August 6, 2012
The water was warm & the reading was good.
When I tell you that my vacation was wonderful, what I really mean is that I got a lot of reading done. Five novels, kind of six. I started with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which was gripping and fun, the perfect beach read for a woman with a brain. The story of a man whose wife has disappeared but then we begin to see that he might have unabashedly been the one who disappeared her. It wasn’t a perfect crime novel– there were so many twists that I felt like I was chasing my tail– but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Next up was Bilgewater by Jane Gardam, which was a wonderful novel. I’d only read Gardam’s Old Filth before, and I’d found it weird, but now within the context of another of her books, I see that it was actually Gardam-esque. Bilgewater is the coming-0f-age story of a girl who has grown up without a mother, living with her eccentric father at a boy’s school, and must navigate her place in the world outside of that context. It would appeal to those who loved Jo Walton’s Among Others, minus the fantasy. Gardham absolutely trusts her reader and her text to light the way through the story, with no interference on the author’s part. She also so vividly illuminates such odd corners of Englishness, ones you never even imagined existed.
I remained Anglo-centric with a rereading of Barbara Pym’s No Fond Return of Love, which is my favourite Pym and my first Pym reread since I finished the lot of them last year. I’m entranced by the novel’s meta-narrative, that Pym herself makes an appearence in a hotel dining room and one of her books is referenced as being on a character’s shelf (Some Tame Gazelle). There is much comparison to how life and fiction measure up, a statement that some people could walk onto the pages of a book and you’d never believe they were true. I also know more about Pym’s biography than I did first read, and see this book in connection to her own obsessive, usually unrequited love experiences, which were pretty much the story of my own (love) life for a substantial period. These aren’t stories that are put down in books so often, stalker-ish tendencies well-shy of bunny boiling. Pym is Austenish, certainly, but the solutions to the romantic problems she poses are less conventional than you’d think. She is a strange kind of mathematics that you’ve got to get a feel for to appreciate.
Next up was Tanis Rideout’s Above All Things, a Canadian novel but just as Anglo as the other two in subject matter. It’s very good and though it was a vacation book rather than a book for review, I’ve got much to say about it and will be posting a review this week. Felt just right to be reading it though as last year at the cottage, I read a biography of Gertrude Bell.
We made our annual trek to Bob Burns’ Books in Fenelon Falls on Monday while it rained, and I was so thrilled to find Barbara Pym’s unfinished novel Civil to Strangers. It’s almost impossible to find Barbara Pym books secondhand, so this was a find. I’m saving it for the future so I can continue to have unread Pym before me. I also was happy to find the book Fairy Tale by Alice Thomas Ellis, whose novel The 27th Kingdom blew my mind last year. I didn’t love this one as much, though the more I think about it, the more it gets under my skin. It’s a fairy tale quite literally, but also an English novel of manners. A young woman escapes to the Welsh countryside in search of a simpler life, and finds her general boredom relieved when she comes into possession of a changeling, tragic and rather hilarious results ensuing. Would appeal to anyone who admires Hilary Mantel’s supernatural stuff.
The sixth book was The Hunger Games, whose trilogy had kept Stuart as glued to the page all week as I am to books in general. I was happy to have a chance to read it as when we are at home, I have so many books to read that I don’t have the space for books like it. Predictably and disappointingly, however, I wasn’t very interested in it, and mainly skimmed the last two thirds. I kept comparing it to Bilgewater, which is a book about a similarly aged character and so much more interesting in terms of how it’s written. I found The Hunger Games so predictable, with a protagonist who we’re always meant to be on board with, who is obviously always going to win, and I was frustrated by how everything in the book required so much explanation, by how Katniss Everdeen is writing down to us. It’s sort of patronizing. I also don’t understand the YA preoccupation with post-apocalyptic worlds, how discussion of these books with young people is always meant to be issues based rather than about the book itself. It’s so prescribed. So there you go. I didn’t like the book so much, though I know I was approaching it wrong, I am not its intended audience, and I think I’d been spoiled by having read books all week long which were so brilliant.
Anyway, it was a fantastic week. We swam every day, played on the beach, I sat down so much it made my tailbone ache, loved hanging out with Stuart on the porch and playing games every evening, the weather was glorious, and Harriet was thrilled by not having to wear shoes for a week and running wild with a huge pack of kids to play with. It was perfect. We are lucky. And now we are also happy to be home.