He straightened, still kneeling, and took from the pocket of his trousers a small, pearl-handled penknife on a long, fine chain and leaned forward again and began to scrape carefully in the gaps between the boards. Quirke leaned too and looked over the policeman’s shoulder at the crumbs of clotted, dark dust that he was salvaging. “What is it?” he asked, although he already knew.
“Oh, it’s blood,” Hackett said, sounding weary, and sat back on his heels and sighed. “Aye, it’s blood, all right.” – from Elegy for April
Dublin, Ireland in the 1950′s is the setting for the third novel in the Quirke series by John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black. Phoebe Griffin, Quirke’s daughter, is concerned when her friend, April, goes missing. April Latimer is a junior doctor at a local hospital, but her familial ties are more interesting than her job. The Latimer’s are wealthy, privileged, and have some dark family secrets which may or may not have anything to do with April’s sudden disappearance. Quirke is freshly out of rehab for his alcoholism and struggling to remain sober when Phoebe comes to him asking for his help in locating her friend.
As with previous books in the series, Quirke finds himself embroiled in a mystery that takes him behind the scenes of a dysfunctional family. In Elegy for April, the themes include racism, inter-racial relationships, and the struggle to free oneself from not only the past, but from substance abuse. Quirke is more likable in this third novel, due largely to Banville/Black’s decision to show Quirke’s vulnerability and inner turmoil, especially when it comes to his battle against alcohol.
Quirke’s whiskey arrived. He had determined he would not touch it until a full minute had gone by. He looked at the blood-red second hand of his watch making its round, steadily and, so it seemed to him, smugly.- from Elegy for April
In fact, the mystery in Elegy for April takes second place to the development of Quirke’s character and his ever evolving and difficult relationship with his daughter. From this perspective, I found the book engaging on a psychological level. But for readers wanting a thriller-mystery, they may find themselves a bit disappointed with an anticlimactic ending that was easy to predict. This series has been described as literary suspense – which I think is apt. But in this third book, the literary supersedes the suspense.
I thought the first two books of the series were stronger than this one (read my reviews of Christine Falls and The Silver Swan). Even still, Elegy for April is worth the read if only for Banville/Black’s strong prose and excellent character development.
Most men in my family make widows of their wives and orphans of their children. I am the exception. My only child, Kate, was struck and killed by a car while riding her bicycle home from the beach one afternoon in September a year ago. She was thirteen. My wife, Susan, and I separated soon afterward. – opening paragraph of Enon -
Charlie Crosby, grandson of George Crosby (the protagonist of Paul Harding’s debut novel Tinkers), is living in New England, enjoying his life with his only child, Kate. They take walks, bike rides, feed birds from their bare hands, putter around at yard sales, and share an idyllic existence in a rural town. And then one day, Kate climbs on her bike and rides away…and never comes home again. Charlie is left reeling and grief stricken. He closes down, pushes his wife Susan away (literally) and sinks into a drunken, drug-fueled emptiness.
What could I say? What word could I utter into that rushing silence that would change things, that would bring Susan back to Enon, that would bring Kate back to both of us? – from Enon -
Enon is Charlie’s journey through the painful year following his daughter’s death. Eloquently written, difficult to read without sadness, and beautifully observed, the novel examines grief, despair, redemption, and how the passage of time can bring about the slow process of healing from loss.
The old air fell out of the clock, dry, held in the cubic shape of the case for who knows how many years until I opened the door and it collapsed out into the contemporary atmosphere, distinct and nearly colonial for a moment and then subsumed, and I wondered how old it was, if it contained any of Simon Willard’s breath.- from Enon -
Paul Harding’s work is meditative and meticulously penned. It is filled with the quiet observation of nature, the passage of the seasons, and the limits of memory.
Memories of her feeding the birds and practicing running and playing cribbage were not enough. I was ravenous for my child and took to gorging myself in the boneyard, hoping that she might meet me halfway, or just beyond, one night, if only for an instant – step back into her own bare feet, onto the wet grass or fallen leaves or snowy ground of the living Enon, so that we could share just one last human word. – from Enon -
Enon is almost unbearably sad and despairing at times…a painful journey through a parent’s worst nightmare. And yet, Harding does not leave the reader bereft. He finds room for hope and healing in the face of terrible loss. He allows his character room for redemption.
As with his highly successful novel, Tinkers (read my review), Harding offers deep insight into the passage of time, loss, and the importance of family. This is a highly literary work of fiction, one which allows the reader to profoundly feel the emotions of its protagonist. Readers who enjoy literary fiction which is lyrical and introspective, will want to read Harding’s sophomore effort.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher through Library Thing’s Early Review Program.
It was the place we found out about everything, that mountain. Animal bones and deer scat. Birds, flowers, condoms. The bodies of dead animals, the bodies of men. Rocks and lizards. Sex and death.- from After Her -
It is a hot, dry summer in Northern California. It is 1979. Rachel is thirteen – an age when girls are morphing into young women. She and her younger sister, Patty, live in the shadow of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County – a mountain they call their playground. But danger is lurking there – a serial killer is taking the lives of women, leaving their bodies sprawled naked except for their shoes, missing the shoelaces. Rachel and Patty’s father is the charismatic detective in charge of the case, a man who seems like a hero to his daughters despite leaving their mother for another woman. When months go by with no resolution in the case, Rachel is determined to help her father find the killer. But her efforts put herself and her sister in danger, and have unanticipated consequences for her father. Years later, at age 44, Rachel looks back on the summer of her thirteenth year and finds that her desire to catch a killer has not waned in the least.
After Her is Joyce Maynard’s latest novel and is based loosely on the real case of the Trailside Killer — a series of murders in and around the San Francisco Bay area which terrorized hikers in the 1970s. I was eager to read this book because not only did I live in Marin County at one time, but I also enjoyed hiking and running on Mt. Tamalpais. I had also read some nonfiction concerning the Trailside Killer (which at the time made me a little less likely to go hiking alone on the mountain).
Maynard has written more of a literary novel than a tantalizing mystery. Rachel is a bright, inquisitive child who is experiencing the pain and awkwardness of growing up. She and her sister are incredibly close – the best of friends. The girls idolize their father, but as they grow up, they begin to see his faults and imperfections too. The growth of the characters, especially that of Rachel, is what drives the story…although there is a mystery, it is not that conflict that keeps the reader turning the pages.
Joyce Maynard writes with an insight into her characters – their motivations, fears, desires, thoughts – which is brilliant. She puts the readers squarely inside the head of a thirteen year old girl on the cusp of womanhood, and makes the reader believe in that character. The novel explores the themes of coming of age, the bond between sisters, the hero-worship of fathers by their young daughters, sexuality, and divorce. These are weighty themes, but they work within the context of the story largely because of Maynard’s skill at creating character.
After Her is a captivating novel which is well-written and poignant. Despite a few plot twists which weren’t exactly believable, I found myself enjoying the book from a literary perspective. Readers who enjoy literary fiction which are part mystery-thriller, will find this novel a good read.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review.
It was like nothing penetrated until I began making my way toward him. And then it was as if I had been dying of emptiness, so readily did the world bleed into me. – from Ade, page 10 -
Farida is an American college student when she decides to journey overseas with her friend, Miriam. Together they explore new worlds, flying to Cairo and moving south. In Africa, Farida begins to discover a part of herself which she has never known before. She notices how the local people look like her, she begins to feel bound to them in a way which is hard to express.
This new world – with its Afro-Arab-Portuguese inhabitants with whom I shared bone structure and skin color, and whose brown eyes appraised me as if they knew me better than I knew myself – had claimed me in a way I had not known. The island was becoming my home. My mother’s prophecy was becoming manifest. – from Ade, page 45 -
And then she meets Ade, a Swahili man who lives off the coast of Kenya on an island which feels safe and idyllic. Miriam and Farida part ways, and Farida immerses herself in Ade’s culture, meeting his family and planning a life with him. But Africa is not the romantic place which Farida imagines – there is violence, political upheaval, and illnesses which are not easily treated far from America. As reality begins to intrude on Farida’s dreams, she must wrestle with love and make a heart-wrenching decision.
But it was more than this. Yes, I could see it now. It wasn’t him, it was me. I had done what I swore I would not do: I had romanticized Africa. I had accepted Ade’s life before I realized what it might mean for my own. – from Ade, page 102 -
Ade is Rebecca Walker’s debut novel – really more of a novella at a slim 112 pages. Walker’s prose shimmers with a light and rhythm which pulls the reader into Farida and Ade’s dreamlike world. At first, like Farida, the reader wants to believe in this magical place and in the possibility of love overcoming darkness. But, Walker allows glimpses into the dangers and pitfalls rife within Africa – the cultural divide between the America which Farida has grown up in and the rigidity of African paternalism and governmental chaos.
From my sheltered American perch, I imagined checks and balances, the rights of the individual, and judicial protection, even though history had shown me otherwise.- from Ade, page 78 -
Walker explores the big themes of identity, romantic idealism, and the impact of civil war on the lives of individuals. The writing is luminous and beautiful, the characters captivating. Long before the end of the story, the reader sees the conflict and watches as Farida slides toward a reality she has not yet imagined. It is tense and riveting – the kind of literature which holds the reader in its thrall while it comes to its inevitable conclusion.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book which is not just a love story, but an exploration of what it means to discover oneself in a different culture. It is about idealism vs. realism, seen through the eyes of a young adult as she moves out into the world. Readers who enjoy literary fiction will want to pick up a copy of Ade and experience this very talented, new voice in fiction.
FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher as part of a TLC Book Tour.
Rebecca Walker is the author of the best-selling memoirs Black, White and Jewish and Baby Love, and editor of the anthology Black Cool. She is also the editor of the anthologies To Be Real, What Makes a Man, and One Big Happy Family. Her writing has appeared in Bookforum, Newsweek, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Washington Post, Vibe, and Interview, among many other publications, and she blogs regularly for The Root. Learn more about Walker and her work by visiting the author’s website.
WIN A COPY
Contest open from November 26 through December 3, 2013 at 5:00 pm PST.
Contest open for US and Canada mailing addresses only (no PO boxes)
To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me you would like to be entered.
I will draw ONE winner after 5:00 pm on December 3rd (PST).
I have been really remiss at posting weekly Mailboxes – and I am sorry for that, but life seems to be getting in the way of blogging these days. This Mailbox includes all the books I’ve received since the last time I post on November 4th.
A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Love Stories by Sebastian Faulks (November 2013) arrived from Picador. I really enjoy connected short stories and this one looks particularly good. From the publisher:
Throughout this masterpiece of fiction, exquisitely drawn and unforgettable characters risk their bodies, hearts, and minds in pursuit of the manna of human connection. Between soldier and lover, parent and child, servant and master, and artist and muse, important pleasures and pains are born out of love, separations, and missed opportunities…
Listen to the author talk about the novel:
Sebastian Faulks is the author of ten novels. They include the UK number one bestseller A Week in December; Human Traces; On Green Dolphin Street; Charlotte Gray, which was made into a film starring Cate Blanchett; and the classic Birdsong, which has sold more than three million copies and was recently adapted for television. In 2008, he was invited to write a James Bond novel, Devil May Care, to mark the centenary of Ian Fleming. In between books he wrote and presented the four-part television series Faulks on Fiction for the BBC. He lives in London with his wife and their three children. Learn more about Faulks and his work by visiting the author’s website.
Author Genni Gunn had her publicist send me a copy of her book Tracks: Journeys in Time and Place (Signature Editions, October 2013) which is a collection of personal travel essays. Some of you may remember my review of Gunn’s novel Solitaria. The essays in Tracks “range across three continents, from Italy, where Genni Gunn was born and spent her early years, to Canada, Mexico and through Asia, where she has traveled many times, both reconnecting with her sister and witnessing the emergence of new political realities in Myanmar. Journeys into the new and unknown also trigger the inner journey to the realm of memory. These pieces dig deep into personal territory, exploring the ties of an unusually peripatetic family.”
Genni Gunn is an author, musician and translator. Born in Trieste, she came to Canada when she was eleven. She has published nine books: three novels—Solitaria, Tracing Iris and Thrice Upon a Time; two short story collections—Hungersand On The Road; two poetry collections— Faceless and Mating in Captivity. As well, she has translated from Italian two collections of poems—Devour Me Too andTraveling in the Gait of a Fox by renowned Italian author, Dacia Maraini. Gunn has a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. from the University of British Columbia, and teaches Creative Writing at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She lives in Vancouver. Learn more about Gunn and her work by visiting the author’s website.
Algonquin Books sent me a copy of Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum (November 2013) as part of the Library Thing Early Review Program. Nussbaum won the Bellwether Award for this novel which centers around a group of teenagers living in an institution for juveniles with disabilities.
This unfamiliar, isolated landscape is much the same as the world outside: friendships are forged, trust is built, love affairs are kindled, and rules are broken. But those who call it home have little or no control over their fate. Good Kings Bad Kings challenges our definitions of what it means to be disabled in a story told with remarkable authenticity and in voices that resound with humor and spirit.
Susan Nussbaum’s plays have been widely produced. Her play Mishuganismo is included in the anthology Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out. In 2008 she was cited by the Utne Reader as one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World” for her work with girls with disabilities. This is her first novel.
The folks from Alfred A. Knopf sent me an Advance Readers Edition of Thirty Girls by Susan Minot ((February 2014). Set in war-torn Africa, Minot’s highly anticipated novel centers around Esther who is a Ugandan teenager abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army and forced to witness and commit unspeakable atrocities. Jane, an American journalist, travels to Africa, hoping to give a voice to children like Esther. Minot interweaves their stories, “giving us razor-sharp portraits of two extraordinary young women confronting displacement, heartbreak, and the struggle to wrest meaning from events that test them both in unimaginable ways.”
Susan Minot’s first novel, Monkeys, was published in a dozen countries and received the Prix Femina Étranger in France. She is the author of Rapture, Lust & Other Stories, Folly, Evening, and Poems 4 A.M., and wrote the screenplay for Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty. View a complete list of titles available by Susan Minot from Random House here. Minot lives on an island in Maine.
Other Press sent me an Advance Readers Edition of The Impossible Exile by George Prochnik ((May 2014). From the publisher:
By the 1930s, Stefan Zweig had become the most widely translated living author in the world. His novels, short stories, and biographies were so compelling that they became instant best sellers. Zweig was also an intellectual and a lover of all the arts, high and low. Yet after Hitler’s rise to power, this celebrated writer who had dedicated so much energy to promoting international humanism plummeted, in a matter of a few years, into an increasingly isolated exile—from London to Bath to New York City, then Ossining, Rio, and finally Petrópolis—where, in 1942, in a cramped bungalow, he killed himself.
The Impossible Exile tells the tragic story of Zweig’s extraordinary rise and fall while it also depicts, with great acumen, the gulf between the world of ideas in Europe and in America, and the consuming struggle of those forced to forsake one for the other. It also reveals how Zweig embodied, through his work, thoughts, and behavior, the end of an era—the implosion of Europe as an ideal of Western civilization.
George Prochnik’s essays, poetry, and fiction have appeared in numerous journals. He taught English and American literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and has also worked as a therapist for the chronically mentally ill. He lives in New York City.
Finally, Simon & Schuster sent me a copy of Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide (November 2013). “When brother and sister Charlie and Ros discover that they have inherited Ashenden, the beautiful eighteenth-century English country house steeped in their family history, they face an important decision: Do they try to keep it or do they sell it?” The novel spans two and a half centuries, and the reader is introduced to the characters who have built the house, lived in it, loved it, and those who would subvert it to their own ends. Wilhide utilizes “upstairs and downstairs storylines intertwining to form a rich tapestry” to create “an evocative portrait of a house that is a character as compelling as the people who inhabit it.”
Elizabeth Wilhide is the author of more than twenty books on interior design, decoration, and architecture and a coauthor and contributor of many more. Born in the United States, she moved to Britain in 1967, where she lives with her husband. Learn more about Wilhide and her work by visiting the author’s website.
Did any wonderful books arrive at YOUR house this week?
Good morning and welcome to this week’s edition of The Sunday Salon. Visit the Facebook Page for links to other bloggers’ posts.
The last time I posted a Salon post was way back on July 7th. This year has been one of ups and downs and lots of distractions. My reading is way down. I have been spending more time in my sewing room than curled up on the couch with a book. There are reasons, of course.
This weekend I took some time to update my blog (especially the prize lists) and caught up on some reviews that I had yet to write. I gazed at my towering to-be-read pile and felt some dismay. I don’t want to give up my blog, but I don’t want to feel the pressure of having to read and review books. So you may see some changes here come January 1st. Not huge changes, but changes nonetheless.
Today I thought I’d talk about the books I have read so far this month. The list is not long, but the books have been good.
I started out the month finishing up What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren – which I loved. I rarely read nonfiction because I love, love, love fiction. BUT, this book kept me riveted. The writing is excellent and it was a subject that interested me. Check out my review.
Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall (and translated by Philip Boehm) is a Peirene Press novella. I love getting these beautifully crafted little books and, once again, I was not disappointed with the content (read my review). Krall survived WWII hiding in a cupboard, and in her slim book she has crafted fiction which was inspired by real life. The writing is simple, yet poetic. It is sad, but there is also humor. She gives voice to the thousands who perished at the hands of the Nazis, but also to those who survived in spite of the odds. If you love literary and translated fiction, you won’t want to miss this little gem.
Browsing through Barnes and Noble one rainy day earlier this month, I was drawn to Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips. I have her award winning book Lark and Termite on my stacks to be read…and I have heard such good things about her writing. Quiet Dell is based on a true story – that of serial killer Henry Powers who lured women to their deaths through lonely hearts ads during the Great Depression. Phillips spent some of her childhood in the town where the murders took place and her memories of that time are stark (even though she was only six years old). Quiet Dell is her ode to the victims – it is both fiction and nonfiction, interwoven. I found the book compelling and one of the best of the year (read my review).
I finished Ade by Rebecca Walker early in the month for a TLC Book Tour which I post this Tuesday. This is another slim, but powerful book and I really loved it. You can read my review on the 26th…in the meantime, you can read what others have thought by visiting the tour page and clicking through to the reviews listed there. I am also offering a giveaway of this book. The giveaway will be open for one week, and Canadian and US readers are encouraged to enter for a chance to win. Come back here on the 26th to enter.
My current read is another novel based (loosely) on a true case. Those of you living in Northern California may remember the Trailside Killer who stalked the trails of Mt. Tamalpais and other parks in the 1970s. Joyce Maynard’s latest novel, After Her, centers around two sisters whose father is heading up the investigation into murders happening on Mt. Tamalpais. The girls spend a lot of time on the mountain – it is their playground…and the eldest child wants to help her father solve the case. Maynard’s writing is great and I’m nearly 100 pages into the book and should finish it soon as I can’t seem to put this one down for long!
Later today I am going for a bike ride with my husband and I’ll be sewing – working on some gifts for Christmas. I also hope to find a little time to read. What about you? What are YOU doing this lovely Sunday in November?
He took from his pocket a white linen handkerchief and removed his round gold spectacles. He cleaned the lenses carefully and folded the handkerchief, replacing it in his front suit pockets so that one corner crisply protruded. He regarded himself in the driver’s rearview mirror and smoothed his bow tie. Then he got out of the automobile and walked quickly to the front porch. – from Quiet Dell, page 84 -
Jayne Anne Phillips newest novel is based on the true story of Henry Powers who was a serial killer during the Great Depression, and lured his victims through lonely-hearts advertisements which promised marriage. When Powers (who actually went by several aliases) killed Asta Eicher and her three children (all of whom were under the age of twelve), he did not count on the determination of those who knew the family to seek justice. Those murders resulted in his arrest and later conviction. He was put to death for his crimes.
Phillips was intrigued with the story and especially touched by the life of Annabelle, the youngest Eicher child, who was artistic and full of life. In fact, Phillips was only six years old when her mother walked her past the scene of the murders at Quiet Dell, West Virginia. This memory has haunted Phillips and was the inspiration for her novel.
The book begins before the murders and introduces the reader to the Eicher family, with a special focus on Annabelle. Emily Thornhill and her cohort Eric Lindstrom are two of the non-historical characters conjured up through the imagination of the author. They arrive after the murders as journalists intent on uncovering the crime and finding justice for the family. Much of the novel centers around Emily, a single woman with an unusual profession (at that time) who becomes emotionally invested in the crime. Her character is forever changed through the course of the investigation and trial. She discovers love and family and finds herself connected to the Eichers on many levels.
Jayne Anne Phillips has done a masterful job of recreating the events of 1931 and in the process introduces the reader to beautifully wrought fictional characters. Her novel is a blend of fact and fiction, eliciting strong emotions and in the process giving a voice to the victims of Powers’ crimes.
Quiet Dell is the best of fiction – strong characters, carefully wrought details, historical accuracy and an emotional message of redemption and justice for its characters. I loved this book and found myself thinking of the characters…and the real life victims…even after turning the final page.
Emotionally rich and exceptionally written, Quiet Dell will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, crime fiction, and literary fiction.
If she hadn’t visited Mateusz (she wanted to warn him that the vice squad would be enquiring about her), she wouldn’t have learnt that the postman had been there. That he had delivered a letter. That her husband was asking for food. And that he had sent a new address. Mauthausen, Block AKZ. In short, everything in life is interwoven in enigmatic ways.- from Chasing the King of Hearts, page 78 -
Izolda is Jewish and living in Poland at a time when being Jewish is dangerous. Her husband, Shayek, has been arrested by the Nazis. And Izolda is left to fend for herself. She is nothing if not determined – determined to escape the Ghetto, determined to evade arrest herself, determined to survive, determined to find her husband who she loves. Even when she finds herself in Auschwitz, she clings to hope and trusts she will survive the war and be reunited with Shayek.
Based on a true story, Hanna Krall’s novella, Chasing the King of Hearts, is a poignant story of love and survival. Written in a surprisingly off-hand style, the book exposes the horror of the Holocaust. Krall has a way of showing just how arbitrary life and death were within the Warsaw ghetto, the concentration camps, and elsewhere in Poland during this horrible time in history. There are moments of humor mixed in with unimaginable images of torture and suffering. Izolda is a captivating character who comes alive on the page. To survive she must use her finely honed sense of what is safe and what is not, she must keep moving, she must accept help where she can and risk everything.
Krall includes real black and white photos in her short book which reminds the reader that this is not wholly fiction, but something between fiction and reality. I found myself moved by these simple photos, faces looking out at a camera that reminded me that yes, there were these people…real people…who lived through something we can only vaguely imagine.
Peirene Press is known for their short, literary works and this one is particularly good. Krall’s writing is poetic with a simplicity that transforms her story into something amazing. This is a book which will appeal to readers who love literary and historical fiction.
Chasing the King of Hearts is a translated work and is only now available for the first time in English. The book won the 2013 English Pen Award, and was shortlisted for the Angelus Central European Literary Award.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hanna Krall was born in 1935 in Poland and survived WWII hiding in a cupboard. She began her writing career as a prize-winning journalist. Since the early ’80s she has worked as a novelist. For her books, Hanna Krall has received numerous Polish and international awards, such as the underground Solidarity Prize, Polish PEN Club Prize and the German Wuerth-Preis for European Literature 2012. Translated into 17 languages, her work has gained widespread international recognition.
*click on any photo in this post to enjoy a larger view
I have been having a little fun and getting in the Christmas spirit with my sewing lately. I am continuing to sew along with the Threadbias group, Pretty in Patchwork Holiday Sew A Long and this month we were challenged to make the Reindeer Grove Pillow. In the book, the pillow is designed as a window seat pillow and measures a very long 50″…but since I don’t have a window seat, I decided to modify the pattern and make a 20″ pillow instead.
This is a really easy pattern and utilizes wonky piecing methods…so it is quick and fun to make.
Here is the front:
I used some scraps of Christmas fabric and natural Essex linen for the trees and background…and chose a cute green dot for the binding.
For the back, I made another little tree block and pieced the top portion of the pillow, added a hidden zipper and used another big piece of the linen for the bottom half.
This pillow will coordinate nicely with the Christmas quilt I made last year…and add a little bit of festivity to the living room!