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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Literary Courses

It’s the end of September and one month of the school year has come to an end.  On the topic of education, I found an article on Literary Hub entitled “10 College Courses to Read Along With This Semester (From Your Couch)” by Emily Temple.  She outlines ten classes being taught this fall and the books you’ll need to vicariously read along with them.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Archival Review: THE LOST HIGHWAY by David Adams Richards

Yesterday, I posted about the appointment of acclaimed author David Adams Richards to the Canadian Senate.  I referred to my reviews of three of his novels, but I thought I’d add one from my archives in honour of Mr. Richards’s appointment.

4 Stars
This story of greed and lost moral focus is a study of what happens when moral questions become matters of life and death.

Alex Chapman, a sometime-academic, considers himself an intellectual, a good man who believes he’s had much bad luck and suffering through no fault of his own.  He has quarreled most of his adult life with his great-uncle James, and when Alex learns James has a $13 million winning lottery ticket, he sets up a scheme to steal it.

Alex is not a likeable character.  He is full of self-pity and, though he teaches a course in ethics, his own moral system is revealed to be very shallow.  The reader may have some sympathy for him as his past is revealed, but eventually the impulse is to yell at him to grow up.  It is his deluded ego and his actions that lock him into his ultimate fate.  There are flashes of goodness in him, flashes of recognition that he could be so much more than he is.  The question which creates suspense throughout is whether the ethics that Alex has long pretended to embrace will eventually cause him to take a stand.

Alex’s alter ego is Leo Bourque, a truly odious individual.  Alex enlists Leo to help him swindle his uncle out of the lottery ticket, but Alex ends up being totally manipulated by Leo.  Alex has mastered the ability to rationalize any moral position but Leo takes him into moral territory even Alex is unequipped to handle. 

A weakness of the novel is the author’s hammering home of moral and spiritual truths he feels modern secular man has forgotten.  There is a repetitive mockery of intellectuals and lectures about how non-believers inspired by reason rather than faith will become lost souls.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

SENATOR David Adams Richards

I was thrilled to learn that one of my favourite Canadian authors, David Adams Richards, has been appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  He is one of only a handful of authors who has received a Governor General's Award in both the non-fiction and fiction categories.  He was also a winner of the prestigious Giller Prize in 2000 for Mercy Among the Children.  See http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/david-adams-richards-appointed-senate-1.4268244 for more information about his appointment.

Mercy Among the Children is one of my favourites of his, but River of the Brokenhearted and Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul also earned 5 stars from me.

I’ve already posted reviews of three of Richards’s books:

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize Finalists

This morning, the Writers’ Trust of Canada revealed the finalists for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, recognizing writers of the year’s best novel or short story collection.

There are five finalists:
Carleigh Baker for Bad Endings
Claire Cameron for The Last Neanderthal
David Chariandy for Brother
Omar El Akkad for American War
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson for This Accident of Being Lost

The prizewinner, who will receive $50,000, will be announced on November 14.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Latin in English

The Invictus Games, in which wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel compete in a variety of sports, are happening in Toronto this week.  A friend, who knew I had studied Latin in high school, asked what “invictus” meant and wondered why Prince Harry had chosen a Latin word when he founded the games.  (I was pleased to be able to answer that the word meant “undefeated” or “unconquered,” though I don’t know why the Latin word was used.)

That conversation began a discussion about the utility of Latin.  I studied it in high school many years ago; I still have my textbook:  Latin for Canadian Schools by David Breslove and Arthur G. Hooper.  By the time I became a high school teacher (in a school whose motto is Sapientia omni vincit), Latin was no longer taught, though a colleague and I used to have lunch-time seminars for interested students; the focus was on Latin’s English vocabulary-building potential.  Certainly, there are a lot of Latin phrases which have become part of everyday usage:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Latin_phrases_(full).

I don’t know how many secondary schools offer courses in the language.  A nephew who is studying to be a priest has been learning Latin because it remains the official language of the Catholic Church.  When he has asked questions about Latin, I’ve enjoyed revisiting the language. 

As a result, I was intrigued by an article in The Paris Review. In “’Human Life Is Punishment,’ and Other Pleasures of Studying Latin,” Frankie Thomas muses about the joys and pains of studying Latin:  https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/09/21/human-life-is-punishment-on-the-pleasures-of-studying-latin/. 

Latin is not dead; it is alive and well and living in English.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Banned Books Week

This week (Sept. 24 – 30) in the United States is Banned Books Week.  “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read.  Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information.  Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular” (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks).   

To continue to raise awareness about the harms of censorship and the freedom to read, the American Library Association publishes an annual list of the Top Ten Most Challenged Books.  Go to http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10 to see the annual lists.

And here are "16 Quotes from Great Authors for Banned Books Week" courtesy of Signaturehttp://www.signature-reads.com/2017/09/16-quotes-from-great-authors-for-banned-books-week/?cdi=321A47B09DAD4547E0534FD66B0AE227&ref=PRH24BB520913.  

Celebrate your freedom to read by reading a challenged book!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Brontë Family Facts

On this date, in 1848, Patrick Branwell, the least well known Brontë, died.  Patrick Branwell was born on June 26, 1817. Known as Branwell, he was a painter, writer and casual worker. He became addicted to alcohol and laudanum and died at Haworth at the age of 31.

I thought it was an appropriate date on which to share an article I read in The Telegraph entitled “11 things you didn't know about the Brontës”:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/11-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-brontes/. 

And for some fun, why not try a quiz to determine which Brontë sibling you would be: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/quiz-which-bronte-are-you/.  Apparently, I would be Anne, the least famous of the sisters.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Essential Reference Texts

A while back, The Millions asked the following question:  “In the age of Google and Wikipedia, reference books may seem anachronistic, but some have not been superseded by the internet in their usefulness and convenience and even in their ability to divert and entertain.  What is the one reference book you couldn’t live without?”  (http://themillions.com/2009/04/millions-quiz-essential-reference_14.html) 

I’d find it difficult to choose just one, but I’ve narrowed it down to a dozen that appear on my shelves:

Oxford English Dictionary; I’ve got the two-volume compact edition with the magnifying glass.
Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia by Bruce Murphy
A Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H. Abrams
Masterpieces of World Literature in Digest Form, edited by Frank N. Magill
The Oxford Companion to the English Language, edited by Tom McArthur
The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare, edited by Oscar James Campbell
Chambers Biographical Dictionary, edited by Magnus Magnusson
The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy by E. D. Hirsch
The Dictionary of Classical, Biblical, and Literary Allusions by Abraham H. Lass
McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage by Mark Lester and Larry Beason
The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes by Clifton Fadiman

Friday, September 22, 2017

2017 Kirkus Prize Finalists

On September 10, I posted about the longlist of the Kirkus Prize for Fiction:  https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/09/2017-kirkus-prize-longlist.html.  That list of 423 titles has been narrowed down to six:

What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
White Tears by Hari Kunzru
Her Bodies and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

For further information about the books, go to https://www.kirkusreviews.com/prize/2017/finalists/fiction/. 

In the Young People’s Literature category, three Canadians are on the shortlist.  Métis author Cherie Dimaline, who is from Ontario's Georgian Bay Métis community, is nominated for her novel The Marrow Thieves, which takes place in a dystopian future where Indigenous people are hunted and harvested for their bone marrow.  The other Canadians include Guatemalan-born author and translator Elisa Amado for her work on the Jairo Buitrago-authored children's book Walk With Me, and Hull, Que.-based translator Madeleine Stratford for her work on picture book Me Tall, You Small by German author Lilli L'Arronge.  See the complete list at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/prize/2017/finalists/young-readers/.

The finalists for non-fiction have also been announced:  https://www.kirkusreviews.com/prize/2017/finalists/nonfiction/. 

The winners, who will receive $50,000 US ($60,795 Cdn), will be announced on Nov. 2, 2017. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Happy Birthday, Stephen King!

Seventy years ago today, in Portland, Maine, one of America’s most successful authors, Stephen King, was born.  If the books written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman are included, King has written almost 70 books!  (I love that King chose this pen name because he was a fan of the Canadian rock band, Bachman Turner Overdrive!)

For the official list of Stephen King’s novels, go to http://stephenking.com/library/novel/.   And in five days, fans can pick up his latest book, written with his son Owen, Sleeping Beauties. 
King’s website gives a short description:  “In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place.  The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied? Or is she a demon who must be slain?” (http://stephenking.com/p/sleeping-beauties/)

In honour of the prolific author’s special day, BookRiot featured an article entitled

Literary Hub has an article in which twelve writers discuss how King influenced their writing:  http://lithub.com/12-literary-writers-on-stephen-kings-influence/.

Happy birthday, Mr. King!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shania Twain: An Inspiration to a Writer

The other day I read a piece whose title “How Shania Twain Made Me a Writer” by Emily Yahr caught my attention:  http://lithub.com/how-shania-twain-made-me-a-writer/.  It’s one of the essays included in a book Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives, edited by Holly Gleason, which is being released today. 

In the essay, Yahr, a reporter for The Washington Post, writes that as a grade 8 student in 1999, she was asked to write an essay about someone she admired.  She chose Shania Twain:  “I will always admire the woman who put everything before her career. Who never gave up no matter how bad it was. Who’s [sic] songs tell the basics of life. Who everyone should strive to be like. Who is more than just a voice. Shania Twain.” 

Yahr’s article piqued my interest because back in the early 1980s I taught Shania Twain in Grade 12 English at Timmins High & Vocational School.  Of course I knew her as Eileen Twain.  I love to tell people that my husband and I chose a song by one of my students for our first dance; “Forever and For Always” is the song we first danced to at our wedding.

I was a feminist even when Shania was a student so I like to think I inspired her in some of her views.  For that reason, I loved another article written about her:  https://www.theodysseyonline.com/shania-twain-underrated-feminist-queen.  Who knows, perhaps I did. 

Regardless, I hope Shania reads Yahr’s essay.  To be told one has been an inspiration is a great gift.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review of THE SCARRED WOMAN by Jussi Adler-Olsen (New Release)


3.5 Stars
This is the seventh novel of the Department Q series.  Carl Mørck, head of the cold case department, sets out to find a connection between the recent murder of an elderly woman and the similar murder of a young teacher a decade earlier.  Then there are a series of hit-and-run murders targeting young women, some of whom turn out to be connected to these two victims.  All of these cases have Carl and his two partners, Assad and Gordon, working overtime, especially when their assistant, Rose Knudsen, ends up in a psychiatric hospital because of major mental health problems. 

As this plot summary suggests, the plot is very complex with various connections between the cases being investigated.  There’s a very tangled web that needs to be unraveled.  Sometimes there are almost too many connections; for instance, Rose’s relationship with one woman seems too coincidental. 

The quirky cast of characters I met in the previous books continues to keep my interest.  There’s good-hearted but cantankerous Carl, mysterious Assad, and heart-broken Gordon.  In many ways, of course, this is Rose’s book.  Throughout the series, there have been hints that Rose has a fragile psyche; in this book, the full explanation is given for her behaviour in the past.  The author should be commended for his sensitive treatment of mental illness.

Rose is a scarred woman, but she is certainly not the only one; it could be said that there is a Danish det kolde bord of irreparably wounded women, some of whom have become morally bankrupt if not downright murderous.  Admirable female characters are a minority in this book.  Of course murderers may also be victims; it is for this reason that I found myself having sympathy for one killer.

One of the many women we come to know is Anneli, a social worker, who early in the book reveals that she thinks people who are non-contributing members of society and take advantage of social services should be punished.  The motives for her actions are understandable, but her constant laughter turns her into a comic figure:  she “laughed manically and unashamedly” and “She laughed at how well things were going” and she was “laughing at the thought” and “Anneli couldn’t help laughing insanely at how perfect her plan was” and “Anneli laughed.  It seemed like she had gotten away with this” and “Never before had she laughed so much with relief” and “Am I going crazy? she thought and started to laugh again.  It was all so comical and fantastic” and “She laughed at the thought” and “She burst out laughing at the thought” and “She laughed again, holding the half-empty glass” and “She lay on her side on the sofa, doubled up with laughter cramps.”

As in the other books in the series, there are humourous touches. The banter between the members of the department continues.  Assad’s misuse of idiomatic expressions is one source of amusement.  A scene involving a car thief’s first attempt at stealing a vehicle is hilarious.  Comic relief is needed because there is a lot of murder and mayhem throughout. 

The novel is narrated in third person from multiple points of view including Carl’s and that of both victims and perpetrators.  At times the reader has to guess at the identity of a killer and at other times he/she knows who the killer is and wonders when/how the killer will be apprehended.  At the beginning, there are switches in time period that can be confusing; the book moves from April 26 to May 13 to May 2 to May 11.  Fortunately, chronological order becomes the norm as the narrative progresses.

I would definitely recommend that readers begin at the beginning of the series.  The previous six books describe the personalities of the recurring characters, explain the relationships among the various characters, and outline the specific issues faced by individuals.  For example, if one knows the details of Carl and Mona’s relationship, Carl’s uncomfortable encounters with Mona in this book are understandable.  As well, the reason for Carl’s having a paraplegic roommate is explained in the earlier books.  I read somewhere that three more books are planned for this series.  Presumably one of them will focus on Assad’s background. 

I am looking forward to the next Department Q installment.  If you have not already discovered this Danish mystery series, do check it out, beginning with The Keeper of Lost Causes

Note:  I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, September 18, 2017

2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist

The 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize jury announced its longlist today.  There are 12 titles:

David Chariandy for Brother
Rachel Cusk for Transit
David Demchuk for The Bone Mother
Joel Thomas Hynes for We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night
Andrée A. Michaud for Boundary
Josip Novakovich for Tumbleweed
Ed O’Loughlin for Minds of Winter
Zoey Leigh Peterson for Next Year, For Sure
Michael Redhill for Bellevue Square
Eden Robinson for Son of a Trickster
Deborah Willis for The Dark and Other Love Stories
Michelle Winters for I Am a Truck

The shortlist for the richest fiction prize in Canada ($100,000) will be revealed in Toronto on Monday, October 2, and the winner will be announced on November 20.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review of THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben H. Winters

3.5 Stars
Maia, a gigantic asteroid, is approaching and will collide with Earth on October 3.  Though its point of impact is unknown, the asteroid is so large that its collision will have planet-wide effects; much, if not all, of the world’s population will be killed.  Governments have enacted strict new emergency laws as societal structures start to fall apart.

In March, six months before Maia’s arrival, Detective Henry Palace of the Concord, New Hampshire, police department, is called to the site of an apparent suicide.  Though new on the job, he quickly becomes convinced that Peter Zel’s death was the result of murder, not suicide.  He continues the investigation even though his colleagues are convinced Zel was just another “hanger” who, like so many other people faced with possible extinction, opted to die at his own hands. 

Of course the question at the centre of the book is “What is the point of solving cases, even murder cases, when it seems that everyone may soon die anyway?”  Many people have become “hangers” by choosing to kill themselves; others have “gone bucket list,” leaving responsibilities to chase their dreams.  Many of those who continue working do so only because they lack sufficient funds to financially survive until Maia’s arrival.  There are others, however, who love their jobs and feel a sense of moral responsibility to continue their work. 

Henry falls into this last category.  He always wanted to be a detective, and because many investigators have abandoned their positions, Henry was promoted into his dream job.  Though he is living in a pre-apocalyptic world, he is determined to find some justice for Peter Zel.  His determination can be admired but it comes at a great cost to others.  His investigation has a lot of collateral damage, so his insensitivity is sometimes cruel.  For instance, he demands the coroner perform an autopsy though, as a consequence, she misses her daughter’s music recital.  People end up losing jobs because Henry insists Peter’s boss find some files. 

It is the characterization of Henry that is a strong element in the book.  He is young and inexperienced and so makes mistakes.  He is not the stereotypical great detective; he solves the case just by being methodical.  He is capable of compassion, yet at other times is cruel in the choices he makes.  He has a tendency to be judgmental.  In other words, he is a very human protagonist. 

The story is narrated in first person point of view.  As a result, suspense is created because the reader knows only what Henry knows.  Towards the end, however, it becomes aggravating when Henry speaks repeatedly of having figured out the identity of the murderer, but he doesn’t reveal who it is.  It’s a reality show technique where one has to wait for the big reveal. 

This is the first of a trilogy; the other titles are Countdown City and World of Trouble.  The murder case is conclusively solved, but a subplot involving Henry’s sister Nico is open-ended.  I will definitely continue reading the series.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

2017 National Book Award for Fiction Longlist

The longlist for the National Book Award for Fiction was announced yesterday.  There are ten titles:

Elliot Ackerman for Dark at the Crossing
Daniel Alarcón for The King Is Always Above the People: Stories
Charmaine Craig for Miss Burma
Jennifer Egan for Manhattan Beach
Min Jin Lee for Pachinko
Carmen Maria Machado for Her Body and Other Parties: Stories
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton for A Kind of Freedom
Jesmyn Ward for Sing, Unburied, Sing
Carol Zoref for Barren Island

The National Book Awards are a set of annual U.S. literary awards presented to American authors for books published in the United States during the award year.  National Book Awards are currently given to one book (author) annually in each of four categories:  fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people's literature.

National Book Awards finalists will be announced on October 4, and the winners will be announced at a ceremony in New York on November 15.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Fall Literary Festivals in Canada

We are midway through September, and the fall literary festivals have begun.  I’m fortunate enough to live where I am within a 3-hour drive of three festivals:   the Ottawa's Writers' Festival which takes place October 19–24, the Kingston Writers Fest which runs September 27–October 1, and  The Knowlton Literary Festival  which is held between October 12–15 in Brome Lake, QC. 

49th Shelf recently featured a list of fall literary festivals across Canada.  I’m sharing it so perhaps you can find one in your part of the country:  https://49thshelf.com/Blog/2017/09/07/Your-Fall-2017-Literary-Festival-Guide. 

If you are interested in festivals held throughout the year, go to https://www.writersunion.ca/canadian-festivals-and-reading-series.  Here the festivals are listed by province.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

2017 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

The shortlist for the prestigious Man Booker Prize was revealed earlier today.  There are six finalists on the list:

4321 by Paul Auster (US)

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US)  - See my review at https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/08/review-of-history-of-wolves-by-emily.html.)

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (UK-Pakistan)

Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK)

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) – See my review at https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/08/review-of-lincoln-in-bardo-by-george.html.

Autumn by Ali Smith (UK)

The Man Booker Prize is considered one of the leading prizes for high-quality literary fiction written in English.  This is the fourth year that the prize has been open to writers of any nationality.  The winner, who will receive £50,000, will be announced on Tuesday, October 17, in London.

For more information about the announcement, go to http://themanbookerprize.com/news/man-booker-prize-announces-2017-shortlist

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review of LOST IN SEPTEMBER by Kathleen Winter (New Release)

4 Stars
I read and enjoyed Kathleen Winter’s debut novel, Annabel, so I was excited to read her second novel. 

In present-day Montreal, Jimmy, a young man who bears a striking resemblance to General James Wolfe, visits the city for 11 days.  General Wolfe died September 13, 1759, on the Plains of Abraham in a pivotal battle in Canadian history, but Jimmy seems to have Wolfe’s memories.  In 1752, Wolfe lost an 11-day leave in Paris because of the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar; now Jimmy takes that leave in Montreal. 

The mystery, of course, is who Jimmy is.  Surely he can’t be who he claims to be, and there are hints and clues that suggest Jimmy is very much a contemporary man.   Wolfe fought battles at Culloden and Dettingen, but he wouldn’t have been in Ghundy Ghar which Jimmy mentions in the first few pages.  The best description of Jimmy is as a figure on a Tarot card:  “The man does not appear to know where to go or how to move beyond loss.”  At the beginning, Jimmy speaks of his “waiting for the crater that might jolt me properly into being in the present instead of floating in the past.”   It is difficult to believe that Jimmy is Wolfe, but it becomes clear that he is certainly a veteran damaged by his experiences in war; he describes himself as having “no shield against reliving war in Technicolor, all night, every day.”

Obviously, the book focuses on the futility of war.  If a soldier were able, in the future, to return to the battlefield on which he died, would he find that his sacrifice had been worthwhile?  Wolfe won Canada for England and had believed “there would grow a people here, out of our own little spot in England, to fill this space and become a vast Empire, the seat of power and learning,” but Jimmy, during a visit to Costco, concludes, “It is as if England has had a nightmare in which the Empire’s crowning achievement has been to inflate the size of material goods.”   Wolfe hoped “boys who became soldiers with me . . . I really thought the New World was supposed to give them a chance at a parcel of ground” but Jimmy finds only “the old, weary bondage” because “the poor toil here unexalted as ever.  As for the well-provided, their banal crowing echoes the clang of trussell on planchet under every New World moment: a relentless strike of metal into coin.”  Jimmy concludes that it is “ludicrous to call the land owned, conquered, taken by one small group of men who do not even plan to stay on it.”

The time and place of a war is unimportant:  “I have surveyed moor . . . desert . . . does the terrain’s name matter?  Land outspans army and king.  It outlives us, and will outbreathe us.  Does the year of any given campaign – Dettingen, Culloden, Quebec, Ghundy Ghar – do its dates mean a thing?  I dig up human bones everywhere – no matter where we fight a war, that land holds bones in it from previous warriors.”  And history has not had a paucity of battlefields:  “’There have been a lot of enemies in a few well-chosen hellholes.’”  The suggestion is that war and soldiers have always been with us and always will be:  “All warriors descend from a single, ancient Council of War forged at the dawn of manhood.”  It is easy to draw men into war:  “How little deception is needed when men believe so fervently in bits of bright cloth.”  And the result is always the same:  broken men. 

There is some commentary about contemporary life in la belle province.  Jimmy is aghast at how little English he encounters since Wolfe won the country for England in 1759.  In Quebec City, Jimmy sees the monument shared by Montcalm and Wolfe and makes a telling observation:  “It came to me then, that every monument, every object in the plains museum, every rose and bleeding heart nodding its head in the Joan of Arc garden bejewelling the Plains of Abraham, every citizen and every ship and bird and fish in and on the river, attest to the continued life in Quebec of the people of Wolfe and Montcalm, standing on the same ground but, like the names on the plinth overlooking the river, never seeing each other.”

I knew little about General James Wolfe other than what I was taught in high school Canadian history classes so many years ago.  It is obvious that Kathleen Winter did considerable research.  I advise readers to do some reading about the man before reading the book; even the Wikipedia article would be helpful in explaining some of the references.  Look at Benjamin West’s painting entitled “The Death of General Wolfe” (https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/-/MQGJPSKUj9ySHg?hl=en) to appreciate Jimmy’s comment:  “a literary person called Margaret Atwood claimed West made me appear like a dead, white codfish, and I had to agree.”

At first I struggled with the book.  It is sometimes difficult to know what is real and what isn’t.  Jimmy is the narrator and his thoughts wander so a reader may find him/herself confused at times.  After finishing the novel, I went back to the beginning and did a quick second reading.  This book is the type that needs a re-reading to highlight Winter’s accomplishment.  Images and symbols clarify themselves.   The book is not perfect because it does drag at times and some of the events are predictable, but it has much to recommend it:  the protagonist, the setting, and the themes are all well-developed. 

Note:  I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Review of SMILE by Roddy Doyle (New Release)

4 Stars
This is a very difficult book to review without ruining it for others, but I will try my best.

Victor Forde is a middle-aged, recently divorced man who has returned to the neighbourhood of Dublin where he grew up.  He starts going to a nearby pub where he encounters a man named Eddie Fitzpatrick.  Though Victor has no clear memory of him, Eddie remembers Victor from secondary school; in fact, it is surprising how much Eddie knows about Victor:  “He’d know – he knew – more than I’d want known.  He’d know facts and lies.”   

Victor has an ambiguous relationship with Eddie.  He admits, “I didn’t like him.  I really didn’t like him.  He made me nervous.  And he bored me.  I hated it when he stood too close, or when he sat back, right in front of me, and scratched his crotch or walloped his stomach.  And I couldn’t remember him.  He’d been in school with me; I didn’t doubt that.”  One of the reasons he dislikes Eddie is that he stirs up memories of his difficult high school years.  Nonetheless, Victor continues to return to the pub:  “The point was, I knew we’d be meeting again and I’d done nothing to avoid it.”

Victor also reminisces about his life after graduation, especially his meeting Rachel Carey who became his wife.  A very beautiful woman, she became a celebrity as a television chef while Victor gained some notoriety as a provocateur on radio talk shows.  For many years he has been writing a book about “the rot that was at the heart of Ireland.”

There is a great deal of mystery throughout the novel.  One of the major questions is why Victor keeps going back to the pub knowing that Eddie may very well be there.  There is an aura of menace around Eddie; his is a threatening presence so is it their shared experiences, like both having lost their fathers at a young age, that are the draw?  Others at the bar even mistake them for brothers or cousins.  Victor tries to explain the attraction (“But there was something about him – an expression, a rhythm – that I recognised and welcomed”), but it isn’t convincing.  Why is it that Eddie remembers so much about Victor but Victor’s memories are much less clear?  Why does Eddie wear the same clothes every time he comes to the pub?

There are other unanswered questions as well.  Victor’s attraction to Rachel is understandable, but the reader, like one of Victor’s acquaintances, wonders “What did she see in you?”  It is easy to see that Rachel was good for Victor; he says, “She saved me and, later, she carried me.  Her assertiveness . . . her willingness to cry, the way she took sex, took and gave – I can see now that it saved me.  It stunned me and made me.”  The reason for the marriage break-up is also not clarified; the only indication of a problem is Victor’s wanting to hear his wife explain about her day:  I’ll listen this time.”  And then there’s a son who is mentioned only occasionally?

The characterization of Victor is wonderful.  He is not a likeable person at the beginning.  He admits that he was envious of others; as a young man, he wrote music reviews and ruined careers with his scathing reviews:  “I didn’t hate [the bands].  I envied them, and that was far worse.  They could do it, and I couldn’t.  It was the start of my career, and I tore into them.”  He admits that “I was being a prick, but it gave me power.”  He also describes himself as being rigid:  “I was inflexible – still am.  I loosened a bit, for [Rachel], but it was always a fight.  My place was mine; hers was hers.  I like order.”   And he acknowledges, “I was just angry – and vain.”  But slowly Victor gets the reader’s sympathy as we learn about his life in school.  He describes himself as a bit of a misfit as a teenager so I found myself wishing that as an adult he would get what he wanted from his evenings at the local pub:  “companionship, the ease of it, the acceptance.”

And then there’s the ending!   It forces the reader to reconsider everything he/she has just read.  Some may think the ending is too shocking and unforeshadowed, but that is not true.  I couldn’t resist re-reading the book and found numerous clues I had missed on first reading.  Some clues are obvious but others are exceedingly subtle.  A second reading is really necessary to fully appreciate Doyle’s accomplishment.  The ending is discomfiting but crucial in developing the novel’s theme. 

Those who enjoy Doyle’s style – the quick dialogue, the humour, the sense of place – will not be disappointed.  I had not read anything by Doyle since Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, but I’m ever so glad I read this book.  I definitely recommend it.

Note:  I received an eARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, September 11, 2017

One Book for Each American State

My husband and I are planning a short trip into the U.S.  We will be concentrating on the northeastern part of the country and visiting either New Hampshire, Vermont, or New York.  Researching for the trip reminded me of an article I read last month.

Travel and Leisure “selected the best books based in every state by looking for titles that almost use their state as another character. The setting is so deeply entwined with these texts, the story couldn't even exist in another place or time.”  Alabama gets To Kill a Mockingbird; Georgia, Gone with the Wind; Oklahoma, The Grapes of Wrath; Washington, Snow Falling on Cedars; and Missouri, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

If we decide to visit New Hampshire, I need to read Frindle by Andrew Clements; if, Vermont, All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg; and if, New York, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  I have a problem with the last option since we will visit the state, not the city of New York.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

2017 Kirkus Prize Longlist

The Kirkus Prize is a $50,000 prize sponsored by Kirkus Reviews.  Finalists are chosen from books that earned a Kirkus Star which is given to books of “exceptional merit.”  I do not find the reviews in the magazine to be especially thorough or insightful, tending more towards plot summary than literary analysis.  Books that earned the Kirkus Star with publication dates between Sept. 1, 2016 to Aug. 31, 2017 are automatically nominated for the 2017 Kirkus Prize.  See the fiction list at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/prize/nominees/fiction/.

The list is extensive; there are 423 titles on the list.  A shortlist of six should be released sometime in the near future.  The winner will be announced on Nov. 2, 2017.

Here are my reviews of the books which I have read on the longlist:









Saturday, September 9, 2017

Trumpian Satire Courtesy of The New Yorker

I know I’ve mentioned previously that I have a subscription to The New Yorker.  I read the print edition though I also check out the digital version almost daily.  The humour section is great for providing a few chuckles in a world where the news is relentlessly depressing.

The Borowitz Report by Andy Borowitz is a must-read; his satire targeting Trump never disappoints. Where else can you find pieces like “Eight Hundred Thousand People with Dreams to Be Deported by One with Delusions” and “Obama Cruelly Taunted Trump in Letter Riddled with Multisyllabic Words” and “Trump’s Horrific Spelling Reassures Nation That He Cannot Correctly Enter Nuclear Codes” and “Trump Says Sun Equally to Blame for Blocking Moon” and “Ivanka and Jared Vacationing in Moral Vacuum”. 

The most recent issue (Sept. 11) has another wonderful piece entitled “Jared Kushner’s Harvard Admissions Essay” written by Megan Amram:  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/11/jared-kushners-harvard-admissions-essay.   This ranks up there with one of my other favourites which I linked on my blog last March:  “Kellyanne Conway Spins Great Works of Literature” by Bob Vulfov: https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/03/kellyanne-conway-literary-critic.html .

The New Yorker is one of Trump’s fake news outlets.  What better recommendation for taking out a subscription?!