Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Little Stranger Read-along - wrap up

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

published 2010

audiobook - read by Simon Vance

Synopsis from publisher:

In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to see a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the once grand house is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its garden choked with weeds. All around, the world is changing, and the family is struggling to adjust to a society with new values and rules.
Roddie Ayres, who returned from World War II physically and emotionally wounded, is desperate to keep the house and what remains of the estate together for the sake of his mother and his sister, Caroline. Mrs. Ayres is doing her best to hold on to the gracious habits of a gentler era and Caroline seems cheerfully prepared to continue doing the work a team of servants once handled, even if it means having little chance for a life of her own beyond Hundreds.
But as Dr. Faraday becomes increasingly entwined in the Ayreses' lives, signs of a more disturbing nature start to emerge, both within the family and in Hundreds Hall itself. And Faraday begins to wonder if they are all threatened by something more sinister than a dying way of life, something that could subsume them completely.

My thoughts -   Okay, my view on some of these characters has changed significantly now that I've finished the novel. Dr. Faraday started out as a fairly decent guy. By the end, however, he had morphed into something very different. Controlling and manipulative, he just wanted to get to Hundreds Hall by any means necessary.   I know this was supposed to be a "Halloween-y" read, but it seemed to get less spooky to me as it went along as well. Perhaps because I was expecting a real ghost story, and instead got the makings of one, but not the finished product itself.   Eh, maybe it just wasn't the right time for me, but this reading of the novel was rather underwater. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Relative Reads - The Piano Man's Daughter by Timothy Findley

I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.

The Piano Man's Daughter by Timothy Findley
 published 1995
 490 pages

  Synopsis from publisher:   Narrated by Charlie Kilworth, whose birth is an echo of his mother's own illegitimate beginnings, The Piano Man's Daughter is the lyrical, multilayered tale of Charlie's mother, Lily, his grandmother Ede, and their family. Lily is a woman pursued by her own demons, "making off with the matches just when the fires caught hold," "a beautiful, mad genius, first introduced to us singing in her mother's belly." It is also the tale of people who dream in songs, two Irish immigrant families facing a new and uncertain future in turn-of-the-century Toronto. Finally, it is a richly detailed tribute to a golden epoch in our history and of a generation striking the last, haunting chord of innocence.

The Piano Man's Daughter is a symphony of wonderful storytelling, unforgettable characters, and a lilting, lingering melody that plays on long after the last page has been turned.

My thoughts:

First Impression - 8/15/12

I know someone told me to read this book a long time ago - who was it? This particular copy came from my Aunt Rhoda, who hasn't led me wrong yet. So far it's just a completely lovely novel. Findley gives his story a lyrical quality that is perfect for the tale of a family of musicians. It is, in some ways, a difficult novel for me to read because much of the subject matter hits extremely close to home. Mental illness is something my family deals with every day, and Charlie's fear of passing his mother's madness on to his own children is something I can understand. The first part of the novel is primarily Ede's story, and she is a compelling character. Her strength, alongside her questioning and doubt, make her quite sympathetic. And the glimpses Findley gives us of Lily have been tantalizing, fleeting, running through the narrative just as Lily runs through her own life.

"We were always escaping, you see - escaping, or standing ready to escape; running away from her demons; trying to avoid the outcome of what had been started - making off with the matches just when the fires caught hold." (p. 6)

Second Thoughts - 8/18/12

Reading this second section of the novel has put me in mind of Jane Eyre, and specifically the madwoman in the attic. I don't mean to say that Lily is meant to represent Bertha directly, but there are definitely echoes of her life in Lily's. Findley's description of Lily's mental illness as a "whirlwind" is an interesting choice - I think it's a good way to give readers a sense of the confusion and fear that would be part and parcel of what it must be like to suffer from her type of illness. I am finding Ede less and less sympathetic as the story progresses - when I read I try to keep the time period in mind as I evaluate the characters' actions, but I am finding myself having more and more problems with the treatment of Lily she allows.

Findley's writing is excellent. I am enjoying the process of reading this novel very much. He engulfs his readers in the lives and settings of his characters, and I'm finding it increasingly difficult to tear myself away. I don't know where the story will take me next, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

Last Word - 8/20/12

Reading this novel was a very emotional experience for me. I found Lily's story to be sad, but it was really Charlie for whom I felt the most sorrow. I imagine he spent so much of his time feeling quite alone, and that was hard for me.

"In October, I had my eighth birthday. I felt as if I was now an accredited adult. Eight- and small for my age. Eight - and serious. Eight - and a man of the world. There was little I did not know about the human condition that any child can know, who has been given a loving parent and a place to stand. But I was not just any child. I had also been given silence and music - poetry -a unique religion of reverence for life - a profoundly mysterious companion and a sense of being wanted and cared for by someone whose whole concern for me could be defined in a single word: wonder. I was also given someone to decipher - someone to protect - someone to ponder. To say that I was old at eight is simply to state a truth. (p. 443)

Timothy Findley is an excellent author. His characters are round and full, real people inhabiting his pages. I expect Lily and Charlie to live with me for some time. His story is beautifully written, full of secrets and revelations. I will most definitely look for more by this author, and I highly recommend The Piano Man's Daughter.

Finished: 8/20/12
Source: aunt Rhoda
MPAA rating: PG -13 for adult situations
My rating: 8/10

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies - audiobook clip!

Shortly after my review of Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies posted, Esther from MacMillan contacted me to offer my readers a clip of the audiobook of the novel - so, if you are interested in listening to a bit of this story, you are in luck! This particular clip has one of the passages I underlined from the novel - a particularly apt description of Thomas Cromwell. Enjoy!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Thoughts - Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
published May, 2012
480 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.

At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne's head?

My thoughts:

First Impression - 7/30/12

I reviewed the prequel to this novel, Wolf Hall, in 2009, and had some issues with it. It was the first novel I'd read by Mantel, and her writing style was difficult for me to adjust to. Before I picked up this novel, I spent a little bit of time re-acquainting myself with her writing, and I'm glad I did - this time around, I'm enjoying her work much more. She again writes in the present tense, and again uses the somewhat ambiguous "he" whenever she refers to Cromwell, but I'm prepared for it this time, so it just seems quirky rather than irritating. This time around I'm also able to enjoy much of the humor that Mantel gifts Cromwell with - the dialogue itself has been a lot of fun to read. I feel like this might be a breakthrough for me and this author.

Second Thoughts - 8/5/12

I think Bring Up the Bodies is just an easier novel to read than its predecessor. Perhaps it is because Mantel has a much smaller period of time to cover, but her narrative seems tighter and her connection to her characters seems stronger. Mantel's Cromwell is a fascinating man - I think I like him, but I don't necessarily think he's a good guy. He is smart, though, and has learned what needs to be done to preserve himself - so I can certainly understand the many macinations he makes to secure his position with the king.

"What is the nature of the border between truth and lies?  It is permeable and blurred because it is planted thick with rumour, confabulation, misunderstandings and twisted tales. Truth can break the gates down, truth can howl in the street; unless Truth is pleasing, personable and easy to like, she is condemned to stay whimpering at the back door." (p. 159)

I am enjoying Mantel's writing so much - she is skilled at her craft, and I am finding the novel a pleasure to read as well as a great story.

Last Word - 8/9/12

I feel like I know this story pretty well, but Mantel actually had me tense at the end - as though I wasn't completely aware of how Anne's story ended. I've long thought Thomas More an incredibly fascinating figure, and now I see Thomas Cromwell as his equal. I was completely engaged in his process as he methodically went about bringing down Anne and her companions - the who's and why's, the coersion and manipulation - and his reasons for every single move = all remarkable.

"Look, he says: once you have exhausted the process of negotiation and compromise, once you have fixed on the destruction of an enemy, that destruction must be swift and it must be perfect. Before you even glance in his direction, you should have his name on a warrant, the ports blocked, his wife and friends bought, his heir under your protection, his money in your strongroom, and his dog running to your whistle. Before he wakes in the morning, you should have the axe in your hand."  (p. 351)

Such good writing, such an interesting character - still a bit distant, but an enjoyable read nontheless. Recommended - if you are interested in the series, I would almost start with this novel, and then go back and read the first, especially if (like me) you already know how it ends.

Finished: 8/9/12
Source: review copy from publisher
MPAA rating: R for violence and adult situations
My rating: 8/10