As we begin a new month, it's sort of weird to remember how different everything was just a few short weeks ago. I still have a pile of library books that I checked out before everything closed down. I'd been planning to return them and pick up the ones that were coming in, but then everything closed down. Thankfully, I will not run out of books anytime soon--between charity shop and other finds, and my e-reader, I have plenty of reading material. I still can't keep myself away from the e-book and e-audiobook sections of the library website, though. They're still operating and I'm still a regular visitor. 😊
Anyway, here is the first part of my March reading list:
Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow by Éilis Ní Dhuibhne
I found this book on a shelf of Irish books in my local library. I’ve read another novel by this author and two short story collections, so I checked it out. The book was inspired by Anna Karenina, but is a satire on the Dublin literary scene as it was in around 2005. One (academic) reviewer talked about the book being set in the mid-1990s, but one has to wonder whether she even read the book, since the post- September 11 Iraq War has a rather important role to play in one storyline. I think I read Anna Karenina a few decades ago, but am not really sure, as if I did, nothing from it sticks with me. As a result, I cannot say how closely the book follows that one, although there are some obvious parallels, like the main character’s name and the name of another character, who is called Leo. Based on something else I read, when this book came out in 2007, there was a bit of a game going on to see whether people could identify some of the real-life authors who made an appearance (under different names) as characters in the book (some actual names were used as well).
There are two storylines in the book. One revolves around Anna, a writer of children’s historical fiction, who is married to Alex. She drifts through her days, not really able to focus on much else except herself—she seems quite disconnected from everything, including her own life. Alex is a real estate guy and it’s at the tail end of the Celtic Tiger years, so he works a lot and makes a lot of money. Anna is numb to everything, although she tells herself she should be happy that she is so well off because of Alex’s job. Later in the book, we find out that she might not be as disconnected from this aspect of her life as she once thought. She meets a journalist named Vincy and they begin an affair, which is more important to her than to him. She met him at a literary function he attended with Kate, who is the sister of Anna’s sister-in-law. Kate has a thing for Vincy. Meanwhile, Leo, an activist who lives in rural County Kerry, and runs a publishing house for Irish language poets is also at the event and nurtures a love for Kate. Aside from the nod to Anna Karenina and the satirical aspect of the book, there were other issues addressed that I enjoyed reading about, many of which are still an issue today. The discussion about the Irish language and its place and importance in Irish culture continues. Road traffic deaths claim lives. People are still angry about drink driving laws and the impact on pubs and rural community life. I have no way to judge the latter, because I was not here before these laws were enacted, but it seems to me that rural Irish pub life is doing just fine—each place I have lived has had numerous pubs, many of them within a few steps of one another. Housing prices in Dublin continue to make it difficult for people to live there. I am sure that the discussion of what it means to create art will never end, in Ireland or elsewhere.
I really loved the book, right up until the last 10 or 15 pages. I was reading along and realising that there were not enough pages left for a satisfactory ending. As I turned each page, I was willing the author to hurry up and wrap everything up, which happened in one storyline, but not really in the other. Didn’t like the ending at all, but perhaps I just need to think about it some more.
Growing Up With Ireland: A Century of Memories From Our Oldest and Wisest Citizens by Valerie Cox
I heard about this book last year and stuck a picture of it on my desktop so I would remember to request it from the library at some point. Then I stopped noticing it. Then we started the process of moving. Then we were moved, but trying to get everything sorted. Finally, we were settled and I remembered to request the book. I’m glad I did, because I enjoyed the book a lot. The author talked to people who were born in the 1920s, the decade in which most of Ireland was freed from the colonising presence of the Brits, a civil war was fought, and the republic was born. Ireland as an independent nation is not yet 100 years old, and many would say that until the six counties of Northern Ireland are no longer part of the UK, the job is not done. In any case, this is a young country, but the people who were born at around the same time are elders. They’ve seen a lot of changes and experienced so much. Their lives have changed and Ireland has changed. It was fascinating to read about their lives and what they think of how things have evolved. A few years ago, we saw a film called Older Than Ireland, which consisted of interviews with centenarians. That was an excellent film—and I am not a movie person. Bill and I used to do life story work with groups and individuals, many of them elders. I have always been someone who relates better to older people than to those younger than myself, so maybe I just have an old soul or something. This book fits right in with my interest in the life stories and experiences of older people and provides a window into Irish history and culture.
The Lola Quartet by Emily St John Mandel
This was another one that I kept in the back of my mind so I could request it from the library, along with the author’s latest book, called The Glass Hotel. Recently, in the space of a few days, I read an interview with Mandel about the latter in a book related email and saw a recommendation for this one in a different email. I requested both. This one, being older and having no queue, came quickly. I loved her Book Station Eleven, which was my introduction to her work, so I was looking forward to this one. Now, having read it, I am looking forward even more to her latest. I loved this book. I brought it to read on the day we said good-bye to our daughter after her short visit and then went on to the dentist, where Bill had n appointment. I began reading and was immediately sucked into the story. It was a great distraction. I read some more on the bus home—apparently I missed an impressive and beautiful rainbow, because I had my nose stuck in the book.
The title refers to a jazz quartet that came together in a high school in Florida. Anna is a year or two younger and is not in the quartet, but she has connections of one kind or another to all of them and serves as the eye of the storm that ends up engulfing them all. The members of the quartet are in their final years of high school and they soon go their separate ways. The book follows the characters, moving back and forth in time, as they drift apart and then come back together in unexpected ways. There is a bit of a mystery element in the book regarding a dangerous mistake Anna made on the spur of the moment at one point. This mistake leads to serious repercussions for the others.
I hope you're well and managing to cope with this strange new world!