Thursday, April 19, 2012

Reading Roundup: Hook, Line, and Sinker

I mentioned that my class commute really ups my reading numbers—I'm certainly reading faster than I can write. I breezed through all three of these last month, and I can only attribute ample free time as part of the reason; each of these captured my attention so strongly that I didn't want to put them down. They all have very different styles, but the stories were each equally as compelling.

The Go-Between by L.P Hartley was my book club's March selection. It's the story of a 12-year-old schoolboy, Leo, who spends summer vacation on a friend's grand English estate and gets caught up, unknowingly, as the messenger in an illicit love affair by the friend's beautiful older sister. The setting is very Downton-esque with strong class distinctions, but perhaps a little less grandeur, because I can't imagine our Lady Mary swimming in a lake. The story is essentially about Leo's coming-of-age and loss of innocence as he begins to consider the feelings of others and not just himself. The author tells this story in from a first-person retrospective, which allows more reflection and depth than if told in real-time. This reminded me a bit of Atonement but without so much melodrama. I think it was universally enjoyed in book club, but it was a fairly easy discussion.

Emily St. John Mandel's Last Night in Montreal has been sitting on my shelf for years, and I've intended to read it since I enjoyed her second novel, The Singer's Gun. Last Night in Montreal is her first book, and it's a thriller of sorts. The story focuses on Lilia but it begins with Eli. Lilia has just run out on Eli, abandoning their Brooklyn apartment and, essentially, disappearing. Eli's quest to find her leads to Montreal where he discovers a lot about Lilia's past—that she's been moving cities, changing identities her entire life. What's interesting about this story is that we experience it through Eli's perspective in real-time, and learn Lilia's past through flashbacks, but we never hear from Lilia in real-time. To us, the reader, she has also just disappeared. It's not all plot-driven though; Mandel creates a highly thematic story with complex characters. The Singer's Gun taught me that her endings aren't trite and predictable, so you'll be hooked to find out how the story ends.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is probably not one that needs much introduction; it made the book blog rounds and best seller lists a couple years ago and is pretty well known. In fact, it's been sitting on my shelf since I won it in a giveaway around that time, and I just now picked it up. I didn't realize that this story is told entirely through letters, so that was sort of a fun surprise. The premise of this book (real quick) is an author receives a letter from a stranger in Guernsey, which introduces her (and us) to the story of Guernsey during German occupation in World War II. The story moves quickly, and the conversational tone really lends itself to being an engrossing read. The relationships and friendships formed through the letters are heart-warming, while some of the stories from the war are heart-breaking. This is the kind of book I recommend to my mom because it has some depth but can still be categorized as a light read.


zibilee said...

I read Last Night in Montreal a few years ago, and loved it. It was such a visceral read, and one that made me feel the anxiety of it's main characters with a deep resonance. I particularly remember the main character's bout with insomnia, and felt that it was portrayed so realistically. I am glad that you enjoyed it!

Kari said...

It was a page-turner, and sort of a psychological one at that, which was exciting. I hope she's writing something new, because I enjoyed The Singer's Gun as well.