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

Friday, November 23, 2018

"The Paying Guests" by Sarah Waters

This is the story of Miss Frances Wray and her mother, two upper middle class British women whose fortunes took a turn when all the men in their family died. Now it's 1922, and in order to keep their house, they're forced to take in lodgers: a young married lower middle class couple named Leonard and Lilian Barber. At first this change feels like an intrusion that Frances bears quietly, just like all the other burdens in her life, but it isn't long before life brightens with Lil's new friendship. And things just keep getting brighter and brighter . . . until suddenly they don't. It's a page-turner that is full of suspense which constantly teeters on the edge of depressing hopelessness. And if I weren't so tired I might actually be able to think of more things to say about it. As it is, this will have to suffice: I liked it.

Monday, November 12, 2018

"Conversations With Friends" by Sally Rooney

This book did for me what the previous book was supposed to do and didn’t. How is it that I can read a book about something painful that I have endured and the book doesn’t touch me, but a book I have nothing in common with does? And how did I identify so strongly with a main character who was so different from me? Maybe she and I had a few characteristics in common. And where we differed, I admired her. Maybe wherever I wasn’t her, I wanted to be her; she may have alienated everyone around her, but she didn’t alienate me. I didn’t envy her life--I would much rather have my life than hers (lucky for me). It did fascinate me, though.

This book tells the story of Frances, a 21-year-old Irish university student, poet, and all-around cold, intimidating and intelligent person (as seen by others)--or someone formless and void, marked more by absence than presence of personality (her own assessment). Frances has a best friend (and former girlfriend) named Bobbi, and the two often perform readings of Frances' poetry. One of their readings is attended by Melissa, a classy photographer and published author, and the three end up forming an odd friendship. And the rest is just too exhausting to summarize.

I find myself wondering, how does this book differ from Women’s Fiction--or its slightly more fluffy sister, Chick Lit--which I tend to scorn? (Look at that cover. This LOOKS like Women's Fiction.) Take Me Before You, for example. I felt nothing for that book, and as a result I wondered if maybe I wasn’t human. But this book made me feel more human than human.

I haven't done this book justice. I feel like it's one that will stick with me. Not necessarily in the details, which are always difficult for a literary amnesiac to hang on to, but for the sweeping sensation it left me with . . . swept away? swept up? swept out?

Friday, November 9, 2018

"Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation" by Rachel Cusk

I thought I would really connect with this book, that it would strike a deep chord with me, that it would bring raw emotions back to the surface. Which might be a bit difficult or uncomfortable, but wouldn't be wholly unwelcome; I thought enough time had passed that it would feel more cathartic than painful. So I was surprised to find this book didn't really resonate with me. Maybe this is just, to paraphrase Tolstoy, because all happy marriages are alike but every divorce is unhappy in its own way?

I'm not sure there's any real need to summarize this book, as it's all right there in the title; it's basically the author's autobiography covering this very brief and specific period of her life. And while I'm glad I read it, and I am appreciative of Cusk's writing, I doubt I would pick this title up again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

"The Little Stranger" by Sarah Waters

I had so much fun reading this book. It was like a ghost story in Downton Abbey (if Robert Crawley had died and the house had fallen into disrepair), only the house was called Hundreds Hall and was owned by the Ayreses. The story is told through the eyes of the family doctor who has lived in the area all his life and can remember the Hall as it was when he was a child. Dr Faraday is shocked at seeing the state of the house thirty years later, when he is called to see to a young housemaid complaining of a bellyache. Over the following weeks and months he finds himself back at Hundreds Hall more and more often, and as the Ayres family become accustomed to his presence, they begin to reveal to him the strange things that are going on in the house.

It's frustrating in a delicious way when I want to devour a book but I also don't want it to end. I wish I could still be reading this book now. And while I find in retrospect that it doesn't necessarily stand up to much scrutiny, that does nothing to diminish my agreement that (like the cover says) this is "a classic gothic page-turner."