Another Catch-Up Post

The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter

The Inklings were a "circle of friends who gathered about C.S. Lewis and met in his rooms at Magdalen". This interesting biography tries to tell the stories of several of them at once and it does a pretty good job. I was mostly interested  in Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, but enjoyed reading about Charles Williams and the others as well. It does focus more heavily on Lewis and that's fine with me. I tend to romanticize Lewis's life because being a professor at Oxford and meeting regularly with other literary notables sounds like the perfect life to me. Can you imagine living at Oxford? Sigh. Of course the reality was different than my romantic fantacizing and the nitty gritty everyday of their lives wasn't perfect by any means. Still, I loved being immersed in that atmosphere for the time it took to read the book. This is a biography worth reading if you're a fan of these authors.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

I must be one of the last people to read this book. It's been reviewed on hundreds of blogs, the movie has been made and watched by millions and the copyright page says the book is, incredibly, almost ten years old. Every reader and movie-watcher I've heard from has loved it. Some have told me this was one of those rare circumstances when they found the movie as good as, or even better than, the book. I haven't seen the movie, but having read the book I'm very curious to see how they pulled it off and will make a point of watching it soon. Maybe it's on Netflix.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

A gothic mystery set on bleak and barren Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, England, this book has just the right amount of creepiness. Mary Yellan loses her mother and goes to live with her aunt and uncle, innkeepers in Cornwall. On the journey there she hears whispers of strange goings on at the inn, and the carriage driver hurries away as soon as he drops her at the door. He's told her that travelers don't stop there anymore, that it has a bad reputation.

As Mary tries to settle in and make a life in her new home, she realizes that her aunt lives in fear for a reason. Her uncle is coarse, given to anger and drinking binges and is unpredictable, with friends coming and going inexplicably in the middle of the night. Strange things are afoot. Then comes a night when he tells Mary she must stay in her room with the door locked and the covers over her head until daybreak. Cue the spooky music. Not ghost-spooky, though. The living characters are creepy enough to make it interesting.

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner

I picked this up at a craft fair that had a used book table. I intended to buy no books and went home with five.

The Hotel du Lac is a small hotel on Lake Geneva where novelist, Edith Hope, has gone to pull herself together after ditching her fiance at the alter. Her horrified friends, who think she doesn't know how lucky she was to find such a catch, insisted that she needed time away to come to her senses. She's pretty sure they're expecting her to go home properly subdued and apologetic for upsetting everyone with her foolishness. She arrives at the hotel  at the end of the season so there are only a few other guests in residence. She becomes acquainted with their stories one by one, including that of Mr. Neville, who just might be the path to a new and easier life for her. In learning their stories, she also learns some things about herself that help her decide what she wants and doesn't want for her future. The focus is on the characters, who they are and how they relate to one another. There are little dramas but it's not a plot driven story. I love books that are all about the characters. I'd never heard this title before but it is apparently a Booker Prize winner. And, really, with quirky characters gathered at a quaint hotel in Europe at summers end, how could you go wrong?

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman

Tooly Zylberberg (Why, oh, why do authors give characters names that can be pronounced a dozen different ways? I drive myself crazy trying to decide which one to use each time I come across it.) runs a bookshop in a remote area of Wales. She keeps to herself because people are always interested in each other's histories and she doesn't know how to explain hers. When she was a little girl she was taken from her home to grow with an odd group of characters. There was Humphrey, a grumpy older man with a Russian accent who read books obsessively; Venn, the apparent leader who showed up and disappeared again without explanation; and Sarah who was flashy and flighty and completely undependable. Tooly didn't know why she'd been taken to live with them or even who they really were. Years later, when she hears through an old friend that Humphrey is in desperate straights, she feels compelled to set out on a complicated journey to find the answers to her questions.  

I am sorry to say I didn't like this novel very much. It's gotten wonderful reviews from people who know a lot more about literature than I do, but as much as I try to talk myself into liking it, I didn't really. I need to love the characters or the setting or something in a book and there simply wasn't much here that spoke to me. I didn't even find the plot all that interesting. Tooly spends all her time trying to discover her past, but there seems to be little going on in the present. I guess I can't expect to like every book I pick up, But, darn it, why not?


Anonymous said...

Loved the Book Thief, both the movie and the book! It was a beautifully written novel which allowed us to see the 2nd World War from within Germany.

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