Pat's Staff Favorites
The world is truly our oyster now that foreign writers are being translated and published more readily. Armchair travel has never been easier!
Felix, the longtime artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival in Ontario is in the midst of rehearsals to stage the Tempest when he’s unceremoniously fired by two rivals. The play was meant to be a homage to his beloved late daughter, Miranda. He retreats to a rural shack and plots sweet revenge. The perfect opportunity for payback occurs twelve years later. Felix has become a storied theatre teacher at a nearby prison. There, with a superb cast of characters, Felix will at last stage the Tempest, and in a madcap finale seize the day. Atwood in retelling the Tempest has concocted a fresh, modern story that’s as delightful as it is clever.
Transit is the second novel of a trilogy that began with Outline. Faye follows a friend's advice that, with limited funds, "it was better to buy a bad house in a good street than a good house somewhere bad," and purchases a rickety apartment on a nice street in London. She's a recently divorced writer with two young sons. The scene is thus set for a renovation courtesy of Albanian and Polish builders and conflicts with the malignant couple in the apartment below. As Faye encounters the builders, the neighbors, an ex-boyfriend, her hairdresser, and fellow writers at a literary festival, she tells their backstories with a fierce intelligence and wit. It's a brilliant novel.
I put this down with a reluctant sigh. My first encounter with O'Farrell's writing was so engaging I had to immediately acquire an earlier novel to counter the feeling of loss. The central characters, Daniel and Claudette, meet on a rural road in Ireland. They're both on the run: Daniel from a failed marriage and horrible custody battle in California; Claudette from the public gaze as a famous film star. They fall in love, have children, and carefully construct a life in rural isolation. This life is put in jeopardy by Daniel's misreading of a pivotal event in his past. Juggling multiple perspectives, chronologies, and continents, this engrossing novel is contemporary in structure but feels like good old-fashioned storytelling.
The book opens with the arresting image of a man slipping into the back door of his neighbor's seemingly empty house on Hampstead Heath. The man is Michael, and his neighbors are Josh and Samantha Nelson and their two young daughters. Josh and Samantha have welcomed Michael's friendship in part to ease the tension of a faltering marriage. Michael has recently moved from Wales to London after his wife, a war correspondent, is killed in Pakistan. His grief is subterranean but etches his life in unpredictable ways. At the end of the chapter, we're left with a feeling of foreboding and a compulsion to turn the pages. What is the nature of redemption after an accidental but grievous injury is done? With all of the heartache each character experiences, their search for redemption is as individual as each heart. We are left with hope that it's possible to make amends in thoughtful and meaningful ways.
John Rebus, the Edinburgh police inspector who languished in retirement but never in our imaginations, has returned to the force. Rebus is being investigated, along with his old team, for dirty police work in a thirty-year-old case. Planting evidence, intimidating witnesses, and imparting rough justice was part of the culture of policing in that era. As Rebus says, "I'm from the eighties, Peter---I'm not the newfangled touchy-feely model." True to character, though, Rebus wants the truth, no matter what light it shines on his own deeds. At the same time, he's working on a case with Siobhan Clarke, his former protégé, involving a mysterious car accident and a high-ranking politician's son. Now that's just the kind of hornet's nest that Rebus likes to poke a stick into. Both tangled plots are resolved masterfully. Good to have you back, Rebus.
Based on a true crime story Phillips was told as a child, Quiet Dell is a gripping novel of obsession, secrets, enchantment, horror, and redemptive love. In 1931 Chicago, long before there was OK Cupid, Ada Eicher finds Harry Powers in the personal ads of The American Friendship Society. Newly widowed and with three young children to support, she is wooed by his charming and elegant letters, and his promise of financial security. When Ada and her family disappear, an intrepid reporter and a family friend join forces to find them by following the trail from Iowa to West Virginia. --Pat
These are contemporary stories with an unerring ear for the way children and their parents communicate and an eye for the subtle details that divide us along class lines. In the title story, a promising young violinist announces to her family that she will marry her music professor, never mind that she's never had a boyfriend and her betrothed is 45 years her senior. In a few thousand words we get the family reactions, the wedding, the children to follow, and the love that continues despite the losses. The day after I read this story, I carried it with me like a gem that I could take out of my pocket and examine at will.
One beautiful spring day in London, Charlotte, an elderly retired English teacher, is mugged and breaks her hip. This event ricochets off the lives of seven other characters in her orbit, unsettling and rearranging them.
While Charlotte convalesces with her likable daughter Rose, and her son-in-law Gerry, she takes the measure of her infirmity. She imagines herself "on the edge of things, clinging on to life's outer rim." Her mischievous insights punctuate the narrative.
Charlotte loves books, her "necessary fix". She tutors an adult literacy student, Anton, a recent immigrant, whose introduction to her daughter's household has unintended consequences. Other repercussions from the mugging are a humiliating public speech, a blossoming friendship, a swindle, and a broken marriage. Lively is fond of her characters, and exposes their foibles with a gentle hand. Juggling these separate streams of story, she creates vivid, memorable characters. I avidly read "How It All Began" to see how it all would end for them.
William Trevor is the master of the short story. His Ireland is rural and largely unchanged by the Celtic Tiger (which has now undergone a dramatic reversal). Spare and beautifully illuminating. Pat
If you want a book that will inspire you to bake bread (and change your life) this is it! It's beautiful and smart with many photos and lovely drawings. I especially appreciate it's non-fussy approach.
Lush, tropical Sri Lanka seems to be the perfect setting for the De Silva family of dreamers and eccentrics, but as ethnic tensions build, the younger generation leaves the island for London. Multi-generational family story with some very lovely writing.