Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A few book reviews

Here we are, into the second week of the school year, and we've already had to make a trip to the doctor's office for a rash. Fortunately, a non-contagious, non-itchy rash, unfortunately one which can take up to 8 weeks to clear. I did enjoy the opportunity to arrive at school in the middle of the day and see my little one join her class without looking back. "Mom, I'm not going to miss lunch am I??"

As promised, here are the book reviews I promised last week.

Lesley wrote an intriguing review of Road Song by Natalie Kusz back in May and I was fortunate enough to mooch a copy of this 1990 memoir. Kusz's family was living in California in the late 1960s and her parents, tired of their suburban existence and working multiple jobs, decide to sell everything and move to Alaska with their 4 young children. They set up camp on a bit of property and their home consists of a trailer with a small uninsulated room built on. They live in this manner for years. Natalie is soon the victim of a terrible accident, requiring multiple surgeries and procedures which leave her disfigured. The book is about the accident and the aftermath, but it is really the story of the Kusz family. I really couldn't help but question the parents choices in this book. I wondered if the life they found in Alaska was 'better' that their life in California, and is it fair to figure that out with small children involved. I can understand being tired of the so-called 'rat race' but living in the wilderness, the Alaskan wilderness, without proper plumbing or heating and the Father working far from home didn't seem a great trade-off to me. Nevertheless, the family was very close-knit and met obstacles as a unit -I really came to admire their cohesiveness. Their lifestyle seemed to work well for them, and perhaps the reason I found this book so interesting is because it is one I would never choose.

Singing Bird by Rosin McAuley is the story of an English woman searching for her adult child's birth parents in Ireland due to a suspicious call from the Nun who set up the adoption. This was a readable but not particularly memorable novel. A few things about this book irritated me. One was that multiple characters kept advising the main character, Lena, that finding a birth parent would be a long, arduous path with many disappointments along the way. Lena is able to figure things out during a vacation which seems quite unrealistic. The other bit that kept coming up was a discussion about genes and the fact that two blue-eyed parents could only have blue-eyed children. Everyone in the novel seemed quite surprised by this information, yet I remember learning about this in science class when I was very young.

The third book I've finished is Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. This was my first Pym to read, though I have added a few to my shelves this year. I enjoyed this book and was glad that I didn't read the introduction (which gave away the plot) until I was finished. Why don't publishers print these essays as afterwords anyway? I found this a fascinating picture of post-war life in England and a sad commentary on life as a single woman:

'I suppose an unmarried woman just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people's business, and if she is also a clergyman's daughter then one might really say that there is no hope for her.'

Oh, dear. I certainly enjoyed reading about this period of time, but was struck over and over again at the societal expectations of women and how lonely many must have been. When our heroine, Mildred, is invited for dinner at a man's home she declines - because she know she would be expected to cook it. I loved reading about what everyone was eating, and particularly enjoyed the many mentions of Tea. I do know of the custom of afternoon tea, but I don't think I realized that at 4 o'clock everyone just expected to have tea, regardless of where one was.

I was very curious to see how Pym would end the novel. I think it reflected the times, which is to say, it was hopeful. I eagerly anticipate reading more of Pym's work in the future.


Danielle said...

I also have Singing Bird, but I haven't read it yet. It sounds pretty so-so. I'm glad you liked the Pym novel. It's been one of my favorite books this year. I really liked Mildred. Even though she was alone she really seemed pretty self sufficient and not really lonely. I loved the humor in the novel and I am looking forward to reading more ofher work1

Cath said...

Quartet in Autumn is the only Barbara Pym I've read and I liked it a lot. Sad, but at the same time 'hopeful'. Pym obviously specialised in the stories of unmarried women. I'll add Excellent Women to my 'keep an eye out for' list... I have a feeling our library has it.

Carrie K said...

So how did the Pym novel end? Women had it really rough in those days.

The blue eye thing is basic genetics although there are recessives that mix it all up. Singing Bird sounds a bit silly.

Tara said...

Danielle, I also really enjoyed EW. I agree that she was quite self-sufficient but there were moments I did feel she felt a bit lonely, though being an 'Excellent Woman' she just pushed those feelings aside.

Cath, Quartet in Autumn is one I don't have and will have to look for in the used shops. I have been wondering if all the books are variations on the same theme.

Carrie, I've answered you privately so as to not ruin the ending for anyone else.

heather (errantdreams) said...

When our heroine, Mildred, is invited for dinner at a man's home she declines - because she know she would be expected to cook it.

Wow. I just never would have expected a detail like that; it really sets the tone.

Bybee said...

I know what you mean, I hate those spoiler introductions, too.

Tara said...

Heather, exactly. While I tend to romanticize life 'in the past' I know I am quite lucky to live now with all the opportunities I have. And you comment brought my typo to my attention - I hate it when I do that!

Bybee, Yes, I used to read them until I realized I was ruining the book for myself.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Tara!

"Singing Bird" has a really nice premise, what a pity the author wasn't able to do more with it. If I had seen this book at the bookstore I might have picked it up, so I am really thankful for your review...I will put my money towards some other book instead.

Jodie Robson said...

When I was very small we used to have tea in the afternoon, I loved it, especially muffins (we didn't call them English muffins because we didn't know there was any other kind!) toasted on a brass fork at an open fire. And during journeys we would often have tea at a hotel; hot buttered toast, delicious!

I'm glad you liked Barbara Pym - her quietly acid humour is a delight, and she exactly expresses the air of faded gentility and dowdiness which characterised England for quite a long time after the war. Jane and Prudence is very good too - well, they all are, really.

Tara said...

Angali, I was really looking forward to this book and had had it on my list for some time. It was a disappointment and I've already swapped it at Paperbackswap.

Tara said...

Hello GeraniumCat! Thanks so much for sharing your memories of tea, I loved reading them. Barbara Pym's 'quietly acid humour' - you've described it so,so well. I also have Jane and Prudence and I look forward to reading more of Pym's work.