A mixed bag of books today. The first is a book I had never really planned on writing about as it is a reread. But as I am wrapping things up I am happy to mention her now after all. Clare Chambers is one of my most reliable go-to authors when it comes to comfort reads. And she is an author whose books I can read over and over again and never tire of. When I need a good distraction from life's problems I know I can pick up one of her books and be quite contented while reading it. I have several books by her that are unread and which I look forward to. I think I keep them in reserve in part because I like the idea of having a few of her books close at hand ready to pick up at a moment's notice. They also sit there unread as I find a couple of her books so satisfying that I simply keep going back to them.
In a Good Light is one of those books. I've already written about it, so I won't go into great detail now. But I will mention that Clare Chambers' writing is smart and witty. She tells a great story, and it's easy to get involved in the characters' lives. They are very real in many ways and you can't help but care about them. Maybe I can relate so well to her stories/characters as we seem to be from the same generation. Even though an ocean separates us, I can all too easily relate to the period she writes about. The characters' lives are not so very different than my own--certainly the problems and preoccupations are very similar. The stories are never schmaltzy, but the ending will likely be happy and satisfying.
Who knows. Maybe next year when I am in need of a book to escape with I'll reach for a Clare Chambers novel that I've not yet read. Or maybe I'll just return to one of my favorites. I always keep them close at hand rather than returning them to a place on my bookshelves.
I had high hopes for Giacomo Casanova's The Duel, one of my Melville House novellas. Maybe my expectations were too high. Or maybe I was just expecting something different than what I got. It could have been timing, or a bad mood. But if I am completely honest I felt quite 'meh' about the story. I've now read three of the five "Duel" books that make up the set Melville House publishes. Anton Chekhov's The Duel is by far my favorite, though I read a different edition of it and plan on rereading my subscription copy.
Perhaps it is only my perception, but I have always thought Casanova had quite a colorful life. His reputation is vast and somewhat iconic. Even if little is known about his life, most people are aware of his romantic escapades. The Duel is autobiographical and fairly tame in the telling of the story. The narrator is Venetian by birth, and he "incurs the wrath" of the city's rulers and rather than taking his lumps he flees. First he flees to Warsaw where he meets and falls for a charming and captivating ballerina. He's not the only one to fall for her and with a title of "the duel" you can imagine what happens. Unjust insults. Offense. A duel ensues. It's not a good idea to duel with a king's favorite. There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing across Europe. Through it all the two remain gentlemen, which is something that always surprises me--how such a violent act (murderous really) can be the result of two men who are otherwise so entirely cordial to one another.
I think I didn't do Casanova's story justice. Maybe someday I'll reread it or perhaps read something else by him? But I need to get back to my novellas. I have a growing stack of them and have been letting them languish. I will be choosing one very soon to kick off the new year with.
Jane Gardam's Crusoe's Daughter. Metafiction? A book about a book, or rather a book where the heroine is guided by a book. The book in question in this case is Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (would have been a perfect reading pairing by the way, had I planned ahead).
This is a story where not much happens yet it's the story of one woman's life--more than eighty years of it spanning much of the twentieth century. Polly Flint is left by her father with her aunts, then he goes off and ends up dying. It's a lonely existence for Polly as her aunts are (mostly) spinsters and one quite religious. Yet isn't that, in a way, how so many women's lives are? A life lived in quiet solitude--by choice or not. It's no less a life than any other for all that it seems without adventure.
Polly falls in love. She's left behind. She becomes a teacher and comes into her own. Through it all her guiding light is Defoe's novel. A careful reading of the story no doubt would have shown many parallels between Polly's life as a solitary outcast and that of Robinson's. There are lots of religious undertones (her pious aunts, her own rejection of religion). All set against a bleak, lonely landscape next to the sea. A definite reread is in order for this one. It might have been a perfect contender for favorite book of the year had I been paying better attention (even a rocky reading that I had, I am still impressed by Jane Gardam). I want to read more of her work, it goes without saying.
I've already written about a number of stories from Saki's The Un-Rest Cure and Other Stories. But let me give the collection one more plug as I thoroughly enjoyed it. Some stories are absolute genius. Let me just mention a few more here (a few others I wrote about earlier).
"The Hounds of Fate" will convince you never to take on the identity of someone else. Even if you are starving. Saki is so very good at those twists in stories where you will be shocked and maybe surprised at the end.
"The Open Window" is a classic. In just a few pages he tells a pitch perfect story, one where fear is instilled in a visitor of a house who literally believes he is seeing ghosts.
"Fur" is marvelous. A young woman tries to dupe a fur coat out of an older distant cousin of her mother's. With the aid of a good friend she drops just the right amount of hints. And it works, but just not in the way she had hoped it would.
"Quail Seed" is a marvelous story skewering not just the upper classes but consumers in general. We all know that department stores manipulate buyers--see how the 'master' does it--Saki is hugely amusing and so spot on in his observations on society.
"The Seven Cream Jugs" is farce at its best. What happens when you think a guest has stolen one of your stock of cream jugs (even though you already have too many of them.)?
Saki is wry, witty, amusing, surprising and knows far too much than is good for him. And he translates all his knowledge into masterful short stories. You can find his work online. Any of these stories is worthy reading--what better way to spend a half hour or so of your time? Do yourself a favor and go look him up now!
I do have a few more books to write about but will carry them over into the new year. It's my hope to be much better at writing about what I'm reading in a more timely manner--especially the books that really impress me as a number of books from these last two posts did! Now, I'm almost ready for the new reading year. You, too? Time to wrap things up and share my favorites!