11 Books in October, 95 Total for 2012
The 11 books read in October truly made the month a fest. It started off with the slightly disappointing LostMemory of Skin, which sketches a curious cast of misfits that are lower than the low, dispossessed by the society. They are convicted sex offenders who wear GPS monitoring anklets to ensure they do not dwell within 2,500 feet of any location where children might congregate. Although the main character comes to terms with his mistrust and passivity and musters up courage to believe again, the book only dabbles at the social forces that might cause pedophilia. Gullibility of the anonymous realm of the internet and how it might incur changes in life is left unexplored. I’m left thoroughly divided and unsatisfied about this book. I’m giving Russell Banks a break after this book. Yoko Ogawa’s Hotel Iris retreats into darker territory by which contemporary Japanese literature is known to me. The book follows an unusual love story—between 17-year-old Mari, the daughter of a hotel hostess and a 60-something widower who translates from Russian. From the beginning there is a sense of foreboding about this unusual relationship, which probably owes to the physicality of the relationship is disturbing because it’s not how we perceive love and intimacy. There is no comparison to her other book, but this one is quite hypnotic. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is the most challenging read of the month. I have to keep reminding myself that the narrator is only 10 years old. That said, I still can’t help feeling he sometimes does very silly and random acts. The book gives me the feeling that I do not (and I cannot) have to remember most of the details but rather emotions evoked from the language and reactions of Paddy. There exudes a constant sense of his evolving emotions and turmoil. The emotions move from the light-hearted fun of his escapades to real-life harshness of his parents’ divorce. It’s a painful and bitter coming-of-age story.
Small Island is my first Andrea Levy read. It strikes me as heavy-handed in the historical context but nonetheless beautiful. It tells a very cracking story set, mainly, in post-war London. It follows a white couple and a black couple—men and women trying to lead ordinary lives after the war in 1948. As much as the novel seems to addresses race, prejudice, and identity, Small Island is far from being just a novel about racism. It’s about how war changes people and imposes on whom irretrievable consequences. The Lottery and Other Stories, read in Dallas, was not what I had expected. I was looking stories like The Haunting of Hill House. Despite a few forgettable ones, the stories in this collection, unusual, unique, and morbid, demonstrate Jackson’s remarkable range, from the hilarious to the truly horrible. Blaming is my first Elizabeth Taylor book. It’s a simple story with simple writing. Sometimes you almost have to read between the lines to get the emotional nuances. The prevailing mood of Blaming is one of subdued bleakness. Though the characters themselves—fretful and grievous Amy, restless and impulsive Martha, aggravating James and inquisitive Dora seem to forge relationships with one another through a medium of disappointed expectations, Taylor invokes through them a sense of confusion and frustration because often time human imperfections are what make of life. The subject matter of When She Woke resonates with the earlier Memory of Lost Skin, except the outlaw is now a woman convicted of abortion. She wakes up genetically altered, adopting red skin as a mark of her sin of murder. The novel is an alarming perception of the dire consequences of a cookie-cutter religion. Like the sexual criminals portrayed in Lost Memory of Skin, but more powerfully nuanced, the women are stigmatized for making their own choices, choices that they feel right but renounced by a society that politicizes faith.
Muriel Spark once again doesn’t disappoint. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is well-written and funny. The titular character is a preposterous woman who selects her elite group, seizes upon these docile, impressionable 12 year olds (whose parents she trusts will not lodge complaints) and influences them with her over-romanticized worldview. She spins tales about everything irrelevant to the curriculum. Her unorthodox teaching method without doubt raises many eye-brows and sets her at a disadvantage with the headmistress. This is a brilliant novel, funny and poignant at the same time. Brodie is a rebel, her influence malign. But the novel leaves the feeling that something unfulfilled and even desperate about her—for she is obviously ahead of her time and her progressiveness renders her alone. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides is one of the most anticipated book for me this year. It’;s so much more dense than his previous works. It follows the triangular relationship of two young men and a young lady after their graduation from college in 1982. She is to decide between the two and makes decision that affects all their lives later. Switching between perspectives of the three, Eugenides edges the plot forward slightly as he fills the back story. Despite the slow pace, I enjoy the many bookish references throughout the book. The story itself is wry, engaging and beautifully constructed. It’s more about coming of age—finding the foothold in the world and making decision that would affect one’s life, without knowing at the moment. So each will foray into adulthood at the expense of pain. The month finishes off with two Agatha Christie mysteries, Halloween Party and Hickory Dickory Dock, which are both not her best works. They are suitable for fans but not eye-catcher for novices. One is too easy and obvious while the other owes readers an explanation for what really happens.