I’m opening the July bulletin with a biggie: Lionel Shriver’s extraordinary novel Should We Stay or Should We Go. The book packs a huge punch. It certainly knocked me sideways – maybe because I’m an octogenarian?
The basic premise is this: Cyril Wilkinson is a GP working for the British NHS; Kay, his wife, is a nurse at St Thomas Hospital. Kay’s father dies of dementia, and it’s a messy, grim, prolonged departure. The couple are reviewing his death and decide they don’t want a Dad-type death. Cyril proposes a suicide pact once they’ve both turned 80th. From their current mid-50s standpoint it seems a sensible plan.
The book then goes on to explore twelve permutations of the pact, once they turn 80. Think parallel universes. The outcomes are all different. A couple of chapters are sheer fantasy; a couple are unutterably horrific; all are unexpected. There’s a dark sense of humour about some of the scenarios. The blurb uses words “ … hilarious, touching, playful, grave … exhilarating and poignant …. very moving. “
It’s a provocative book, it’s a compelling book; it’s an uncomfortable book. Lionel Shriver never writes the same book twice. The words ‘potboiler’ and anodyne’ don’t exist in her work. That’s why I keep on reading her novels. I suggest you try her latest.
Should We Stay or Should We Go – Lionel Shriver. One hell of a read. See above.
Lessons in Chemistry – Bonnie Garmus. Wildly original, highly entertaining. Meet Elizabeth Zott, chemist, researcher,lover, mother, rower and reluctant TV show host. Elizabeth is eccentric, and focused on her career as a chemist. 1950s societal stereotypes try (unsuccessfully) to cram her into her little housewifely box. The conflict is epic. What a glorious read! Steal, beg or borrow a copy – make sure you read this novel.
The Distance – Ivan Vladislavic.
In the spring of 1970, a Pretoria schoolboy falls in love with Muhammad Ali. He begins to collect cuttings about his hero from the newspapers, an obsession that grows into a ragged archive of scrapbooks. Forty years later, when Joe has become a writer, these scrapbooks both insist on and obscure a book about his boyhood. He turns to his brother Branko, a sound editor, for help with recovering their shared past. An unusual novel. The brother write turn & turn about; Joe about Muhammed Ali and Branko about their shared boyhood. I preferred Branko’s Pretoria memories.
Ivan Vladislavic is an acclaimed SA novelist. Suggest you start with Portrait with Keys which is more accessible than The Distance.
*The Husbands – Chandler Baker.The female author is described as queen of the feminist thriller. She sure is. Her book kept me up late, wondering how? Who? Why? We’re in the reverse Stepford Wives zone. And if your marriage is going through a rocky patch, the book is best left alone. Trust me, for your own good. Assuming you’re a female reader, that is. Men, on the other hand, would do well to read the thriller.
*Indicates Library Loan
I’m slowly reading Lev Parikian’s delightful Light Rains Sometimes Fall , following the chapters by date. An ideal few pages with my early morning cuppa. Each chapter covers 4 or 5 days, according to an ancient Japanese calendar, detailing the natural world according to the changing seasons. Lev’s done the same, from his North London, British perspective.
Another delightful early morning read is Australian Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence , essays on … awe, wonder & things that sustain you when the world goes dark …
A BookBlogger, who I follow,Travelling Penguin, generously sent me a copy which miraculously navigated our dire postal system, to provide many hours of pleasure.
And then there’s the mammoth Books of Jacob . The cold, grey ,wet weather seemed a good weekend to have another stab at it. The print is abominably small, and at almost 900 pages it is a challenger. But on I go, have dread about just over a quarter of the book. Thus far, my one definitive conclusion is: thank all the gods I wasn’t born into the 1750s in rural Poland. Life in South Africa is tough, but the historical scenario is causing me to count my modern blessings!