"Mirthful Haven"

"Mirthful Haven" by Booth Tarkington

This is my first Tarkington book. I've been looking for a copy of The Magnificent Ambersons, a title I found on a list of Pulitzer Prize winners (1918), but haven't yet located one. I found this at a sale for a couple of dollars and couldn't pass up the chance to try out a new (to me) author.

It's the story of a young girl, Edna Pelter, growing up in a seaside town with a father who is suspected of making a living under less than legal circumstances. The family is considered a nuisance by the town's well-to-do summer cottagers who would like to see them and their rundown habitation gone from their lovely little vacation town. Edna is getting a bad reputation hanging around with the wrong boys so her aunt steps in and takes her off to live with her.

Edna is known by her aunt's name, Shellpool, in her new life, where she becomes acquainted with some of the same people who spend summers in her hometown. As Edna Shellpool she is invited into their social circles, attending their dinners and parties, and being accepted by people who would have nothing to do with her if they knew her real identity.

Then her aunt dies and she moves back home to live with her father. When her new friends arrive for the summer she tries to clandestinely live both lives and stay friends with everyone, but that, of course, gets more and more complicated until it inevitably all blows up.

It's an interesting story, one that draws you in and keeps you interested, with believable characters and well described settings. It's the kind of book you can enjoy reading without feeling driven to get to the end to find out what happens. I didn't mind putting it down when I had to, but I was always glad to pick it up again, too. I'm looking forward to finding The Magnificent Ambersons and to checking out his backlist which I think has over thirty other titles.    

"The House I Loved"

The House I Loved by Tatiana De Rosnay

Ah, this is a great story. Having read Sarah's Key, I expected a good read and saved it for a time when I'd be able to enjoy a leisurely few days getting lost in a solid story, but once I began I couldn't even come up for air. I went through it too fast, and now it's over. I want more so I have to read it again.

The book is set in Paris in the 1860's, a period of colossal upheaval caused by the Emperor Napoleon's renovations to the city. Houses and businesses are being torn down and streets ripped up to make way for broader boulevards and more modern buildings. Neighbourhoods are wiped out and people are forced to relocate without regard for their family livings or histories.

One woman, Madame Rose Bazelet, is determined to stand her ground and not leave the home in which she'd lived her entire married life, and in which her husband and his father before him had been born and died. She is meant to move in with her daughter's family, but after she has all of her belongings shipped  and stored, she stays in the house. Aided by a rather inscrutable friend who provides heat and food, she waits, hidden in a corner of the basement as the demolition crews get closer. She passes the hours reminiscing about her past and writing letters to her deceased husband, Armand, telling him all that has happened in her life and the lives of their neighbours in the ten years he's been gone. Eventually she brings herself to confess the awful secret she's carried for years and never shared with anyone, not even her beloved Armand.

Everything about this book appealed to me: the period, the location, and especially the characters. I've always been interested in Paris, but I had no idea about this part of the city's history. I was simply mesmerized by the grand plans Napoleon not only made, but actually carried out, wiping out generations of history in the name of modernization. All the time I was reading I kept thinking it couldn't be real and wondering what kind of crazy person would do this. Well, apparently Napoleon is that crazy person. I felt heartsick right along with Madame Rose.

Almost from the outset the author makes you aware of how this is going to end, but there is one twist that will take you by surprise - a nice surprise. I loved the beginning, the ending and everything in between. I usually take more time to consider the things I like and don't like about the actual writing, but honestly I got so lost in this story that I didn't even notice. Not noticing the writing is almost always a good thing, so I'll leave it at that and just recommend that you Read. This. Book.  


"Heartbreak Hotel"

Heartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach

I came to this book in a round-about way. I was looking for something with a Christmas theme to read in December and came across one called Twin Beds - Christmas at the Heartbreak Hotel. The review said it was a sequel to this one but,  not sure I wanted to commit to two of them, I did a bit more checking to see if they were worth the time/cash investment. What I discovered is that Deborah Moggach also wrote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel! I haven't read that book but the movie made from it is one of my favourites, mainly because of it's wonderful mix of unique and unforgettable characters. I figured I couldn't go too far wrong with such an author so I took the plunge. I have yet to read the Christmas one, but Heartbreak Hotel was worth it.

It's about a retired actor who inherits an aging B&B and decides to keep it, beginning a new career as inn-keeper in these later years of his life. Between his large family of ex-wives and children, and the guests who come either to escape their real lives or to take advantage of the various courses he offers, there is quite a lengthy list of characters that I managed to keep sorted by writing their names and relationships on an index card.

I loved the setting, a quiet little town in Wales described so becomingly by the author that you'll want to move there immediately you've finished the book. But it's the characters that bring life to this book. They are all so very real with flaws and quirks that make them lovable and irritating and completely believable. The story line is a bit similar to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but only in that both are about run down hotels full of interesting people. The differences are vast and never let you to feel as if you've read this story before.

The language is a bit grittier than I like but it was only now and then, so not too terribly bad. I liked it and am quite looking forward to the Christmas one, which I will try not to read till the end of the year.

"Favourite Poems of England" and "The Ten Offenses"

Favourite Poems of England edited by Jane McMorland Hunter

This is a pretty little book, but I didn't enjoy the poems as much as I'd hoped. I had recognized a number of the author's names so was looking forward to what might be offered, but most of the selections simply didn't appeal to me. There's no explaining my relationship with poetry. The ones I love mean the world to me but there is so much of it that I don't like at all. Who knows why?

I did have one good laugh somewhere in the middle of the book. It had all been fairly serious up till that point, then I came across A Hand In The Bird, by Roald Dahl. I can't reprint it for you here because of copyright law, but do find a copy if you can. It cracked me up.

Some of the poets whose works are included are Thomas Hardy, William Blake, A. E. Houseman, John Keats, William Wordsworth, Percy Byshe Shelley, Christina Rossetti and William Shakespeare. Quite an elite group, isn't it?  I feel rather ashamed of myself that I couldn't find anything to love.

The Ten Offenses by Pat Robertson

This one had some very good points but for me the presentation was a bit preachy. It was also somewhat dated and had a strong American emphasis.The style of writing didn't appeal to me and is not the kind that stays with me when I've finished the book.

The title is a play on the ten commandments, which the author suggests have become so unpopular in today's society that they would be more aptly called the ten offenses now. I didn't enjoy the writing, or the author really, though as I said I do think he made some valid arguments.

"The Sound and The Fury"

The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner

Not easy to read, this was nevertheless a very good story. It's written in "stream of consciousness" style, a literary form I gave up on when I read Ulysses by James Joyce. I actually read only half of Ulysses but that was enough to last me a lifetime, or so I thought.

In Ulysses, it wasn't the style I disliked so much as the meaningless made up words and long, run-on sentences that in the end told the reader nothing. That book felt empty; this one is full - brim full and overflowing -  with life and feeling. You may not like all the feelings coming your way or the path the story is taking but that's beside the point. The great thing about this book is that right away you get pulled into the pages and never have to wonder what the point is.

There are four chapters, each with a different narrator. The first is told by Benjy, a 33 year old severely intellectually challenged man who has no sense of time other than now. He experiences memories and current situations all as happening now so the chapter feels a bit jumbled, but when you read it you do get a strong sense of what he's feeling and you know it will all come clear eventually.

The second chapter is from the point of view of Benjy's brother, Quentin, and is set ten years prior to the first chapter. There is another Quentin mentioned in the first chapter - it had me rather confused at times because sometimes Quentin was "he" and other times "she"- but it refers to the young girl who is the niece of Benjy, Quentin and their brother, Jason. The girl is the illegitimate daughter of the family's only daughter, Caddy, and Caddy's promiscuous behaviour is the reason for the overwhelming angst the elder Quentin experiences in this chapter.

Fast forward ten years again and the third chapter is narrated by Jason, the mean, selfish, self-pitying brother the family now depends on financially. This part of the book is a little easier to read as far as words and sentences go, but it was hard to swallow all the rage and hostility.

The final chapter is written from a third person point of view so it felt more organized and it clarified some of the questions I still had from the previous chapters. By the end of the book, you know clearly what happened to each character and how it affected the rest of the family.

That gives you an idea of the writing style, but not the plot. It's about the Compson family, a name well-established and well-respected in the area, but now the family is in decline. Benjy's condition, Caddie's behaviour, Quentin's tragedy and the father's alcoholism-related, untimely death reduce the mother, Caroline Compson, to a whimpering shadow of a woman, incapable of dealing with, or being of help to, anyone. It would seem that Jason has control now, but there is a servant, Dilsey, who has more sense than the rest of them combined, and she isn't about to give up on them.

It's a powerful, agonizingly realistic story. I felt the effects of its emotional force for days after I put the book away. If I'd known the style of writing, I probably would never have attempted it, but once I started I couldn't let go, or it wouldn't let go of me. If you read it you may want to look online first for a summary or outline so you have some idea where it's going. But, if a bit of  confusion at the beginning doesn't bother you, just dive in because it all becomes quite clear as you go on. It is definitely worth the effort.