Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Lovely Bones

I bought a copy of this book some time ago in, I think, a charity shop in the UK.  I kept meaning to read it.  It disappeared. I was standing in a bookshop in Napier just after Christmas contemplating the purchase of another copy when a young lady (customer) started explaining very enthusiastically why I should read it.  She had just finished it and was consuming The Time Travellers Wife.  I recalled that my Brother was very enthusiastic about that book so decided that her taste must be good.  So I bought the book.  I'm so glad that I did.

A fourteen year old girl (Susie) is murdered.  From heaven she gives a commentary on how her family, the murderer and those affected by the murder cope or, more to the point, don't always cope.  

So you now have a synopsis of the story;  a synopsis that tells you nothing. 

The book explores relationships and feelings (particularly grief) which are compelling aspects of life when dealt with this sympathetically and perceptively.  It mixes the subjective emotions with very day to day aspects of life and how people might react and interreact in both areas.  One very mundane and practical moment which I found particularly moving was when Lindsay (Suzie's sister) first shaved her legs.  Her Dad was the one who, despite his misgivings that she was too young, guided her through the process and showed her how to change the razor blade.

The book appears to portray Lindsay, who is one year younger, as the person who suffers the most from the tragedy because she is "the victim's sister" and loses her own identity as a result.  No one can look at her without thinking of Susie.  I think, however, that she deals with the situation better than her parents and brother. 

Suzie's portrayal of a heaven is non-religious.  Whether Alice Sebold is religious I neither know nor wish to know but she gives an account of heaven which, in my view, equates to it being a state of mind portrayed in physical terms rather than a physical heaven.

The description of a novel as 'Number one best seller' is one of my dislikes and tends to put me off books.  This is, however, a compelling read.  Would I recommend it?  Without hesitation.

Inside the snow globe on my father's desk there was a penguin wearing a red-and-white striped scarf.  When I was little my father would pull me onto his lap and reach for the snow globe.  He would turn it over letting all the snow collect at the top, then quickly invert it.  The two of us watched the snow fall gently around the penguin.  The penguin was alone in there, I thought, and I worried for him.  When I told my father this, he said, "Don't worry, Susie; he has a nice life. He's trapped in a perfect world."

"When the dead are done with the living, " Franny said to me [Susie], "the living can go on and do other things."

With the camera my parents gave me, I took dozens of candids of my family.    ..    ..    ..  I had rescued the moment by using my camera and in that way found a way to stop time and hold it.  No one could take that image away from me because I owned it.

These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections — sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent — that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death brought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous lifeless body had been my life. 
Life is full of coincidences.  Production of the film of The Lovely Bones (which is, I understand, being filmed at the moment) has moved from Pennsylvania to New Zealand.  

Thursday, January 1, 2009

I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere

With the exception of those by Somerset Maugham I am not a lover of short stories. However I can now add Anna Gavalda to Maugham. This book comprises a dozen short stories and a novelette (if there is such a thing) entitled Someone I Loved. When, a few weeks ago, I commented on her novel Hunting and Gathering I said that it was, apparently, a departure from her previous two books in that it was not a dark story of love denied nor lost nor roads not taken. As I had not read this book I relied on a reviewer for that information. Yes, this is a book of 'what if' and love denied and lost (and found and rejected for that matter) but I'm not sure that I would describe it as dark.
I have the feeling that many, many people if they were to read this book would feel distinctly uncomfortable. I spent a lot of time during the reading of Someone I Loved denying that I had ever acted like that. I had always been honest. Or had I? Whatever else this book achieved it made me feel uncomfortable.
Anna's style (I'm living in New Zealand at the moment and we don't do surnames here - OK I did for Maugham but that's different!) is controversial. It's staccato and leaves the reader to fill in a lot of the foliage. This would be totally alien to anyone who likes Anthony Trollope or admires descriptive writing for its own sake but for people like me who, generally speaking, cannot be arsed with the fluff and description and just want the story (because I'm a very slow reader who reads a novel as if it were a law book) her style of writing is ideal. I actually find it very pleasing as well.
Anyway I thought this book was quite thought provoking in a fairly light way and I enjoyed it very much. Would I recommend it? You know, I'm having great difficulty with that question. CJ recommends without hesitation books which I would never dream of reading. Not because they are not good books (I'm not sufficiently well-read to pass an opinion on that) but because they are subjects which don't interest me. Anna writes of people, situations and emotions. You will learn from her books nothing of history, nor science, nor, perhaps, very much for that matter. But they will stir you. And if they don't then you and I are very different people. There is only one way to find out.
Ah, yes, we are are we not?
A bottle of Côte de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertain 1986. Baby Jesus in velvet britches. [Possibly the most extraordinary descriptive phrase I've read, but I think I understood what was meant.]
One of the few things I remember from school is a theory by one of those ancient philosophers , who said the important thing isn't where you are it's the state of mind you're in. He wrote that to one of his friends who had the hump and wanted to travel. He basically told him that it wasn't worth the trouble since he was bound to lug his load of problems around wherever he went. The day the teacher told us that, my life changed.
I guess that your face is a place that touched my life.
The trap lies in thinking that we have the right to be happy.
"You like squash and I like swingball, and that explains everything..." . . . . ". . People who are rigid inside are always bumping into life and hurting themselves in the process, but people who are soft - no, not soft, supple is the word - yes, that's it, supple on the inside, well, when they take a hit they suffer less...I think you should take up swingball, it's much more fun. You hit the ball and you don't know where it's going to come back, but you know that it will come back because of the string, and it makes for a wonderful moment of suspense. . . . . "
"You, you're like my father, you have nostalgia for the mountains."
"Which mountains, Mouschka?" I would ask.
"Why, the ones you've never seen, of course!"