Sunday, February 17, 2008

Last Four Reads

A quick review of the last four books I've read for better or worse.

PS I Love You, Cecilia Ahern. So it's now a movie that I haven't seen. And that I don't intend to see. Word is that the movie is nothing like the book and that they lump the main character's family issues into her dealings with her mother. Truth is the mother character is present in the book but not an interesting character. The book really isn't even that much about the main character as it is about her realizations about her friends and family as she learns that her husband's death didn't just affect her. I think of this as more of an "ensemble cast" book and I'm certain that didn't translate over into the movie version.

Part of the ensemble feel comes from the fact that Ahern uses a peculiar type of omniscient narration. She slips into one character's inner thoughts, then pulls back and describes things as if seen from a far and then the next thing you know she is inside the head and thoughts of another character. It works for most of the book but there were a couple of chapters I had to reread because this type of narration made me stumble and misplace facts. Usually that was when the narration slipped into the head of a lesser character, like the barkeep we meet only for one scene of one chapter. I still don't know why he was important enough for me to need to know what he was actually thinking. If you're looking for an author that does this technically difficult form and does it well, check out another Irish author Brian Moore.

That said, Ahern has produced an extremely moving and emotional novel. The end may not "satisfy" but it is an emotional journey worth partaking in. I cried probably once every thirty pages or so. As it's over 400 pages there was a lot of sniffling going on in my house that week. How did she trip me into tears so often? Because we get to see inside the head of so many of the characters, and because the deceased husband has left her so much to go on. We even get an entire chapter from his point of view in flash back of course, where the reader is let into his thoughts where he considers how much stronger his wife is than him, and that he knows he couldn't do this without her but, in fact, he's not the one who is going to have to live without her. And that this is why he is writing her ten months of notes.

Undead and Unwed, MaryJanice Davidson. I picked up this book on a recommendation from a friend who reads Davidson's many books as she rides the T to and from work. Knowing this friend and the fact that it was train reading, I wasn't surprised to find a light plot and prose doused liberally with humor. The protagonist is a recently layed off young woman who wakes up one night to find herself dead and about to be burried in the world's tackiest outfit. In fact, she's more upset to realize that her step-mother has raider her designer shoe collection than to realize she is dead. Or, in this case, undead. The plot is thin, very thin in places and the secondary characters are flat at best. The one great reason to read this book is the strong, humorous voice of the narrator, determined that if she has to do this undead thing then she's going to do it with style.

The Undomestic Goddess, Sophie Kinsella. Kinsella did all the Shopoholic books, which I've never read and after The Undomestic Goddess probably won't read. The main character is a young successful lawyer at a high prestige firm in London, until she makes a mistake that ends her career and then shoves off to the countryside and accidentally finds work scrubbing loos. Of course she finds blissful happiness and fulfillment in her new lifestyle. Why not? She also falls for the nearest avaliable man of an appropriate age. You know, the same person that your Aunt Margery would awkwardly pair you off with just because you're in the right proximity. But since it's the author and not Aunt Marge pulling the strings it happens. Even if it is fairly boring as it unfolds.

The one thing I rememer the most is the mention of an older brother character who had a "breakdown" and fell off the face of the high pressure world the rest of the family lives in. We never get to meet this brother and the only possible reason for him to be mentioned at all is for some foreshadowing. Not that the novel needs foreshadowing when the protagonists meltdown is clearly spelled out on the jacket blurb. I'm still sad that we never met the brother or learned anything of his plight.

The Undomestic Goddess puts a thin layer of new varnish an already old tale. At least when Mrs. Doubtfire did it there was an original spin.

Lastly, Crazy in Love, Lani Diane Rich. The reason I picked up this book was because of the fact that Chris Baty mentions her in an interview he did about NaNoWriMo. Apparently Rich decided one day to participate in NaNo, wrote her first novel ever, got it published and now produces at least two a year of these things. So I decided to check her out. This was the only copy of her work that my local library had and even as I write this I'm struggling to remember what the plot was or any details about the characters. I think this is the one where there's a ghost haunting the protagonist but not for any reason that is ever answered by the narration. I think the entire purpose of the ghost is to get the protagonist out of the cottage and into the hotel. There's also a minor/major plot line about crazy people embezzling money, kidnapping and murder. See, it sounds like those would be major events, but some how they weren't. I'd be much more interested to get my hands on a copy of The Fortune Quilt, also by Rich, which sounds like it at least has a more interesting plot.

In sum, nothing particularly bad ... okay, Crazy in Love really was just plain crazy ... but nothing particularly stellar either. PS I Love You was lovely, tender, funny at moments, but I have no intention of rereading it in the near future. However Ahern is an author that I'd like to keep an eye on for the future. She's only in her mid-twenties now and wrote PS I Love You when she was just 21. I'm interested to see what she'll produce as her style continutes to mature.

Highly Recommended