Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair is the first book in a series whose heroine is Thursday Next, and her name embodies the British humor that pervades the book. Thursday works for a fictitious law enforcement agency in a division that protects literary works. In this case, the villain has a device that allows him to remove characters from an original manuscript, thus removing that character permanently from the book, because the original manuscript is the parent of all copies. Hmm…. It's whimsical, to say the least. Also, Thursday can insert herself into the plot of Jane Eyre, for example, and alter its ending for the better. This book wasn't exactly my thing, but the literary references were a hoot. I especially enjoyed the various arguments about who really wrote Shakespeare's plays.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children about three thirty-somethings in New York did not sound appealing to me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted more at the end. The personal entanglements and the arrival on the scene of a twenty-something with the unfortunate nickname of Bootie make for great reading. All four of the young characters are career-challenged, in various stages of identity crises, and failing to live up to their own expectations. Clothes are one of the many symbols here, and the characters cloak their true selves in a veneer that is neither admirable nor endearing. Another important character is Murray Thwaite, a famous, charismatic and well-respected personality, father of thirty-something Marina, and perhaps the "emperor" in the title. Messud weaves in a lot of suspense, especially with regard to a long-anticipated 9/11 tie-in. Each time I expected the worst to happen, an eruption of a different sort would occur. Everyone in the book is cheating in some way--Julius on his lover, Murray on his wife, Marina on her publisher. The main theme of the book, though, seems to be whether or not honesty is the best policy. Bootie is brutally honest in some ways, but he is also the least likeable character with his slovenly ways and poor treatment of his mother. He exposes that "the emperor has no clothes" but turns out to be deceitful in the extreme.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Tobias Wolff's Old School is the second book I've read in a year about a prep school student on scholarship who is a fish out of water. In this case, however, he's not a loner, and he's one of several students with realistic literary ambitions at a school whose reputation rests on its literary program. Each term is highlighted by a composition contest in the preferred genre of a visiting writer, who judges the entries and grants the winner an hour-long dialogue. You don't have to love literature to love this book, but it probably helps. Robert Frost's argument for the form in poetry, the scathingly funny depiction of Ayn Rand's high-mindedness, and Hemingway's letter about courage and truth are all fictional and yet fitting for what we expect from each author. There are so many captivating stories here, including that of Little Jeff and Big Jeff, in a love-hate relationship where one's loyalty gives the other the courage to keep from self-destructing. Ultimately, the book is about forgiveness, and Wolff develops this theme in a marvelous way, citing two parallel transgressions. One is huge, but the culprit is somehow barely aware of its severity, and the other is more of an oversight that generates more guilt than the deed warrants.
Labels: 5 stars
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Alexander McCall Smith's tales of Botswana, of which The Kalahari Typing School for Men is one, bear similarities to those of small-town U.S.A. but with a unique cultural slant. When Precious Ramotswe needs information for one of her detective agency's clients, she just visits a friend for a chat and a cup of tea to get the latest gossip. She is nonplussed by the sudden appearance of a rival detective agency and faces the problem head-on by going to his office to introduce herself. Despite the fact that he's all bluster and no substance, he's a former police officer, and that may be all her neighbors need to believe that he's a more qualified detective. The title refers to a venture that her assistant, Mma Makutsi, initiates as a sideline, so that men can learn what's considered to be a woman's skill in a private setting. There Mma Makutsi finds a potential love interest who, Precious discovers, is not what he seems. I knew that everything would turn out OK in the end, but I still enjoyed reading how Precious manages it, without hurting anyone's feelings.