Sunday 1 October 2023

A Guest is a Gift from God

Is a month long enough to have a half written blog post waiting around? Probably. So I will also tag on the end a list of the others that have also been read in the last month since I went to Devon.

'Elena Knows' by Claudia Piñeiro is not a detective novel. I keep reading that she is known for this genre, and while a death occurs and police are involved that is not what this book is about at all. Unless, I suppose, it is an investigation into a mother/daughter relationship. It was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize last year, probably how it appeared on my radar. Elena and her daughter Rita seem to have developed ones of those bickery but can't imagine life without you kind of relationships. We jump into their lives in the moments after Rita is found hanging in the church belfry and Elena insists that she did not commit suicide. She can't get the police to take her seriously, despite her repeated pestering, though the local detective placates the grieving mother by continuing to meet her and listen to her growing list of suspects. The main problem is that Elena has Parkinson's disease, and is incapacitated to a significant extent, and so realises she is going to need help with her investigation. There is only one person she can ask, who she feels owes Rita something, and the book follows her struggle to get to this person.

"Mum, enough, she said and she stood up, walked over to the stove, turned the flame to maximum, and set the pamphlets on fire. When the flame was about to burn her hand she let them fall, the charred pages fluttered to the green tile floor, landing beside the uncooked pieces of pasta that her mother had spilled.
Rita stood motionless watching the paper as it blazed, cracked, and danced until it changed colour, melted away, turned to ashes, and finally, went to the place that fire goes when it burns out." 

She despises Roberto, Rita's boyfriend, and his mother Mimi; here she is, under protest, having some beauty treatment, because Rita is disgusted by her hairy chin.

"Mimi said, your feet are a disaster, how do you even wear sandals with those heels? I just put them on, she answered, or Rita does it for me when I can't. At least put some lotion on them at night, Elena, that helps with the roughness. And even though Elena showed no concern for the roughness of her heels, Mimi said, I'm going to send you some calendula cream with Roberto. It'll just go to waste, Elena thought, because she wasn't willing to add any more chores to the unending list of daily challenges: walking, eating, going to the bathroom, lying down, standing up, sitting in a chair, getting up from a chair, taking a pill that won't go down her throat because her head can't tip back, drinking from a straw, breathing. No, she definitely wasn't going to put calendula cream on her heels." (p.98-99)

The pain and struggle she goes through to find out what really happened tells you more about her relationship with Rita than all the bickering. I liked her, she was so lacking in self-pity.

'Resistance' by Anita Shreve was a typical Anita Shreve picked up at Claire's house. I went through a bit of an Anita Shreve phase some years ago and loved her small town america stories. This one is set during World War Two however and concerns a shot down airman rescued by the French resistance. Lovely, atmospheric, and without the predictable ending, which was nice.

'Hard by a Great Forest' by Leo Vardiashvili, was won in a Caboodle competition and is not actually published until next year. Written by a Georgian writer about the war that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union and the subsequent exodus of the family concerned. It is a part of the world that I know little about and it was a real eye-opener. Forced to make hard choices and haunted by the people they left behind, many years after their departure Irakli returns to Tbilisi on unfinished business. When he vanishes both his sons follow in a desperate search to find the truth. Well worth looking out for.

Quote from near the end:
"But then I remember one night from my childhood. I was in a bed, all alone in an unfamiliar bedroom. We must have been visiting someone. Pools of darkness filled the corners of the room - perfect hiding places for some other family's monsters. I kept my eyes open owl-wide. There was no way I'd sleep.
Irakli appeared in the doorway, haloed by cigarette smoke and lamplight from the other room. He came and sat down, shifting the bed with his weight. He didn't say much, and what he did say I can't recall. Vague words of comfort. Faint smell of tobacco and wine on his breath.
He put a hand on my chest. And finally, I slept.
Laid out on the lumpy wet forest floor, I try to feel the weight of my father's hand on my chest." (p.216)

'Lonely Castle in the Mirror' by Mizuki Tsujimura, translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel, was pressed on my by Monkey because she wanted someone to discuss it with. I was confused, because I thought it was going to have more fantasy element, but it turned out to be a bunch of lonely teenagers learning about real friendship via a magical mirror world. Not my usual kind of thing but we had some interesting chats about it anyway.

'Wild Things' by Laura Kay was a lovely comfort read for me. El decides to have a year of doing scary things. But then suddenly she and a bunch of friends buy a house together when one of them breaks up with a girlfriend and is going to abandon their plans. It's all very cosy about them getting to know the locals and making their house and garden into a home. The main character faces her fears and has some personal growth, that kind of sentimental stuff. Sappy and heartfelt. I like one of these occasionally.

Currently reading 'A Widow for a Year' by John Irving, and not sure how I feel about it. Life a little in flux at the moment and struggling to hold it together. Stay safe. Be kind.

Post script: 
'A Lost Lady' by Willa Cather, picked up in the charity shop on the basis of having enjoyed My Antonia, was a small story of a woman's vulnerability. A young boy watches and idolises a local beauty, watching as her life's fortunes change, feeling both protective and often angry at her poor choices. While it was interesting it was mostly as a study of patronising misogyny: Marian fails to live up to to Niel's idea of what a woman should be and how she should behave.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the recommendations. It's not nice to be at sixes and sevens - hope life sorts out for you. x


Thanks for stopping by. Thoughts, opinions and suggestions (reading or otherwise) always most welcome.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin