Sunday, 14 December 2008

Sunday Salon

The Sunday

This week has been rather interesting, as far as reading goes. Earlier this year I joined the Glasgow Women's Library book group which only has one rule - any books read must be written by a woman. Pah! I thought at first. Is this not reverse sexism? Until I realised how little of the books I read were written by women. I don't know how much Marion Keynes counts, my literary equivalent of eating a large box of chocolates in one go.

Anyhoo, the book up for discussion this month was Wise Children by Angela Carter. The basic blurb is that it follows the Chance sisters who are part of a major British theatre family institution. The narrator is Dora, one half of the sisters who are both in their seventies and the story is interworked with current events in their lives and their background. I read it, thought it was an interesting read (you can't imagine a seventy year old woman cackling about blow jobs - can you?) but thought it was all a bit weird.

Until I went to the sodding book group. It turns out this is a set text for most university English/feminist courses and I had missed a lot of symbolism. Of course, how could I forget that? Turns out Ms Carter was dying when she wrote this novel (even my local library cover didn't have that) and this is regarded as her final act. There were a lot of references to Shakespeare that went completely over my head. And, of course, someone who had studied the book was there and was barking on about the symbolism of a burnt swan and twins. Lovely. The redeeming factor of the meeting was the mulled wine and various baked goodies on offer.

Next month's book is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenberger and one of my top ten books of all time (which is a bloody difficult list to make, may I add). I was acting as cheerleader for this book so I'll need to get my arse in gear. February's book is The Mandarians by Simone de Beaviour and looks a meaty read indeed. I have resisted the temptation to start reading it now, purely because I will have forgotten all about it by the time February rolls around.

Another recent hit for me was Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. I originally bought a copy of this book many years ago but just couldn't get into it. So it was bookcrossed and I didn't give much thought. Then I was browsing the library at lunchtime and saw another copy winking at me. So I decided to give it another go. If I can conquer The Crow Road then I can conquer this.

The plot: Cayce Pollard is a freelance coolhunter based in New York. She has flown to London to give her opinion to Blue Ant, an extremely large and powerful advertising company. One thing about Cayce: she has a strong allergic reaction to brands which she keeps as secret as possible. Another thing to remember, Cayce is obsessed with the footage. For months, pieces of footage have been appearing on the internet with no explanation as to where they came from. Finally, Cayce's father disappeared on 11th September 2001 and was last seen in the vicinity of the Twin Towers.

A lot to take in? Indeedy do. The plot thickens as Cayce is approached to track down where the footage is coming from. And so the mirror world (i.e. the physical world) and the 'real' world become intertwined. I think studying Sociology made me more accepting of this book the second time round. My interest in the media has been built up since I first attempted this novel and has made me more receptive to it. The allergy to advertising seems firmly tongue in cheek to me. How can someone living in a society such as ours (the information age if you don't mind) cope with such a condition? The plot spins into a film noir style as Cayce attempts to locate the footage. And I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Excellent bus book and it made me want to miss my stop and just sit there reading all day.

The latest book to pack a punch was The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell. Another library lunchtime pick up. Some colleagues had been discussing this book during a teabreak, an occupational hazard when you work in a library. The story interested me. Esme Lennox was shunted off to an aslyum in her teens by her achingly middle class Edinburgh parents and remained there till she was in her seventies. This might be a work of fiction but undoubtedly has its roots in fact. In my line of work we've had to break the news to individuals that the relative they thought had died when they were young was actually locked up in an aslyum for a number of decades. Not years. Decades.

The novel flicks between Esme's childhood in colonial India, her estranged sister's (Kitty) senile dementia induced thoughts and Iris, Kitty's grand daughter and who becomes responsible for Esme. The aslyum she has called home for most of her life is being closed down and she needs booted out. Iris's step brother, Alex, was an interesting character. His automatic response when Iris has taken Esme home is one of horror and ignorance. "She's a nutter! She wasn't locked up for most of her life for nothing!" Alas young man, many individuals were. I have seen records of woman who would be diagnosed with post natal depression today, being locked up for most of their life. The brilliant twist at the end of this story is being horrifying and tears at your heart strings. I could not put this book down. End of.


N.Vasillis said...

I've read Carter's Bloody Chamber but I'll put Wise Children on my TBR list. I doubt I can find the symbolism!

I have not read The Time Traveler's Wife yet though it has been sitting on my shelves for a while now.

I'm putting The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox on my TBR list also. It sounds brilliant.

Thanks for all the great recommendations! Have a good week!

A Woman with an Opinion said...

Hi there,

Apologies for the late reply to your comment. Glad to have recommended a few reads to you :) Feel free to swing by once you've read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, I'd be interested to hear what you think of it.

Mark Buckland said...

Marion Keynes is actually the equivalent of mainlining chocolate straight into your veins. Through a Laura Ashley catalogue.