Thursday, August 11, 2016

Quick Takes

Just popping in here with some quick thoughts about a few of the books I've read recently. First up is Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. Part of Hogarth's Shakespeare series, which commissions current authors to reinterpret some of Shakespeare's classic plays, this novel offers a modern version of The Taming of the Shrew. This was my first time reading anything by Anne Tyler, who is one of those quietly but widely renowned authors, and I was really impressed with her writing. Her style, at least in this book, manages to convey a compelling drama while still being rooted in the ordinary little facets of everyday life. I also appreciated the direction went she with the story. A modern reinterpretation of The Taming of the Shrew could easily go a very cliche route--I'm imagining something in which Kate is portrayed as some kind of driven "career woman" who needs to be softened. Instead, Tyler takes a more subtle, unexpected route, casting her Kate as the 30 year old daughter of an eccentric scientist whose blunt personality starts to veer toward bitterness as she feels increasingly trapped by her life circumstances. The romantic lead she clashes with is her father's research assistant, an Eastern European immigrant whose visa is about to expire. It's the type of pairing you don't read about every day, and it plays out in a very satisfy way.

Next is a Persephone book, Few Eggs and No Oranges, the wartime diary of Vere Hodgson that spans the years 1940-1945. You might say that this falls at the more utilitarian end of the diary spectrum. It's not a memoir in which Hodgson has wrapped up her experiences in a neat and tidy package, nor is it secret diary in which she's revealed her innermost thoughts and feelings. Instead, this is a diary that she wrote and circulated among relatives living abroad as a way of updating them on her life in London during the war. She chronicles each day in a brisk way, succinctly recording the work she does, the increasingly skimpy food rations that she eats, and the endless air raids she experiences. There is very little plot beyond this sometimes repetitive chronicling, yet it is compelling in its own way. It gave me a new and deeper understanding of World War II from simply absorbing the daily grind of it through Hodgson's eyes. In a similar way, I also grew to love Hodgson as her wonderful, resilient character was revealed from witnessing several years' worth of her daily activities. At around 600 pages, I'll admit this may not be a book for everyone, but it's a real treasure for anyone who's interested in WWII and the female writers of the period.

Finally, a book that didn't quite his the mark for me: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. I was excited to read this mystery after seeing it highly praised on a few of my favorite blogs in recent months. It's widely thought of as one of Christie's best, with a completely unexpected ending that was apparently very innovative for its time. Unfortunately, I think the vague allusions I had read about this amazing ending were exactly what spoiled the novel for me. From page one I found the characters to be a little dull and the plot a little hard to get into, but I kept reading on high alert, looking at the book from every angle to try to guess the ending. I did eventually hit on it, which made the end of the novel feel like more of a big letdown than a big reveal.

What are you reading these days?

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