Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Galley Way: Restoration

Restoration, by Olaf Olafsson

Restoration weaves together the stories of Alice- a British  Ex-pat in Italy during WWII, and Kristin- a talented art student that mysteriously arrives at Alice’s country villa one afternoon. Both women are beautifuly and realistically rendered by Olafsson. Each has her own flaws yet still remains sympathetic. Remarkably, Olafsson is able to tell a very original WWII era story (quite a well-worn topic for historical ficiton)- not hurt in the least by an Icelandic main character, Kristin (Not enough Icelanders in literature, I say!).

During the time that Kristin is staying with Alice, the Tuscan villa becomes the literal front line in a WWII battle, and throughout the war those in the villa, and surrounding farms, are trapped between loyalists and resistors; German and American forces. If that weren’t enough there is also a fascinating subplot to do with a mysterious Caravaggio painting with dubious provenance.

There are also the subplots of each woman’s extramarital romantic entanglements. However, the main drawback of this book, for me, is that tales of adultery just don’t sit well with me- I’m actually quite tired of them. This is not so much from a moralist perspective, but mostly because every time it’s almost EXACTLY the same story- or at least one of the three or four tales of adultery that are constantly retold. The funny thing is, I think that art imitates life in this respect- with each novelist feeling that their story is somehow the exception, akin to a doting mistress thinking that her relationship is somehow different (and yes, he will leave is wife!).

Fortunately the affairs are only one part of the story, and the truly captivating tale that is told, is that of these two women’s capacity for survival. Both facing personal demons and family tradgedy they are forced to take action when the villa and all the people that depend on it are endangered- with thouroughly captivating and satisfying results.

Note: I received this book as a giveaway from Shelfawareness

Goodreads rating:****

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March: Newbery Winners

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

This month I read Newbery award winning books that I really should have read years ago- this is especially true with this first book. Everyone I knew by the time of middle school had read and loved it, but I never was really interested in reading The Giver. The first remarkable thing about The Giver is how its themes seem to run throughout all the great books that have been part of this great revival in Children’s literature- whether its the religious allusions to the garden of Eden and the forbidden fruit- also seen in The Amber Spyglass, by Phillip Pullman; or the mentor relationship with the Giver, akin the Dumbledore and his pensieve in Harry Potter. Even adult classics are reminiscent of The Giver (or visa versa) such as 1984, or especially Brave New World.

In case you don’t know The Giver tells of a society in the future that has solved all the ills of the world: famine, war, disease. But to do this takes extreme measures, and also means that the people have no concept of all the things that make us truly happy along with the things that cause pain and heartache- All except for the Reciever of Memoires who has to carry the burden of the memories of all the good and bad of earlier times to be able to guide the leaders of the society. When our main character becomes the new Receiver of Memories, the old one becomes “The Giver” who pours the memories into him. And so begins their relationship as the the Giver teaches him about the strange emotions and experiences their society has cast off.

When I was a child, and everyone was reading this book, I thought I did not like futuristic stories (and to this day I’m a bit wary of most Sci Fi). But this story, while set in the future, is beautiful in its simplicity. This story is so simple and pure its fable. It suggests a tale that has been told and will (should) be told for centuries.

Goodreads rating:*****

Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool

Now here is a beautiful story about a girl finding a place to belong in the world, and learning about her beloved, yet mysterious and rambling father. This novel is the story of the town of Manifest- a town with a past- from the point of view of a young girl growing up in the the 1930s, as well as history of the town from the time during WWI, told to her by the town diviner. With it’s varying viewpoints and colorful cast of characters it’s like  Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe for kids.

And at the end- even though part of the conclusion you can see coming from way on down the line, Vanderpool still leaves room for one surprising connection and tugs at your heartstrings. This is the book that won the Newbery for last year (2010) and took booksellers and readers by surprise. One neat fact is that the author draws a lot on her grandparents’ histories for the story, and still is a local Kansan (where the story is set).

Goodreads rating:*****

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

Part of the joy of reading Kate DiCamillo is her fanciful yet sophisticated voice- never talking down to her young readers- beckoning to them and creating a general atmosphere of wonder- perfect for this quaint fairy tale of a story.

In The Tale of Despereaux the eponymous tiny mouse acquires a love of reading fairy tales found in the library of the castle he inhabits (instead of munching on their pages like any other self-respecting mouse); a rat raised in darkness yearns for the light (and delicious soup) only to be rebuffed with tragic results; a poor unloved girl dreams of one day becoming a princess; and the princess grieves for her lost mother. DiCamillo tenderly captures a whole range of this human emotion: longing (and perhaps, as the title suggests, desperation) in a simple and true way- perfect for her young audience.

Goodreads rating****

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

With A Wrinkle in Time we have the gold standard for the Newbery award as well as Science Fiction for children. Meg is a frumpy girl, out of step with the rest of the kids her age, yet she finds herself embarking on an adventure with her younger brother and a cute boy in tow (what more could a girl want?!) and soon she is able to be heroic and stand up IT- an amazing personification of evil (which, in its quest to make everyone the exactly alike is reminiscent of The Giver read earlier in the month). This was my mother’s favorite book as a girl growing up in the 60s and 70s. She always insisted I should read it although I never did. And now I can see whey my mother- a bookish frumpy little Catholic girl loved this book so.

Make no mistake, A Wrinkle in Time is deeply rooted in religion. For all its sophistication and scientific jargon- its a book about good vs. evil… and of course the power of love. The only big qualm I had with the book (other than the fact that at the end of the day, it’s just not my style) is that- while L’Engle doesn’t call her subsequent follow-up books “sequels” but instead “companion books”- my feeling is that this couldn’t be further from the truth, and the book doesn’t really stand on its own

Goodreads rating****

Also read this month: These Dreams of you, by Steve Erickson and an unpublished manuscript by Kate Southwood.

Next Month’s theme: “Classics”. I’ll be going back to yet more books I shamefully haven’t read. First up is Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.

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