"The Avenue"

The Avenue by R.F. Delderfield  (Vol.1-The Dreaming Suburb, Vol.2-The Avenue Goes To War)

At 1100 pages, this novel needs a serious time commitment, but I was sick with bronchitis for almost 4 weeks, so I had nothing but time. It was the perfect, easy-to-read, get-lost-in-someone-else's-life, book that I needed under those circumstances.

It took a bit of time to get into it but that may have been mostly about how miserable I was feeling at that point. By the end of the first book I was eager to get into the second, and by the end of the second I was in love with the avenue and it inhabitants.

As the title suggests, the book is about the people living on a particular avenue in the suburbs of London, England. The Dreaming Suburb covers the years between the two world wars, when the characters who people this novel were children or young adults. This is where you learn their history, the events that shaped their characters and influenced their behaviour. The Avenue Goes to War begins in 1940, when bombs are being dropped on the avenue and life is changing dramatically for everyone. Some suffer, some profit, in the way war has of randomly choosing its victims. Some of the bad survive unscathed, some of the good lose everything. The true survivors grow in courage and humility, becoming people you wish you could have known.

I couldn't have asked for a more readable novel to get me through the past few weeks. It's not great literature, but it certainly is a good story, well told.

"River Thieves"

River Thieves by Michael Crummey

I didn’t like this book. I did like certain things about it, but if you asked me if I liked it overall I’d have to say no. I'm not saying it isn’t a good book – I’m not qualified to judge that – it just didn’t appeal to me. I do like his writing; his novel, Sweetland, is one of my favourite books.

Crummey's descriptions are wonderfully vivid. You can smell the forest and feel the cold of a Newfoundland winter. I love the setting: the ocean, the snow, the ice, the forest, the whole wild, harsh, landscape. I also appreciated the history lesson - early 19th century trappers and fishermen from Britain living and working in Newfoundland, contributing to the decline and eventual extinction of the Beothuk Indians. It lead me to do some further research which introduced me to a chapter of Canadian history I knew nothing about.

I didn’t like any of the characters - even the ones I might have liked felt distant. I admit they were believable, each one revealing light and dark in their natures, but they all seemed to make terrible choices, destructive to themselves and everybody else. The story is based on historical fact but it is told with such violence and brutality, it left me feeling like the whole human race is beyond hope. It is grim. 

So, while I do very much enjoy Michael Crummey's writing, I did not enjoy this book.