December 31, 2008

Good to a Fault - Marina Endicott

This is the second book in my Giller Prize Shortlist marathon - another excellent book that drew me in completely, but because of the ending, overall I didn't like it as much as Through Black Spruce.

I think that it is really the characters in this book that make it, rather than the plot.  All of the characters seem like people I could know, and I could especially relate to Clara, the main character.  However unlike Annie in Through Black Spruce, I don't think that Clara could have been written by a male author, and even the male characters seem less real-to-life than the female characters.

The main story has to do with Clara, a middle-aged woman who leads a very solitary and isolated life, who, after a car accident, invites the family in the other car into her house and life.  Predictably, chaos ensues, and predictably, she learns to love the family as her own, and predictably she is upset when she is left alone.  Not much in terms of plot.  There is also a love story as a subplot, as well as the story of Lorraine, the mother in the other car, who is fighting cancer.

But because the characters were so well written, I couldn't put this book down as I was reading it (and stayed awake far too late last night to finish it).

My one disappointment with this book was the ending.  In that there wasn't one.  The book just sort of ended with no resolution of the various threads.  Quite a let-down to have invested the time to read a book, only to not find out what happened at the end!  Maybe she was leaving room to plan for a sequel (to give the author the benefit of the doubt) - I would love to see these characters back in another book.

So that's 2 Giller shortlisted books down, 3 left to go.  So far, the committee made the right decision...

Through Black Spruce - Joseph Boyden

This is the book that won this year's Giller Prize.  Since I usually enjoy the Giller winner, I was looking forward to reading this book, and it did not disappoint me.  In fact, I splurged and bought all of the Giller shortlisted books, so once I have finished reading them all, I will know if the committee made the right decision!

Through Black Spruce is one of the best, if not the best, book I have read this year.  It is based in and around Moosonee and Moose Factory in northeastern Ontario (interesting to note that both last year's and this year's Giller went to a "Northern" book), and stretches out to the James Bay "bush" as well as Toronto, Montreal and New York.  The style of the book is different, and it took me a couple of chapters to catch on - the story is told in the first person, and the chapters alternate between Will Bird who is lying in hospital in a coma telling the story of how he ended up there to his niece; and his niece Annie who is telling her uncle what she has been up to since she last saw him.

The contrast between the two stories is very marked - as Annie ends up more and more involved in the modeling world down south, her uncle is heading out in the bush with only what he can carry in his float plane.  Annie is one of my favourite literary characters - a strong and independent woman, very well drawn, and very perceptive of the author, particularly considering that the author is male!

I can't come up with enough superlatives to describe this book - I couldn't put it down, and was totally immersed in the story and the setting and the characters' lives.  This is apparently the second book in a trilogy, so I really must hunt down a copy of Three Day Road, the first book, and I look forward to his next book.

December 6, 2008

The Queen's Lady - Barbara Kyle

Back to fluff - this time set in Tudor England, an era that I have been fascinated with since I was young.  I still remember reading children's books about Queen Elizabeth, Lady Jane Gray, Mary, Queen of Scots...  The highlight of our family trip to England when I was 13 was a trip to the Tower of London, which I had read so much about!  (As an aside, it is interesting to note the recent interest in this period of history, with the books and movie of The Other Boleyn Girl - I liked the first couple of books, but then they seemed to fade away - as well as the television series The Tudors, which I can't stand).

The Queen's Lady of the title is Honor Larke, ward of Sir Thomas More, lady in waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon (first wife of King Henry VIII) at a time when she has fallen out of favour with the King.  I thought that she was really well written, with lots of layers and complexities.

On the other hand, I did not like how Sir Thomas More was portrayed.  He is a person that I had always admired for staying true to his beliefs, but in this book, he is little more than a monster at times.  And an inconsistent, unpredictable character in this book.  He went from being gentle to brutal to loyal to insane.  He seemed like a different person each time he appeared.  I don't know if this is a true picture, but I didn't enjoy it.

One thing that I found fascinating were the religious arguments.  At various times, the case for Catholicism, Protestantism, and Atheism were given (Honor herself was raised a Catholic, then became involved in helping the "heretics" ie Protestants escape England across the Channel, then became an Atheist after some brutal experiences at the hands of the fanatical cult-like Anbaptists.  You could almost say that this is a story set in Tudor England, told through the story of the Reformation.

Overall, it was an easy read, perfect for this past week when I have been feeling unwell.  I think next up with have to be Utopia by Thomas More though, a book that figured greatly in this one.