Reading. Books: several of them. I’ve been wallowing in my book pile and, prompted and inspired by my blogging chum Pauline from way down under who listed the titles nestling on her bedside table, here’s a little resume of what’s been distracting me the past few weeks.
First up is The Children Act by Ian McEwan. This was a book group choice. Nice and brief and classic McEwan. You either love or loathe him and as I’ve read a fair few of his works I guess I fall into the former category. A friend who struggles with him thinks he’s pompous which I can understand as he’s quite wordy and very British but his characterisations are spot on and often humorous. The Children Act introduces us to Fiona, a high court judge who specialises in family law. She is faced with a case involving a seventeen year old boy suffering from leukaemia who is refusing a blood transfusion to save his life because of his and his parents’ religious beliefs.
Fiona, who is highly regarded amongst her peers and for whom home and work life has to this point been straight forward is thrown by the vulnerability of this boy’s situation which then begins to reflect the disharmony in her personal life.
I read this book quickly, bounding towards the unexpected ending so typical of McEwan’s work. Definitely worth a read.
Next was The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. This book had very mixed reviews which I trawled through after I’d finished reading the novel. Set in 17th century Amsterdam I thought the author evoked the darkness and damp of a major European trading city very well. The story revolves around young Petronella who is recently married to an older, well heeled Merchant who spends much of his life at sea. He presents Nella with a doll’s house replica of their home and she begins to furnish it with miniatures created by the mysterious Miniaturist. Strange co-incidences begin to occur between events in Nella’s life and the items delivered by the Miniaturist. It’s as if the pieces are for-warning her of subsequent tragedies. This is not a happy tale, there are several despicable characters here but this all adds to the darkness and gloom. The descriptions of place are excellent and the historical facts surrounding the trading laws at this time interesting.
The main criticism I read afterwards was that the ending didn’t tie things up but in my view, that was the point. I made my own mind up about the character of the Miniaturist (who, incidentally, we never meet) and I recommend that if you read this novel you take that approach too!
Ishmael’s Oranges by Claire Hajaj was a title we nearly chose as a book group read but it was considered too long for the time we had which was a shame because I think it would have provided us with a good debate. Essentially the book deals with how the Israel-Palestine conflict affects ordinary people. The story is presented from two points of view – those of Salim – a Palestinian and Judith who is Jewish. They meet in London in the 60’s and we track them through their life together, the familial conflicts they encounter and the heart rending decisions they are forced to make when their cultures collide. It’s an ambitious task for a first novel and I found some of the subsidiary characters unbelievable which weakened the plot slightly but that said, I enjoyed the read and although the ending was predictable my attention was held till the last page.
I’m just about to finish Nora Webster by Colm Toibin. His writing is beautiful, very wordy which slows the pace but that works well in this story of a small town Irish woman, recently bereaved, and how her life is changed. She has to become independent, find a job, sell the family’s summer house and manage her children. To be honest, not much happens but the relationships between Nora and her family and the new friends she makes through her love of singing are completely believable. The dialogue is written so that the gentle Irish lilt comes through – very clever.
Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn has recently been adapted and released as a film starring Julie Walters. I think we’ll be in for a treat.
And lastly – I must share with you the reading material being delivered to our eleven year olds in the run up to Christmas. One of my favourite modern tales, Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce can be enjoyed on so many levels. The class teacher and I are already drawing short straws for which one of us has to read out the ending. (It’s a tear jerker). The story deals with so many issues – happiness, bereavement, greed, friendships and is told through the voice of young Damian who has an odd but endearing penchant for Saints. In his quest to be ‘excellent’ he collects them while practising mortification. There are some laugh-out-loud passages (at least for the grownups in the room) and the story provides the opportunity for plenty of class discussion. Prior to beginning reading, the students were asked if we could ever care for a fictional character. One little girl answered that there would be no point in reading a book if we didn’t. She nailed it for me.
And with that in mind as well as the previous mention of the wonderful Julie Walters, here she is as one of my favourite characters of all time.
Who’s your favourite fictional character?