View From The Glen

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Book-wise, January was a wash out. No particular reason. I had new books to read in my library. I had time. I wanted to read. But somehow, I never quite managed it. Then fate stepped in. Or rather the library called and said a book I had ordered months ago (Galore, by Michael Crummey) was in, so off I trotted and of course while I was there....

Picking a novel is a bit like alchemy for me. I run a finger along dusty spines and sometimes the finger pauses, zen-like, on a title, hovers there, maybe even pulls the book out a little and flutters over it. Some universal instinct then takes over and I either push it back in and keep going or pull it off the shelf and read it. Either way I am incapable of explaining why. And so books I have long wanted to read sometimes sit unopened, waiting for that great cosmic moment. Other times, books I have never thought of all but leap out at me, buzzing under my fingertips while I stand puzzled, wondering why.
The Mermaid's Chair by Sue Monk Kidd was one such book. I've passed over it a hundred times, but that day in the library I didn't. The same thing happened with Ian McEwan's Saturday. (I loved Atonement but didn't think I could handle another book by McEwan just yet ,so had ignored review about this one. Still the universe had other ideas.) I bought them home, and started to read.

Galore was first. I'd been waiting. I was excited. I was hopeful. Ultimately I was disappointed. To be fair I don't think it was all the book. It was poetry and magic and myth. I used to love this stuff, the stuff I felt that made Canadian literature so great. I studied this at university. Right up my alley. Except that my alley has changed, and now I am left going, where's the plot? where's the action? and after spending so many years promoting and defending Canlit, the fact that I no longer like so much of it deflates me.

I was still deflated when I picked up The Mermaid's Chair, and rather reluctantly began to read. I have more to say about this book: suffice for now to say it restored my faith in literature (which I know is a pretty big claim and probably merits some thought all by itself) and gave me the courage I needed to tackle McEwan.

Anyone else read Atonement? I read it before the movie came out and loved it despite it being narrative and not action-driven. McEwan's voice frightened me though to the point where I was not sure I could read another of his novels. I'm glad I made the exception for Saturday. Like Atonement it was compelling and beautifully crafted, and you leave it with the sense that the world may not be perfect but that the fragility of human life is always a thing of wonder.


Leanne Haines said...

I have picked up "The Mermaid's Chair" a number of times and put it back down again. Maybe next time I'll open it. Never read "Atonement" or "Saturday", but will take your recommendations under advisement. I'm reading "The Last Symbol" right now, and finding this is really too busy a time for me to really enjoy an action packed novel! It deserves a full Saturday to not be put down at the end of all those "cliff-hanger" chapters! Hopefully when I get to London I'll have time to read. Of course I will! My books will have to become my friends...

Denise Nielsen said...

My recommendation: Read Atonement, don't watch it. It will spoil the ending. Andrew just finished The Lost Symbol and I'll read it later when I have time and patience for all the twists and turns.