Author: A.S. Byatt
How it fulfills the challenge: This book is an adaptation of the Norse end of the world myth (Ragnarok)
Genre: Fiction (maybe could be considered fantasy? Literary Fantasy…)
Quick Description: A detailed and almost poetic interpretation of a Norse myth with amazing imagery and a complex look at good and evil, power and weakness, as seen through the eyes of a child obsessed with the story.
Opening line: The thin child thought less (or so it now seems) of where she herself came from, and more about that old question, why is there something rather than nothing?
It began slowly. There were flurries of sharp snow over the fields where the oats and barley were ready to be harvested. There was ice on the desponds at night, when the harvest moon, huge and red, was still in the sky. There was ice on water jugs and an increasing thin, bitter wind that did not let up, so that they became used to keeping their heads hooded and down.
Highlights: Beautifully descriptive and evocative retelling of an ancient myth. My favorite section is on Yggdrasil, the great tree that contains so much life and death.
Low Points: I’m not super familiar with this myth, and Byatt does little to familiarize it. Instead she delights in the strangeness and otherness. It’s a more faithful retelling than other adaptations (or so I’ve read), and it feels older and darker, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not exactly what I was expecting and it was very different from Byatt’s Possession.
Goodreads rating: 4 stars.
Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Author: Gabriel García Márquez
How it fulfills the challenge: Márquez is from Colombia, and I’ve never been outside of North America
Genre: Literary Fiction/Classic
Quick Description: A sweeping family saga in a small Caribbean town filled with super long lived residents and plenty of mystery and intrigue. It follows the lives of the members of the Buendía family through multiple generations. Each generation has their own triumphs and tragedies and in the end the ultimate struggle is against forgetting–oblivion.
“He dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her.”
Highlights: I don’t even know where to start with this book. There are parts that are a bit difficult because some of the names and generations start to bleed together, but the prose is so intriguing, so evocative that it doesn’t even matter. The tone of the book is always in keeping with the nature of the town itself, and the magical realism is so deftly done that it the magical seems prosaic, though never boring. It was difficult to choose just one quote because there is so much the book says about love, obsession, survival, and death. Márquez is a true master, and I can’t even begin to imagine how amazing it would be to read this book in Spanish.
My Goodreads Rating: 5 stars
Kate Christensen’s novel is written in diary format, though the narrator would probably not like it being referred to that way. But it’s written as a series of notebooks he writes his private thoughts in and doesn’t let anyone read…so a diary. There’s nothing wrong with having a diary of course; I’ve had one for years (though I do occasionally read aloud from it, especially to settle important relationship disputes, such as where Paul and I went for our fourth anniversary dinner. It was Del Alma in Corvallis, Oregon, which is really great place to go for a nice dinner, in case you were wondering).
The narrator is dying from an entirely preventable disease that he could reverse if he gave up smoking–something he categorically refuses to do. He’s rude, crude, and really nothing more than a snarky hermit living in a family mansion that’s going to ruins as quickly as his body. So naturally, he’s brilliant. He makes you fall in love with all his horrible qualities. He is, in a word, fascinating. Also neurotic, paranoid, self-centered, and crabby. Christensen creates one of those lovely characters you love to hate. And makes him say wonderfully archaic things that are out of sync with reality, but somehow just right. This book should be offensive, but it’s really just good fun in the strangest way. I highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks the world is too PC, who enjoys uncouth protagonists, or who just needs something very good to read.
Mary Costello’s book follows a similar path as the last one I read by Cynthia Ozick. They are both books that detail the trajectory of a single life. But Costello’s book is much quieter and much sadder. The events that occur in Tess Lohan, the protagonist’s, life are not driven by herself. Tess allows life to steer her. She’s forever looking for signs. Instead of steering her course, she comes upon it and reacts to it. This doesn’t mean her life is devoid of beautiful moments, but everything in her life feels like it is beyond her control. And yet, Costello garners great sympathy for her character.
Instead of contempt, the reader is overwhelmed by pity. For who doesn’t know what it’s like to feel lonely? Or unloved? Or confused? You feel her grief–you feel that she feels things deeply. Costello shows us a quiet life, not necessarily as a teaching tool that tells us what to avoid in our own lives, but as a way to deepen our understanding of the people we rarely notice, who lead quiet lives far from ours.
Maybe not a beach read, but it’s a good book to curl up with on a rainy day with a cup to tea.