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

Sunday, September 27, 2020

"The Lighthouse" by Alison Moore

I broke my rule and didn't blog about this book before starting a new one. I've probably explained this before, but that rule is mainly to prevent me from lapsing into another blogging slump where I get so far behind that I'm afraid I'll never catch up (see The Lost Years) but it's also because my memory is already bad enough without waiting a week or two AND overwriting the old book with a new one. 
At least I can still remember that this is an interesting, well-written book and I enjoyed reading it. It tells the story of Futh, a middle-aged British man who is taking a "restorative walking holiday" in Germany while his soon-to-be-ex wife packs up all his belongings and has them moved out of their house. Unsurprisingly, Futh spends most of his hiking time in ruminating on his past, from the more recent (his failed marriage) to his childhood (and his father's failed marriage). Futh's story is interspersed with that of Ester, who runs the bed and breakfast where Futh spends the first night of his trip (but also where, mysteriously, he is not offered breakfast the next morning).  

The book is full of repeated themes: lighthouses (obviously), perfume and perfume bottles and scents (especially oranges and violets, with a little camphor thrown in), the name Angela, the wife who strays or leaves or both, the Venus flytrap, and likely a few others that I've forgotten due to my blogging delay. It would be interesting (if time-consuming and complicated) to draw a Venn diagram of all the characters and what they had in common. Sometimes I had to pause, realizing I was conflating one character with another just based on their echoed idiosyncrasies. 

I did feel like the penultimate chapter was maybe slightly overblown. Whereas until that point the common themes were treated with a lighter hand, all of a sudden at the end I was bombarded with all of them, one right after another, and instead of the previous clever and subtle effect it was a little overwhelming and claustrophobic. Luckily this did not hide the building sense of dread (though Futh himself was oblivious) and did not ruin the book for me. It's a good one! You should read it.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

"Hamnet" by Maggie O'Farrell

 Maggie O'Farrell is one of my favorite female authors, along with Ann Patchett and Geraldine Brooks. They all write flawlessly, and come up with such good stories! Hamnet is no exception.

This is a story about a boy named Hamnet in 16th century England. It is also about Hamnet's parents and sisters and grandparents and aunts and uncles. And it is about grieving the death of a child. I didn't put this in my blog title, but you may be able to see from the book cover that it has a subtitle "A Novel of the Plague". I feel like that subtitle is slightly misleading; the plague does not seem to me to be the focus of the book, for example, the way it is in Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders, though it does have a definite presence and directly affects the plot. I think, really, the book is mostly about Hamnet's mother. 

I have deliberately left out Hamnet's last name thus far, making his identity just as tangential as O'Farrell does in the story, but in fact Hamnet's surname is Shakespeare. And yes, his father's name is William (though I'm not sure those facts are ever actually mentioned directly). In fact, if I hadn't read the back cover I might not have known that Hamnet was anyone other than a random English lad from long ago (though I might have guessed, and wondered if I was right), until right up close to the end of the book.

The thing I am likely to remember most clearly about this book is the section of grieving. It was so incredibly intense and moving. It was almost too much; I reached a point where I'd nearly had enough. Normally I scoff at sad stories, priding myself on my dry eyes, and feeling annoyed when an author is obviously trying to manipulate my emotions, but there was none of that here. Tears streamed from my eyes as I read. When I reached the end of that section, rather than feeling manipulated, I felt wrung out. 

I can't believe I still haven't read all of Maggie O'Farrell's books. I need to remedy that soon.