Friday, 29 July 2016

The Corrigan Women

M.T. Dohaney

 M.T. Dohaney wrote a series of three novels about life in Newfoundland in 1988.  They were reprinted in 2004, and I bought them when I was travelling in Newfoundland.  I found these in my stack of unread books.

Book One:  "The Corrigan Women"
   This novel follows three generations of Corrigan women.
   Bertha Ryan , the grandmother, came to the cove to work for the Corrigans, was raped by the son Vince, and gave birth to Carmel.      When Vince was killed in the war, Bertha had an affair with his brother Ned and gave birth to Martin.
   When Carmel grew up, she married a construction worker, but discovered that he was already married.  She moved to New York and left her daughter, Tessie, with grandmother Bertha.
I enjoyed reading about life in Newfoundland.

Book Two: "To Scatter Stones"
 Very well-written book about Tessie, the youngest of the three generations of Corrigan women.  She had been married but divorced and moved back to the cove, where she became the nominee for the Liberal party in the local by-election.
  Complicating the plot, is the return of her childhood sweetheart, who is now a priest.  Forbidden love- what an interesting theme!
"Sometimes, our need to touch, to embrace, to kiss, is so present that its scent hovers in the air as sweet and as heady as the blooms of the lilac trees, and we have difficulty manoeuvring ordinary conversation in and around this neediness."
  The title comes from a Biblical quote: "for everything there is a season, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to gather stones and a time to scatter stones....."

Book three: A Fit Month for Dying"
  Another book about Tessie who is re-married with a young son. Her father-in-law dies at the beginning of the book.  
Her mother-in-law Philomena is such an interesting character.  I think she may be typical of Newfoundland women of her era.  When Tessie and her husband suggest that Philomena move to St. John's to live near them, this is her response: "Never!  Here I can breathe.  Here I can have a clothesline stretching halfway across the meadow if I wants to.  I can let me drawers flap in the wind fer days on end.  Can't do that in St. John's, certainly not on those lots as small as a postage stamp.  Yer drawers would be flapping up against yer neighbour's window".
   Love Philomena!  Love reading about Newfoundland!
   This novel was lacking in plot but overflowing with description.

Monday, 25 July 2016

"Around the World in Eighty Days" by Jules Verne

   I'm sure that everyone has heard of this book- or at least the movie. Belonging to a book club that includes classics makes sure that you read all those books that have just been titles in the past.
   This really is a classic that is worth reading if you enjoy travel and adventure.
   Phileas Fogg accepts a bet that he can travel around the world in 80 days.  And so, he begins the adventure with his servant, Passepartout.  Adding to the adventure is the fact that a bank has been robbed and a detective follows Phileas Fogg, believing that he is the bank robber.
   The story reads like a farce: comic drama with slapstick aspects and very improbable situations.  As they travel by ship, train, sledge, and even elephant, there is one setback after another- each more comic than the last.
  In the end...well, I won't tell you if they make it in 80 days or not.  But Phileas Fogg does end up with the love of a beautiful woman.  One of our readers felt that this love was a reward for his great treatment of people along the way.

Jules Vern was born in 1828 and trained to be a lawyer.  He was born in a seaport, with ships arriving and departing.  This sparked his interest in travel and adventure.  

   In his thirties, he became a playwright and then started writing novels.  He wrote more than 70 books and was a great influence on the new genre of science fiction, as he wrote about innovations and technological advances years before they were a reality.
   The series that has remained the most popular includes:
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Around the World in Eighty Days

Monday, 18 July 2016


  "The Glass Castle" is a very popular book that I have read for a couple of book clubs in the past.  It is so well-written that I remember it clearly.
   It  reminded me of "A Million Little Pieces" because you think life can't get any worse but it does- again and again.
   The parents, Rose Mary and Rex Walls, "made a big point about never surrendering to fear or to prejudice or to the narrow-minded conformist sticks-in-the-mud who tried to tell everyone else what was proper." ( p. 103)
   Rex believed in "science and reason" but did many unreasonable things- like moving the family in the middle of the night.  He could not conform, so couldn't keep a job.  He needed to be free and the family lived in extreme poverty.  He lived with a dream of building a glass castle.
   Rose Mary also couldn't follow rules or conventions.  She took the children to church but encouraged shoplifting.  She stood by her husband regardless of his drinking and the affect on the family. 
   The novel begins with Jeanette on her way to a fancy party and she sees her mother rooting through a dumpster.  Very, very unusual parents and a fascinating memoir.

  "North of Normal" is another memoir with even more bizarre parenting!  
  The author's name is Cea Sunrise Person.  Her grandparents were hippies who raised their family in the woods- smoking pot, living in tipis, at the mercy of storms, food shortage, with adults half/or fully nude having sex wherever and with whomever.
  This is the only family that Cea knew and she said, "Sometimes, at night, I would sit in my bedroom thinking about my life.  My family was crazy and there wasn't a thing I could do to change it.  I was twelve years old, and for at least the next six years, I would be their prisoner."
  Cea always knew that her extended family was not normal, and she set out to find her own 'normal'.  What a struggle!
Cea Sunrise Person
  In the acknowledgements, she writes, "I must also thank a woman I have never met: Jeannette Walls, whose incredible memoir "The Glass Castle" inspired me to finally tell my story, which had been living unwritten inside of me for most of my life."

   It took six years, and 30 drafts for this memoir to reach the publishing stage.
   It is an unbelievable story and she has written a follow-up book that is only available in e-book format called "Nearly Normal: Surviving the Wilderness, My Family and Myself". In this book, she is attempting to work out the issues from her very unusual childhood.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

"Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter

   The summer is a slow time for book clubs, and since there is a new book club starting at a local library, I decided to read their first selection, and attend the discussion.
  Boy, did I struggle with this book!  It is called an epistolary novel, with excerpts of letters, screenplays, and novels written by the characters.  What a jumble!
   The beginning of the novel drew me in.  It painted a beautiful picture of the coast of Italy.  But as soon as I started the second chapter, I knew that I would not enjoy this book. The sentences became long and convoluted as the scene changed to Hollywood. And each successive chapter jumped around in time and place.
   The novel covers 50 years and the ending was a fast romp back through all the myriad characters- telling how their lives turned out.

From Wikipedia:  "The novel is a social satire critiquing Hollywood culture.  Though not the explicit focus of the novel, receiving very little direct appearances in the novel, the characters' lives revolve around Elizabeth Taylor and her role in the movie Cleopatra, and the subsequent love affair between Taylor and Richard Burton".

My reaction:  Richard Burton doesn't appear until well after the half-way point in the book and although he is somewhat important to the plot, his appearance does not improve the novel.  He just appears as a drunk who fathers a child.  Elizabeth Taylor is very much in the background.

   Jess Walter lives in Spokane, Washington.  His short fiction has been published in magazines such as "Playboy".  This doesn't surprise me because there is a sexual 'edge' to his writing- a crudeness that I didn't appreciate.

Friday, 1 July 2016

social moron

In 1998, I read "A Suitable Boy" by Vikram Seth.
This was the second book in my very first book club and it was long!  (1400 pages)  
The subject of the book was 'arranged marriages' in India.  I worked out how many pages I had to read each day to finish in time and it took priority.  I finished one hour before the meeting and I was the only one in the group that had finished.
I learned a lot about Indian culture and found the book interesting.
  Here's a wonderful quote from the book:
"I hate long books: the better, the worse.  If they're bad, they merely make me pant with the effort of holding them up for a few minutes.  But if they're good I turn into a social moron for days, refusing to go out of my room, scowling and growling at interruptions, ignoring weddings and funerals, and making enemies out of friends.  I still bear the scars of Middlemarch".

  I love this quote, but the funny thing about it is that the previous month, we had read "Middlemarch".  And "Middlemarch" is not nearly as long as "A Suitable Boy".  It is only 880 pages!
 I was reminded of this quote this week, because John is engrossed in Richard Wagamese's "Medicine Walk".  It is not a long book, but John has become somewhat of a 'social moron'.  When we are out, he can't wait to get home to continue the book.
  Isn't it wonderful when a book can connect to you in that way?  He says that the book 'resonates' with him.  It is about a father/son relationship and our son also enjoyed this author's writing.
Richard Wagamese