Thursday, March 15, 2007

What Was She Thinking?

After hearing so much about Notes on a Scandal, I finally saw the movie about one month ago. (Even a waitress at a café where I often have lunch recommended the movie to me.) I thought it was incredible. The acting is superb; the drama is intense. Judi Dench could not be better. The movie is an adaptation of Zoe Heller’s novel What Was She Thinking? I quickly set out to read the novel.

I recommend both the novel and the movie. They are equally well done. (Everyday I Write the Book Blog also agrees.)

What Was She Thinking? examines the relationship between the young Sheba and older Barbara. Both women are teachers at a secondary school where Sheba begins an affair with an underage student.

Barbara is the deliciously sarcastic narrator; Sheba is Barbara’s obsession. Hints are given early on in the movie and book that Barbara is most likely not psychologically healthy. Having seen the movie before reading the book, however, may have made me more sympathetic toward her character. I felt very sorry for Barbara and the troubled nature of her life – even if she created her own misery.

Heller writes with such precision and depth that I found the novel difficult to read at times. It is, above all, a sad and disturbing tale, but one brilliantly executed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Three Dog Life

Abigail Thomas' memoir A Three Dog Life is mesmerizing. Thomas follows five years of her life after her husband is tragically struck by a car. He suffers a severe traumatic brain injury. The trauma eliminates his short term memory and leaves him psychologically unpredictable at times, making it necessary for him to live in a facility where he can be cared for and well monitored.

Thomas remains committed to her marriage and moves to the country, away from New York City, to be close to the facility that her husband now calls home. One of the ways Thomas copes with her new life is by adding two dogs to her family. (Thomas and her husband already had one dog.) This is where the title, of course, comes from.

There are so many passages in this book that ring with absolute beauty as Thomas grows and makes sense of her life. One of my favorite parts is when Thomas discovers the work of outsider artists and begins collecting various pieces.

Thomas writes poetically with such honesty and introspection. At times, this book will break your heart; at other times, it will uplift your spirit.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Bell

Iris Murdoch’s The Bell is an unusual book with an assortment of odd characters. At the center is Dora Greenfield, a young woman married to a much older and rather mean man. I liked Dora immediately.

The opening chapter of this novel can only be described as a brilliant display of writing. The way Murdoch can get inside the character of Dora and her thought processes left me hanging on every word. After the thrilling opening chapter, I lost my enthusiasm for many pages, but the novel captured my interest again near the end.

Much of The Bell takes place at a commune for lay church members. The commune is tied to a convent that also sits on the property. In this setting, Murdoch investigates several complex issues, including the lay community leader’s homosexuality and his struggle with his sexual desires. It is here that the awakening of Dora into an independent woman also takes place.

The novel can stimulate much conversation, which is what happened during my book club’s discussion. In fact, after the discussion I found myself rather in awe of Murdoch and the complexities of this novel.