Friday, October 21, 2011

Fiction Friday (3)

It's the end of the week, time for me to share some thoughts on books I've read recently. There really is no theme to these two books except that they take place in houses by the sea. I thought since I was currently writing about a harbor town, that it might be fitting to choose these two. Having lived in New York City for so long, which many people don't realize is an ocean city, and now living in the mountains, whenever I visit a town with the smell of saltwater in the air, it kind of captures my imagination. Both of these books take advantage of that to varying degrees. Enjoy.

A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz
(Candlewick, 2006)

Though I admit my initial interest in this book came from the striking similarity of the girl on the cover to Alice Liddell, the book turned out to be worth the chance. This is one of those great stories that works on many levels. The surface action is immensely intriguing, following an 11 year old orphan girl named Maud who is adopted by three old ladies despite the efforts of the orphanage's Superintendent to persuade them to adopt a better child. As soon as Maud sets off with her new guardians, it's clear to the reader that something fishy is going on. But like Maud herself, you want so badly for this misunderstood child to enjoy her unexpected happiness that you tend to look past your suspicions.

As the book continues and we learn the true nature of Maud's predicament, I found myself trying to rationalize along with Maud, even though I knew better. But that's the strength of this book, that the reader shares the longings of the main character. The depth and subtlety with which it captures a lonely child's need to be loved is quite remarkable. In a round about way, it's also a surprisingly honest look at dysfunction within families, as well as the patchwork way in which families sometimes come together. This is a book I enjoyed very much and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys books with strong female adolescent characters.

Dark Stranger by Julien Gracq

There were moments where I truly loved this book with its flashes of beautiful prose and places where time ceases to exist that intrigued me. It followers a group of wealthy vacationers collected in a sleepy beach resort on the north coast of France between the wars. The author does a delightful job in capturing the almost stifling calm and leisure that surrounds them. However, by doing so, the book tends to drag, sometimes drawing the reader too deeply into the mood. The mysterious Allan character, which is meant to be the driving force of the novel, was often times not nearly as compelling as he probably should have been. It is also one of those books that leaves so much unsaid and inferred. As a matter of preference, it is not my favorite style of story telling, though I can appreciate the effort when done well. My problem with its implementation in this novel is that there wasn't enough else going on to drive the narrative. Another element that distracted me was the presentation of conversations. In the rare scenes of long conversation, the author would delve solely into the two speaking voices, allowing any sense of place or action to disappear.

The ending is pretty masterful. It certainly redeemed an uneasiness that I felt through the last third of the book. It offers a profound look at the romantic hero. The book also serves as a document for the period between the wars, the haunting horror of the first and the pending horror of the second. Though well written, it simply wasn't my kind of book. I'd imagine fans of Hemmingway enjoying this novel...unfortunately, I'm not.

No comments:

Post a Comment