Anita Brookner – Today’s Answer To Jane Austen

When I kept seeing the author Anita Brookner on lists of recommended books, I decided it was time I read her. The winner of the Booker Prize for Hotel du Lac, Brookner has been dubbed a modern day Jane Austen. Real Simple magazine recently suggested her 512JZ3NDLrL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_ her Brief Lives on its list of summer reads, and Rumaan Alam in her article for the New York Times  – In Praise of Anita Brookner  – offered a starter kit for her books:

The Debut The novelist’s first work opens with a brilliant line — “Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.” — and establishes the themes that Brookner would revisit over the years.

5130EEigw6L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Hotel du Lac Her best-known work (which received the Booker Prize in something of an upset) is about a romance novelist on holiday in Switzerland.

Look At Me My favorite of Brookner’s books is about a librarian whom no one seems to see, and contains what must be literature’s most depressing office holiday party.

Dolly This story of a young woman and her elderly, quite monstrous aunt surprises by showing how family bonds can endure over the years.

Fraud A woman of a certain age goes missing. This beautiful book isn’t a thriller but a fantasy for anyone who’s dreamed of leaving an unfulfilling reality behind.

So, here I go, immersing myself in a writer. Have you read any of Brookner’s books?

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Clock Dance

9780525521228Anne Tyler has once again made an extraordinary story out of ordinary lives in Clock Dance. Set in her favorite city of Baltimore, the story moves through decades of a typical family – until a phone call for help changes everything.

Tyler has the talent for making her characters relatable. It’s hard not to identify with the ftizzy haired little girl who dutifully does what she is told, and who becomes the woman who follows her husband – not once but twice. Perhaps the first time is for love, despite the pull to pursue her own talents, but the second time seems complacent and secure.

The story follows Willa as a child living with a mercurial mother who periodically abandons the family and a meek but reliable father, then jumps ten yesrs to Willa as a junior in college, in love with handsome and self- centered Derek. “It was tempting,” she thinks, “to consider the adventurousness of throwing everything over to marry Derek” – and she does, forsaking her own dreams.

In twenty yesrs, Willa has become a widow with two grown sons and an estranged sister. Life is not hard but certainly  not interesting as she follows her widowed father’s advice to live moment by moment.   The story jumps again to 2017. Willa has remarried another self-centered, patronizing clone, Peter, and settled into a golfing community in Arizona. Willa doesn’t play golf.

When Willa gets a phone call asking her to fly from Arizona to Baltimore to care for the nine year old daughter of her oldest son’s former girlfriend, whom she’s never met, the pull to be needed is too irresistible. Nevermind the girlfriend snd her daughter are no real relation to her; she goes.

In Baltimore the cast of characters expands to a gritty chorus, offering Willa another chance at having a family, and forcing her to become the person she was meant to be.

Perhaps the ending is predictable, knowing Tyler’s affinity for second chances and redemption, but it is nonetheless satsfying. Fans of Tyler’s writing will recognize her signature talent for instilling insight and humor into everyday living, and her message is clear – we don’t have to settle for other’s expectations of us; we can take a leap into life and dance – no matter what time in our lives it is.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

It’s summer year round here, so I’ve given myself permission to have beach reads on my shelf anytime; in fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been immersed in a pithy book or a thought provoking tome up for an award.  The Man Booker Prize longlist  of books will be announced soon – maybe I’ll get some ideas for books to challenge me then,

For now, I’m content with what I’ve been reading in paperback.

Scottish author Beatrice Colin weaves a complicated historical fiction around the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The politics and sheer precision of the engineering dominates the story. But what would Paris be without romance, and Colin obliges with her characters, using the turmoil of their lives to complement the uncertainty of the tower’s completion.

The romance between a Scottish widow, Cait, and the chief engineer under the famous Gustave Eiffel, Émile Nouguier, dominates the backdrop.  Cait is chaperoning two wealthy spoiled Scottish siblings, Alice and Jamie, on their world tour when she meets the handsome Émile, who is reluctantly assigned to mentor Jamie’s notion of becoming an architect. Émile’s jealous, wicked drug-addicted mistress conspires to foil Cait and Émile’s romance as well as ruin the young naive Alice in Cait’s charge.  Some steamy scenes but the relationships are somewhat contrived.  

The book took me longer to finish than I had expected – probably because I kept dwelling on the Parisian scenes and the descriptions of the arrondissements in the nineteenth century. The most compelling are the historical notes around the tower in progress, and the perfection needed to accomplish its completion.

UnknownA Long Way from Home – an Australian historical adventure

Peter Carey (who won the Man Booker Prize twice) writes an Australian saga of a couple who compete in the now defunct Redex Trial, a special rally to test the reliability and performance of the competing cars. The premise had me googling to see if it really existed.  It did.  Carey’s story focuses on Irene Bobs and her neighbor and navigator, Willie Bachhuber. Irene and her husband enter the race to publicize their new car dealership.

“The Redex Trial, a dusty tour of Australia that pits the dominance of Ford over “Australia’s Own Car,” the General Motors Holden: Two hundred lunatics circumnavigating the continent of Australia, more than 10,000 miles over outback roads so rough they might crack your chassis clean in half.”  

It’a  a wild ride as the Australian landscape whizzes by.

Unknown-1The Perfect Couple – murder, mystery and romance in Nantucket

I met an Australian couple recently from Melbourne who are fans of author Elin Hildebrand; they could not stop praising her books.  I’ve read a few of Hildebrand’s Nantucket stories, but had not thought about her in a while.  So I’ve downloaded her latest book – The Perfect Couple, her first murder mystery novel.  Set in Nantucket, of course, the story revolves around a wedding, a dying mother, and a dead maid of honor.  Fun and fast reading.

Unknown-2The Magic Hour – a Kristin Hannah melodrama

A 2007 novel by the author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone focuses on a six year old feral girl suddenly appearing from the surrounding woods of a Washington State town. Prominent child psychiatrist Julia Cates, struggling with her own issues of career confidence, works with her sister, the town’s police chief, to save the girl.  A compelling story with a little romance and, of course, a happy ending.

 

 

 

Something in the Water

Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick – Something in the Water – has me wondering when she will produce it for viewing. Catherine Steadman’s book has all the elements of a great series – exotic settings, unreliable characters, and plot twists favoring the female leads.

I listened to Steadman’s British tones reading the book for Audible and it was hard to not keep going into the night. The “something in the water” was not what I had expected and the hints of espionage and financial fraud added to the suspense.

Erin, a documentary producer, and Mark, an out of work hedge fund expert, go off on their honeymoon to Bora Bora. Mark, an expert diver, convinces Erin to overcome her fears to experience the beautiful underwater world. His cavalier comments about the sharks in the water had me suspicious, but what they find leads the adventure into murky waters as each plot twist combines danger and a new life for both.

Great fun to listen to.

Summer Books – Not All Are Beach Reads

With the help of my friends, I found a list of easy books to capture my attention.

9780062562647  Carol Goodman, one of my favorite Gothic mystery writers, always adds a literary flavor to her stories as she maintains the suspense.  Her latest book – The Other Mother – had me reading through the night.  Daphne Marist and Laurel Hobbes, new mothers suffering from post-partum depression, meet in a support group and become best friends.  As Goodman develops the tale, I wasn’t sure which one had been murdered, if one had assumed the other’s identity, or even if there were really two women.  It’s a gripping page-turner and so much fun to read.

518SwKZGkdL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ Joanna Trollope’s modern version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is easier to follow if you know the original story, and Janeites may know Austen’s novels well enough to predict exactly what will happen next.  Whether or not you are familiar with the plot (from Austen’s book or the movie with Emma Thomspon), this updated story  will make you want to read to the happy ending of Trollope’s version.

contentAfter avoiding her books for so long, I finally read the first in Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novels – Still Life.  I enjoyed it more than I had expected. In Still Life, Penny establishes the setting in Three Pines. Her description of this fictional town near Montreal made me want to book a flight to find it.  Gamache is introduced as the brilliant investigator who speaks fluent French as well as Cambridge educated English, and he starts each investigation with a croissant and a coffee – a civilized approach to murder.

Next on my agenda are two easy reads: a paperback I found buried in my stash – To Capture What We Cannot Keep – a nineteenth century romance by Scottish writer Beatrice Colin – set in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower construction; and Mary Alice Munroe’s beach read – appropriately titled Beach House Reunion.

Waiting in the wings:

  1. William Trevor’s Last Stories
  2. Frances Mayes’ Women in Sunight
  3. Madeleine Miller’s Circe

A great start to the summer…