This is only the third Jodi Picoult book I've read, after Salem Falls and My Sister's Keeper, and it's not as good as those two. That said, there are...moreThis is only the third Jodi Picoult book I've read, after Salem Falls and My Sister's Keeper, and it's not as good as those two. That said, there are some great things about this book.
It's not the first book to deal with themes of rape and death - I read the Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold a couple of months before and could quickly see how Picoult handles the issues better, in, it felt, a more mature way. Her characters seem more realistic, for a start, and what they go through less contrived.
Trixie (named after Beatrice in Dante's Inferno) is 14 and in love with 17-year-old Jason Underhill, the star of Bethel's ice hockey team. When he dumps her she is distraught, and follows her best friend Zephyr's advice on how to make him jealous and take her back. The plan backfires when, at Zephyr's party, Jason rapes Trixie.
Her father, Daniel Stone, is a comic book artist originally from the wilds of Alaska. As the police investigation into the incident progresses, as Jason is stunned and the town turns on Trixie as a slut and a fake, Daniel feels his violent, wild-side, long-suppressed past seek release against the reliable, responsible, doting stay-at-home dad and artist he became. He is the real main character of the book.
Trixie's mother, Laura, is a university professor specialising in Dante's Divine Comedies; she's also been having an affair with a PhD student, Seth (the mother is an interesting character when taken in comparison with the mother in The Lovely Bones, who does all this after the act). Because of her self-absorption, and despite breaking up with Seth on the night of the rape but before learning of it, Laura feels incredible guilt for not being there for Trixie.
Trixie is an annoying girl, true to her age and therefore very frustrating. Unlike the girl in My Sister's Keeper, Trixie is not a strong enough character to carry the novel. This opens the way for Daniel to take centre stage.
One of the most interesting things about this book is the comic art throughout. The parallel story that Daniel is working on shows a man called Wild Claw follow his abducted daughter, Tracy, into Hell. He thinks of himself as a beast, apt to change into gorilla, hawk, monster, at provocation. In Hell he encounters Virgil who guides him through Dantes' nine levels, or circles. The title of the book, The Tenth Circle, is in reference to an idea Laura has that there should be a tenth level for people who lie to themselves. Daniel, and his ulter-ego WildClaw, lies to himself about his own true nature, and fears it too.
I found the Alaska sequence at the end a bit flat and the pacing slow. The novel moved along well up until Jason's suicide-that-turns-out-to-be-murder and Trixie flees. The characters are interesting, but I couldn't help wanting more of a town dynamic, I wanted to know more about the other people in the community and their (mostly negative) reaction to what Trixie did to Jason - that is, get him in trouble for something they never believed he did. Daniel, too, for all that I loved him as a character, was a little cliched and soap-opera-like. Laura, perhaps fittingly, gets a little left out in the cold (that's a pun). I loved the artwork, and there's even a puzzle to figure out when you've finished reading the book.
While not her best, The Tenth Circle is still very enjoyable.(less)
This is not a quick read, it's not one for the subway or your lunch break, but it is one for delving and imagining and running off to Italy with.
It o...moreThis is not a quick read, it's not one for the subway or your lunch break, but it is one for delving and imagining and running off to Italy with.
It opens with a passage in the second person, never easy to read at the best of times but hang in there, it tells the unnamed narrator's story in a nutshell, a very sad, lonely nutshell, and sets the premise for the rest of the story: to tell the story with names changed, to create some distance perhaps, or to handle the emotions and learn from them. It has an autobiographical feel but that's simply the author's skill.
The rest of the novel tells the story as fiction, with Marianne meeting and falling in love with Marco, going back to Montreal and then borrowing money to fly to Italy again as soon as Marco invites her. He lives in a small village by a lake where two tourists drown every year, where everyone fishes. He owns the terrace house he grew up in but doesn't live there, leaving it empty while he eats and sleeps at his mother's house next door. The entire street is inhabited by his family, with aunts all around.
Marianne is not exactly welcomed. They like to talk about her, but not to her. She has the same conversation over and over again: "Are you German?" "No, I'm Canadian" "Oh, Marco's girlfriend." She wrestles with his mother for the right to cook for him, but can't please either of them. While Marco, a plumber, drives off early in the morning to do his thing, Marianne spends lonely days drawing or walking by the lake, until eventually she takes a horribly underpaid waitressing job at a busy restuarant.
This is one of those books that has to be read more than once to fully grasp, understand and appreciate every word. The writing style is like poetry and philosophy, not always easy to read or follow, but revealing so much in precise movements. It's a fine example of writing as art, or music, and you cannot help but be right there with Marianne as she experiences something so familiar yet so bitter. And it is a familiar story, sadly so, yet the ending justifies the whole ordeal as Marianne grows and faces the truth. Marco is a sad character, content with his life, not willing to change, unreachable in the most important ways. He too is familiar, as is his mother, never mind that they are Italian - it just shows how similiar we all can be.(less)
I would never have read this if it weren't for my bookclub. Having avoided it since it came out, I had very low expectations and so was surprised to b...moreI would never have read this if it weren't for my bookclub. Having avoided it since it came out, I had very low expectations and so was surprised to be engrossed in the story - untill, about half-way through, it seemed to lose the plot and meandered around aimlessly, getting repetitive as it tried to wring emotion out of its characters, and me.
Susie Salmon is dead. She begins her story by describing how she is murdered, and her family's reaction. From her place in heaven, she can watch anyone she wants to, but apart from "touching" Ruth, a fellow 14-year-old student at her school, on her way out, she can't make her presence felt. Ruth becomes a little obsessed with Susie, and starts to see and feel dead people, keeping a record of them in her diary. Susie's mum uses her daughter's death as a trigger to leave her family and try to recapture her youth. She is constantly described as a woman who never wanted to be a mother. Susie's dad takes her death particularly bad, and focuses on his two other children, Lindsey and Buckley.
Susie watches from heaven as her family grows older, watches as Lindsey goes from first kiss to accepting a marriage proposal, watches her murderer, Mr Harvey, a serial killer who is [spoiler alert!:] never caught, and, at the end of the book, possesses Ruth's body so she can lose her viginity to the only boy she ever kissed.
The Lovely Bones is fairly ambitious, and although it manages to keep from slipping into sentimental indulgence, it also lacks drive, and misses many opportunities to really delve into some interesting and important issues. Some devices were a bit cheesy, and seemed like avoidance. I guess I, like most people, would have been more satisfied if Mr Harvey had been caught, but that's not necessarily realistic either. The main reason why I struggled to finish it and why I give it only 2 stars is that the second half has nowhere to go, it loses its immediacy as the years go by and people start moving on, letting go of Susie, whose body was never found either. The characters started to annoy me - I wanted to be sympathetic, even of the mother, who, in a way, has the hardest time of all, but they began to get cliched.
That said, there are some nice descriptions, Susie's voice is apt, there's a great sense of time (she's killed in the 70s) without being too obvious, and even if you only read the first half, it's well written and gripping before it becomes tedious. (less)
First published in 1980, this is how it is described on the Virago website:
"Caro, gallant and adventurous, is one of two Australian sisters who have
...moreFirst published in 1980, this is how it is described on the Virago website:
"Caro, gallant and adventurous, is one of two Australian sisters who have come to post-war England to seek their fortunes. Courted long and hopelessly by young scientist, Ted Tice, she is to find that love brings passion, sorrow, betrayal and finally hope. The milder Grace seeks fulfilment in an apparently happy marriage. But as the decades pass and the characters weave in and out of each other's lives, love, death and two slow-burning secrets wait in ambush for them."
That's a pretty fair summing-up, but it's more complex than it sounds. There are so many nuances here, and no one is likable, not Caro or Grace - everyone is either too cold, callous and self-absorbed, or needy, or pitiful. Each character was stripped right down to their most horrible flaws, and it was all so very British! It reminded my of characters in the series House of Elliot, and the sisters struggle to live their own lives, as separate from other people who always "know better". And that British "keeping up appearances" isn't relegated to early last century, either - read John le Carre's The Constant Gardener and listen to the horrible characters of Sandy and the "top knobs" at the British embassy - fictional, yes, but still reflective. Characters like Christian, Grace's husband, are, to use what I think of as a British expression, "insufferable" to me:
"Christian Thrale credited himself with special sensibilities towards pictures. In galleries where art had been safely institutionalized, he walked and paused like all the rest, yet believed his own stare more penetrating than most; and, when others strolled ahead, would linger, patently engrossed beyond the ordinary." (p.189)
These characters are great to read, and great to despise. The men are so patriarchal as to be, inherently, misogynistic. Christian's affair with a secretary at work is another instance where his motivations and methods are stripped bare, honest, repugnant. But the women do not escape either - the only character with any spunk at all is one of Caro's co-workers at the government offices where she works as typist/secretary/tea-maker, a woman called Valda, who says to Caro:
"You feel downright disloyal to your experience, when you do come across a man you could like. By then you scarcely see how you can decently make terms, it's like going over to the enemy. And then there's the waiting. Women have got to fight their way out of that dumb waiting at the end of the never-ringing telephone. The 'receiver', as our portion of it is called."
And then: "There is the dressing up, the hair, the fingernails. The toes. And, after all that, you are a meal they eat while reading the newspaper. I tell you that every one of those fingers we paint is another nail in their eventual coffins." To which Caroline thinks, "All this was indisputable, even brave. But was a map, from which rooms, hours, and human faces did not rise; on which there was no bloom of generosity or discovery. The omissions might constitute life itself; unless the map was intended as a substitute for the journey." (pp. 142-143)
Valda is obviously one of the first feminists, and also liberal-minded: she sews on her boss's button, her boss who is 'no good at these things', and later asks him to fix her typewriter ribbon, as she is 'no good at these things', to which he replies she should get another girl to do it, and must personally oversee this as Valda insists he do it.
This book offers a great insight into the early-mid decades of the 20th century in all its grittiness and human foibles. Dora, Grace and Caro's older half-sister, is also "insufferable", though in the classic way: she is pessimistic, unlovable almost, for being totally self-absorbed in the most negative, vocal way. She is almost a comic character, an exaggeration, yet the way she is written you can only feel sorry for her and her lost life.
Of Hazzard's writing, it has been described thus: "Hazzard is noted for the insight, sensitivity, and subtlety of her writing and for a lyrical style sometimes leavened by gentle irony." I would say, firstly, that it is dense, that there is so much to absorb in a single paragraph, which is why it took me so long to read. An example (and I open the book at random):
"In secret Caro dwelt on the release from emotional obligation, and could see how indifference might become seductive. What Josie took for exposure on Caro's part had been an offering of trust - a test the girl had failed, over and over. Trust would be offered repeatedly, but not indefinitely." (p.209)
There are passages of true poetry (to me):
"Beside the chill drama of Paul's marriage, played out in its interesting setting of worldly success, Caro's wound must blanch to a light stroke of experience that it would be tiresome to display. Caro would be instructed, not questioned; would be addressed, with knowing interpolations: 'That alas is the way it goes'; 'Something we must rectify.' Paul, not Caro, would interpret the degree of meaning in their respective lots. That had been decided, as he sat speaking intimately of his life to the person most excluded from it - in order to readmit her to the intimacy though not the life." (p.133)
There is an interesting passage towards the end, when Caro reflects on her life, having finally got rid of Paul's spectre after he tells her his big secret and what was forever persistent between them dies while at the same time she realises her love for dear old Ted, that is interesting and reminded me of Berkley's philosophy (I use the word lightly, as I think it's a crap idea based on a gross assumption). In the book:
"Caro had walked in the streets and thought about Ted Tice. She had sat to her work and feared to die without seeing him again. One day she had written on the page where she was working: 'If he came now, I would do whatever he asked.' If Ted were to die, the world would be a room where no one looked at her." (p.324)
It made me think back to first year philosophy (which I detested, but that is beside the point), and Berkley's hypothesis that things only exist insomuch or insofar as we are here to look at them, and that they continue to exist after we have turned our backs/left the room etc, because God is there to look, and is always looking. Hence do things "exist". That is my gross summing-up, of which I'm sure I've taken many liberties. I won't go into why it's such crap, as I would think that would be obvious to anyone, but with this idea at the back of my mind I interpreted the line about Caro not existing without Ted to look upon her as one that greatly summed up her character, and many other people in the world, who do not feel complete when alone, really, truly alone, or do not feel that they are a part of the world at all: alienated. What is that line from that silly song? "Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow." Yes, everyone does, everyone needs to feel love, and feel loved. Or they take a gun to a school like Dawson College in Montreal and express themselves that way.
I thought how sad Caro was, that she was so dependent, just like her sisters - but really, it's an ugly truth: we are all dependent on our own images and ideas of ourselves, more so than the ones others have of us, and to break away from the first sphere of our existence is to float adrift, with no purpose, no identity. Like Christian, who thinks so highly of himself and so can live with himself because he meets his own ideas of upper class (and there is a lot of emphasis on class in this book). Like Dora, who is tiresome, exhausting, depressing. But she has always been that way, and there is safety in it, and she exists. She is determined people not forget her, even if they are forced to recall her.
This is a bleakly honest look at ordinary people living in an ordinary world, a love story in effect, but not a happy one, not really. There is so much here, to dissect, to discuss, I could not possibly encompass it all. And I will have to read it again, to really take it all in, but I'm not looking forward to it. Like a great foreign film or documentary, it's worth watching, but not fun.
Willa and her son, Alex (whom everyone calls "Sonny"), are constantly on the move, following her husband who works as a helicopter mechanic on various...moreWilla and her son, Alex (whom everyone calls "Sonny"), are constantly on the move, following her husband who works as a helicopter mechanic on various military bases. He's an absentee father - when he comes home in the evening he just watches tv or spends hours in the basement, alone. And because Willa is always being uprooted, she has no firm friends and lives in isolation.
Now in Halifax, Willa's eye is caught by the sax player at the New Year's Eve party for the Forces, and a few days later bumps into him at the supermarket and then at a Tim Hortons. Perhaps it's a simple matter of a lonely woman seeking companionship and appreciation, but Willa is attracted to Hugh with a kind of 'young lover's blush'. He lives on a small island and mans the coast's lighthouse. It's not long before Willa decides to leave husband Charlie and takes Sonny with her to live with Hugh on the island. It's a wild, weather-cursed place, with an underground, disused bunker left over from the days when the military used it. Dead bodies - 'jumpers' from the bridge - wash up on the shore. The mercury in the light seems to be making Hugh sick. And Willa suspects Hugh's friend Wayne was involved in the disappearance of the previous lighthouse keeper's daughter.
Willa is not an instantly sympathetic character. At times her apparent lack of assertion and confidence is frustrating, and the mystery of the missing girl is never quite explained. Lighthouses pop up in many books, often for symbolic purposes, but in Berth it takes on a more sinister darkness. This is a novel of harsh, gritty reality, peopled with lonely, often unlikable characters, yet it's these qualities, and the oftimes ghostly tone, that makes this book worth reading.(less)
Anyone interested in education, the environment, government policy, corporations, innovation and invention, and fads, will get a lot out of this book....moreAnyone interested in education, the environment, government policy, corporations, innovation and invention, and fads, will get a lot out of this book.
Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America details the beginnings of our consumerist society, our over-consumption, our greed, our near-sightedness. Although written specifically about America - with good reason - the same effects can be seen in any other western country, and most others as well.
In his introduction, Slade says "Deliberate obsolescence in all its forms - technological, psychological, or planned - is a uniquely American invention." Obsolesence has been adopted not only by manufacturers but also consumers: who wants to keep last year's mobile phone model when this year's is also an MP3 player? Who wants to keep driving a 2005 Lexus when the 2006 model promises freedom from your crappy job? This is psychological obsolescence, this way of thinking that anything old is no longer usable, desirable or fashionable.
It did not begin by accident. Worried about over-production, anxious to keep people buying right through the depression, businessmen (and yes, they were all men) decided the only way out would be to sell more stuff, not make less of it. And the way to make people buy more is to render their current possessions obsolete, whether by design flaws, fashion, or agressive marketing. Disposability is traced back to paper: paper shirt fronts and cuffs for men, then sanitary napkins for women, beginning the "throwaway ethic" now so acceptable. "Thrift" became a bad word, and anti-fun.
Chapter 2 details the war between Ford and General Motors and "the practice of deliberately encouraging product obsolescence." Fleshed out with human stories of the men (yes, they were all men) involved, this chapter is truly fascinating and the only thing I wish had been included, as elsewhere in the book, were some pictures of the cars. Not being of a generation that can still remember the models in question, a little visualisation is helpful. But it's a small, personal quibble, and doesn't detract from the content. It is actually entertaining to read what Ford and Sloane of GM did: unable to push sales up (against the Tin Lizzy, noisy, uncomfortable but very reliable and made to last), GM began changing their design, nothing else - colour, style, upholstery, all things that made the Tin Lizzy look old and sad, and even older GM models now looked pitiful. While, in a later chapter on the 50s and 60s, a backlash against the absurd tailfins resulted in huge popularity of the foreign-made Volkswagen, whose ads emphasised its stability and lack of "superficial model changes."
The concept of "death dating" is studied - the idea of, say, a toaster of having a life span of only 3 years, after which it dies (deliberately), and the owner must buy a new model. Another chapter discusses the advent of radio and television, and the struggle for FM to exist at all, while chapter 8 gives some insight into the Cold War and the deliberate sabotage by American and Canadian companies of their products, knowing that the Soviets were going to steal them, since they couldn't afford to do all the research and invent anything themselves. This chapter is mostly a personal story about a Soviet double agent, and I admit I did get a bit lost amongst all the names, and couldn't help but wonder at the relevance of it all.
Chips play a big part in the story of planned obsolescence, and the final chapter on computers and mobile phones, while reiterating the main points of the introduction, includes some truly scary facts. Like: 1. "Cell phones built to last five years are now retired after only eighteen months of use." 2. There is not yet a ban in the United States that prohibits the export of e-waste to other, often less-developed countries like Bangladesh, where "unregulated facilities burn excess plastic waste around the clock, pumping PBDE and dioxin-laden fumes into the air. Despite respiratory disorders and skin diseases among the local residents, and despite transoceanic airborne contamination, these facilities are still considered valuable local businesses." 3. Nearly every mobile and laptop, pager and organiser, contains tantalum capacitors. Tantalum comes from refining colombo-tantalum ore, or coltan, found mostly in West Africa. Very few people are aware that the mining of coltan "produces economic devastation".
Slade makes some interesting points, notably about the lack of "technological literacy" existing today. "Only a public that tries to understand the consequences of coltan mining can begin to make an informed choice about the global trade-offs associated with 'trading up' to a new and better cell phone."
There is more to this than the evils of advertising, Slade argues. There is the "mystery" of the consumer themself. "Neophilias" are people who love new things, and can be divided into three groups - "pristinians", those who must sustain a pristine self-image by always having the newest thing; "trailblazing" or "technophiles", the ones who usually discover the latest "thing" and, though nerdy, spread the word and it catches on (remember when mobile phones were HUGE and really daggy? You wouldn't be caught dead with one); and "fashion fanatics", the majority or neophiles who can't stand wearing last seasons clothes or being out of the loop. With pressure amongst groups of friends, or at school, the need to own that latest gadget becomes the newer form of "keeping up with the Joneses."
While America is one of the worst offenders of disposability, waste and over-consumption, no one else is innocent either. But I respect my mum who would rather shell out a hundred dollars for a decent pair of leather shoes for her kids than twenty bucks for a pair of crappy vinyl sneakers that would have to be replaced three times a year. We had the same telly for about fifteen years, right up to the day it was no longer repairable - they don't tend to last that long anymore. If parents can resist their nagging kids, perhaps even keep them from watching commercial television, maybe a cycle can be broken? It is, after all, psychological, not a natural order of things.
It doesn't have to be this way: Slade reveals one example, "a hand-blown carbon-filament light bulb, made by Shelby Electric Company, that still illuminates the municipal fire hall in Livermore, California: it was originally switched on in 1901." So next time the bulb in the lounge room blows, again, and you get up on a chair to replace it, again, think of this, that the only reason it died is because it was designed that way, to keep you buying more. (less)
I was captivated by this book. Set on a world which revolves so slowly that everyone has to move steadily West in order to escape Dusk and Night, whic...moreI was captivated by this book. Set on a world which revolves so slowly that everyone has to move steadily West in order to escape Dusk and Night, which is a devastating ice world, and avoiding High Summer, so hot it kills everything in its path, West of January is highly original and superbly written. Not only is the world divided into Months and Days, each a particular climate steadily moving west, but the inhabitants are very segregated, each following the same patterns every cycle, never learning from the previous one (that often ends in disaster) because they do not pass their knowledge down.
Knobil is born into the savage herder race, where family groups of several women and their children belong to one dominant male, slowly making their way across the grasslands with their huge stupid beasts that must be constantly walked. With his blond hair and blue eyes, he is obviously the child of an Angel, a group of men of various races who live in Heaven, hoarding knowledge, and travel in their chariots trying to prevent disaster every cycle by getting different groups through the passes or around water to safety.
When he reaches puberty he avoids his destiny - being sent out with one of his many sisters, who he may trade with a girl from another herd to start his own - by falling in with an Angel. This starts his own awakening, and his determination to reach Heaven and become an angel, something he must do alone. This goal loses its importance when he is taken in by the sea folk and starts fathering children left right and centre. When the sea begins to dry up as High Summer approaches, he looks for passage south for his adopted family but is caught by Ants. Ants, miners who use captives as slaves to mine in the temperate southern parts of the world, are brutal, and Knobil spends several years merely surviving.
He is sold, because of his blond hair and blue eyes, to the traders, whose men are small and crafty and the women are huge and stupid, but doesn't find out why until it is too late. His adventures continue, but I don't want to give everything away!
In the course of his journeys, Knobil examines and confronts stereotypes, elitism, and learns not only the history of people on this strange planet but also that things are transient, and changeable.(less)
With Heat, George Monbiot has moved past the obfuscating arguments being slung like mud back and forth across the globe, and faces not just the alarmi...moreWith Heat, George Monbiot has moved past the obfuscating arguments being slung like mud back and forth across the globe, and faces not just the alarming truth of global warming but the seemingly impossible task of actually doing something about it.
This book is, as he points out in the introduction, a manifesto. It is a plan of action. The goal is to cut our carbon dioxide emissions by 90% by 2030. This is the "seemingly impossible" aspect, especially when you look at Canada's current situation (this Canadian edition includes a foreward designed to wipe the smug smiles off our faces, and effectively brings his manifesto into our own backyard).
Using the UK as his base, Monbiot focuses on high-energy users and high emission-producing industries, from "our leaky homes" to gas, coal and nuclear plants, cars, public transport, the cement industry, heat, lighting and aviation. Before getting onto the task of fixing our situation before it gets worse, he spends a chapter on the current data and where it will lead us, and on the "denial industry". This chapter alone is worth your time. It is engrossing, enlightening and actually quite entertaining.
For all his sources, Monbiot does a thorough background check. This process, of following individuals and organisations from their comments all the way to who is funding them, adds a detective element to the book - a bit like the TV show House. It also serves to add legitimacy to the people Monbiot does quote - although he makes a point of being sceptical of anyone who is selling something.
One of the other truly great chapters in this book is on public transport. Using models put forward by other thinkers, Monbiot restructures the English transit system, making it more user-friendly, affordable, quicker, and drastically reduces not only the amount of cars on the road, but also the amount of road. As with the aviation industry, more money is being spent on expanding roads, which will only fill up with twice as many cars, than on finding other transport solutions or "greener" cars.
His chapter on fuel, especially his breakdown on so-called "green fuels", is less heartening. Although he remains incredibly optimistic throughout the book, his conclusions regarding our fuel options are downright depressing. Still, we can only persevere. Likewise, the amount of energy a supermarket uses to keep the fridges on while at the same time heating the place, is shocking, but not surprising. What is really shocking, is that we are all so accustomed to it that no one even thinks about the waste of energy our expectations of convenience cause.
Heat moves nimbly past all the bickering politicians and scientists and everyone else with an opinion, and looks at ways we can save the planet without sacrificing as much as we will if we do absolutely nothing. But his final point is clear: as long as we refuse to change our lifestyle, make some cuts in our own way of living, we are going to be pretty adverse to politicians regulating - as Monbiot says they need to do - and also give them a good reason to not even try.
As a manifesto, Heat provides a great deal of clear-headed, well-researched and rational information. When one of our politicians decides to take the situation seriously, they would do well to start here.(less)
Noah is kicked out of York University in Toronto for protesting the chopping down of his favourite tree to make room for a new carpark - an ironic sta...moreNoah is kicked out of York University in Toronto for protesting the chopping down of his favourite tree to make room for a new carpark - an ironic stab at York's treeless campus? - and faces a stint in jail for his "unauthorised demonstration". He has a problematic relationship with his father, too, and looking "for a job that would take me to a place so far away that I wouldn't feel the urge to run anymore" he joins the seasonal treeplanters near Upsala, Ontario.
He arrives at the same time as Cass, a young woman covered in fly bites and blood and scratches, having left a different group. She's hiding something but Noah's friendliness only makes her clam up more.
The planters are an interesting mix, divided into the Hardcores, the Highballers and the Lowballers. Noah befriends El Salvadorian Aleron, who cowers when planes fly overhead because it reminds him of when his father and brother were killed by the army. Tough-guy Lyndon teaches him how to run from bears, though when one does raid the camp Noah finds his fear for his friends' safety outweighs his own.
This book beautifully captures the nature of the forest and the way of life for the hundreds of planters who do this back-breaking work each year. Noah is a wonderfully written character, entirely believable - as are they all - and the book is injected with humour, compassion and some wild moments! It really highlights the paradox of wanting to care for the environment while having to protect your very life from it's teeth. This book doesn't moralise or preach, which I like. I thought the ending lost some of the sparkle of the rest of the book, and yet that too seems reminiscent of that strange feeling of nostalgia you get towards the end of something momentous. I highly recommend this book to all ages and of any background.(less)
There are similarities here to Homer's Odyssey and even Alice's adventures. It's a mix of myth and superstition, and very fast paced. The writing flow...moreThere are similarities here to Homer's Odyssey and even Alice's adventures. It's a mix of myth and superstition, and very fast paced. The writing flows smoothly and with humour, and you get carried along in Lukas' wake, with no more clue about what's going to happen next than he himself. I think the fun for some people in reading this book would be to spot the myth, yet it's still very original. It's also a quick read, set as it is in the space of a single night as Lukas slips into a coma, and nothing is stretched out or filled in, there's no lengthy, overly-descriptive paragraphs or flowery writing. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read that still lingers in my mind.(less)
I don't normally read short stories, they tend to feel very conscious of their limited space, and the characters are often empty names on pages to me....moreI don't normally read short stories, they tend to feel very conscious of their limited space, and the characters are often empty names on pages to me. Home Schooling is nothing like that. Each story offers up, in beautiful, lyrical prose, intense details about the characters, their pasts, their issues, their relationships, yet nothing is crammed, none of the stories are full of junk - there's not a single wasted or irrelevant sentence.
There are common elements running through these stories - death and, in the least melodramatic sense, rebirth; love and loss; the transient essence of the landscape and the people occupying its space.
My favourite story? Too difficult. I loved "Home Schooling", where the landscape, so vividly portrayed, reminded me a little of the wild moors in Wuthering Heights. Annabel sees the ghosts of previous occupants, the two sisters, Jane and Freddy, who used to live in their big old house-come-school, and a famous actress, and imagines them conversing with each other, having tea together, giving advice.
I enjoyed "Felt Skies" for the minor character of Dr. Bergius, a lonely man who looks like Freud, who finally escapes medicine for his dream of owning a radio station. He hovers by Rachel's desk, chats up her mum, and reminisces about his own Mother and now-deceased wife Eva. Each character in these stories, whether likeable or not, is fully realised, with insights coming from the central characters' knowledge as well as through the characters themselves, as they betray their human traits.
These stories captured an often chilly, misty unreality-within-reality -or perhaps it's a reality-within-unreality? They are not about large events but personal moments, moments of reflection, realisation and understanding. They work supremly well as short stories, and after reading each one take a moment to absorb it all. (less)