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.

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…

A Prescription for Comfort Books

When an Advil at breakfast no longer seemed like such a good idea to my stomach and wasn’t doing a whole lot for my aching back anyway,  focusing on reading a book was hard – but I wanted the distraction so badly.  YA books came to the rescue – from unlikely sources.

UnknownBuried in a pile of old Scholastic books, I found an Alice Hoffman story about a mermaid – Aquamarine.  Hoffman is one of my favorite writers for magical realism; I’ve read most of her books for adults and eagerly anticipate her next one.  Aquamarine is a short tale, not requiring a lot of time or attention; it flows easily into a story about two friends about to be separated at the end of the summer.  Aquamarine is a real mermaid, of course, accidentally trapped in a swimming pool after a storm.

41sKG6FpKvL._AC_UL160_Although I had started reading Eleanor and Park when it was first published in 2012, I never read past the sample pages on my iPhone.  When my ninety-two year old friend suggested we be a book club of two to discuss the ending, I downloaded the story of the two teenagers’ story of first love.  Not exactly star-crossed lovers, these two are from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, but they connect on the school bus and save each other.  A short easy read with an ending my friend says “left her with a good vibe” – glad I read it.

y450-300A recent New York Times article by author Robert Lipsyte  – “My Struggle to Write Honestly About a Test of Manhood” -alerted me to his YA book – One Fat Summer.  The book has been reframed into a movie – “The Measure of a Man,” but the book sounds better.  I have it on my iPhone to read.

“In “One Fat Summer,” my glorified semi-autobiographical hero, Bobby, stood up to the bullies and survived their beating, an important lesson for males then. Sometimes you just have to suck it up. He endured the summer in what he thought was manly fashion, hanging tough, taking risks and trusting only himself. No wonder at the end, the girl liked him back. At least in the novel.”

img_5943-e1453331441807And finally, Margery Sharp.  I found this author through an old movie with Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones in “Cluny Brown.”  Cluny Brown may be the patron saint of the distracted and Sharp perfected the easy style of story telling with  a Sophie Kinsella flair over eighty years ago.  The movie led to reading her books – funny and comforting.  I had forgotten about “The Gipsy in the Parlor,”  a two dollar purchase buried in my list of books on my iPhone.  Not a YA book, but easy reading and I am now happily and distractedly enjoying it .

Do you have a favorite YA book or some easy reading to recommend for an aching back?

 

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

930857You might be reading Shakespeare without knowing it.  Hogarth Press commissioned a series of novels by famous novelists to retell and modernize tales from Shakespeare.  You can read them as tragedies or comedies without knowing the original plays, but comparing the modern action to a Shakespearean plot lends the story more panache and certainly proves Shakespeare’s universality and timeliness.

If you are not up to rereading the plays in the original verse ( not a bad idea), you could try two other sources for quick background reading. In 1807 Charles and Mary Lamb tried to make the Bard more accessible to children by writing their summaries of plots in Tales from Shakespeare for young readers.  Their book is available online for free. And in 2004 Tina Packer, the President and Artistic Director of Shakespeare and Company, summarized Shakespeare’s plots and characterizations in another book for young readers.  Unlike the Lamb book, Packer inserts dialogue from the plays with the effect of giving the reader the pleasure of some of the play’s most memorable lines, and making the original works more approachable and understandable.

Adam Gopnik in his 2016 essay for The New Yorker, says “the authors in the Hogarth series…aren’t so much reimagining the stories as reacting to the plays.  They’ve taken on not the tale itself but the twists in the tale that produced the Shakespearean themes we still debate” anti-Semitism, the subjugation of women, art and isolation…if Shakespeare is our contemporary, it is not because he shares our attitudes but because he shares our agonies.”

Hogarth’s list includes:

  • Howard Jacobson modernizing “The Merchant of Venice” in Shylock is My Name
  • Anne Tyler updating “Taming of the Shrew” in Vinegar Girl
  • Margaret Atwood doing “Tempest” in Hag Seed
  • Jo Nesbo retelling Macbeth.
  • Jeanette Winterson has “The Winter’s Tale” set in 2008 London in The Gap of Time
  • Tracy Chevalier places “Othello” in a 1970’s schoolyard in New Boy.
  • Edward St. Aubyn recreates “King Lear” in Dunbar.

I’ve read two books in the series and enjoyed them both, but maybe because they were based on two of my favorite Shakespearean plays.  I’ve included the reviews below – and highly recommend them – an easy way to get a little Shakespeare into  your reading.

  1. Review of Vinegar Girl
  2. Review of Dunbar