Books I Been Readin

The Husband's Secret

I read/listened to Moriarty’s most recent book, BIG LITTLE LIES and loved it, so I’m delving in to her back list. THE HUSBAND’S SECRET is only my second Moriarty, and I am enjoying the heck out of listening to it. but I can already tell I am going to need to space these out for saminess. I’m attracted to her incisive (sometimes scathing) writing about modern middle class mothering, but her books are also very funny at times. This is women’s fiction, with overlapping stories with multiple female protagonists, a little romance, a little mystery (usually a long ago criminal event that comes back to haunt).

Here’s an example, a passage from the point of view of Tess, whose husband has recently informed her that he and her cousin had fallen in lovve. She’s taken their young son Liam and left Melbourne for her home town of Sydney:

Will had called her mobile that morning. She should have ignored it, but when she’d seen his name she’d felt an involuntary spark of hope and snatched up the phone. He was calling to tell her that this was all a mistake. Of course he was. But as soon as he spoke in that awful new, heavy, solemn voice, without a hint of laughter, the hope vanished. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked. ‘Is Liam all right?’ He was speaking as if there had been a recent tragedy in their lives that had nothing to do with him.
She was desperate to tell the real Will what this new Will, this humourless intruder, had done; how he’d crushed her heart. The real Will would want to fix things for her. The real Will would be straight on the phone, making a complaint about the way his wife had been treated, demanding recompense. The real Will would make her a cup of tea, run her a bath and, finally, make her see the funny side of what had just happened to her.

 

Here’s another from Tess (my favorite character in this novel):

She wondered if she should stop at her mother’s house and pick up Liam’s runners. She wavered. Nobody ever told you that being a mother was all about making what seemed like thousands of tiny decisions. Tess had always considered herself quite a decisive person before she’d had Liam.

Never Let Me GoThis is one of those novels I ought to have read, but hadn’t. I knew the basic plot, but when I started it Saturday for no particular reason, I didn’t stop reading it until I finished Sunday night. I wouldn’t put it in the spec fic genre at all, even though the protagonists are clones who are being raised in a boarding school environment prior to becoming “donors”. The novel focuses intensely on the psychology of the protagonists, especially Kathy, the narrator, who has an intense friendship with Ruth and Tommy, who are a couple. Her limited worldview feels constricting to the reader. You want to shout: “Don’t you know you’ve got to leap the fence and make a break for it? Haven’t you see THE ISLAND?” But that’s what makes the novel succeed: the close, detailed reading of what it feels like to be raised without parents, so sheltered, and so stunted.

Then again, these protagonists don’t question their lot any more than I have mine. I think a lot of the novel works as a kind of allegory for the human condition, actually. The protagonists will die (or “complete” in the novel’s parlance) in their 20s or 30s via “donations.” How much more aware or in control of our lives and deaths are any of us readers?

What I’m not sure about, is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.

If there was anything that didn’t work for me in the book, it was actually the point when the protagonists finally confront Someone Who Knows All, in order to Get Answers.  It felt anticlimactic, a nod to genre, and not really germane to the novel. But I thought the whole thing was so beautifully written I didn’t care much about plot.

indecent_proposalThis was a bit of an error, actually. I meant to read BETWEEN THE SHEETS, the 3rd in the Boys of Bishop series, but started INDECENT PROPOSAL and couldn’t put it down. In this one, a rich Southern politician meets up with a down-on-her-luck New York bartender. A one night stand leads to a pregnancy and a fake marriage to save his campaign. This one started out great. I usually don’t like the one night stand beginning, because I get bored of sex scenes where nothing emotional is at stake, but O’Keefe managed to do a lot of characterization in this scene:

“It was,” she whispered. “How did you grow up?”

“In a bowl. Without air,” he whispered, but before she could ask him what he meant, he gave way to dreams. Just a few more minutes, she thought, and closed her eyes to better enjoy the astronomical thread count and his strong arms and the rare illusion of care.

Like the other O’Keefe books I’ve read, there are families to deal with, and while I felt the hero’s family issues were addressed in thorough, entertaining and sometimes heartbreaking detail, the heroine’s family, which had equally serious issues, was given short shrift. In general, I would have liked a little more focus in this one, but overall I find O’Keefe’s writing so intelligent and interesting I can’t really complain.

EuphoriaI joined the hospital’s Literature and Medicine group this year and missed the first meeting, naturally. But I did attend the second meeting, where we discussed EUPHORIA, Lily King’s novelization of the love triangle among anthropologists Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Rio Fortune in 1930s New Guinea. There was a lot to like about this novel, such as the competing views of anthropology offered by the three protagonists, and the very compelling characterization of the Mead character. I loved reading a novel where two men were in love with a woman who was not conventionally physically attractive (she is described as looking like a female Charles Darwin at one point) but whose drive and intelligence are very alluring:

the feeling of talking to her rang through me, disturbed me, woke me up as one wakes from sudden illness in the middle of the night.

I liked the discussions about objectivity:

I asked her if she believed you could ever truly understand another culture. I told her the longer I stayed, the more asinine the attempt seemed, and that what I’d become more interested in is how we believed we could be objective in any way at all, we who each came in with our own personal definitions of kindness, strength, masculinity, femininity, God, civilization, right and wrong. She told me I sounded as skeptical as my father. She said no one had more than one perspective, not even in his so-called hard sciences. We’re always , in everything we do in this world, she said, limited by subjectivity. But our perspective can have an enormous wingspan, if we give it the freedom to unfurl.

In many ways, I think this was a book about the (im)possibility of a woman having a pioneering career and also hoping for a settled married life with children. But I couldn’t shake the tremendous problems with the book’s tendency to use the “natives” as the interesting background against which to explore colonialist problems. There wasn’t a single non-white character who mattered, and even when the white characters did atrocious things to the local people, the main focus was on what it showed about their characters, not the impact it would have on the tribe itself. Our moderator suggested that the author knew she was doing this, and was trying to make a point. That’s a little too convenient for me.

The last book I’ll mention was a truly accidental purchase, the comic version of Betty Neels’ OLD FASHIONED GIRL. I immediately bought the proper version and read it. Even though my Neels expert friends would identify it as a later Neels with a down-on-her-luck heroine and an enigmatic, omniscient hero, I did enjoy it. But there was lots of this:

A quiet country girl with a sharp tongue at times and an abominable taste in clothes; there was no reason at all why he should be aware of her. He went back to his writing and forgot her.

Ouch! Anyway, I later tried to appreciate the comic version, and failed. I just don’t get it. I don’t know what makes a good graphic novel adaptation, whether it’s that the source material is a good fit, or that the artist is very talented at adaptation, or both. But I felt that this comic version of OLD FASHIONED GIRL added nothing, and took much away, from the novel I read.

Betty Neels Old Fashioned Girl

I’m reading some other stuff right now, like Katha Pollitt’s PRO (on abortion), and Kate Atkinson’s LIFE AFTER LIFE. I am really in the mood for a good historical romance, but am hesitant to jump into series, so if you have any recs, I’ll take em.

Being department chair has kept me busy, and I’m trying to finish up my paper on nursing in Harlequin medical romance. After that, it’s a third and final project on medical romance, on gossip, to be presented at the 2015 PCA conference in NOLA. We got a hot tub which turned out to be a terrific decision. Many an evening finds me and my fellow chair husband out there, complaining about work for five minutes and then forgetting about it as we look at the stars among the evergreens in the Maine sky.

 

 

 

11 responses

  1. I really hope you read BETWEEN THE SHEETS because I think you’ll find the heroine’s coping with her mother’s Alzheimer’s most sensitively portrayed. And the romance is really quite lovely, as is the child portrait. The writing is, as always, with O’Keefe, stellar.

    I haven’t many great historical romances this year and maybe these suggestions are obvious, or you’ve already read them, but I really liked:

    Meredith Duran’s FOOL ME TWICE
    Jeanie Lin’s THE JADE TEMPTRESS
    and Molly O’Keefe’s SEDUCED

    What links them all are great heroes, equally great heroines to match them and challenge them, original relationships, terrific writing, wit and pathos. Enjoy! Happy reading under your Maine stars: your hot tub sounds lovely!

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  2. I agree Liane Moriarty is an awesome author and I have listened to her The Husband’s Secret and have yet to read Big, Little Lies but it is on my shelf.
    I found out yesterday I won a set of Boys of Bishop books on the Romance Month blog so I have that to look forward to. Intelligent and interesting beckon – good to hear. I had marked her as an author I want to try but haven’t read anything of hers yet.

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  3. The two best historicals I’ve read this year both happen to be westerns – the already mentioned Seduced by Molly O’Keefe and Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath (older book, but available in digital). Both gritty, heart-wrenching reads. Good, good stuff.

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    • Color me surprised O’Keefe writes historicals. Somehow this escaped my notoriously unreliable author radar. If you and Kay both recommend it, it’s getting bought.

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  4. That’s quite a range of books to have been readin’! James Wood wrote what I remember as a really good review of Never Let Me Go in which he stressed something like the point you make about it really being about the human condition more generally. If I can find the link I’ll tweet it to you!

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  5. Mike Briggs, husband of author Patricia Briggs, has discussed their experience of turning her work into graphic novels on their site http://www.hurog.com/ (second article at the moment). The gist of it is that it didn’t work for them, but that they are now doing a graphic novel from scratch and think this will work far better.

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    • Oh, thanks for that. I really cannot figure it out. To me, Neels is for older romance readers. And manga is for younger readers. So, are they trying to make Neels appeal to a younger demographic? But the charms of Neels, the sedate pacing, the attention to mundane domestic details, the subtle emotions, were lost in the graphic rendering.

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