Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Truth about Love, by Josephine Hart (2009)

Don't you just love finding a brand new book in the library, and then you get to be the first to crack the spine a little bit? That was the case with this book, and since it also looked like an intriguing story, and was written by Josephine Hart who also wrote Damage many years ago, I took it home.

The story is about an Irish family who loses two children in tragic circumstances and how they deal with that and get on with their lives. At the same time, it is about a German man who has immigrated to their village to escape the demons in his home country after the two world wars and his own personal tragedy. Additionally, it is a kind of philosophical-political treatise on the history of Ireland, woven in with bits of the history of wartime Germany.

I think for someone who knew much more about Irish history at the beginning of the 20th century this book would have had a lot more meaning, but with the limits of my own knowledge about it, I felt lost during those sections and have to admit I skimmed through them. I did not enjoy the feeling that so much of the book was inacessible to me, and it left me with a negative feeling, although some of the passages about the family, and especially the oldest daughter and her mother, were very moving.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Honeymoon, by Justin Haythe (2004)

One of my random picks from the library...this was a strange, sad, and subdued story. Written in the first person, it tells the tale of Gordon, a twenty-something young American man living in London and trying to get over the end of his marriage and reconcile the fact that its failure had so much to do with his relationship with his very odd mother.

Gordon and his mother, Maureen, spent most of his childhood traipsing around Europe, for she was doing research for a travel guide to the best art in different European countries. He tells us about his mother's odd habits, and their solitude. He seems to be numb, when as a reader, you feel like he should be angry at what she selfishly did to his childhood.

Gordon meets Annie after he finally gets out on his own to go to art school in London. They marry and things seem to be going fine until they are invited on a honeymoon trip to Venice with Gordon's mother and her new Swiss boyfriend. It is there that the marriage unravels, due to the unbalanced and cruel behavior of Maureen.

An odd read, strangely compelling - because you want to find out what Maureen is capapble of and what she will do to Annie - but the ending is somewhat of a soft landing, considering the expectations and dread that are created by the creepy atmosphere.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Summer reading

I recently popped into our library to pick up a few novels...I have to say we really do have a large collection of English books in Leuven. I meant to bring the list from Oprah's Summer Reading club with me, I had hoped to find at least a few of the books on her list ( this year in the library. But sadly, I forgot the list! So I picked out a few other interesting looking books that I will be sharing my thoughts about soon, here.

  • The Honeymoon, by Justin Haythe (2004) - was nominated for the Booker Prize and looked sad and a bit creepy.
  • The Truth about Love, by Josephine Hart (2009) - brand new, I don't think anyone's read it yet! Family drama set in Ireland.
  • The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton (1970) - remember the movie with all those angst ridden teen actors that are now middle aged stars? I thought it might be interesting to revisit the book!

Back at home, I went to the online catalog, and to my great surprise, not one book from the Oprah list is held by our library! Not even Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast! (They do have it in Dutch but I hate reading English books in Dutch translation - it is just too weird.) What a disappointment.

On a bright note, they do have American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld, which was recommended to me by Kristin. So the next time I go to the library that will be the one I get!

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Senator's Wife, by Sue Miller (2008)

Mom was reading this while she was here in May and I got the impression that she was not entirely happy with it. She left it for me to read, and all she would say was that it was weird. Hmmm.

I am not familiar with Sue Miller's other books, but I have to agree with Mom. This book is weird. More precisely, the ending is weird, and a let-down.

The story follows Delia, the wife of a senator, who has built up an indepedent life of her own after separating from her husband because of his inability to be faithful to her. They remain married and see each other intermittently, but in order to endure his philandering, she found she had to create distance from him, and although this is not how she would have wanted her life, she can live with things as they are.

A young couple moves into the house next door and Delia becomes friends with the wife, Meri. Meri has issues of her own, having to do with being a young wife, and how to reconcile herself with her new roles as wife, soon-to-be mother and someone who loves her job as a radio producer. I could certainly relate to both of the characters and some of the challenges they faced, being somewhat in the middle of the two by age and shall we say, "profession"? Sue Miller writes knowingly about marriage, intimacy and the particular difficulty women face to maintain a professional alter ego in spite of being most strongly identified with home and hearth, and raising children.

Towards the end of the book, through tragedy, Delia suddenly finds herself in the role of caring for her husband - after all those years of having absolutely no say in his comings and goings, he is suddenly completely under her thumb. She is in a strange way happy with this new situation, in spite of the limits it places on her own freedom - he has finally come home to her and she feels secure at last that he will finally be 100% faithful.

Until, of course, the final creepy twist in the story, up until which I was really enjoying the book and the characters. I found what Meri does at the end of the book to be incomprehensible, and although it might fit with the insecurity she feels, it just did not feel right to me. So, yes, I agree with Mom, it is a weird book.