Technically, we still have another month left of autumn, but here southern Ontario it’s beginning to look a lot like winter. We’ve had a light dusting of snow and the Christmas tree is up, so I’m just going to declare the season over and tell you what I’ve read over the last few months.
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
The Night Circus is yet another novel that my book club talked about many years ago but I didn’t get around to finishing at the time. I recall some of my friends giving it a glowing review at back then.
The night circus was a travelling production created by a wealthy eccentric that served as a venue for a high stakes competition between two illusionists pitted against each other by their respective mentors. It begins in the Victorian era and it’s operation is fueled by various supernatural forces. It is unclear what initially spurned the rivalry between the mentors and throughout most of the story it’s not even known what was at stake for dueling magicians until the players (*rolls eyes*) fell in love.
While I enjoyed the writing, the story itself really left me wanting. There were too many questions left unanswered for me. The white magic concept was far too abstract for my pragmatic brain. The beautiful imagery and interesting characters did keep me reading, but at the end of the day, this book just wasn’t my genre.
An Audience of Chairs, Joan Clark
For the life of me, I cannot recall why I bought this book. It’s been unread on my Kindle for as long as I can remember. I would love to thank whoever recommended it though because I really enjoyed it.
Moranna MacKenzie was beautiful and talented as a young woman, but when this story begins she was middle-aged and known in her community as Mad Mory. She lived in near squalor in a Cape Breton farmhouse where she supported herself as an artist catering to the region’s tourists. Having been abandoned decades before by her husband and young children after a breakdown, she was supported by her patient boyfriend, her long-suffering brother, and a few understanding people in her community.
On the surface, Moranna was an insufferable person, but understanding her mood disorder made her a character deserving of empathy. This novel was just heartbreaking and a reminder about the complexity of mental illness and the way we deal with those who are affected.
Alys, Always, Harriet Lane
I’m not sure what to make of this one, I can’t quite decide if I liked it or not. This was another old book club selection.
On her way home to London after a visit to her parent’s house in a small seaside town, Francis stops her car and comes to the aid of a woman who’d been in a fatal accident on a dark roadside. The woman is trapped in her car so she is unable to do anything but call for emergency assistance but she ends up being the last person to speak to the woman, who turns out to be the wife of a famous author. By the request of the family, she agrees to meet with the family of the deceased to help give them closure. She soon realizes that her new connection can give her leverage both socially and professionally.
It’s a quick read, which is good because there is not much story to tell. It’s more of a character study of Francis, who becomes increasingly unlikable the more you get to know her and her motives. She’s not exactly a diabolical mastermind – just a bit of a douche. I think if I was better tuned into the British class divide, this story would have had a greater impact on me, but it didn’t entirely appeal to my Canadian sensibilities.
We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver
This book is a horror story for mothers.
That’s the simplest way to describe it. It probably ranks equally to Rosemary’s Baby in this respect, except there is an element of modern realism that the Sue Klebolds of this world can attest to.
The book is made up of a series of letters from a woman to her husband in the aftermath of a school shooting perpetrated by their son, Kevin. Throughout the novel she recounts their lives up to that point, looking for absolution, or at the very least, an answer to what went wrong.
The letters were often written between her visits to the juvenile detention facility where she dutifully visited Kevin despite his animosity and it didn’t take long to predict the plot twist in the story. I assume this was intentional as it added to the sense of foreboding as the narrative leads up to the tragedy.
Word of caution: if you are a woman of a certain age and are still on the fence about having kids – skip this one. It was a truly disturbing and heartbreaking look at parenthood but nonetheless, a book that was really hard to put down.