Monday, February 19, 2007

The Illusionist

I found Francoise Mallet-Joris' The Illusionist on the new books shelf at my library and was immediately intrigued by a review excerpt on the front cover: "A lesbian classic with a real erotic punch." The novel was first published in 1952 and the 2006 new edition I read is a translation.

The Illusionist tells the rather shocking (for its time) story of Helene, a 15-year-old girl who has an affair with Tamara, her father's 36-year-old mistress. Even more surprising is that Mallet-Joris wrote the novel when she was just 19. Tamara is not a kind lover, but often abusive and cold.

The novel is intriguing and unusual enough to keep one's interest, but this is not a novel for someone who enjoys a well-structured plot with an assortment of characters that is guided along by significant events. This is a novel for those who enjoy their literature rich in psychology and the interior workings of the mind.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

An Alphabetical Life

Wendy Werris started working in the book business in the 1970s. Her career began at Pickwick Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard and eventually led to her representing many publishers. In An Alphabetical Life, she relays her experiences in the book publishing industry, but also discusses her personal life and growth.

The memoir is often light-hearted, but there are also sad and harrowing episodes. Werris' parents' lives did not end well. This is told most tragically when she describes the death of her father who outlived his wife by many years while his health grew progressively worse. Another chapter is devoted to Werris being attacked by a rapist in her apartment. These accounts display an openness that will make many readers feel a connection with Werris.

I found the book especially appealing due to its location in the Los Angeles area and Werris' obvious love of books. Another entertaining element is the large number of unusual characters that operate within the book business. Werris describes them with affection and humour.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Prodigal Summer

I finally got around to reading Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer, a book I saw everywhere when it first came out several years ago. Kingsolver weaves together three stories that share ties of nature and relationship. The book received glowing reviews. It is often sexually charged and even humorous at times.

I plowed into the novel and then found myself stalled around page 300, although I did make it to the end and became interested again in the final pages. I had difficulty connecting to the characters. For example, after her husband dies, Lusa must find a way to save her farm and pay the bills. She finds a solution in raising goats, which will be sold and slaughtered for various religious festivals. I kept expecting her to change her mind, but this never came. The relationship between the older Deanna Wolfe and the coyote-hating and hunting Eddie Bondo lacked the depth I was waiting for.

Overall, however, I am happy to have read this novel and will read Kingsolver again to see if another one of her novels will provide the magic for me that so many have experienced.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Last of Her Kind

I just finished reading one of the best books I have read in years: Sigrid Nunez's The Last of Her Kind. The novel revolves around the relationship between two women, Ann and Georgette, who first meet as Barnard College roommates in the late 1960s.

Ann is from a wealthy New England family; Georgette comes from a rough and poor family in upstate New York. Ann feels shame and disgust for her privileged upbringing and finds her calling in the political turmoil of the times. She becomes an activist and lives her life as a pure idealist, which ultimately lands her in prison with a life sentence for killing a police officer. The intensity of Nunez's novel, told through the eyes of Georgette, is mesmerizing.

Anyone who enjoys novels that examine the politicized times of the 1960s and early 1970s will find something of interest here. This novel will also appeal to readers who simply love good writing, but be warned the book can be painful at times and is, in many ways, a tragic tale.