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22 April 2013

'The Chemistry of Tears' by Peter Carey

A world without love becomes a world without trust

The premise is simple and sad.  A woman must grieve the sudden death of her lover in private.  Her boss at The Swinburne Museum, where she works as a horologist, is aware of her awkward situation and gives her a complex assignment to distract her.  With a pile of boxes come the journals of Henry; the man who commissioned an automaton built in the 19th century to please his dying son.  I felt grown up as I read this book.  The topics while simple, assumed complexity rather like the automaton itself.  The writing style itself treats me as intelligent and curious.  Not to say that other books treat me like an idiot but sometimes I detect the hand of an editor who wants a story or a writer to be more accessible.

As we see Catherine unpack, clean, sort and eventually reconstruct a large moving duck (eventual swan... of course) we also see the design and construction of it through the journals of Henry.  Both stories go back and forth across time and space; hope and despair; understanding and confusion; love and loneliness; trust and suspicion.  The sad point is that what you ask for is not always what you receive, no matter how beautiful.  The duck was supposed to move and pretend to eat and swim.  It was turned into a complex, expensive swan; a work of art and not a toy for a child.  Catherine wants peace to mourn her lover publicly, naturally, but her pain and passion is turned into a project for a museum to attract fresh funding.

Trust becomes a deep issue in both stories.  Henry realizes he cannot trust his wife or his brother and those in their social circle.  Catherine cannot trust her colleagues or at times herself.  A world without love becomes a world without trust... not the other way around.  With love, between lovers and between father and son, the inconsistencies of those around them did not matter.  Without love there is no shield or comfort from the shock of death, illness, grief and betrayal.  Tears are chemically different when shed in genuine sadness as opposed to coughing hard or laughing.  There were a lot of tears shed in this book.  

Peter Carey 
ISBN: 9780571280018 

13 April 2013

'May We Be Forgiven' by A.M. Homes

Family, Forgiveness, Love... Everything!!! -- with a sense of humor

I tried to explain to my BPR what this book is about... he asked for it... Right... Then I got a look... I guess I made the mistake of telling what is happening in the book (a lot) and not what this book is about.  So now is my chance, but I feel like the two Pan Dimensional beings talking to Deep Thought... "Life, The Universe, Everything!!!!"  So this book is about Family, Forgiveness, Love... Everything!!!
Fortunately, A.M. Homes has a sense of humor.  I laughed and I cringed and then I laughed in disbelief and then I cringed.  But let me talk a bit about Harry, you know, the protagonist.

Harry is the sort of guy that...No, Harry is not the sort of guy that... because Harry does not initiate much.  Stuff happens to Harry.  What he feels about this stuff is relief that it was not worse.  But one moment of weakness, or more weakness than usual, puts Harry on a horrible path, his murderous, bully of a brother in jail, his lover dead and his wife bitter, and quickly gone.  Harry finds out who his friends are and who his friends are not; like the 'friend' who calls him to tell Harry that he will represent his wife in the divorce because since childhood he has waited for an opportunity to get back at him.  Harry also has to become a father, as his niece and nephew become his responsibility.  Okay, so things keep happening to Harry.  What makes this book so exciting is that Harry grows up.  No, he does not take life on with resolve and initiative.  Harry starts feeling different about the things that happen to him.  At first he felt confused, hurt, surprised.  He kept his head low, he waited for the next blow.  At some point Harry takes emotional responsibility for his actions and what initiative he does take is small and for the good.

This is so exciting because as a society we rarely take time to look at ourselves and own our mistakes, worse yet we have regrets but we do not seek forgiveness.  We make excuses like "I was beaten as a child", or "my boss does not like me", etc...  Emotionally, our inability to forgive and be forgiven closes doors on deeper relationships with our children, our friends and ourselves.  Harry takes a look at his own actions and emotions and decides what is his fault and what is not.  This is a huge relief, Harry is free.  So he slowly and in jumps and starts becomes a good father and a good friend.  He lets go of a great deal of his past and embraces the future but only one day at a time, that is, he learns to live in the now.  He wants absolution, forgiveness and is willing to work for that one good deed at a time, for those closest to him and for himself.  I love this book.

A.M. Homes 
ISBN: 9781847083234 

08 April 2013

'Boneland' by Alan Garner

I was sad when I finished reading but I was also sated and satisfied.  

Boneland completes the Weirdstone trilogy.  The first two books were written several decades ago and were written for children.  This book is special because it is written for adults.  The children in the first two books have grown up and so have the readers.  I was curious to see how that would translate into my own memories and expectations.  It was so much better than I hoped.  Boneland is a bitter sweet book.  I was sad when I finished reading but I was also sated and satisfied.  The book took a child's pain and loss into adulthood.  After the events of The Moon of Gomrath, Colin's sister disappears when they were both 12.  She goes to the Pleaiades to join other maidens, or so Colin believes.  Colin becomes a 21st century Renaissance man, master of many sciences, in the search for her;  he wants to bring her back.  

Colin's struggles are woven with a story about a man only called The Watcher.  The Watcher is in another time.  He dances and draws and sings to keep the world in place and full of life.  But he has a problem, he searches for a woman to create a family so that he may pass on his job and so the world will not end.  Colin looks for his twin and The Watcher looks for his mate.  Both searches are full of their own dangers and tears.  The rhythm of the stories creates its own dance and the impression is beautiful, like twilight with a breeze and the first view of the stars.

Funny enough, given the presence of wizards in the previous books, the only time a wizard briefly appears is as a vengeful, angry old man who destroys a life without understanding or forgiving the pain of a desperate child.  The way the wizard treats Colin that brief moment (in this book) sets the tone for the rest of Colin's life.  The wizard may be waiting with his knights for the end of the world, the implication is that they will fight on the side of light and protect people.  But if this wizard cannot see the value in the innocence of a child and empathize with his pain then I despair for the final battle.  Colin was not a real danger to the knights and their king.  One lonely old wizard lost his temper and scarred a child forever.

To think that we, as a society, have become obsessed with tight, narrow goals achieved by specialized arts is scary, no matter how good and beneficial the goal... Worse yet is to think that there is only one way to achieve this goal.  A wizard who's longevity might have given perspective has, instead, narrowed his focus to the extent that he curses a child.  But the magic of this wizard is not old magic, it is magic tamed for men by men, ironic that he has come to be as narrow and fearful as the mortal humans around him who do not believe in magic.

 I hope I do not give a false view of Boneland; it is not heavy handed with obvious lessons or allegory, different topics or details come up the more I think about this slim book.  Time as a theme (amongst many) is interesting and I closed the book feeling that time has no meaning, it is a trick, and not a good one.  The Watchers's magic and the magic that Colin gently inherits is about balance, duty, truth and beauty.  The solutions to their searches are not expected or hoped for, but they bring closure.  The more I think about Colin and The Watcher the sadder I become but there is hope in their struggles.  Perhaps they will bring balance to the world...

Alan Garner 
ISBN: 9780007463244