Hello, and welcome to the second instalment of A Reader Reports, which is very much what the title promises. I’ve had an absolutely wonderful streak of books lately – so much so that I’m a bit worried about what’s coming next, in case it doesn’t live up to its predecessors. The Fabulous Four, in the order I read them, are:
Shadows on the Moon, by Zoë Marriott
I flicked this one open quite casually, thinking that I might just browse a little before saving it it for a while. Then I read the first paragraph: “On my fourteenth birthday when the sakura was in full bloom, the men came to kill us. We saw them come, Aimi and me. We were excited, because we did not know how to be frightened. We had never seen soldiers before.” But it’s not just a tense, fast-paced adventure story. Zoë re-tells the Cinderella story in a way that makes Suzume, the main character, a real heroine: determined, resourceful, intelligent, and brave. She folds into the story cultural details about a country that resembles, but is not, feudal Japan. And she plays with the idea of what it means to be exotic with witty, thoughtful results.
Jane Austen: A Life, by Claire Tomalin
I’ve raved about Claire Tomalin here before, so I’ll keep this brief. I cannot imagine a more sensitive, satisfying exploration of Jane Austen’s elusive life story. Tomalin fills in the gaps gently, suggests enticing possibilities, and offers a thoroughly convincing theory for Austen’s quiet period. She also reads the novels with authority and her argument about Sense and Sensibility (until now my least-favourite Austen novel; Tomalin claims it’s a conflicted debate about propriety and Romanticism, which intrigues me) makes me want to re-read it more attentively.
Plain Kate, by Erin Bow
This book just won – and entirely deserved to win – the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award! It’s a stunner of a novel about an orphaned carver girl, the Plain Kate of the title. The novel is a fairy tale, a ghost story, a coming-of-age tale, and a meditation on family, all told in beautifully precise and elegant prose. And did I mention the talking cat? I cried myself to a pulp reading this and the world is a better place for its existence.
Faith Fox, by Jane Gardam
I love Jane Gardam’s work. She’s a ruthless observer of human weakness, yet affectionate towards the ridiculousness of her characters’ behaviour. She creates absurd situations with outrageous levels of coincidence, yet they feel absolutely realistic at the same time. Faith Fox is a baby whose mother dies in childbirth, setting off a series of actions and reactions – Faith is just the catalyst. As always with Gardam, it’s not about the plot at all; instead, I revel in her language, her astoundingly precise and surprising characterization, and her gift of being able to see into so many different times and places and minds with such clarity.
Whew. So. What have you been reading?
P. S. I bought Shadows on the Moon and Plain Kate with my own money; Jane Austen and Faith Fox were gifts from my husband, who is also clearly on a hot streak.