norwegian and published in Norway in 1925 and 1926 and then translated to English in 1927, for Rölvaag came to the States in 1896 as a young man of 20.

The reason I mention the introduction by Lincoln Colcord, who translated the book with Rölvaag, is that it gives away a key plot point of the novel in the second paragraph. I couldn’t believe this, as it certainly affected how I read the novel, and it is especially egregious in that the event referred to does not happen until the very end of the book. If part of your enjoyment of a novel comes from not knowing what to expect, as mine does, do not read the introduction.

Per Hansa and his family have lost their way crossing the featureless prairies at the start of the novel. They had been travelling out with a group of Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans, but Per Hansa had difficulties with his wagon and the others went on ahead, even his best friend Hans Olsa. Then Per Hansa’s little group got lost in the fog for awhile, and now Per Hansa is afraid he might have missed the others and gone past them.

Per Hansa is an ebullient, sociable, hard-working man, and when he and his family finally arrive at the group of homesteads by Spring Creek, he is delighted with the land Hans Olsa has already marked out for him. He finds the prairie beautiful and is confident that he is going to make a wonderful life there for his family.

His wife Beret feels otherwise, and it is around her reaction that much of the novel centers. She is appalled by the prairie, this vast expanse that has not a single tree to hide behind. She soon begins to view the land as if it is some sort of godless and primitive monster, while Per Hansa sees only that it is rich and fertile.

The novel is set in the 1870’s and early 80’s and details the hardships of life so far away from any amenities. The men have to travel days for firewood in one direction and for supplies in another. Still, more immigrants keep arriving until there is a little settlement by the creek.

This is a fascinating novel about the Norwegian contribution to the settlement of the country. It is a realistic novel, not romanticized, with no big feats of heroism or villainy, just details of the life these people have chosen and its effects on them.

Day 617: Charles Dickens

21 Nov

Cover for Charles DickensReading this biography of Charles Dickens was very interesting to me after reading The Invisible Woman, about Dickens’ long illicit affair with Nelly Ternan. I have read biographies of Dickens before, but these two were the first I read that were forthright about some of Dickens’ inconsistencies and hypocrisies.

Renowned British actor Simon Callow puts a different spin on this book by examining Dickens’ love of and relationship to the theatre and his audience. Dickens adored the theatre and made quite a few forays into amateur theatrical productions, some of them quite large in scope, before settling on dramatic readings of his novels that were hugely successful.

It was of course during one of these productions, performances of a play he wrote with Wilkie Collins, where Dickens met Ellen Ternan, the young actress who became the focus of his mid-life crisis, which eventually ruined his marriage. She was brought in to replace Dickens’ daughter when a public performance made it improper for a young lady to appear.

This book is written in vivid and humorous style. It is entertaining and provides a view of Dickens’ career from the point of view of a theatrical background. Callow has himself played Charles Dickens more than once, most notably in a one-man performance, and is the author of nine books on theatre.

P. S. This book is sometimes titled Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World.

Day 616: The Rathbones

20 Nov

Cover for The RathbonesThe Rathbones is a strange and wonderful novel, part gothic mystery, part magical realism, about a whaling family in the 18th and 19th centuries. Mercy Rathbone is a girl, the last of a mysterious family. She lives in a massive house only partially built that used to house dozens of people. Now only her aloof mother lives there with her and her cousin Mordecai—who stays in the attic and acts as her tutor—and a few servants.

Mercy has vague memories of a brother that her mother and cousin tell her never existed. She has not seen her father for more than ten years, although packages from him occasionally arrive. She is curious about the family portraits in a gallery, all with the names removed. She knows the names of her mother and father but has no idea who her grandparents were, or how they related to Moses, the patriarch of the family.

One night Mercy is attracted by the sound of a boy singing and ventures into a part of the house where she is not allowed, the widow’s walk where  her mother goes every night. There she witnesses her mother being embraced by a strange man, and that man chases her through the house. She finds refuge with Mordecai, and the two decide to go to sea to find her father. They flee in a little dory, pursued by the strange man.

So begins a wonderous adventure, where they encounter an island occupied only by old ladies; an island of rich, eccentric cousins with a massive collection of furniture and art; an island of birds occupied by a woman who only speaks bird language. At each stop Mercy learns more about the odd and sometimes grotesque history of her family, many of whom have a magical affinity for the sea.

I do not usually enjoy magical realism, but with this novel I loved never knowing where the story would go. It is an odd one, certainly, and probably not for everyone, but it is imaginative and unusual.

Best Book of the Week!

19 Nov

Cover for The 19th WifeThis week’s Best Book is The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff!

Day 615: The Rural Life

18 Nov

Cover for The Rural LifeThe Rural Life is a collection of essays, more like musings by Verlyn Klinkenborg, a writer of the editorial board for the New York Times. Most of the essays were previously published in the Times and are related to his rural life, whether through his family history on an Iowa farm, his own farm in upstate New York, his father’s ranch in the Sierras, or travels to various western states.

I thought this would be an interesting and perhaps informative book, as I plan to be leading the rural life within a couple of years. Certainly many of Klinkenborg’s essays struck a chord with me. I liked best the pieces that do not go far from nature, whether he is discussing the care of bees, the lushness of his farm in the summer, or the beauty of a snow fall. Occasionally, he gets a little more philosophical than I am interested in.

The book is beautifully written. It occasionally confused me because it is ordered in chapters by month, and in the summer months he seems to be hopping back and forth between his farm and Wyoming. It wasn’t until a paragraph at the end that I discovered the book combines essays written over several years.

Day 614: The Bridge of San Luis Rey

17 Nov

Cover for The Bridge of San Luis ReyThe Bridge of San Luis Rey is a moral fable that explores whether there is a purpose in life beyond that of a person’s own will. This theme is not one that interests me, nor do I usually enjoy fables, but I did enjoy Wilder’s rich characterizations in this short novel.

The novel begins in 1714 in Peru, when the bridge of San Luis Rey collapses, killing five people. A monk, Brother Juniper, believes that this event may be his opportunity for scientific proof of the will of God. So, for six years he collects information about the lives of each victim.

What follows is a chapter about each of the lives of the victims, in all their humanness and contradictions. The Marquesa de Montemayor is an ugly, rich old woman who is despised by many for her eccentricity. She obsessively loves her daughter, who has moved to Spain to get away from her, and she writes her rambling but marvelous letters that only her son-in-law reads. With her dies her young maid Pepita.

Esteban is a twin whose brother Manuel recently died. Esteban and Manuel were inseparable until Manuel fell in love with the actress Perichole, who used him to write her love letters. Ever since Manuel’s death, Esteban has been inconsolable.

Uncle Pio was a wanderer who eventually settled down to mentor Perichole, whom he raised from a young barroom singer to become a great actress. But Perichole begins to have ambitions beyond the theatre and eventually throws off Uncle Pio. Uncle Pio has devoted himself only to her, though, and promises to educate her son Jaime.

This novel is beautifully written and touching in its acceptance of the foibles of humanity.



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