Mini Book Thoughts

Since I can’t seem to gather enough thoughts together these days to write about books in any lengthy fashion, I am going to give you three brief thoughts on books I’ve finished lately:

 

A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark -Set in 1950’s Kensington, this darkly humorous novel is told in the first person by Mrs. Hawkins, an overweight widow who works in publishing. Mrs. Hawkins is a dependable and sensible woman, seen as a mother figure to many though she is really quite young. She realizes that this is tied to her matronly appearance and when she starts losing weight those who depended on her before no longer trust her opinion and chaos ensues. I didn’t think about the connection between her slenderness and the way others view and react to her as I was reading the novel, but now I think this may be one of the main themes. Anyway, I really enjoy Spark’s writing and I love her whimsically sardonic humor.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe – This memoir is the beautiful story of Schwalbe’s relationship with his dying mother, Mary Anne, and how books draw them together during her final months on earth. Mary Anne is a remarkable and wise woman who lives with dignity. She imparts some wonderful life lessons to her son as they discuss the books they’re reading and Will is able to learn more about his mother’s life through her beliefs and opinions of the books they share. I think this book strikes a perfect tone – never crossing over into saccharine – and is a wonderful tribute to Mary Anne and her life filled with service. To read more about this really special book visit Lisa or Karen.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (no photo) – This first time novel is a treat. In beautiful, unadorned prose Coplin tells the story of William Talmage, a lonely orchardist, whose life is upended by the arrival of two hungry teen girls in his remote valley in Washington State. The ¬†novel examines the need for connection and how that desire can lead to unlikely bonds. The setting, late nineteenth century Western USA, enhances the sense of isolation the characters endure and makes their longing for relationships even more poignant. Coplin’s writing is lovely and it will be interesting to see where it takes her next.

 

Happy November! I have a feeling this is going to be a great month.

 

Advertisements

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

 

 

I’ll always be grateful to Simon and Harriet for proposing and promoting Muriel Spark Reading Week. Because of the event I got the chance to read a fantastic, funny and invigorating novel. So, thanks, guys!

Memento Mori is set in London in the ’50’s and the plot centers around a group of elderly friends and rivals. They’re all in varying states of mental and physical health. Shortly after one of their group dies Dame Lettie begins to receive phone calls from a mysterious man who tells her ” Remember you must die”. Incensed and shocked at these morbid messages, she contacts the police and demands an investigation. Meanwhile, her brother Godfrey and his wife Charmian and being swindled out of their money by an unscrupulous housekeeper and Charmian’s ex-companion, Jean Taylor, valiantly suffers in a nursing home. Soon, most of the members reveal that they’ve received the same phone call that has so upset Dame Lettie. However, they can’t agree on just who is making the calls. For some it is a young man, others think it is a woman, some get calls from older people, some insist it is a child. Their reactions to this caller are also varied. Dame Lettie becomes obsessed, Godfrey becomes agitated, Charmian quietly ignores it, but it is Jean Taylor (who strangely doesn’t receive the calls) who really knows what is going on.

I love Spark because she makes fun of things that we’re not supposed to make fun of. In this novel it is death and mortality. The serious subject of this book would never lead you to believe that it is hilariously funny. Spark’s subtle, sneaky, deadly humor is a wicked treat. It is not the kind of humor that had me howling, but I did smirk and snort quite a few times.

Spark’s characters, though nearing the end of their earthly lives, like to think about death about as much as the rest of us do. Their lives continue just as they always have with their petty jealousies, bitter rivalries, romantic entanglements, money foibles and family clashes. They let past transgressions and feuds cloud the last years of their lives. One of the group, Alec Warner, even records his observations and opinions on the behavior of his ‘elderly’ colleagues, intensely interested in the way they react and behave almost as a way of warding off his own aged status. ¬†When the mysterious phone calls invade the routine of their lives the characters simply refuse to believe it is a serious message, though deep down it unsettles them. Is Spark saying that we should live to the fullest without giving heed to thoughts of death or that we should always keep in mind that we will someday die? I think the answer falls somewhere in the middle – live it up while you can, but know that it won’t last forever. What do you think?

I was really impressed by this refreshingly mischievous novel and I am now a big fan of Muriel Spark. Are all of her novels this funny? If so, I will definitely be reading more. If you haven’t ever read Spark I highly recommend her writing. She is extraordinarily clever.