Before we went away I joined 99 day of freedom and have been staying away from the notorious time-suck that is Facebook. I got a bit twitchy the first few days but since then it seems, by the regular and increasingly desperate e-mails, that Facebook has been missing me more than I have been missing it. However I have been in a bit of a post-holiday slump, feeling tired and not wanting to do much. The pile of read-and-not-reviewed books has grown and the obsessive compulsive in me can't just ignore them; I tried not caring but I *like* having this catalogue of my reading, I get immense satisfaction out of the end of year list and the sense that I have used at least some of my time productively. So just in the interests of good housekeeping this will be a very quick skim through the books that have passed through my hands in the last few weeks. I will do proper reviews of a couple of others I enjoyed more, hopefully in the next day or so.
'Death at Intervals' by José Saramago is on my TBR Pile challenge and was the third book I took to Costa Rica; it has been my breakfast read for the last month so it only progresses by a page or so every day. Mum skim read it on the plane and said she thought it was dull and predictable, but once we got through the first half and the character of death appeared I enjoyed it. The first half is about a country where people stop dying and how they reacted, individually and culturally and politically. Then death decides to start again, but giving people notice of their impending demise. It all goes well until one of her letters is returned and she goes off to see this person who refuses to accept death.
Saramago has a very particular, and peculiar, writing style which takes a bit of getting used to and his books are very much about ideas rather than characters and plots. Not for everyone but if you are into european avant-garde then give him a try.
Little quote, because I always like references to the postal system in literature:
"She eyes the violet envelope suspiciously, studies it to see if it bears any of the comments postmen usually write on envelopes in such cases, for example, returned, not known at this address, addressee gone away leaving no forwarding address or date of return, or simply dead. How stupid of me, she muttered, how could he have died if the letter that should have killed him came back unopened." (p125)
'The First True Lie' by Marina Mander (an italian author who has no website or wiki page) was a really curious and fascinating book. I know some people are put off by novels with child narrators but when well written I think they make for excellent reads. In this tale a young boy with a depressed mother has his worst fear realised when she commits suicide (either deliberately or accidentally, it's not really relevant) and he tries to carry on by himself so that he won't be a 'complete orphan' and have to be taken into care. While he has quite a mature voice it is heartrending in the way it captures the insecurities of childhood, and how children make sense of the chaotic and unfathomable adult world.
Before she dies:
"Mama feels lonely even though she's never alone, because I'm aways here with her, but it must not be enough. In order not to feel so lonely she went to talk to a man with a beard, who listens to her once a week in a house full of books full of complicated thoughts. I flipped through a few of them while I waited in the lobby. I wonder though, what do you get out of paying someone to listen to you, to care for you?
I care for her for free, but it must not be enough.
It may be that she doesn't want to confess her darkest thoughts to me directly. Sometimes she writes them down using tiny, tiny letters, then forgets the pieces of paper on the kitchen table; or else she talks about them to somebody in a low voice. she talks slowly and she moves slowly." (p.63)
"I stretch out beside her as if we have all kinds of time ahead of us. An entire weekend. As if we have all the time in the world just to lie here side by side. As if my time was the same as hers.
I know that she's probably not interested in other people's progress any more, but then I'm not interested in her being dead either, in the strange blotches on her face, in how even with my stuffed-up nose I think I can tell she's started to smell. If everything wasn't becoming so complicated I'd say it's all the same to me, that in some ways I understand her, that I understand if she was sick of living." (p112)
'The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year' by Sue Townsend does exactly what it says on the tin. Isn't it funny how when men have mid-life crises they go out and buy motorbikes but when women do it they are more likely to hide from the world. I did laugh out loud several time reading this book, and that was the only thing that made it a good read, because otherwise it wasn't really. The characters are all *so* irritating and unlikeable and somewhat clichéd. It reminded me a little of Harold Fry, that I read two summers ago. He has a bit of a mid-life crisis and goes on a long walk, and people hear his story and try to hijack his life. The same thing happens to Eva, that some loonies camp outside her house putting their own interpretation on her actions and trying to make it into something else. Nobody's behaviour in this story is in any way rational and the whole thing just felt contrived. And a dreadfully unsatisfying ending.
'Overheard' edited by Jonathan Taylor is a wonderful collection of short stories that really runs the gamut of styles and voices. I didn't try reading any of them out loud, but there wasn't really anyone there to read them to. I like reading aloud, and being read to, it is a whole different experience from reading. It's hard to write about a short story collection, particularly one that is an anthology rather than by one author, but certainly this would be a great introduction to the world of short stories for people who usually read novels, and a good way to uncover new writers. Two I particularly liked were adjacent to each other, and reflecting the same problem: 'Estranged and unanticipated' by Kate Pullinger and 'What's the weather like?' by Ailsa Cox (who's neglected blog I find I am already a follower of), both discuss the thorny issue of telephoning your parents and in a few brief pages give some subtle insights into the parent child relationship. I got this from the library but it is probably more one to keep on the bedside table for a few years to enjoy it properly.