It’s been a long hot summer here on the Rideau. Hot, humid, and with very little rain. Lots and lots of sun, and not many days like this. To be fair this shot was taken last spring when it’s supposed to rain. But still. The odd rainy, unseasonably cool day over the past few weeks would have gone down a treat with me.
|A rainy day on the Rideau… perfect for reading.
That’s because I’ve been stuck into a great book a few times this summer… unwilling, and even unable, to come unstuck. And there’s nothing better than a cool, rainy day to justify doing nothing but read… all day.
I was hooked on Ian McEwan’s book The Children Act from the first few pages. I probably would have read straight through the first night, but I couldn’t bear to rush it. McEwan’s prose is made to savour, so lovely and lucid. He’s one of those writers, in my view, who makes writing look easy. When, of course, it isn’t. McEwan’s main character is Fiona Maye a judge in the High Court of Justice, Family Division in London. Fiona is fifty-nine, and married without children. Her life is elegant, well-ordered, inordinately civilized. But, she is about to experience major disruption in her marriage. As well as embark on a disturbing court case which will change her forever.
I love how McEwan’s book is so well grounded in research. He drops the reader into Fiona Maye’s world. Both at home, in the elegant apartments at Gray’s Inn where she lives within walking distance from her office, and at work. We learn of difficult cases on which she has had to make judgments. One reviewer thought McEwan’s inclusion of the detail of Fiona’s decisions, the discussion of case law, points of argument, and rationale for final decisions made the plot too clunky and was “not worth the effort.” But I found the legal detail compelling, and it was this element of the book that drew me into Fiona’s world. How in court she must wade through the inner workings of messy, emotionally fraught lives, and then turn all this anger and fear into a coolly compassionate and fair decision. How, as Sam Leith in Literary Review puts it, “the messiness of life” plays out against the “austerity of law.”
|High Court of Justice in London source
For instance, Fiona must decide whether conjoined twin boys should be surgically separated to save the life of one, against the wishes of their parents. Or in another case, which estranged parent (the devoutly religious father or the recently turned secular mother) will get to choose the educational path for their children. Or whether a seventeen year old Jehovah’s Witness, who suffers from leukemia, will receive life-saving blood transfusions against his will, and the will of his parents. The case of Adam, the young man who suffers from leukemia, forms the main plot of the novel. As readers, we watch Fiona grapple with her decision. She takes the unusual step to meet and talk with Adam in his hospital room where she is charmed by his earnest innocence. We are privy to what she decides, and why. And of course we experience the stunning aftermath which has such serious consequences for Adam and for herself. I truly loved this book. As Sam Sacks says in his review in Wall Street Journal, “literature is a better place when Ian McEwan is at his best.” And he’s definitely at his best in The Children Act. Make sure you clear your calendar before you start this one, though, folks. It’s very hard to put down.
The other book that I would recommend you NOT take on vacation is Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins. Seriously this book could ruin your beach holiday, have you holed up in your hotel room, snapping at family, friends, hapless hotel staff… anyone who interrupts your reading. Save this one for a rainy November day, by the fire, with numerous cups of tea and nowhere to go but right where you are. I think that Kate Atkinson is one of the best writers working today. And this book is hands down the best book I’ve read this year.
I actually read A God in Ruins a few months ago, but I delayed writing a blog post about it because I was, quite honestly, at a loss for words. I had so many things to say about his novel, and nothing that seemed to do it justice. I finally had to say “enough already, just write the dang post, paltry though it may be.”
A God in Ruins is the ‘companion’ novel to Atkinson’s earlier work Life After Life… which I haven’t read, by the way. While Life After Life deals with the many births and deaths of Ursula Todd, playing with time and chronology, and the idea that small moments changed can utterly change the course of a life, A God in Ruins is the story of Ursula’s younger brother Teddy. Teddy’s World War II experiences as the pilot of a Halifax bomber provide the main thrust of the plot, but Atkinson takes us from his idyllic childhood in the 1920’s through to his old age. She plays with chronology in this book too, flipping back and forth between Teddy’s youth, his war years, and his old age, as well as the lives of his acerbic daughter Viola, and even his grandchildren. Sounds confusing, but it’s not at all. Atkinson is a master plotter, and a brilliant writer.
Atkinson like McEwan researches her subject extensively, and she performs what one reviewer
calls that “elusive alchemy that transforms statistics and memories into immediate drama.” Her characters are engaging and flawed and absolutely compelling. Even prickly Viola. I particularly like what Anne Marie Scanlon said about the book in her review
in the Independent.ie
. That, like Teddy in A God in Ruins
, “each of us experience multiple ‘lives’ during our lifetime as we age and change.” Because that’s what I was feeling when I was back home earlier in August and what I wrote about in my post Lost in the ‘Hood
. I love how books and discussions of books can help us reflect on our own lives.
One of the reviews I read of A God in Ruins used a shot from the television series Home Fires. Have you seen it? Based on the book Jambusters by Julie Summers about the English Women’s Institute during World War II, it chronicles the lives and war efforts of the women of a small village in Cheshire. I’d watch anything with Francesca Anis and Samantha Bond in it; they’re marvelous. Hubby and I both loved this series, and we’re excited that there is a second season.
I’ve read a couple of other rainy day books this summer, most notably The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. Described in this review as the antidote for those “mourning the loss of Downton Abbey,” how could I resist? I’d read and loved Simonson’s first book Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and had this one on order at the library for months. Set in the days leading up to World War I, and in the early years of the war, Simonson’s novel is not the masterpiece that Atkinson’s book is… but I still loved it. I spent one whole weekend curled up in a chair on the deck, moving once or twice to find some shade, then eventually retreating to the air conditioned sun room. By the time I was finished late on Sunday afternoon, my legs were cramped, supper would have been only a dream if not for Hubby, and a half box of kleenex was history.
And speaking of history. It’s time this post was history. I have to go to the garage and pick up my car. Yesterday, post shopping trip with my friend Erica, trying to get out of the parking garage at the Rideau Centre, and caught in a traffic jam which had me sitting for fifteen minutes halfway up the very steep ramp… I … ah… may have done some damage to my clutch. That is, if smoke and a strong smell of burning is any indication. I sat there for ten minutes and wondered who the poor soul was whose car was producing that black cloud. Ha. That would be me, folks.
To sum up. If you haven’t read these three books… you must. You really must. But be warned people. Before starting any of these, just know they will make you very unsociable, maybe even unpopular in your family. And any one of them is a vacation killer. So don’t take them to the beach.
My best advice is to buy one or all of them, or check them out of your library, and pray for rain.
How about you? Read any rainy day books this summer that you’d like to recommend?
Linking up with Saturday Share Link-up at Not Dressed as Lamb