The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

I read and reviewed this slim novel back in 2012, and since it’s supposed to be coming out as a movie in March, I thought I’d repost, FYI. I’m wondering how well the movie will be able to capture the “unreliable narrator” point of view.

***********

I do believe SFP at pages turned nailed this one. (You’ll only want to read her thoughts after you’ve read the book.) It’s a short book, a novelette really, but the ending isn’t . . . exactly. Hence the title.

The book is only 176 pages long, but it tells the story of Tony Webster’s life from his perspective, which it turns out is somewhat skewed. Maybe. Tony doesn’t “get it.” The book raises the possibility that we’re all like Tony, that our memories are unreliable and we really don’t understand each other or the events of our lives very well.

The Sense Of An Ending won the 2011 Man Booker prize for literature. I think it well worth the the time invested to read it and think about it.

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but – mainly – to ourselves.”

“We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent. But it’s not convenient— it’s not useful— to believe this; it doesn’t help us get on with our lives; so we ignore it.”

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Movies and books don’t usually make me cry. Even as I’ve become more emotional and easily moved in my old age, I still rarely cry in response to a fictional narrative. After all, it’s fiction, didn’t really happen.

Well, trigger warning, The Light Between Oceans made me bawl. In my bed at 1:00 in the morning as I read the ending to this beautiful, supremely sad, and emotional story, I cried, silently so that I wouldn’t wake up my sleeping husband. The themes of brokenness and loss and self-sacrifice and again brokenness were so poignant and so very, very sad.

Set just after World War I came to a close, the story is about a veteran of that war, Tom Sherburne, who returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a small, isolated island off the coast of western Australia. While Tom is on “shore leave” form his lighthouse duties, he meets a local girl, Isabel, and the two of them marry and go to live at the lighthouse where they will stay, just the two of them, without company or leave for years at a time. The real story begins when Isabel is down by the shore and hears a baby’s cry.

I have always identified with these quotations from Gone With the Wind:

“Perhaps I want the old days back again and they’ll never come back, and I am haunted by the memory of them and of the world falling about my ears.”

Rhett Butler to Scarlett: “I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken – and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived.”

Or this horribly frightening and prescient quote from Cry, the Beloved Country:

–I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it.
He was grave and silent, and then he said sombrely, I have only one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find that we are turned to hating.

Brokenness.

We do live in a broken world. And sometimes things are so broken that there is no way to pick up the fragments and glue them back together. In The Light Between the Oceans, that kind of brokenness and tragedy comes to one couple, brought on by their own choices, wrong choices, but also very human and understandable choices. I don’t really want to tell anyone too much about this story, except that it is very sad, very real, and very good—-all at the same time. Thank you to whoever recommended it to me.

Thank God that my Jesus makes all things new. We live in a broken world, and sometimes that world is falling down about my ears. And many, many times it is broken through my own fault, my own bad decisions, my own sin. But my God promises, through Christ, to make all things new.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I tried to become absorbed in this rather self-centered and pretentious novel because the cast of characters who inhabit the novel are my age mates. The six friends who make up the group who call themselves “the Interestings” are teenagers in the mid-seventies, college students in the late seventies and early eighties, get married (or at least co-habit) in the eighties, really marry and have children in the nineties, and find themselves midddle-aged and evaluating the consequences of their life decisions in the twenty first century. That’s me, except for the co-habitation part, and except for the fact that these are artsy people. Or artsy wannabes. And rich, mostly. And New Yorkers, insufferably proud and parochial New Yorkers. If it weren’t for all those differences, I could have been any one of the characters in this novel.

So, other than age, I don’t really have much in common with Jules and Ethan and Ash and Goodman and Jonah and Cathy. Honestly, I’m glad not to have much affinity with these characters because they are not very likable people, except for Ethan who is a teddy bear. Jules, the main viewpoint character, is the outsider who meets the other teens at Spirit-in-the-Woods summer camp for “talented” teens and becomes a part of their oh-so-interesting in-group. But Jules always feels a little outside and a little envious because she’s from suburbia and middle class and not really all that interesting. Ash and Goodman, brother and sister, are rich, not terribly talented or interesting on their own, but backed by lots of money and influence, they can appear to be both. Cathy is a dancer with the wrong kind of body for professional success in dancing. Jonah is a musician, but emotionally damaged, the son of a sixties folk music star. And Ethan is an artist and animator, the real talent in the the group.

In 468 pages, Ms. Wolitzer tells the story of these six people, their friendships, their professional lives, their coupling and uncoupling, their families, and their sexual misadventures. The book could have been about 200 pages shorter and lot better had Ms. Wolitzer left out the long and tedious descriptions of the various characters’ sexual encounters, both within and outside marriage. I get it. Sex is really important to these people. Jules rejects Ethan because she’s not sexually attracted to him, even though he is her best friend. She buys sex toys on a shopping trip with her best girlfriend, Ash. She fantasizes sex with Goodman. She has lots of sex with her live-in boyfriend, then husband, Dennis.

Jonah Bay is gay, so we must have lots of descriptions of homosex, including answers to the questions we all have about how to have sex when one partner is HIV-positive. Then, there’s attempted rape, sex with a clinically depressed person (not much there), sex in marriage, sex in the college dorm, sex while high, unfulfilled sexual attraction, sex with vibrator, no sex, maybe sex, wild sex. Every few pages the author throws in a sex scene, some of which attempt to be titillating but only succeed at being boring. I skimmed a lot.

And, although I read the whole thing, skimming aside, I would say that’s an apt description for the entire book: it tries but fails to be interesting. The characters try but fail to grow to be interesting. Jules tries to be wry and sardonic but only manages to be jealous and lazy, trapped in some ideal past when she “came alive” at camp. Jonah tries to overcome his past as an abused kid, but he never connects with anyone much. Ethan tries to be a good rich and powerful man, but he has to have a major failure, so the author sticks one in, even though it doesn’t seem to be in character. Ash tries to be a feminist and an artist but turns into a a rich housewife like her mom. Goodman doesn’t try ever, and he reaps what he sows. Cathy sort of drops out of the story after providing a convenient plot device. I kept hoping for character development, but all I got was more sex scenes and detailed physical descriptions of how ugly or pretty each character was at any given point in his or her life. These descriptions (and the sex scenes) may have been supposed to stand in for character development.

I don’t know to whom to recommend this book. If you are self-absorbed enough to identify with these characters, then you are self-absorbed and won’t find them to be very interesting. Maybe New Yorkers who are not self centered and pretentious could see by reading The Interestings why the rest of us tend to think that they are. Books like this one don’t help to dispel the stereotype.

The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

The Ringed Castle, Book Five in the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.
Checkmate, Book Six in the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.

I can’t believe I read the whole thing, but I’m glad I did. I began reading this six volume series back in December 2013 with Game of Kings, the first book in the series. In this novel, a young Francis Crawford of Lymond, second son of a nobleman and landowner in fourteenth century Scotland, cavorts and carouses his way through wartorn southern Scotland and back and forth across the border with the enemy, England. Francis is a giddy young man with a facile and garrulous tongue, but also a leader in war and romance, with an undercurrent of danger and subversive rebellion running through his character. He’s a medieval/renaissance Scottish James Bond, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Scarlet Pimpernel all rolled into one.

Queen’s Play and The Disorderly Knights deal with Lymond’s adventures in France and around and about the Mediterranean as he serves and politics the king of France, Henri II, the child Mary of Scotland, later to become Mary Queen of Scots, and the Knights of Malta or the Knights Hospitaliers. After a stirring and tragic (for Lymond’s inamorata, Oonagh O’Dwyer) escape from the Turkish invaders in Tripoli, Lymond and his second in command, Gabriel, both return to Scotland where Lymond puts together a small private army, trained in all of arts of war and intended to keep the peace along the Scottish border.

If you’ve made it this far in the series, you’re sure to be hooked by this time, and the fourth book is the climax of the entire story, with a rather infamous human chess game forming the centerpiece of the action. In Pawn in Frankincense, Francis Crawford is at his most vulnerable and his most deadly. The chess game in the seraglio in Istanbul is unforgettable.

Books Five and Six are the ones I read this month as I made my impromptu trip to literary Scotland. In The Ringed Castle, Crawford of Lymond has exiled himself to Russia, the backside of the world in this time period and the land ruled by Tsar Ivan IV Vasilyevich, later known as Ivan the Terrible. In this half-barbarian court of a half-mad tsar, Lymond becomes the Voevoda Bolshoi, supreme commander and advisor to Tsar Ivan. In the meantime, back in England, Phillipa, the teenager that Lymond married in in Book Four, only in outward form in order to save her good name and protect her and her mission, is serving in the court of Mary I (Bloody Mary) and investigating Lymond’s mirky and mysterious past and family background.

Checkmate brings everything in the first five books to a satisfying close, well, almost everything. With a great many starts and stops, hesitations and false starts, triumphs and tragedies, Francis Crawford of Lymond finally meets his destiny, finds his true parents and heritage, and becomes the man he was meant to be. If you have never read these books and you want to, I would recommend that you plan for a marathon reading of all six books in order over the course of a month or more and that you have an English dictionary and a French-speaking translator nearby at all times. A working knowledge of Spanish, Russian, Gaelic, and Scots dialect would come in handy also.

I have a theory that, after the events of these six books were finished, Francis Crawford of Lymond became the actual secret author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare.

Booker Prize Longlist

The Booker Prize, awarded in England, used to be limited to authors of the British persuasion, including authors from Commonwealth countries all over the world. Now, it’s open to U.S. authors, too, and five of the twelve authors on the prize’s longlist this year are American. Here’s the list:

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg.
The Green Road by Anne Enright
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
The Chimes by Anna Smaill
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Of the twelve books listed, I’ve only read one, Marilynne Robinson’s Lila. I didn’t like it as much as I did the first two books in the series, Gilead and Home, maybe because I found it more difficult to identify with or sympathize with the fiercely independent Lila. Her demons are not my demons, whereas pastor John Ames, the elderly man reviewing his life for evidence of its faithfulness and meaning, is a man after my own heart. And sometimes I think I know Glory Boughton of Home, albeit I am married with eight children whilst she was a spinster. The story of the elder brother in the prodigal son parable has alway been a poignant and tragic reminder of how I can miss the Father’s love while living in His very house.

I looked up the remaining eleven books on Amazon, and honestly, not one of them was appealing enough for me to add it to my ever-growing TBR list. There were lots of books with multiple narrators, lots of family dysfunction, some “experimental” stuff that I’m pretty sure I would not understand or appreciate. Maybe I’ve “outgrown” contemporary literary fiction, or regressed, or something.

Damerosehay novels by Elizabeth Goudge

The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge.
Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge.
The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge.

I read these three related novels in the wrong order. I read Pilgrim’s Inn and reviewed it before I read The Bird in the Tree, the book that begins the saga of the Eliot family and their association with the house, Damerosehay. Then I found a mass market paperback copy of The Heart of the Family at a thrift store for 50 cents, and I brought it home and read it. Each of the three books in the ongoing story was a delight, a joy, and a wonder. I now want to re-read them all in the correct order, just to see what I missed the first time through. But I think I’ll wait a year or so, maybe read them in the winter rather than in the summer, just to see if that changes my appreciation of these novels or my thoughts and feelings about them.

The Bird in the Tree is the story of a man, David Eliot, who has fallen in love with his uncle’s young wife. The wife, Nadine, also loves David Eliot passionately and her own husband, George Eliot, not at all. Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, there are children: sensitive Ben, rambunctious Tommy, and shy diminutive four year old Caroline. And also there is Lucilla Eliot, matriarch of the family, to consider. Lucilla has made the country home, Damrosehay, a sanctuary and a place of community for the Eliots and those who love them. Lucilla, with the help of her spinster daughter Margaret, raised David after the death of his parents during The Great War. And Lucilla will not be pleased with the idea that David and Nadine plan to disregard family ties, tradition, morality, and the children, to follow their own hearts in consummating this love of a lifetime.

Elizabeth Goudge shows how this new “freedom to be true to one’s own heart” is not so new, after all. We hope to call the old adultery and sexual immorality by new names such as “truth” and “beauty” and free love and thereby make them palatable and without negative consequences for family unity and especially for the children. One of the reasons I love this trilogy is that each book, in its own narrative way, shows the falsity of that lie. Sin, whether we call it sin or whether we call it freedom and truth, has its consequences, and the only way to live through the consequences is to accept the suffering and offer it up to God as prayer and sacrifice.

I wrote about Pilgrim’s Inn here. Such a wonderful and romantic story, in the best sense of the latter word. Goudge does not gloss over the difficulties, treacheries, and tragedies inherent in the best of families and the best of marriages. In fact The Heart of the Family makes those deep sorrows vividly clear, and I was reminded that there are many hurts and betrayals that are never completely healed this side of heaven. We fail one another abominably. But one can, with God’s grace and assistance, create a sort of a respite or a haven of home and family to help encourage the weak, cast down the proud, and heal the broken-hearted. I am always interested in the idea (and the ideal) of family and community and how to make those healing connections happen in our very imperfect and broken lives.

I do think the first two books of the trilogy are the best, with the third book trying to say too much with too little story. None of these books is filled with action: people go for walks and drives, have lovely philosophical and theological conversations, make decisions in the middle of the night, and visit each other in the day. They drink a lot of tea, of course, since this is set in merrie old England. Yet some how all the descriptive passages and the long conversational interludes work for the most part. However, I would warn readers that in the third book, The Heart of the Family, Ms. Goudge becomes a little too philosophical/mystical/esoteric for even my tastes. And I like all those things. Nevertheless, if I just kept reading, the story came back and the characters said and did interesting and thought-provoking things, and my own interest in the the novel was renewed.

I highly recommend this series of novels, as well as The Dean’s Watch, The Rosemary Tree, Green Dolphin Street, and Gentian Hill, all novels that I have read and enjoyed by this author. I do believe that this is my Year of Elizabeth Goudge, and I plan to read her children’s book, The Little White Horse, next. Elizabeth Goudge’s writing reminds me a little bit of Madeleine L’Engle’s adult novels, which is high praise for me since Ms. L’Engle is one of my favorites.

In case any of the rest of you want to go on a Goudge binge:
Another review of the trilogy at ShelfLove.
Review of Island Magic by Goudge at Worthwhile Books.
Review of I Saw Three Ships by Elizabeth GOudge (a Christmas story) at Worthwhile Books.
The Valley of Song, recommended at Charlotte’s Library.
Little White Horse, recommended by Amy at Hope Is the Word.
Janet at Across the Page on The Little White Horse.
The Scent of Water, reviewed by Janet at Across the Page.
The Dean’s Watch, also at Across the Page.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge

The Dean’s Watch may very well be the best book I read this year. I can’t imagine any modern book outshining this lovely tale of the friendship between a cathedral dean and an atheist watchmaker.

Isaac Peabody, horologist and master craftsman, had any belief in God taken away from him early in life by his abusive clerical father. Dean Adam Ayscough holds a deep love for the people of the mid-nineteenth century town where he ministers, but he is unable to express his care for the community or for individuals because his shy, gruff manner and his deteriorating hearing separate him from the people he is called to pastor. When Dean Ayscough and clock and watchmaker Peabody meet and begin a tentative friendship, both men cannot predict that their short but rich time together will change an entire city as well as their own lives and legacies.

Elizabeth Goudge is a fine writer. Reading one of her novels takes a certain mood and patience since she was not, as far as I can tell, at all influenced by the press for unremitting action in novels that comes from our immersion in television and movies and the “hurry up and tell me what happened” attitude that can rule our reading nowadays. The Dean’s Watch moves slowly, inexorably toward a very satisfying conclusion, and I am impelled by the pace of the novel to slow down myself and savor every word.

I really think the best thing I can do to give you a taste of what I’m talking about is to, well, give you a taste.

Deceptively simple observations are one of Ms. Goudge’s specialties:

“The reasons for seclusion were many. One should find out why a man is alone before one lets him alone, for he may not want to be alone. This he had not done.”

“That sky was enough to make a man imagine anything, it was in itself so unbelievable.”

“The contemplation of sunsets and vegetable matter has its serene pleasure, and involves no personal exertion, but I think that is not what you want in your old age.”

“What harm unpurified and undisciplined human love could do. He believed it must pass through death before it could entirely bless.”

“Why do I demand certainty? That is not faith. Why do I want to understand? How can I understand this great web of sin and ugliness and love and suffering and joy and life and death when I don’t understand the little tangle of good and evil that is myself?”

Miss Montague is an elderly spinster, lame as a result of a childhood accident and never loved or cherished by her family as a child. But she finds a vocation as she expends herself in love for the people whom God has placed in her way:

“She never knew what put it into her head that she, unloved, should love. Religion for her parents, and therefore for their children, was not much more than a formality and it had not occurred to her to pray about her problem, and yet from somewhere the idea came. . . Could loving be a life’s work? Could it be a career like marriage or nursing the sick or going on stage? Could it be adventure?”

“So she took a vow to love. Millions before her had taken the same simple vow but she was different from the majority because she kept her vow, kept it even after she had discovered the cost of simplicity. Until now she had only read her Bible as a pious exercise, but now she read it as an engineer reads a blueprint and a traveler a map, unemotionally because she was not emotional, but with a profound concentration because her life depended on it.”

Isaac Peabody cannot believe in a fatherly God of love because he has only known a father who acted in cruelty and contempt. So Dean Ayscough tells him:

“Believe instead in Love. It is my faith that Love shaped the universe as you shape your clocks, delighting in creation. I believe that just as you wish to give me your clock in love, refusing payment, so God loves me and gave Himself for me. That is my faith. I cannot presume to force it upon you, I can only ask you in friendship to consider it.”

“Whatever had made the Dean take such a fancy to him, a cowardly, selfish, obstinate, ugly old fellow like him? He would never understand it. He took the piece of paper out of his pocket and looked at that too. Faith in God. God. A word he had always refused. But the Dean had said, put the word love in its place.”

And to top it all off, Dean Ayscough has a butler, Garland, who reminds me of Downton Abbey’s Carson, or perhaps The Dowager Countess’s Spratt, velly, velly British and dignified and protective. I highly recommend The Dean’s Watch, when you’re ready to slow down and enjoy the roses of thoughtful, unhurried prose and insight into the depths of the spiritual lives of a small cast of rather extraordinary quotidian characters.

Echoes of Eden by Jerram Barrs

All things were created by God, through Him and for His glory.

We have no ideas of own. We are not original creators, ex nihilo, but rather as C.S. Lewis put it, “sub-creators”, dependent on the work of others and even more on the work of God in His creation. All of our ideas and artistic endeavors are either approximations or distortions of the thoughts and the artistry of God: this includes Romantic poetry, Middle Earth and hobbits, rap music, Monet’s water lilies, ballet, and any other artistic works you might imagine or remember experiencing.

These are the basic ideas I got from reading Mr. Barrs’ excellent book on a Christian approach to the arts, particularly literature. Jerram Barrs is “the founder and resident scholar of the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary, where he teaches apologetics and outreach as professor of Christianity and contemporary culture. He and his wife also served on staff at English L’Abri for many years.” The book begins with general principles for appreciating and evaluating art, and then goes on to deal specifically with five famous authors and their works: Shakespeare, Tolkien, C.s. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, and Jane Austen. If you are interested in approaching any or all of these authors’ works from a Christian literary perspective, Echoes of Eden will be quite helpful in focusing your attention on the important aspects of how these authors glorify God in their writing.

Careless People by Sarah Churchwell


Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell.

Essentially, this book focuses on the autumn of 1922 when F. Scott Fitzgerald was beginning to think about writing The Great Gatsby and when all of the reading public was fixated on the salacious details of the Hall-Mills murder case in New Jersey, a bizarre and celebrity-driven murder and investigation that played out in the newspapers and probably influenced Fitzgerald’s story of murder and infidelity in several aspects. Ms. Chruchwell also includes the before and after stories of how Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda came to be the celebrities that they were and of how Scott Fitzgerald finished writing his most famous novel, The Great Gatsby, and even what happened to him and to Zelda after that novel was published.

I learned several facts that I didn’t know while reading this volume of history and literary criticism combined. F. Scott Fitzgerald was only twenty-six years old in 1922 when he began planning his novel, and only twenty-eight when it was published. Zelda was even younger, born in 1900, twenty-two years old in 1922. She was only nineteen when she married Fitzgerald in April, 1920.

Their daughter, Scottie, was about a year old when they decided to move to New York from St. Paul, Minnesota. I’m not sure how the baby survived, although they did hire a nurse to take care of her, since the parents seem to have been constantly and continually drunk throughout the entire time that they lived in New York. I also am not surprised that Fitzgerald didn’t get far beyond the planning stages in writing his Great American Novel; I am surprised that he was able to write a coherent sentence, much less a number of short stories and the seminal beginnings of what would become The Great Gatsby.

“In May 1924 the Fitzgeralds sailed for Europe, to put the temptations of the New World behind them, with the conviction that they had left their old selves behind forever.” The temptations accompanied them; they got drunk in France just as well and just as often as they did in New York; and their marriage began to disintegrate. But Fitzgerald did write his novel, set in 1922 and based on the characters and the adventures that he and Zelda experienced in New York in that memorable fall of 1922. In particular the Hall-Mills murder case became a part of The Great Gatsby, inextricably intertwined in the characters of Daisy and Tom and Nick and Jordan and Gatsby himself and in the ideas of romantic adultery and carelessness and mistaken identity, insoluble crimes and American idealism.

If you’re fascinated by the Jazz Age, Prohibition, flappers, Scott and Zelda, and The Great Gatsby, Careless People has some good factual material as well as speculation and philosophy about the era and the meaning of the history and the novel and their intersection. The author gets a little carried away at times with passages like the following, coming at the end of each section of the purportedly nonfiction prosaic tome:

“Life is always there waiting to be transfigured into a splendid fiction, however sad or sordid its origins. A story of adultery ends in the violent extinction of a woman of tremendous vitality. A dreamer keeps faith with the faithless, an a double shooting draws coder in the cooling twilight, as e writer tires to determine whether what he holds in his hand is the past, or the future.”

However, reading about Scott and Zelda did make me think about sin and its intractable hold on our lives, about how genius can transcend even the tragic and injurious decisions we make, sometimes, and about what the real meaning of The Great Gatsby is. Did Scott Fitzgerald understand the tragedy of his own novel? Did Zelda? Do I?

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy– they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Scott and Zelda were careless, too, and sort of rich, but there came a time, later, when the piper had to be paid, and the party was over, and both their lives ended tragically. I wonder how many “messes” the “golden boy” and his “first American flapper” left in their wake? If sound self-righteous and Pharasaical, I don’t mean to be. I also wonder how many messes I’ve left for others to clean up and how many more I might have run away from if I had been rich and able?

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Briefly Noted, Fiction

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett. The main character’s attitude toward casual sex (“bliss because she didn’t care what it meant”) was sad and made the entire book feel tawdry and cheap, in contrast to Jane Austen’s more elevated, intellectual, and thoughtful prose and her insightful approach to even flawed characters. Also some dropped plot points and discontinuities marred the otherwise serviceable story.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014. Everyone and their dog recommends it. I found it fascinating, but mostly because I kept hoping that the protagonist, Theo, would learn something, or grow up, over the course of the novel. He sort of did? But not really. The book should come with a warning label: lots of drugs, lots of illicit (and boring) sex, and then lots more drugs and violence. Theo actually finds “somewhere safe with somebody good” after a traumatic and neglected childhood, but he’s too traumatized to enjoy and appreciate the one person who actually loves and cares for him, Hobie, the antique dealer and friend to the friendless. Theo is a mess, and the “happy ending” seems forced in light of Theo’s choices throughout the novel. I was reading Careless People about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing of The Great Gatsby after this one, and Gatsby and Fitzgerald both ended up about the way I would imagine someone who made the choices they did would end up. Theo, in contrast, gets to travel the world and make restitution on his own timetable. Lucky for him.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon. Father Tim Kavanagh and his lovely wife Cynthia, not to mention Dooley and Sammy and Lace Turner and all the other inhabitants of Mitford, return in a safe but enjoyable novel that reads just like cozy, warm cup of tea with the reader curled up in a homey old quilt on a cold winter day. The questions in the novel—Will Father Tim come out of retirement in an emergency? Does Mitford still take care of its own? Will Sammy grow up and forgive and overcome his past?—were intriguing enough to keep me reading and comfortable enough make me smile as I did. It’s well worth your time if you’re a Mitford fan, and if you’re not, you should be. Start with At Home in Mitford, and you’ll be hooked.

I’ve been focusing on nonfiction this month, and I plan to continue to do so. However, I can’t resist slipping in a few novels, now and then. I’m especially interested in reading a really good historical fiction book set in the “roaring twenties” since I just finished the book about Scott and Zelda and the Great Gatsby, and I’m now reading a biography of Florence Harding aka “the Duchess”, wife of Warren G. Harding, who became president in 1920 and presided over the beginning at least of the Jazz Age. Suggestions, anyone?