Update: I’ve been reading!
Here are some books I’ve read recently, just in case you were wondering!
Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
I pulled this book off the shelf after it sat there neglected for several years, and loved it so much. Such a quirky, thoughtful, multi-layered book. Our hero (what a great name Virgil Wander is!) doesn’t really wander anywhere, in the physical sense, but his experiences in the hard luck Minnesota town of Greenstone, located on the shore of Lake Superior (should be called a sea, not a lake, one fisherman said) are charming and insightful. And also weird and strange and with the magical quality of a fable. A friend told me today about her visit to Crete and when she went to the beach by the place in the sea where Icarus fell to his death. That has the same sense to me — a magical place where myths come to life. I could imagine myself standing by those waters and shouting: Icarus, why didn’t you listen to your father? And I could easily imagine myself in Greenstone watching an old movie at Virgil’s theater, or flying a kite with Rune, or surfing with Bjorn…
Visit with Virgil Wander (Virgil, our Greek guide through the story) and enjoy the journey. This book was Enger’s first novel in ten years, after his bestselling book Peace Like a River.
Here We Are by Graham Swift
Swift is a wonderful British writer. His book Last Orders won the Booker Prize. I read a book of his called Mothering Sunday, which I adored and which tells the story of a woman’s life and how she came to be a writer because of something that happened to her on a day long ago. Here We Are has much the same shape as Mothering Sunday in that it is a brief book that meanders around in time. It tells the stories of three main characters and how their lives came together and, in one case, apart. It goes back in time to their beginnings in another era, but is placed in the present where one of the characters is recollecting all of this. Read it and determine for yourself whose story it is. Is it about Ronnie the magician and why he disappeared, or about Evie his assistant and how she made a life for herself, our about Jack, who brought them all together and made the show happen? In my opinion, this is very much Evie’s story.
One beautiful scene has Evie walking into a garden and, when the light shines just so, it illuminates the cobwebs connecting everything. So it is with magic, where there are hidden connections, and so it is with life.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Murakami is a gap in my reading, and I decided it was time to read one of his books – so many people I know like and admire his work. A customer recommended this book, and I took her suggestion. It’s a popular one, and I’ve had it recommended previously, so I bought a copy @bnplymouthmtg and dove in.
“I was thirty-seven then…” the book begins, letting us know this will be a recollected story. The character, whose name we later learn is Toru, hears a recording of the song “Norwegian Wood” and is plunged into sad memories. He then proceeds to take us back to a day when he was a college student in Japan walking in a field with a beloved, Naoko, and from there we learn the story of his relationships with Naoko and others whom he met along the way in his college days.
The book made me think of Rachel Cusk’s Outline, which is described as a novel in conversations. One description of that book says: “the people she encounters speak volubly about themselves.” The same could be said of this book. Toru meets people, seems to take them into his life with little judgment or forethought, and then they talk, talk, talk at him.
Naoko and Toru have both, I think it is fair to say, been traumatized by the death by suicide of their teenage friend. There is a lot of suicide in this book (oh, my – it just popped into my head that these characters are talking themselves to death, and that’s probably a very crass thought, but it’s not untrue.)
After I finished the book, I learned that this style is not representative on Murakami in general, and that his books tend to be more fantastical. This was his first book of realistic fiction, written after he had developed a modest reputation, and it skyrocketed him to fame, which apparently dismayed him to the extent that he left Japan.
I am far from knowing much about Murakami, but this is my impression of this book. I did see him once in a Zoom author event where he was talking about his kitchen and about cooking and he was charming.
And then I read… well, tune in next time!