By Sarah Pinborough
Our protagonist is Louise, a single mom who needs to move on and get out more. She has an encounter with a seemingly great guy, who turns out to be her new boss, David (oops). After dropping off her son at school she runs into his wife, Adele, and persuades herself it wouldn’t hurt to have coffee with her just this once. She continues to delude herself that she can be friends with Adele while conducting an affair with David, in spite of their marriage that seems perfect from where she is sitting.
Adele loans Louise a book on getting better sleep through directed dreaming and things start to grow complicated as Louise begins to see that things are not all beer and skittles between David and Adele.
By Marie Kondo
I had previously read a library copy of this book but I bought my own copy for a recent book club. You probably already know that where Kondo says ‘tidying up’ Americans say ‘decluttering’. She details everything from how to fold your clothes to thanking an item you are letting go, for the faithful service which it has rendered but is no longer needed. Some of the advise I take to heart, such as the thanking of items (I anthropomorphize everything) and not being around when your children are decluttering (I want to rescue everything). Some things just don’t apply to my super-sized American life, like putting all your books in one pile before sorting them (ha) and whittling books down to one shelf-worth (double ha).
Definitely worth reading if your house needs decluttering like mine does.
by Caite Dolan-Leach
I was sick last week, and foraging in my room for something good to read, was delighted to find my March Book of the Month selection. With only one exception, I have loved my BOMC choices. If you haven’t belonged for a while, check it out. They seem to be picking winners in new fiction, that I would probably not otherwise be aware of.
Dead Letters is told in the first person by Ava, who is leaving Paris to return home for the funeral of her twin, Zelda. Home is the New York Finger Lakes wine-growing region, home of the family vineyard. Zelda is presumed dead in a fire in their barn. In addition to Zelda, Ava’s family consists of her mother Nadine (in the throes of dementia), her father Marlon (back from his new family and vineyard in California), and paternal grandmother Opal. Every member of this family of alcoholics is troubled, so as a group they are a mess.
The plot is driven forward by Ava’s efforts to unravel the mystery of Zelda’s presumed death, as daily emails from Zelda herself drive Ava through an alphabet of dysfunction. Ava abandoned her family two years previously after breaking with Zelda over a man, and has been living in Paris while earning a graduate degree in literature. Her college degree was in oenology so she is also running from an obligation to run the failing vineyard.
I was so taken with Ava’s story that I finished this book in one day, which can only happen on sick days (sigh). I questioned Ava’s reliability as a narrator as the plot led me through unexpected twists, although I did see the end coming.
I am reminded of another novel about twins, Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffineger, which I also loved. If you are a twin, please do let me know what you think about these books.
by Charles Palliser
I had to read this when I heard Charles Palliser called the new Wilkie Collins. The book has a wonderful gothic feel and the plot keeps us guessing.
Our narrator, Richard Shenstone, has been sent down from Cambridge, or ‘rusticated.’ During his absence at school, his mother and sister, Effie, have moved to a large house, newly inherited. Richard is trouble by the dilapidated condition of the house and by its single servant, as well as by the cool reception he receives.
Richard is also troubled by the delay in receiving his trunk, as it contains his supply of opium. When the trunk arrives, Effie quickly deduces Richard’s addiction and uses it as leverage in the battle Richard does not fully understand they are fighting.
Soon after Richard’s arrival, citizens of the town begin receiving nasty letters, followed by the mutilation of livestock and eventually a murder. Richard tries to reason out the source of the crimes, flying from one theory to another with each new day. His ever-changing suspicions remind us how easily we misread situations and attribute wrong motives. He is a troubled man, scarred by a violent father. We begin to doubt his reliability as a narrator.
Mrs. Shenstone is a weak woman, who believes in what she wishes instead of what is true. The formerly-beloved Effie has turned against Richard and seeks to manipulate her family to achieve her mysterious goals.
In order to enjoy this gothic novel with its twisty plot, you have to overlook disturbing sexual diary entries. So, yeah, not suitable for all viewers.
Originally published as The Price of Salt, by Claire Morgan, this 1952 novel was actually written by Patricia Highsmith. The most recent edition was published under the title Carol.
The opening scene, where Theresa waits on Carol at the doll counter of a department store, is inspired by a similar encounter in Highsmith’s life. In the story, Theresa is bowled over by Carol’s beauty and self-possession and sends her a thank-you note for her purchase. To her surprise, Carol contacts her and invites her to lunch. Over a short period of time their relationship intensifies.
Carol is in the middle of a divorce and invites Theresa on a cross-country vacation to give herself a break from lawyers. They realize mid-trip that Carol’s soon-to-be-ex-husband, Harge, has hired a detective to collect evidence of their affair, to assure he will be granted custody of their daughter.
The story is told from Theresa’s perspective and I must confess I did not find her very likable. She keeps boyfriend Richard dangling for weeks after beginning the affair with Carol and encourages another man during the trip. She is uncertain of herself and rather grasping; she lashes out at Carol and changes her mind repeatedly. Perhaps we can excuse her on grounds of her youth and her childhood spent in a cold boarding school.
Carol is sometimes manipulative and short-tempered, and does not know what she wants. Her former lover, Laura, comes into the picture repeatedly.
Patricia Highsmith had several affairs with women, at a time this not was socially acceptable. It is not surprising she chose to publish such volatile material under a pseudonym in 1952.
I came across a comment thread on The Girl on the Train and was astonished by the vitriolic comments, because I loved this book. I listened to the recorded version* and enjoyed the voices for the different narrators. This book is a mystery, but for me it is driven by character rather than plot. Our main character is Rachel, a divorced alcoholic who watches out the train window on her daily commute to the city, naming and making up life stories for the people she sees every day. Listening to her struggle through life gave me a new level of compassion for addicts, myself included (sugar, diet soda, love, and books, if you must know). One of the women she watches is Megan Hipwell, who disappears one night. Rachel goes to the police with what she thinks she knows and becomes ever more involved with the investigation, as well as with Megan’s husband, Scott.
The third narrator (besides Rachel and Megan) is Anna, the second wife of Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom. Anna hates Rachel and wants her out of their lives. Again, hearing the story through Megan’s voice makes us feel her pain at having lost Tom and her helplessness to pull out of her addiction.
Because this is a mystery, I don’t want to comment much about the plot. As in life, things are not always as they seem; at times I doubted Rachel’s trustworthiness as narrator. The climax is dramatic; for me it was unexpected and redemptive.
A movie based on the book was released last weekend. I meant to post this last week to give you a week to read the book before seeing the movie. I cannot imagine a movie portraying Rachel’s inner life in the detail we need to understand her. So read fast and let me know how the movie was if you see it. Please don’t judge this book by the movie. I loved this book!
*Recent research shows that reading with your ears reaps most of the benefits of reading with your eyes, so listening to a book counts as reading (in my book, haha).