Hard to sum up succinctly so maybe tonight I won't try. Other than to say it was brilliant. Iris is the messenger of the gods, riding on a rainbow. W
Hard to sum up succinctly so maybe tonight I won't try. Other than to say it was brilliant. Iris is the messenger of the gods, riding on a rainbow. What a pot of gold this was, if you'll forgive my mixed mythological metaphor. ...more
I've steered clear of Michael Ondaatje until now, I think for the most part because of all the hoop-la surrounding The English Patient; there was thatI've steered clear of Michael Ondaatje until now, I think for the most part because of all the hoop-la surrounding The English Patient; there was that "Seinfeld" episode after all. I know my ex-wife had one of his early books in her extensive collection of Canadian fiction, and perhaps that coloured my opinion as well. But after hearing the author interviewed a month-or-so ago on NPR's All Things Considered, I thought I'd give this new book a go.
Fortunately, the radio interview did not contain any spoilers; I picked it up in the library the other day thinking it would be a "ripping yarn" of the "Boy's Own" adventure mode, and there was certainly that. An eleven-year-old semi-autobiographical Michael is sent—alone—from his home in Colombo, Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), to England; it is 1954, and the only way one travelled those sorts of distances then was by ship. Once on board, he befriends two other boys of roughly the same age, also heading alone to a more hopeful future in the "mother country". In the dining room all three are seated as far from the Captain's table as possible, and the "cat's table", out-post of the misfits, the penurious and ne'er-do-wells of the Oronsay.
But surprisingly (and pleasantly) The Cat's Table turned out to be far more than just a ripping yarn of pre-adolescents run amok in the last days of commercial ocean liners. To say anymore about the plot would require a "spoiler alert". The writing was lovely: there was a calm and reflective air to the whole enterprise. Ondaatje's portrait of the boys was as vivid and tender as anything in Frank McCourt's memoirs. When the paperback comes out I'll get a copy to read again....more
Canada is a country caught between two powerful and potentially overwhelming and dangerous forces: The United States to the south and the Arctic to thCanada is a country caught between two powerful and potentially overwhelming and dangerous forces: The United States to the south and the Arctic to the north. It is the relationship to these forces that Margaret Atwood attempts to define in her second novel, Surfacing, from 1973. These two threats imperil and provide the impetus for the development of the Canadian psyche, Canadian culture.
Atwood’s father was a government entomologist, and like the unnamed narrator, she spent her childhood summers in the forests of Québec that provide the setting for the novel. The plot is relatively simple: a woman learns that her widowed father, who has retired to the family cabin on an island in a remote northern lake, has gone missing. Driven to the nearest community by a married couple and with her current boyfriend, she investigates his disappearance, sure that she’ll be able to find clues others would not see. While there, she realises how very little the others are prepared for the wilderness, how little they understand of it and its power. Not only her own companions, but also the other visitors they encounter (mostly Americans and what might be described as “Americanised” Canadians).
The narrator assesses the camp, in good detective-novel tradition: judging from the weeds in the garden she guesses how long her father has been away, from the supplies he left behind how long he anticipated being away. And in the interim, this setup provides Atwood with ample opportunity to explore the philosophy of the wilderness, the north, its use and abuse, its animals and resources and “our” relationship to them all.
At the end of a week filled with emotions (both genuine and misplaced), word arrives that her father’s body has been found, apparently the victim of an accidental fall. The woman’s reaction is curious; she believes the others (everyone else in the world) are lying and conspiring to wrest the island from her possession. I imagine that this allows us to explain away what happens at the end to an emotional breakdown: The party finally falls apart (things had been disintegrating as the week progressed) and the narrator expels them from the island, hiding in the bush and refusing to leave.
Unfortunately, I found the last section least satisfying. The sexual tension that had been building throughout the week finally manifested itself only after news of her father’s death. Personally, I thought that announcement would have had a more damping effect on the libidos involved: all that followed seemed to me somewhat unconvincing.
That said, I liked Surfacing very much. It’s interesting to remember how many of these same ideas would be explored again in later works, like Cat’s Eye and The Handmaid’s Tale. I don’t need to repeat what a wonderful writer Atwood is: her list of awards and honours is testament to that. ...more
Mary Saunders is an unusual child in mid-18th Century London: she is sent to school and learns to read, write and do sums, something well above her stMary Saunders is an unusual child in mid-18th Century London: she is sent to school and learns to read, write and do sums, something well above her station as the daughter of a widowed seamstress who has remarried to a coal porter. She dreams of improving her situation: of one day riding a fabulous white horse, dressed in finery and adored by the throng. Her immediate models however are the prostitutes who ply their age-old trade based around the "Seven Dials" near Covent Garden in London's West End. And indeed Mary soon takes up the trade herself, exchanging her virginity for a bright red ribbon similar to one that graces a "stroller" named Doll Higgins, who takes Mary under her wing and shows her the ropes.
Emma Donoghue has recreated a vanished world, yet one not so unfamiliar. Following a precedent established in the time she's writing, by Henry Fielding and his contemporaries, there is an element of the picaresque as Mary travels from London back to Monmouth in the Marches between England and Wales. There she goes "into service" in the home of her mother's childhood friend, Jane Jones, and her husband: striving stay- and dressmakers for the local gentry. But though she attempts to put her old life as a prostitute behind her, ambition and greed compromise her better intentions.
You could call this a feminist novel: the portrayals of servitude in a variety of characters (servants, slaves, nurses and mistress as well) paint a picture of empowerment denied. Be that as it may, the novel is not polemical; Donoghue writes with authority, wit and charm. Slammerkin is literally a "good read"....more
I had the pleasure of hearing Emma Donoghue read a few pages, answer some questions and sign by copy at the Irish Arts Centre in New York City last moI had the pleasure of hearing Emma Donoghue read a few pages, answer some questions and sign by copy at the Irish Arts Centre in New York City last month. What can I say? It's brilliant in it's execution, heartrending and simultaneously uplifting. Loosely based on certain real-life scenarios, this isn't a "ripped from the headlines" tale. Donoghue creates a world—a very tiny, 122-square foot world—and a most unique guide to it: five-year-old Jack, the narrator.
Many of the reviews I've read said the second part did not have the same power as the beginning. If anything, I enjoyed the second part even more. One of the great joys in parenthood is getting to see the world anew, through the eyes of a child. In the few weeks that follow Jack's heroic efforts, he's bombarded with a brave new world indeed. This is a masterpiece, and one of the best books I've read this year....more
From this book, I learned something: it seems that women writers seem to pay much more attention to describing the smells of a scene than male writersFrom this book, I learned something: it seems that women writers seem to pay much more attention to describing the smells of a scene than male writers....more
What I learned from this book...hmm. I learned that Pudicherry was a French colony before it became part of India; I learned that tigers are good swimWhat I learned from this book...hmm. I learned that Pudicherry was a French colony before it became part of India; I learned that tigers are good swimmers; that children shouldn't be named after swimming pools, even the Parisian ones; that I want to see Tamil Nadu....more