Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Monday, June 14, 2010
I recently joined a book club with some work colleagues.
I had been a previous book club in university but that turned quickly into “book club”: an excuse to get together at the pub and drink red wine and conveniently forget to read the book. Besides, one co-bookclubber wanted to read She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb and as it wasn't 1999 and as we are no longer in high school, we cannot make excuses for that kind of thing, booksnob that we are.
This book club is meeting for the first time at a favourite haunt in the Annex on Wednesday Night and I have high hopes. Why? Because we read a book that has a lot of points for discussion.
The Piano Teacher with its startling cover, comparison to Michael Ondaatje and caption that “Sometimes the end of a Love Affair is really just the beginning” gives the impression of an exotic, perhaps tortured love story set in the orient, with colour and lovemaking and regret and loss.
It brought to mind the Painted Veil ( that gorgeously-spun book by W. Somerset Maugham) on first contact.
Reading it, however, left me with quite a different impression.
This is not a mysterious beach read. This is not the enigmatic Memoirs of A Geisha: what with its romanticized world of the mystic orient and its slowly unfurling love-story.
Instead, it is a troubled, troubled story about lust, greed, power and corruption: set against the canvas of Japanese occupied Hong Kong in the early 1940s.
Flipping to and fro from 1950s Hong Kong and the viewpoint of the English Piano Teacher,Claire Pendleton, to the wartime experiences of her love, Will Truesdale: a Britishmen helplessly in love with a Eurasian goddess, the socialite Trudy Liaing.
Will and Trudy’s wartime experience vibrates well into the next decade and, readers surmise, into generations thereafter.
This is a wonderfully written book with sparse, taught prose and a real “feel” for the time and place. Lee has done her research and her words just breathe the essence and place she is writing about.
A sometimes-problematic approach, Lee’s descent into war-time Hong Kong and back to the early 1950s runs very smoothly.
A mystery involving the famed and fictional “Crown Collection” ( an abundance of wealth the Japanese long to capture from British occupants) is the centre of many different, tragic lives.
The story’s thesis is not so much about love experienced and lost rather the lengths people will go to sustain propensity, status and wealth. Lee’s descriptions of the foreign English internment camps erected by the Japanese invaders were harrowing and sad. Indeed, I knew very little about this slice of the war before reading about it in the book.
The main problem ( and its hard to say problem because this may well be Lee’s intention ) is how unlikeable all of the characters are. I had trouble identifying with the exotic and sexualized Trudy, the proud and stiflingly honourable Will, and especially the social-climbing Claire: who pilfers trinkets and scarves from her employers when she arrives to teach daily piano lessons.
Perhaps I had trouble identifying with the characters because I refused to see what drastic measures and actions they took in relation to myself. It is hard to imagine how one would act and what lengths they would go to in order to survive during a war-occupied regime. Lee’s characters often cross the line between mere survival and survival-with-something-to-gain and it was this dark and deeply upsetting perimeter that mostly affected me.
There is a wealth of discussion strewn through the book and it will make a fabulous book club pick for any group! The edition I have comes complete with a book club guide but anyone reading the book will find points popping up straight of the page.
Readers of Wayson Choy, Lisa See and Ondaantje will not be disappointed!
Friday, June 11, 2010
I support Canadian film! Well, erm, I TRY to support Canadian film: I cannot stomach the idea of the new Paul Gross western.
The Trotsky (a T.I.F.F. favourite)is set in contemporary Montreal. It features Jay Baruchel --- who will have my heart forevermore after voicing Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon and Colm Feore --- who has always had my heart but has it even moreso since his turn as Cyrano in the Stratford Production of Cyrano de Bergerac last summer.
17 year old Leon Bronstein believes he is the reincarnation of the infamous Russian Revolutionary and once taken from his carefully-cloistered private school and placed in a run-of-the-mill public system he takes the term student “union” literally and plans to overthrow the Government. Here, the government is the tyrannical Mr. Berkhoff, played villainously by Feore.
I thought this film was fabulous. It was funny and clever and featured Baruchel in another empowering teenage role. Leon is not your average young man and his scheme border on manic. But, as his enemy, the head of the schoolboard attests, he is a brilliant young man. Baruchel is endearing as a vulnerable and confused teenager who experiences finding himself and his purpose by reimagining an intense part of liberal history.
As much as the coincidental circumstances in Leon’s life align with Trotsky’s (including an impassioned affair with an older law student named Alexandra), much of Leon’s experiences are created and crafted by an ingenious teenager who sees himself as having a greater part than his world allots.
The climactic scene in the film, where Leon stages a voluntary coup ( led by students dressed as the eponymous creatures from Orwell’s “Animal Farm” ) is surprisingly thrilling and tense. Leon’s a bit of a nutbar, but you want him to succeed. Sort of like the hero in a Gordon Korman novel… which leads me to surmise:
All-in-all, this film was cleverly written, utterly Canadian and immediately called to mind a plot from a Gordon Korman novel.
Now we just need to cast Jay Baruchel as the reincarnation of Boots in the MacDonald Hall series.
(also, Canadians, there is an amazingly giggly scene in which Baruchel's character is featured on E!Talk Daily with that annoyingly side-burned Ben Mulroney!....nice little inside Canadian joke)
Two Rachel Thumbs Up.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
So, last month Courtney, Kat and I headed out to Chapters Brampton ( read: the middle of nowhere ) to meet Arthur Slade who was in town ( all the way from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) promoting the excellent novel, The Dark Deeps, book II in the incredibly amazing, breathtaking, action packed, brimming with verisimilitude, mindblowing, earth-shattering, Jules Verne meets Victor Hugo at tea with Sherlock Holmes with Robert Louis Stevenson serving scones HUNCHBACK ASSIGNMENTS series.
Slade remains my favourite YA author in the WORLD ( o.k. tied with Catherine Webb) and the only author ( with the exception of LM Montgomery via séance) I would trek to Brampton to see.
Courtney trekked from Cambridge and Kat and I trekked from Toronto. (Kat and I had the better end of the deal because we had a massive Ziploc full of JellyBellys)
Once there, we got to meet Arthur Slade and get books signed and stuff! Of course, we are ten years ( okay, MORE than ten years ) older than his usual demographic but WHO CARES! ??
I was also two or three times taller than all of the kids in front of me in line ( the curse of being an adult who loves kids’ books). Yes, we did let the children go first. It’s all about the children, don’t y’know.
MOMENTS: One little girl ( of the B.O.O.K.E.D series ) who was introducing Ye olde Slade mentioned that “Modo satisfies all my reading needs”. I promptly died of cuteness.
Ye olde Slade rambled about a book on submarines from a bargain bin ( he gets geeked out about stuff, apparently--- ).
It was a night of nerdy wonderfulness and quite well documented in LIVE TWEETS in REAL TIME by my friend, Kat. RELIVE THE MAGIC FOR YOURSELVES, reader-friends
· At Chapters in Brampton, fangirling over @arthurslade ! :) 6:46 PM May 12th via Echofon
(EDITOR’S NOTE: I don’t appreciate being called a “fangirl”, I prefer the term: learned book enthusiast)
· @rachkmc just asked @arthurslade a question. @moonsoar and I are amused! 6:46 PM May 12th via Echofon
(EDITOR’S NOTE: I did ask A.Slade a question: I wanted to know where he got his delicious character names)
· "Modo rhymes with Frodo." - @arthurslade 6:47 PM May 12th via Echofon
(EDITOR’S NOTE:not only is A. Slade a brilliant, Governor-General’s award-winning author, he apparently knows how to rhyme)
· Cheap books are not cheap, they're bargains! A la @arthurslade 6:51 PM May 12th via Echofon
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Apparently, A. Slade is also savvy with synonyms)
· @arthurslade totally just HOPPED down the stairs! Amazing! :) 6:52 PM May 12th via Echofon
(EDITOR’S NOTE: It was basically a breakneck-paced action film by this point. Like, someone get Bruckheimer on the phone. STAT.)
· @moonsoar just blanked on her question to @arthurslade . @rachkmc and I are amused! 6:54 PM May 12th via Echofon
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Courtney did rally. Besides, we were all speechless in the presence of brilliance: the kind of brilliance that talks about Star Wars ad nauseum)
· @arthurslade just hopped again! Best author move ever! via Echofon
(EDITOR’S NOTE: in summation, A. Slade is quite the animated author… either that or he thinks he’s a rabbit and his treadmill desk is keeping him in tip-top shape)
· @arthurslade 's fave character is #DarthVader ! Hot dog! ;) via Echofon
(EDITOR’S NOTE: see? I mentioned the Star Wars thing, did I not?)
· Ppl are getting their books signed by @arthurslade now. @rachkmc , @moonsoar & i will wait until it shrinks 2 almost nothing. We r patient. via Echofon
· Okay, we're in line. I wish I had my TP copy of Megiddo's Shadow for @arthurslade to sign. Curse you Amazon!!! Will get #Hunchback1 signed. via Echofon
· Free Starbucks samples in line waiting for @arthurslade to sign our books! Score! via Echofon
· Almost our turn! Special salute @arthurslade ! via Echofon
(EDITOR’S NOTE: upon arriving, A. Slade gave his audience a special salute for coming. Kat returned the favour)
Then we all went home and had to become grown-ups again with careers and deadlines and early mornings.
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
I recently reviewed one installment in a series I quite enjoy: The Miracle at Speedy Motors the ninth book of Alexander McCall Smith's engaging tales of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.
Grounded in morality and arbitration, I find these books have a steady and solid background, develop character and force the reader to note the good in everyone. Human character, relationships and goodness are at the heart of the novels. More still, they transport the reader to beautiful Bostwana: a bountiful and fruitful land where suffering is paired with grace and etiquette.
While formatting my review of the book at my other book blog, I stumbled upon this article in the Church Times which likens McCall Smith to the gospel. Precious Ramotswe, argues the writer, emblemizes the empathy we find in the Apostle Paul.
Feel free to read that article here
Read my quick and snappy review of The Miracle at Speedy Motors here
and track down Alexander McCall Smith: a prolific contemporary writer ( to say the least) here
First, a REVIEW:
The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith.
I cannot say that I have read Smith’s No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series in order---- nor have I sped through the series one after another. I read them now and then. Usually if I am in the mood or if I happen to stumble upon a copy at a used bookstore.
I find this is one series you can read out of order. Though the characters and plotlines continue throughout, the sparse, happy prose moves in such a way that you can catch up. You will easily clutch Smith’s sweet wisdom in the same way that the traditionally-built Mma Ramotswe clutches a cup of her beloved bush tea.
As is usually the case in the series, The Miracle at Speedy Motors opens in a slow, languid, yawn of a fashion with beautiful Africa spread as a canvas and the colourful characters of Mma Ramotswe, Grace Makutsi and JLB Matekoni ( now, like old ,tried friends) inching along the coloured backdrop like figures on a felt Sunday School board.
Yes, there is a mystery--- this one involving a woman and her family. Yet, like the best detective fiction ( and by “best” I mean the stories I hanker toward most often ), it is not so much the problem or its solution rather the characters and how they intertwine with the problem that keeps me dappling in the genre.
There are two major subplots to this absolutely charming novel: Mma Makutsi and her fiancé have found a suitable and comfortable bed for their upcoming life together but strange happenstances find Mma Makutsi’s bed ruined by an onslaught of rain. JLB Matekoni has met a doctor who he believes can heal the spinal injury of his adopted daughter Motholeli.
The scenes in which Rra Matekoni expresses his assured hope in Motholeli’s certain miracle are so touching you just want to sit and deliciously sniff at how sweet and warm and wonderful these characters and their world are.