This was the first book club reading that, I’m sorry to say, turned out to be a complete dud. I still finished it because the central mystery kept my interest, but it’s not a good sign when you start cringing a couple of pages in.
There is a potentially interesting if harrowing story at the heart of the novel. In a small USA town, a teenage girl called Jenny Kramer is brutally raped at a high school party. Her parents agree to an experimental treatment that erases Jenny’s memory of the event; in theory this should spare her from PTSD and allow her to return to normal life. But Jenny’s trauma finds its way out regardless, and she decides that she wants to recover her memory of the rape. The novel’s narrator, Dr. Forrester, is the psychiatrist who treats Jenny as well as her parents who deal with their own emotional fallout and deep-seated issues. There’s also the question of who committed this horrific crime.
I meant to get started on the next book for our club, but instead I got sidetracked re-reading this Agatha Christie mystery, a Miss Marple mystery to be precise. This book has an unusual history in Christie’s oeuvre – during her life it was locked in a vault on her request, to be published posthumously along with Curtain, Hercule Poirot’s last mystery. Unlike Curtain, which wrapped up Poirot’s life and work, there’s no such finality in Sleeping Murder and there are further Miss Marple stories that follow it chronologically, so the foreboding byline on the book cover is pretty misleading. No need for drama, Miss Marple is still alive and kicking at the end.
I’ve always been fond of the “how well can you really know even your closest loved ones” theme, and I quite enjoyed this quick and easy read, which doesn’t waste any time instantly pulling you into the story with the opening paragraph. I wasn’t all that impressed with another Anita Shreve book I’ve read a while ago, but she sure knows how to write a gripping beginning.
It begins with a late-night knock on the door that awakens Kathryn, the titular wife married to Jack, a pilot whose plane went down off the coast of Ireland after an explosion, with no survivors. From the moment Kathryn receives this terrible news, her life turns into a rollercoaster of grief, media whirlwind, and slow unravelling of who she had thought her husband was.
More book club reading. This one was an interesting experience – the author’s intent became obvious to me only after I finished the novel and read the acknowledgements at the back, which recast the whole thing in a very different light. If I remembered my classic Greek literature better, I’d probably have realised sooner that Home Fire is a modern-day retelling of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone. This made me understand the author’s story choices better, while also making it easier to pinpoint why, overall, the book didn’t quite work for me. There’s still a lot to like about it – the prose is simple and lucid, it explores the timely topics like terrorism and anti-Muslim attitudes with insight and intelligence, most characters are well-drawn and their wildly different life choices are easy to understand and empathise with. But in the end, it did feel less than the sum of its parts.
I’ve read and loved a few Maugham novels without realising that he also excelled at short stories. This is the first one of a four volume collection, which I’ll no doubt complete one day as I love both short stories and Maugham’s brilliant writing. As in any collection, the quality varies somewhat, but most entries are great little gems of economical, elegant storytelling.
The thirty stories contained in the volume are grouped together by geography, as they move from the islands of the Pacific Ocean to England, France, Spain and back to Borneo. They vary wildly in length – some stories take up forty pages and others stop at four – and in tone, with some stories light-hearted and dryly comical, almost resembling a witty punchy epigram, while others are almost luridly tragic.
Another one for the book club. I’ve actually read this dystopian novel some years ago, but I was happy to revisit Atwood’s nightmarish yet highly imaginative envisioning of the future where messing with nature comes to a no good, very bad end for the human race.
This is not a spoiler, since the book opens in the post-apocalyptic future where the world’s population has been wiped out, and follows what could be the last human survivor who calls himself Snowman. The only other inhabitants are a mysterious new breed of humans called Children of Crake: physically flawless and beautiful, lacking sexual drive and violent impulses, unable to create art or technology, devoid of envy, anger and existential angst. Despite their reverence for Snowman, his chances of survival look pretty grim, with the dwindling supplies and no real weapon to protect himself against the genetically engineered animals now running amok (including some nasty mutant pigs you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark narrow alley).
I’ve resolved not to buy any more clothes from the second-hand stores to prevent the wardrobe explosion, but I can’t stop buying really cheap books! I very much enjoyed this charming, off-kilter first novel from the Indian author who later won the 2006 Man Booker Prize with The Inheritance of Loss, about a young morose slacker who leaves his home town to take up residence in a guava tree, and becomes an accidental guru. Hilarity and chaos ensue.