Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, December 26, 2015

"Deep Water" by Patricia Highsmith

Sam and I have a weird thing going on with books. Somehow, if one of us reads a book first, generally the other one never gets around to it. It doesn't matter how intrigued we may have been ahead of time. Once one of us has read a certain title, the other of us allows it to drift deeper and deeper into the To Be Read pile until it finally disappears.

There are rare exceptions, however. You may have gathered that The Girl on the Train was a very good example of this, and I'm happy to tell you that Deep Water is another one. This is a compelling and creepy tale, full of suspense in typical Highsmith fashion. It's the story of calm, mild-mannered Vic Van Allen and his attention-seeking wife Melinda, whose hobby is philandering. For years Vic has placidly turned a blind eye to his wife's string of boyfriends. Then, without even making a conscious decision about it, it turns out that Vic has had enough. When talk isn't enough to put a stop to it, he takes action. The last fifty pages had Sam's heart pounding throughout, and that was enough to convince me that I wanted to be sure to read this one too!

Back to our usual "one reads/the other doesn't" habit: I think subconsciously we use each other to weed out the bad, the mediocre, and the not-quite-great. It's quite a useful thing, actually. We all know there will never be enough time to read ALL the books, so guiding each other to narrow the selection to the best ones can't be a bad thing.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

"The Buried Giant" by Kazuo Ishiguro

We read this together over the past several weeks while we were putting our littlest one to bed. I think the story suffered somewhat from the fragmentary nature of reading it in such small increments but Sam disagrees, so for the first time we're going to write a joint blog post.

SAM: I've now read all of Kazuo Ishiguro's books - he's one of my favorite writers - and this was one of his most ambitious and unusual novels. Where Never Let Me Go ventured into science-fiction territory, this is a similarly bold and risky step into fantasy. In tone, it's somewhere between Game of Thrones, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Lord of the Rings, and A Once and Future King. And yet it is very definitely a Kazuo Ishiguro book. It's something in his voice and in his obsessions, I think. The themes of amnesia, of an imperfect but enduring marriage, of parents separated from children, longing, sadness, hope, are all here, just as they were in When We Were Orphans, for example. But here, we are in England in the Middle Ages - just after the reign of King Arthur - instead of Hong Kong in the 1950s. I don't want to say too much about the plot because, like most Ishiguro books, it is a delicately constructed mystery with no obvious solutions, not easily reducible to a synopsis, but in spite of reading only a few pages each night (while getting our two-year-old ready for bed) I found it quietly fascinating and compelling.

KATHY: Well, I did too, of course. I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy it because we only read little bits every night. However, I am saying that the reading experience might have been improved with a better reading schedule. As it was, every evening when we picked the book up we felt a little bit lost and needed time to re-orient ourselves. Or maybe it was just the mist of Querig clouding our minds?

SAM: Yeah, I think listening to it read out loud (because Kathy was the designated reader) made it slightly more difficult for me to get my head around switches in viewpoint and jumps in the timeframe. But that would have been true for almost any book. This was also a very allusive novel - to the point where I almost wondered if it was an allegory - and had me thinking about it for days after I read it. There was one passage (the one near the end about the buried giant) where I said, 'wow, is this about ISIS?!' And Kathy said she'd just been wondering the same thing. Though of course she can't remember that now. Querig again... I do feel pretty sure the boatman would have let us go to the island together, don't you?

KATHY: I'm sure he would've, Querig or no.