Saturday, May 17, 2008

Small Island by Andrea Levy

After my meager reading of April, I have been positively indulging in book gluttony in May.

I found Small Island at the library, and I must admit that the fact of its being an Orange Prize winner drew my notice. From the back of the book: "Small Island explores a point in England's past when the country began to change. In this delicately wrought and profoundly moving novel, Andrea Levy handles the weighty themes of empire, prejudice, war and love, with a superb lightness of touch and generosity of spirit."

After reading the story, I could not agree more. I don't know if racial tension in the UK was ever quite as brutal or vicious as in the US, but it was bad enough if you happened to be on the receiving end of it. There are four main characters--a Jamaican man and woman, and a British man and woman, and the story is told in first person, alternately between the characters. That results in each character becoming a sympathetic character for the reader. We cannot despise Bernard as thoroughly as Queenie does, or even see his prejudice in the same light that Gilbert does, because we have walked in his shoes,and felt the impression of his war experiences (mostly in India). We sympathize with four people in an impossible situation. So many books that touch on this subject would play up the the ugliness and stress without a drop of relief, but Andrea Levy does more--much more. She shows the hope, the human spirit, that refuses to be crushed, and rather than allow disillusionment to plunge her characters into despair, it stiffens their spines to meet the world face-to-face.

One of the most touching and telling scenes in the book comes near the end, when Hortense, the dignified young Jamaican who studied to be a teacher, and taught in a Jamaican school, applies to teach in England. Her bubble of dreams is burst, suddenly and completely, and her husband (whom she married only for convenience' sake, to get to the "Mother Country") with far more experience of England, is there to tease, console, cajole, and guide her to keep her chin up and make another way.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Reading Log, April 2008

In spite of my neglectful blogging habits, I am determined to do this one thing, and keep up a record of the books I'm reading. Before blogging, I never did keep lists, and the patterns and statistics that emerge are too irresistible to lose, so...

In April, I had live-in company (family) for three weeks, so I didn't have as much time to read as usual, and when I did read, it was usually something I could set aside or leave for a week without much regret.

Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee -- I rather think this book may never have been published in the US, only in Britain. It's a childhood memoir of life in a Cotswold village post-WWI. It was an EXCELLENT book of its kind--very colorful, descriptive, and lively. I really enjoyed it.

False Scent by Ngaio Marsh -- This was a mystery. By the end of the first page, I knew who would be murdered. By the end of the first chapter, I knew the method. By the end of the third chapter, I guessed at the murderer, and in the end, I was right on all counts. So, it was kind of predictable, and just okay--not great. I've liked the other books by Marsh better than this one, and how did I manage to pick up another one with a "theater" theme?

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar...: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein -- This is pretty much what the title says it is, except I think "understanding" is probably a bit too ambitious for this book. It would probably be better enjoyed by someone who is already familiar with philosophy, although you could just read it for the jokes (which are by no means all clean). I'll probably blog about this one within the next week, but I won't be recommending it. Even if some of the jokes are kind of funny.

"If you are getting on a commercial airliner, for safety's sake, take a bomb with you...because the overwhelming odds are there won't be two guys with bombs on the same plan."

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer -- I find I have absolutely nothing to say about this book. I don't think Georgette Heyer is the author for me.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (audiobook, via Librivox) -- This is an atmospheric, "ghost" story, told by a governess caring for two children in a remote location. I enjoyed hearing the story, but the reader wasn't the best, and sometimes I had a difficult time grasping the intent of the author through her odd reading. I read a few chapters in a hard copy after I finished listening, to get a better "feel" for the author's own "voice."

And that was my reading for April! I've already finished three more books in May, with three more currently in progress, so May's reading list will likely be much longer!