Recommended by Lisa Moore, Reviewed By Moi!

The Advent Book Blog was a surprise success last year and a boon to booksellers everywhere. Everything from the ordinary to the bizarre was recommended (my choice was Methland!) and I set about reading some of the suggestions.

Fact: I love LOVE LOVE!!! Lisa Moore's February (so much so that I did not review it last year because I knew it preposterous to write a review in all caps, caps that were then italicized and where every sentence ended in at least a single exclamation mark, if not two or three). When Moore recommended three novels in the Advent blog, I knew they had to be winners. So, I read them. Or, two of them as of now. Here are my thoughts:

The Spare Room: When I read books about physical illness I get an itchy five alarm fire feeling that says: Close the book! Resume being young and pretending like nothing bad will ever happen! This is why I could not get past the first 50 pages of Bonnie Burnard's Suddenly. The Spare Room isn't any less graphic or honest but it succeeded in connecting with me in a way that Suddenly failed to do.

Helen Garner appears to be well-known in her native Australia but I doubt few have heard of her here. She's an amazing talent - the writing never gets in the way of the story.

Helen lives a quiet but content life in Melbourne. She's happily prepared her spare room for Nicola, an old friend who's come to stay from three weeks while perusing alternative care for her stage four cancer. The alt care center turns out to be a fraud, as does Nicola's assurances that she's on the road to recovery, and Nicola and Helen go through hell together trying to come to terms with Nicola's certain death.

The plot is fairly simple but it's given full steam by the intensely honest rollarcoaster ride that is Nicola and Helen's relationship. This is a novel just as much about the fear that we're living for nothing (or no one) as the desire to chase away that fear with a patch work of coping mechanisms, half truths, and buried needs.

Yesterday's Weather: Irish author Anne Enright won the Booker prize in 2007 for The Gathering. This 2008 offering is a career-spanning collection of her short stories. Enright's introduction is fascinating - in her earlier stories she believed loveless marriage to be the hallmark of middle age while Enright's experience has been just the opposite. All in all, Enright writes, her stories have been for her a testing out of selves - people she may have been but decided against becoming.

Enright read the first story in this collection at Toronto's Harbourfront in 2009 and boy was it a blistering, raw performance (I'm sure you know how infrequent that is!).

Her stories are mostly about ordinary women caught in moments that may appear to be mundane to others but have much significance for the subject. In "Caravan," the matriarch of a family on vacation finds herself mired in endless loads of laundry. Even though she secretly doesn't enjoy the vacation as much as her children, she finds small respite in the order laundry brings in the chaos of her family life.

The characters in Enright's stories also seem to be trying to forge a connection with others but as in life, much is misunderstood or concealed. Many of the stories' narrators appear to have a point of view that is ill-understood by those around them."The Cruise," a couple's cruise vacation is the highlight of the latter part fo their lives. When the husband dies, a fellow couple they met on the vacation is the only one why can comfort the remaining partner. In that brief period, the couple manages to forge a connection that they cannot with the many friends and family in their ordinary lives.

Enright's voice is honest and brave (just like Helen Garner's!) and provides keen insight, no useless frills or flourishes expended, into the dynamics of every kind of relationship.

1 comment:

Diane said...

I really enjoyed The Spare Room - thanks for your review.

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