February Book Notes

February Book Notes

IMG_7878What I’ve been reading this month.

1. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh — Mostly read in January and finished at the very beginning of the month. The ending makes me cry. So, so beautiful. I appreciate this novel more every time I re-read it. The first time I didn’t quite get it. Now I see so much more. But it’s one that will bear re-reading again, I am quite sure. A great Catholic novel.

2. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell— young Gerry and his family (mom, sister, and two brothers) move to the Greek island of Corfu. Great adventures with his madcap family, all with very strong personalities. And hordes of animals. Gerry is a budding naturalist and collects quite the menagerie. Turns out he is the author of one of Bella’s favorite books, The Fantastic Flying Journey. I think I might read her some selections from this one, especially the bits about the various animals.

3. Battle Mom, a manuscript

One of those Facebook memes was going around where you assign roles in a fantasy novel to nine friends in your list, chosen by the random order FB has them listed on your wall. It was fun to see the meme spread around my friends and to imagine various mom friends of mine as the Dark Lord or the Wise Wizard. I joked that we need a new fantasy sub genre: instead of urban fantasy we need suburban minivan mom fantasy.

And then my friend Kara said she’d written something that fit the bill and would I like to read it. So I said sure. The protagonist is a mom of three kids four and under and, yes, drives a minivan. And fights bad guys and saves her husband and her family and wields awesome super powers. It’s a fun mix of Jasper Fforde, Nine Princes in Amber, The Incredibles, and my life. Including exciting errands to the grocery store and don’t forget the diaper bag and the snacks! It was a fun read, I finished it in a day. And I think it should definitely be published.

4. The Great War, a novel

Still keeping up with new postings of Darwin’s WWI novel. It’s quite good so far, worth jumping in on.

5. Mansfield Park — I started this re-read last year, finally finished the last few chapters.

6. The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden

Two sisters, Una and Halcyon or Hal for short, are abruptly pulled from their English boarding school and brought to live with their diplomat father in India. It quickly becomes clear this is so that they can provide cover for his Eurasian mistress, Alix Lamotte, who he appoints as their governess. (From context it seems Eurasian means half Indian and half European, in her case her mother is half French.) The girls are half-sisters, his first wife is deceased and his second wife divorced.

Hal is not unhappy. She likes Alix who continues her music studies. Una, the older sister, however, is angry at leaving her university prep program and higher mathematics. Alix has no ability to tutor her in calculus and no interest in finding her a tutor. It is dismissed as unimportant.

Una falls in love with the under gardner, who, it turns out, is not actually a gardener but a poet.

It’s a very sad story, not much hopeful. It reminds me of other of Godden’s stories: The Greengage Summer, The Battle of the Villa Florita, I’m sure there are others, about young women who are still treated as girls by society but are suddenly thrust into the world of adult sexuality. I think that’s a good summary of what I’m seeing as the commonality. Godden writes misfits well. most of her characters are outsiders. This is especially true in her Indian novels, but well, actually it’s true for just about all of her fiction. Sometimes the works are happy and uplifting. Sometimes they just feel purgatorial. This falls into the latter category.

One thing I noticed with this novel is how often Godden writes about what someone “might have said.” It’s an interesting device that appears repeatedly in her works. A way of showing what’s in a character’s head, a dialogue that doesn’t really happen. She doesn’t use it excessively, but now that I’ve noticed it, it does seem a quirk of her style. I can’t think of another writer who does the same thing exactly.

I wonder. One recurring theme in Godden’s stories is the character who is powerless, voiceless. Usually a child. And the dolls are a symbol for the child who has no voice or agency. These moments where a character can’t speak because they are not present, because they are overcome with emotion, because they are silenced by circumstances, by the relationship, or because they literally have no voice. These seem significant. I have no conclusions, but a resolve to track these instances of “might have said” more closely to see what patterns emerge. What does it mean for the character to be voiceless and for the narrator to give voice to those unvoiced thoughts?

7. A Candle for St. Jude by Rumer Godden

An aging dancer who runs a small school and ballet company and theater in London reaches a crisis with the performance of the ballets for her 50th anniversary commemorative program.

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  • I read Brideshead Revisted for the first time here recently and it was a disturbing experience. Let’s just say that I saw a significant similarity between some of the characters and some people I love. I got what the author was saying and I got the message behind it but it stirred up some deep emotion that I hadn’t acknowledged for awhile. I need to read it again, I guess.

    • Charlotte, The first time I read Brideshead it was just alien and strange and mostly unpleasant people. I didn’t get it at all. When I read it a second time, it was completely different. And on this third read it felt different still. Waugh is certainly good at unpleasant characters, I like his Sword of Honor trilogy, but his earlier works, written before his conversion, feel just bleak and desolate.

  • Brideshead! I want to get back around to discussing it, but I’ve had to do work at work. The very idea! But as soon as I have some head space free, I want to jump back in.