During recovery from two knee replacements, I read a great deal, but didn’t have the wherewithal to write reviews. So, this post will cover several novels I read during 2019.
The Stolen Child, by Lisa Carey
A middling story which attempts to delve into mysticism and ends up being yet another escapist tale drawing upon Celtic lore and unspoken agendas.
This was one of my many reads of 2019 during knee replacement recovery. While it was escapist and required nothing from me other than the ability to read, the story remains not particularly memorable, the characters equally lacklustre, and the writing without that poignant resonance.
Perfect for recovery, the beach, or a winter’s read. But if you’re looking for something engaging, this is not it.
Sweetland, by Michael Crummey
Sweetland, by Michael Crummey, was one of my last reads of 2019, and my introduction to Michael Crummy. And what an introduction. Sweetland will remain among my favourite novels of all time, and Crummey in my top five authors.
This is a novel which has it all: scintillating writing with believable, fascinating and flawed characters, a deep understanding of the culture and milieu, a plot which is relentless, alternating between tragically hilarious and heartbreaking in its futility. There was one point, during a sleepless night, I was reading in bed and wept inconsolably, inadvertently woke my husband with grief, and could only mutter to his query after my welfare: “It’s such a good story.”
Set on a eponymously named island in Newfoundland, Crummey writes a tragic story about family, secrets, an unwillingness to accept change, and an inability to face demons. It is classic literature in scope, a story which should be read by every Canadian.
The Innocents, by Michael Crummey
Having read Sweetland, I had to find more of Michael Crummey’s work, and delved almost immediately into The Innocents. Crummey’s ability as a premiere writer remains inviolate in this devastating, brutally honest, historical tale of an orphaned brother and sister who eke out an existence as indentured fishers on one of Newfoundland’s inhospitable islands.
There are so many resonances with so much of classic literature in this tale, and yet Crummey makes this story completely his own. He deals deftly with the concepts of morality and innocence, of brutality and necessity, all done so deftly the themes weave through the story like the air we breathe. I was minded over and over again of an almost Hardian disposition to Crummey’s work, in that the land and environment were equal characters, taking on a silent and ominous presence throughout the narrative.
And I was also minded of the Christian mythos surrounding the Garden of Eden and the notion of innocence.
This is not only very great literature, but somehow also very great escapist reading. You will find yourself drawn in, unable to stop thinking about this place, these characters, this tale. Highly recommended.
And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
I came to And the Mountains Echoed expecting an historic tale which would sweep me away, given the literary acclaim Khaled Hosseini received for this epic novel set in Afghanistan.
There is, in fact, much to praise in the novel. The writing is gorgeous, the characters well-drawn. But the plot and the way in which Hosseini chose to tell his tale fell short, at least for this reader. Hosseini chose to tell his story employing a literary device of recounting one story through several perspectives, and it is perhaps this device which diminished the impact of his work, at least for me, having never been a fan of this style.
What I was left which was an unresolved story, which left more questions than answers. But perhaps this was in fact a clever device on Hosseini’s part, because the issue of Afghanistan itself remains an unresolved nation, spilling from question to difficulty to question again.
At its kernel, the story revolves around the separation of a brother and sister, brought about by staggering poverty, and their lifelong quest to find each other, and in the end, submit to the necessity of the metamorphosis of their lives.
Tell, by Frances itani
I couldn’t help but feel Frances Itani started out to write one story, changed her mind, and wrote something completely different, clumsily fusing the two manuscripts into one.
We are introduced to this narrative through a returned soldier who suffers so severely from PTSD and his war injuries that he cannot face people, and so becomes a haunt of the night, rarely speaking, never interacting, and it is this story which is compelling, epic in scope.
However, what Itani chose to tell is the story of the grieving wife who escapes into an extra-marital affair. It is this story which takes the fore, overshadowing what could have been the more interesting and compelling study. Instead of examining the complexities of relationships and the relentless rooms of a veteran’s psychological prison, Itani tells an illicit romance. And not particularly well. The actions and scenes and characters end up predictable, with the only character of interest left without a voice.
A disappointing story overall.
The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood
It would seem Margaret Atwood’s summation of The Handmaid’s Tale has solicited, as much of her work, strong reaction. For myself, it was a fascinating and plausible development of background for the nation of Gilead, its founders and visionaries, despotic and reactionary as they are, as well as those who sought to destroy the regime from within.
Without giving away too much of the plot, Atwood creates a twist from a character least expected to play the counter-revolutionary. It is a brilliant ploy, in a novel which is relentless in its barren landscape both of the mind and environment, matched by a writing style which is equally spare and devoid of embellishment save for the razor edge of wit and insight. This is a raw story, told in a raw fashion, with raw language.
Like Atwood or not, there is no gainsaying she is a visionary author, with towering ability, and a canon of work which will endure. Recommended reading.
Then she was Gone, by Lisa Jewell
Another of the many novels I read during my recovery, I’m afraid Then She was Gone, by Lisa Jewell ended up being one of those experiences I wished to end, quickly, without pain, but alas that was not to be. The story went on and painfully on, completely lacking in credibility, and so utterly predictable and stereotyped as to drive me to distraction.
Jewell’s story deals with a mentally ill woman who kidnaps a child and confines her in a cellar, artificially inseminates the girl when she becomes nubile, all with the hope of regaining the attentions of a lover from whom she’s estranged.
The science, the logic, all of it screams of a lack of research and understanding of her subject matter. What the reader ends up with is pulp fiction, utterly forgettable and a complete waste of time.
If you like this sort of thriller, knock yourself out. Myself: I’d rather have teeth extracted.
And that’s it for now
I have another five or six novels I need to review, all part of my recovery reading. Hope to have those done in the next week or so. In the meantime, I’m spending my reading time this winter by returning to some of my old favourite escapist novels, something familiar and absorbing. The first is C.J. Cherryh’s The Chronicles of Morgaine. This was my fourth or fifth reading of the omnibus, and now, close to 50 years later, the novels still stand up, populated by believable characters, great tension, phenomenal world-building. And now I’m reading for the second time N.K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy, and loving every word, every scene. Such great fantasy writing.
Whatever you’re reading, I hope you’re enjoying the journey. You might try picking up one of my own novels. I think you might enjoy the time we spend together.by