So, the twins went back to school today, which must mean the end of 20 Books of Summer is nigh!
We have four more days to go, so here’s another round up to bring me up to book 19. Book 20 should be finished over the weekend, so I’m cutting it fine, but still hopeful I’ll get my final review up by Monday!
How are you all doing?
No 559 The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
I adored Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies so was looking forward to reading her full length novel The Lowland.
Spanning four generations, The Lowland tells the story of two brothers from Calcutta (now Kolkata). Udayan, the younger gets drawn into a radical left movement called Naxalism, its name derived from Naxalbari, a tiny village to the north of Calcutta where impoverished peasants rose up against the police and landlords in 1967. When Udayan is killed by the police, his older quieter brother, Subhash, apolitical but responsible, returns home from graduate school in the United States to pay his respects and console his parents. When he gets home he finds Gauri, Udayan’s pregnant widow and takes it upon himself to save her from her life in Calcutta and bring her back to Rhode Island where they will raise the child, Bela, as their own. A different kind of arranged marriage than the one hoped for both the brothers, but arranged all the same.
We start the novel with Udayan and Subhash as boys and end with Bela as a grown woman – still dealing with the fallout of what happened to her family back in 1967.
Despite the hotbed of political upheaval, family secrets and various narrative voices, this is a quiet, almost sedate novel. The pace is steady without building and explores the lives of the family members in a measured and almost sentimental way. The history of Naxalism is handled well and Lahiri has a lovely eye for descriptions of natural beauty and the power of a striking landscape.
The strength that Lahiri has in her short stories seems stretched a little thin over the course of a novel. Udayan, the most interesting of her characters, is killed off early and everyone else is so keen to do the right thing – even when they don’t – that the novel lacks a certain passion and intensity.
It is beautifully written though and overall is a moving read, but a little more intensity would have made it perfect.
Read on: Book
Number Read: 188
Number Remaining: 558
20 Books of Summer: 17/20
No 558 Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro
How had I not read Alice Munro before? I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this astonishing collection of short stories – possibly some of the best short stories I’ve ever read.
Frank O’Connor, in The Lonely Voice, his seminal work on the short story says that
…there is in the short story at its most characteristic something we do not often find in a novel – an intense awareness of human loneliness.
Munro’s stories present human loneliness as missed loves, the small, intense moments that cannot last, but the memories of which must last a lifetime. What struck me most about Munro’s stories was that they don’t feel like fleeting glimpses into a characters life, just before they are brought to some kind of tidy resolution, they feel like humane constructs of pure emotion – a harnessing of the things in life that give us meaning and purpose and help make the human loneliness bearable
A woman whose husband has just died searched in vain for a suicide note in order to make sense of where her life has ended up. A childhood couple meet by chance in a mutual friend’s kitchen and their surprise reunion brings so much more and so much less than they could have imagined. A woman dying of cancer shares a stolen kiss with a much younger man while a philandering husband must make sense of the romance his wife succumbs to in her nursing home.
All these lovers and loved ones steal the moments they can with all the grace they can muster, summed up in the line
As if everything about her was recognised then and honoured and set alight.
Munro recognises, honours and sets her characters alight in the most humane way, with all their faults and fears on show. They are painfully recognisable to the reader and these perfectly formed stories make for illuminating reading.
A definite contender for my book of the year.
Read on: Book
Number Read: 189
Number Remaining: 557
20 Books of Summer: 18/20
No 557 A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver is one of those poets I’ve known of, read quotes from and seen praised for a long time but have never got round to reading. I have to admit, I was hoping for more from this collection, which was pleasant, without being questioning – a characteristic I like in poetry.
The majority of the poems in A Thousand Mornings are accessible odes to the natural world, calls for us to pay more attention, to be more present and to explore our surroundings. Animals feature heavily, from snakes, to her beloved dog Percy but all seem to exist in a benevolent, peaceful world of nature, where everything exists as a lesson for us humans to be more mindful.
I don’t mean to be overly harsh here. There is nothing wrong with Oliver’s message and she has an arresting way with imagery. Overall, these are pleasant poems, but I felt that there was a sentimentality to their conclusions that made them a little reminiscent of Instagram poetry and Pinterest boards.
Read on: iBook
Number Read: 190
Number Remaining: 556
20 Books of Summer: 19/20
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!