Contemporary

 

Devil’s Day starstarhalf

by Andrew Michael Hurley

Every autumn, John Pentecost returns to the farm where he grew up to help gather the sheep down from the moors for the winter. Usually his grandfather, known as the gaffer, tells tales that always begin with the devil and local rituals are believed to keep the sheep safe over the winter, but this year the gaffer has died and John has brought his wife along where they will both attend the funeral.

This story is a slow burner. It starts out following a lot of what looks like conversation with no real point, though eventually it begins to reveal some of the local happenings that suggest the town really is plagued by the Devil. There is some Yorkshire dialect which was very well done, though I wonder whether it will translate well to people who have never heard Yorkshire people speak. Beginning sentences with “It were…” might look like bad grammar, but it’s part of the local colour.

The one thing I found difficult was that there are no chapters, though there are a few section breaks starting nearly halfway through. It’s one never-ending read with the occasional skipped line where I could decide to use my bookmark and continue later. The thing is, the lack of any real action in the first 75% of the book didn’t inspire me to want to keep reading. It’s like a snapshot of life in a rural Yorkshire Parrish with a dark secret or two. I finished wondering what was the point of the story and still waiting for something to happen, especially as there were some good hints of foreshadowing.

Not a lot of action, but the writing was good.

 

First Person starstarstar

by Richard Flanagan

Penniless writer Kif Kehlmann is hired to ghost write a memoir for a corporate criminal, Siegfried Heidl, in six weeks. His research to write the autobiography takes a frustrating form when his subject is reluctant to answer questions that might only further incriminate him when he’s already facing prison.

The need for money keeps Kif on board, even when his better judgement tells him to walk away. The story is told in first person, in a style reminiscent of old detective noir, yet portraying a man who was anything but in control of his own destiny.

The story takes a while to get to the meat, but slowly Kif starts getting inside the mentality of a professional con man who doesn’t really want the actual details of his life story displayed so much as a comfortable fiction that will serve his purposes.

As the struggle to glean details goes on, Kif starts to question everything he thinks he knows about his world, even who he is, why he got married, how he feels about having children and why he calls himself a novelist when he’s never managed to finish a novel. Worse, Heidl begins to tell the truth.

This is a real psychological mind bender that falls into place gradually, the details of what physically happens secondary to the play on perceptions. I found it interesting, but depressing.

 

light parisThe Light of Paris starstarstarstarhalf

by Eleanor Brown

This is a story of two women, each of whom discover Paris in their own way. We first meet Madeleine in 1999. She is drawn to art and loves to paint, but her family circumstances place her as a corporate wife to the sort of very controlling husband who makes a woman dream of being single and free to wear what she wants, eat what she wants, and spend her time painting instead of schmoozing with the wives of business contacts with whom she has nothing in common.

Madeleine finds her grandmother’s diary and reads about Margie in Jazz age Paris, 1916. Margie lives in a time and culture where young women debut when they reach marriageable age and expect to find a well-to-do husband and have children. But Margie is having none of it, she wants to be a writer and live a Bohemian lifestyle. Her first encounter with a man her parents approve of, what might be called a rich wastrel, gives her a push in the direction of an unconventional life ahead.

I was struck by the writing in this and how eloquently the personalities involved were portrayed, from Madeleine herself down to the peripheral characters. Each of them came alive in just a few paragraphs of lyrical prose and made their indelible stamp on the story.

Madeleine and her grandmother had much in common. Both were born into ‘society’ families that had expectations of how young women thought and behaved, both had artistic urges that made then want to break out of the molds created for them and both were given the chance to sample what life might be like if they rebelled against the ‘expectations’ thrust upon them.

I could appreciate how difficult it was for each of them to break loose from the training of their lives, of family expectations and all that they knew to try to enjoy something of life beyond the prescribed formula for their social strata. More interesting still was experiencing Paris through the eyes of Margie, the grandmother, and wondering if she would find a way to maintain her newly discovered freedom.

The book kept me interested and wanting to know the fate of each of the women and what choices they would make for their lives, given the limitations thrust upon them. The end didn’t disappoint, though I would have liked to see how Madeleine fared in Paris.

Definitely one of my best reads this month.

Advertisements