Saturday, 6 October 2012

September round up

Having settled back at home for a while, I have finished a few books but not posted about them.
Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is the story of Rose Edelstein who discovers aged nine that she is able to taste feelings and emotions in food, that is the feelings of those who made the food. This is first revealed when she tastes a slice of lemon cake made by her mother, and is almost overwhelmed by the sadness she felt which her mother was experiencing when she made the cake. The descriptions of the various foods that Rose eats and her response to the emotions revealed in their taste are numerous, and eventually leads her to rely on food which is , as they say, untouched by human hand, although even this food reveals  its origins to Rose. Her family although apparently an average American one, are rather detached from each other, and become increasingly so as Rose grows up. This is a beautifully written story, so much so that its writing almost hides the strange bleakness of Rose's family life. For me, there were some resonances of Audrey Niffenegger's novel The Time Travellers Wife, which I found a really intriguing and memorable read.
Heather Gudenkauf's debut novel, The Weight of Silence, is written from several points of view. Calli is seven years old and selectively mute, but also very bright. One morning she and her best friend Petra disappear. The story of what exactly happened that day, the lead up to it and the consequences for both families and others involved in the events is told by Call's mother, Toni, her brother Ben, Petra's father and the local sheriff, a former boyfriend of Toni's. Calli's voice is the only one we don't hear. The others are all written in the first person, using the present tense, which gives a more intensely dramatic effect, while what happens to Calli and what she is thinking are written in the third person and past tense. An interesting and successful debut novel.
One classic story I had never read was William Thackeray's Vanity Fair. This was a Book Club read, so the discussion was fairly wide ranging, from the humour of the names ( Lady Bareacres), to how sympathetic we felt towards Becky Sharpe, and also to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and thence to the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible. Several of the group had read it before, mostly as teenagers and felt that on re-reading it, their opinion of Becky had changed radically. I found it an easy read, humorous despite the tragedies that happened to the characters, and it left me wondering just how much human behaviour hadn't changed at all in 150 years. Most of the group enjoyed the story, even those who hadn't finished reading it.
Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind is an essay on what affects mountains have had on human imagination. From a history of how we came to view mountains as adventurous places to go , instead of being avoided, to descriptions of Mallory and Irvine's attempts to climb Everest, and how that mountain was discovered and eventually measured, the beautiful descriptions of glaciers, mountains and people carried my imagination along. I read my copy on Kindle, bought as an offer earlier, together with his The Wild places, which I read some time ago.

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