Island by Jane Rogers

Inevitably drawn to any book with "Island" in the title, I was quite eager to start this one, and it gave me things I crave: windy cliffs, sandy beaches, rocky beaches, waves lapping the shore, waves heaving and breaking and pounding the shore, and pungent salt air. When I can't quench my thirst for the ocean in person, books are a nearly adequate substitution.

The island of this book is Aysaar, in the Hebrides. As far as I can tell it's a fictional place, at least I couldn't see it among the 63 island names I could find in the Hebrides. To this tiny island comes Nikki Black, 29, seeking revenge on the mother who abandoned her as an infant, and on whom Nikki blames every single problem she has ever had. That got a little tedious but the story kept me going, if only to see how it could possibly come to any conclusion. 

Nikki's plan for vengeance is complicated by the existence of an unsuspected brother, a strange boy who collects found objects and lives with his mother on the island. She keeps him on a short leash, with good reason, but he and Nikki become close and he changes Nikki's life in profound ways. 

Parts of this book were hard to read, maybe because ugly and unnatural thoughts and actions stand out more starkly against the beautiful, clean backdrop of sea and sky. But there is loveliness in the story, too, especially in the island folktales Calum learned growing up and now passes on to his sister.

It was a pretty good story, though bogged down by Nikki's obsession with hating and blaming her mother. It's different from anything else I've read, and though it moves slowly, you're always waiting for something dreadful to happen and that keeps you turning the pages. 

I have mixed feelings about the ending. Things get sort of worked out, but not in any way that can last, and you're left with an ominous feeling about what's to come. The author does leave room to imagine a fairy tale future, but it would be inconsistent with the rest of the book. Thought-provoking endings like this are always interesting.

Another Gospel?

 Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers

Today there is a movement within the Christian church to abandon some of the basic tenets of the faith, things that have long been the foundation of the church, its very reason for existence. Not that this is new - there have always been and will always be those who seek to make faith easier to practice, and God easier to live with, to get around the more uncomfortable aspects of faith. Being questioned are the reality of heaven and hell, the virgin birth, Jesus as the sole way of salvation, His deity, and the necessity of His sacrifice. One popular idea is that we can be Christians without believing in Christ at all, and that doing what good we can in this life will assure us a place in a beautiful afterlife.    

These views of Progressive Christianity are what Ms. Childers addresses in this book. She's done extensive research to back up her defense of the church's ancient creeds, going back to the beginning, seeking the historical Jesus and studying what the early church believed and why. Here she presents her findings and it is evidence both credible and convincing. I will read for myself some of the materials she quotes from, but for now what she took from them and shared in this book is enough to answer some of my questions and encourage me to hold fast to the truth given to us in the Bible. 

We've all had, or at some point will have, doubts; I think that's part and parcel of a life of faith. And I believe asking questions is healthy. No one ever asked us, or ever should ask us, to check our brains at the door. But questions are one thing; inventing a new 'gospel' out of those questions and doubts, without going back to the beginnings and asking why it is that we started believing what we believe in the first place, is another. The author has asked those very questions and shares with us what eye-witnesses to Jesus' life believed and how we came to have the Bible we depend on today. 

This book, if not particularly well written, is easy to read and understand for those of us not formally educated in theology. I recommend it to any who may have doubts and questions about the Bible and traditional Christian faith, yet do not find credible answers in the easy believism of Progressive Christianity. 

Pardon My French and Those Who Walk Away

 Pardon My French - How a Grumpy American Fell in Love with France by Allen Johnson

It was ok, but I didn't love it. I was hoping for more about France and less about the author, but to be fair, I had no reason to expect that. He genuinely is a very talented person, excelling at many things, just maybe dwelling a little too much on that. And there's this - I read A Year In Provence a few years ago and now everything else in this genre seems pale in comparison. I can't resist them though, and since this is how I do my traveling now, I'll keep reading them.

Those Who Walk Away by Patricia Highsmith

Ray Garrett is grieving the loss of his wife, Peggy, who recently committed suicide. Her father, Edward Coleman, blames Ray and will not be satisfied until Ray pays with his own life. Edward shoots Ray at close range and walks away, assuming Ray is dead. He is not. Only slightly injured, Ray remains determined to convince Edward that Peggy's death is not his fault. Both of them become hunter and hunted as Edward looks for vengeance and Ray insists Edward just listen to him. 

Set in and around Venice with its unique canals, upscale hotels, and elegant restaurants, the story has a charm that reminded me of the 2015 film Man From U.N.C.L.E. with its slick characters and much drinking of cocktails. There is lots of skulking around in the dark of night and a few twists to keep it interesting, but there's not a great deal of action. It's more of a psychological mystery.

The conclusion was not quite what I expected or even thought was fair, but the author doesn't owe the reader that and overall it was satisfactory enough. A good story, well written.

The Shipping News

 The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

A great novel.

Kirkus Reviews, whose opinions I take probably too seriously, wasn't thrilled with it, but it won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction so I feel justified in appreciating it as much as I did. I found the first part a little slow but once the story moved to Newfoundland, I was transported too. To the salt air and the crash and roar of the ocean, and to all the oddball, lovable, infuriating characters that people this story. They became my neighbours, my people, and I hated to leave them. I want to call to see how everybody's doing and catch up on all the gossip.

Back in the 90's I saw the movie and loved it, but somehow never thought about the book. I don't like to see the movie first because then the characters in the book all come with Hollywood-assigned faces. I guess with this one it's been long enough that they didn't stick, accept for Billy Pretty who I saw clearly, and happily, as Gordon Pinsent, who is one of my all-time favourites.

The main character, Quoyle, is a newspaper man barely getting by in New York. When his wife, a truly horrible woman who treats him like dirt, is killed in a car accident, he agrees to start over with his aunt and two daughters in Newfoundland, where his aunt grew up. 

They move into the old family homestead, an abandoned shell of a house without plumbing or electricity, sitting far out on a point of land above the ocean. Quoyle gets a job at the local paper writing reports on car wrecks and the shipping news, and they settle into the rugged lifestyle of coastal Newfoundland. There are wild storms, drownings, a party that goes way off the rails, a murder, and a lady named Wavey who offers Quoyle hope that love might not always be a lost cause.       

The author is gifted at creating atmosphere. This is how she describes the crowd at a school play:

"The auditorium was packed. A sweep of best clothes, old men in camphor-stinking black jackets that gnawed their underarms, women in silk and fine wools in the colors of camel, cinnabar, cayenne, bronze, persimmon, periwinkle, Aztec red. Imported Italian pumps. Hair crimped and curled, lacquered into stiff clouds. Lipstick. Red circles of rouge. The men with shaved jowls. Neckties like wrapping paper, children in sugar pink and cream. The puff of scented bodies, a murmur like bees over a red field."

I love this bit of conversation:

"Champagne! That's what I enjoy," said Tert Card. "With a ripe peach floating in it."

"Go on. That's something you read. There's never been a ripe peach in Newfoundland."

And the creative wording in these lines:

"The wires between his house and the utility pole keened discordancies that made his scalp crawl.


"...he was wondering if love came in other colors than the basic black of none and the red heat of obsession..."

This is a book worth reading. It's funny and sad, and so intensely real you can feel the heartbeat of Newfoundland and its people. The movie's worth watching, too. After the book.