"While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote." ~ Mason Cooley

Monday, August 31, 2015

Worth Checking Out

                                                             ~   Arthur Schopenhauer

Here are three novels that have not only assuaged any trouble or concern I may have had these past months, but they also engaged me for far more than an hour at a time - one of my criteria for a good book.

The Nature of the Beast: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny. c2015
This is the 11th installment in the series about the Canadian Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, now retired to the tiny village of Three Pines - and one of my favorite in the series. (I could not put it down, read it in one day.) The story line is based on a true episode in Canadian history which makes the rising threat in the novel even more believably threatening.

Penny must love this quirky cast of characters she has created, for they grow in depth and complexity, with talents and foibles, strengths and secrets, while maintaining the core of consistency one finds in decade-old friendships.  Above all, Penny is a skilled writer who combines intricate, multi-layered plots, as well as rich character development, with vivid imagery.  She, like P.D. James or Ruth Rundell, is a writer of mysteries, rather than a mystery writer.

You do not need to have read the previous novels to become engrossed in The Nature of the Beast.  But had I not, I would immediately have bought the first in the series, Still Life.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. c2014
I have to admit that I would not have read this book were it not one my book club's selections for the summer- not another World War II novel?!  And what a loss that would have been.

On one level, this is the story of a blind French girl and a German boy whose lives collide in occupied France.  Their stories are told in alternating chapters that also shift back and forth in time, providing a framework for lessons about the brain and blindness, about art and light waves we cannot see, about courage and brain washing.  And a different kind of World War ll novel, centered around the impact on the lives of children rather than battles and strategy. blood and despair.

But for all the depth of story, all the lessons learned, what I loved most about this work was Doerr's stunning use of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors.  This is a book to read slowly, to savor, to marvel at and to read again.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. cl971
I discovered Wallace Stegner late in life, again thanks to my book club.  Have meant to read this for the last 5 years, but it took a friend, whose recommendations I value, telling me that this is her "very favorite novel", one she revisits every few years, to motivate me to finally pick it up.

I was hooked within the first three pages.  Hooked by the promise of fascinating characters, an intricate plot, a deeper understanding of the history of the West (I am a transplanted Mid-westerner) and the exploration of some personal questions that I am currently pondering, and some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read.  I wasn't disappointed.

Angle of Repose explores several themes in its story within a story. First,  it is a complex, compassionate examination of marriage  and the angle of repose - "the angle at which two lines prop each other up, the leaning together from the vertical which produces the false arch.  For lack of a keystone, the false arch may be as much as one can expect in this life. " As Lyman Ward, a disabled, divorced professor chooses to explore his grandparents' enduring marriage, he naturally explores his own life, his failed marriage, the kind of man he has become and might yet become.

But along the way, it is also of story of youthful hopes and expectations, disappointments and loss, reality vs. myth.  Seamlessly woven into a gorgeous piece of writing, well deserving of the Pulitzer, worth checking out, if you've not read it.  Worth reading more than once.