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

Saturday, May 18, 2019

"Surfacing" by Margaret Atwood

I definitely picked up this book based solely on the author's name. There are a handful of writers whose books I would probably give a shot even if the cover were ugly or the premise sounded boring or the blurb rubbed me the wrong way, and Margaret Atwood is one of them. I associate a kind of "you can't go wrong, or even if you do, you don't go very wrong" with her. (Now I am daydreaming about a blog post listing all the other authors in that category.) (Now I am taking a break from blogging and actually writing a list of all the other authors in that category.)

Moving on . . . Atwood did not disappoint with Surfacing. (Good thing! One unworthy book is enough to knock you off The List.) It started with the same sort of otherworldly struggle to find my feet (where am I? who are these people? what is going on??) that I remember from The Handmaid's Tale. Even as the pieces began to fit together, the story retained a sense of mystery and suspense.

Surfacing was first published in 1972. The unnamed narrator is a young Canadian woman traveling back to the remote island where she grew up. She's in the company of Joe, her sort-of boyfriend, and Anna & David, a not-especially-happily-married couple who are kind of friends of theirs. Narrator's father seems to have disappeared from the island and she vaguely wants to figure out what has happened to him, and David and Joe are tagging along to film an arty mishmash of random vignettes.

The narrator, numb and empty and detached (though none of these are recent developments), is definitely what one might call unreliable. Events from her past slowly bubble up . . . and then later reemerge as something somewhat different. By the end I'm not sure I could say with any certainty what did and didn't happen. (I mean, I think I know, but maybe I'm just a trusting fool.) While on one hand I had the sense that attitudes in the book (which is just slightly older than I am) are old-fashioned and somewhat dated, on the other hand it's still a good read that stands the test of time and has the ability to make a reader think.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

"Bitter Orange" by Claire Fuller

I loved everything about this book, inside and out, with its beautiful cover and its intriguing story. It was strange and mysterious and suspenseful and enticing and I didn't want it to end but I raced to finish it anyway.

Bitter Orange tells the story of Frances Jellico, a self-taught surveyor of garden architecture who has been hired to catalogue the grounds of a decaying English manor over the summer of 1969. No longer young, she's at loose ends after the death of her invalid mother who she'd spent most of her adult life caring for. Her arrival at Lyntons introduces her to Cara and Peter, who are there to catalogue the house's interior, and Frances--who has never really experienced true friendship--is drawn into what, at first, seems to be their warm and welcoming circle . . . but, of course, it turns out to be more of a triangle. And it's all just deliciously complex and tense and ominous.

Not only that, but the bookstore where I bought Bitter Orange falls in the category of Best Bookstores Ever. If you are ever in Santa Fe, NM, you have to check out Collected Works on the corner of Galisteo and W Water Street, because I think it may be magical. It's a cozy little nook with a little coffee bar, and it gave me the sense that it is fully curated (unlike the big box stores that will sell anything and everything made of paper). It gets extra points because we were there in the wintertime and they had a warm fire roaring in their fireplace, and we could see snow flurries drifting past the windows . . .