Day 679: The Bees

31 Mar

Cover for The BeesThe Bees is a collection of more serious poems than those included in The World’s Wife, also by British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. This collection is more diverse in subject matter and quite varied in form, containing sonnets, haiku, free verse, and even drinking songs. And many of the poems are about bees.

In “Bees,” Duffy even presents her poems as bees: “brazen, blurs on paper,/besotted; buzzwords, dancing/their flawless, airy maps.” In this poem she finishes with “and know of us;/how your scent pervades/my shadowed, busy heart,/and honey is art.” My niece, a beekeeper, would especially appreciate that.

I understand that after Duffy’s mother died, she did not write for some time. Especially touching are some of the poems about her mother. In one, she gives her dying mother a last drink of water and remembers the times her mother brought her water when she was a child. In another, a remembered kiss from her mother after she was out in the cold as a child makes her think of kissing her dead mother’s lips.

Some of the mythological figures visited so vividly and amusingly in The World’s Wife, Sisyphus and Achilles among them, are revisited more seriously here.

The poetry is lyrical. It is sometimes harder to understand than the works in The World’s Wife, but it always sings.

Related Posts

The World’s Wife

The Greek Myths

The Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay


Day 678: Castle Dor

30 Mar

Cover for Castle DorIt is clear from the number of books Daphne du Maurier set in Cornwall that she found the region inspiring. In the case of Castle Dor, a book I had not heard of until recently, she actually finished a book begun by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, which is a retelling of the ancient Cornish legend of Tristan and Iseult. The novel also features another interest of du Maurier’s, the unexplained.

Dr. Carfax is the observer of this story set in the early 1800’s. He has a theory that he shares with a French visitor, elderly Monsieur Ledru, that the events of the old legend took place in the area of Cornwall where he lives. Monsieur Ledru has in fact traveled there to investigate just that subject. Ledru has also taken an interest in a young French onion-seller named Amyot Tristane and helps him free himself from his abusive ship’s master and get a job on the Bosanko’s farm.

It is the doctor who begins to feel an eerie familiarity in the behavior of Amyot once he unfortunately encounters Linnet Lewarne. Linnet is the most beautiful woman in the region, and she has at 18 married a much older man, the innkeeper Mark Lewarne. After Amyot meets Linnet, he seems to be aware of the history of the area in a way that is unlikely for the unsophisticated foreigner that he is. As Dr. Carfax views certain events and sees in them the similarities to the legend, he begins to fear the same fatal result for Amyot.

Linnet, although she is also presumably taken over by the strong forces of the past, is depicted unsympathetically, as ambitious and remorseless. As in the legend, there is a potion, but instead of being a love potion, it is poisonous.

The characters in this novel are rather one-sided, but it is the atmosphere and the legend that are important in the novel, set in the vicinity of the legendary Castle Dor. However, this is not one of du Maurier’s best, and for a retelling of the legend, I prefer Dorothy Robert’s The Enchanted Cup.

Related Posts

Daphne Du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller

Neverland: J. M. Barrie, the du Mauriers, and the Secret Life of Peter Pan

Bellman & Black

Day 677: The History of Love

26 Mar

Cover of The History of LoveAt times I wasn’t sure that I would be able to figure out what was going on in The History of Love. This feeling may not be unfamiliar to readers of Nicole Krauss. My book club was so frustrated by Great House a few years back that I had to draw a diagram to help figure out the series of owners of a desk. However, The History of Love eventually becomes clear, with an eminently satisfying ending.

For most of the novel, we follow two main characters. Leo Gursky is an old Jewish immigrant in New York, a survivor of the holocaust from Poland. Years ago he fell in love with Alma Mereminski but was separated from her just before World War II when she went to America. When he tracked her down after the war, she had married. Her oldest son, though, was 6.

Leo has led a lonely life, during which he yearned for Alma and for his unacknowledged son, Isaac Moritz, who became a famous writer. As an old man, he spends part of each day trying to draw attention to himself in some small way, so that if he dies that day, someone will have seen and remembered him.

Alma Singer is a lonely 14-year-old. Years ago her father died, and her mother has ever since lived a life of quasi-mourning, seldom coming out of her room and only doing some occasional translation work. Alma’s brother Bird is a strange boy who believes he is blessed by god. He is preparing an ark for the coming flood.

Alma has been trying to find a boyfriend for her mother so she won’t be sad. One project that interests her mother is a request to translate a book called The History of Love by Zvi Litvinoff that had a small publication run in Chile. This book was very important to Alma’s parents, and Alma was named after a character in the book. Alma thinks she perhaps can strike up a relationship between her mother and the man who requested the translation. But then she notices that the only character in the book who doesn’t have a Spanish name is Alma Mereminski. Reasoning that it may be a real person’s name, she decides to find Alma.

It is Leo who actually wrote The History of Love, we understand, inspired by his love for Alma. But then what happened?

This novel is intricate and vividly imagined. Ultimately, it is emotionally involving. I did not really enjoy the excerpts from the novel within the novel, which seem to be trying too hard to be profound, but those make up only a very small part of the book.

Related Posts

Great House

Beautiful Ruins

Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots


Day 676: The She-Wolf

23 Mar

Cover for The She-WolfThe fifth novel in Maurice Druon’s wonderful Accursed Kings series begins where the first one did, with the problems of Isabella of France, unhappy queen of England and sister to Charles IV of France. While Charles IV’s administration is being ably handled by his uncle Charles of Valois, the same cannot be said for that of Isabella’s husband, Edward II. He is completely under the sway of Hugh Despenser the Younger, his rapacious lover. At the beginning of the novel, Despenser has taken everything from Isabella’s dowry for himself and forces her to give him the valuable book she is reading.

Roger Mortimer is the only person to have ever escaped from the Tower of London, and he soon arrives in France. He too has been a victim of the greedy Despensers. He has a fateful meeting with Isabella when she arrives to broker a treaty. Soon their actions will cause the overthrow of a king.

The powerful Countess Mahaut of Artois still remembers Isabella’s testimony, which condemned her daughter and cousin to prison in the first book. She will make it her business to cause trouble for Isabella. And we know what trouble can mean, for in The Poisoned Crown, Mahaut had Charles’ oldest brother murdered so that her daughter could be queen of France.

Druon’s knowledge of medieval history, customs, and architecture is especially noticeable in this book, with its extensive historical notes. This fantastic series continues, with Druon specializing in snark.

The sixth book in this series will soon be available in paperback while the last is soon to be published in hardcover. Years ago, I read all but the last book, which I was unable to find, so I am looking forward to finally being able to read the entire series.

Related Posts

The Iron King

The Strangled Queen

The Poisoned Crown

The Royal Succession


Best Book of the Week!

20 Mar

Cover for LilaThis week’s Best Book is Lila by Marilynne Robinson!

Day 675: Amsterdam

19 Mar

Cover for AmsterdamThe Booker Prize people liked Amsterdam a bit more than I did. Although the shattering last page of McEwan’s Atonement absolutely upended that novel, the same technique did not work as well for this one. Perhaps the problem lies with my having seen McEwan do this several times already.

The novel begins with the death of Molly Lane. Two old friends, both former lovers of Molly, meet at the funeral. Clive Linley is a world-famous composer, and Vernon Halliday is an editor trying to save a floundering newspaper. At the funeral is another of Molly’s former lovers, foreign secretary Julian Garmony, a right-wing bigot whom both men dislike. They all pay stiff respects to Molly’s possessive husband George.

The brush with mortality makes both Clive and Vernon a tad hypochondriac, and they end up exchanging a pledge. But various stresses will soon interfere with their friendship. Clive is struggling to complete what he thinks will be his masterpiece in time for a performance in Amsterdam. And George has offered to sell Vernon some compromising photos of Julian that he found in Molly’s papers. Vernon has to decide whether publication of these photos will result in increased sales or backlash.

This novel is darkly humorous. None of these men is a sterling individual. In fact, they are all morally bankrupt. Clive seems the least at fault for quite some time, but then he does something unforgivable and justifies it as being for his art.

It’s difficult to explain my main criticism without revealing the ending. I can only say that the implications of the final page do not make sense, that there is no way that the character could have known how things would work out. So, I do not think the surprise ending works as well in this case as in other McEwan novels.

Related Posts

Sweet Tooth

The Sense of an Ending

The Child in Time

Day 674: In a Lonely Place

18 Mar

Cover for In a Lonely PlaceWhat makes this post-World War II noir crime novel stand out is that it was written by a woman and the crime is solved by two sharp women. Although there are plenty of women mystery writers, it is less common to find women writing noir mysteries at that time. Reminiscent of The Killer Inside Me, In a Lonely Place tells the story of a serial killer of women from the point of view of the killer.

Dix Steele is an ex-pilot being supported by his uncle in Los Angeles while he pretends to write a novel. He is living in a posh apartment of an old Princeton friend, wearing his clothes and driving his car and telling everyone his friend is in Rio. About once a month he picks up a girl at a bus stop or some other lonely place and strangles her.

Dix decides to get in touch with an old friend from the military, Brub Nicholai, but is taken aback to find Brub is now a police detective. Brub has also married, and his wife Sylvia doesn’t like Dix.

Dix meets an attractive redhead, Laurel Gray, who lives in the apartment complex and is divorcing her wealthy husband. Soon they begin a torrid romance.

This novel was convincing in its depiction of a serial killer. Although we see things from Dix’s point of view, we are not drawn into his dilemmas as we are, say, for The Talented Mr. Ripley. We want him to be caught and worry about Laurel or about the next time he is going to find the need to kill.

Related Posts

The Killer Inside Me

The Talented Mr. Ripley



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 393 other followers