I’ve had good luck on the book front recently:
* The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. Oh. My God. I LOVED this book. It was beautifully written, wonderfully constructed, lovingly translated, and Barbery did not punk out on the ending. The concierge Madame Michel looks like any other 54-year-old concierge in an upper-class Paris apartment building. This is camouflage. She is in reality an autodidact, a connoisseur of art, literature, classical music, and film. The privileged, hyperintelligent girl Paloma plans to kill herself on her next birthday because adult life is a sham. Both of them are doomed to loneliness and self-destruction…but then a new tenant moves in, and an odd sort of salvation between dissimilar creatures takes place.
I won’t lie. The book made me cry, especially the part about the camellias. And I expected Barbery to go for the Hallmark ending and ruin a great book, and she didn’t. My faith in humanity is officially restored.
* Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri. I blame Bam for this. She was reading Lahiri the other day and tweeted that Interpreter of Maladies got a Pulitzer–a collection of short stories, getting a Pulitzer. I had to read it. I flat-out loved every story. I am still thinking about Mrs. Sen, though I suspect my favorite story is a toss-up between Sexy and A Real Durwan. The only wrong note was The Third And Final Continent, mostly because the exposition at the end seemed like a case where the writer got tired and took the easy way.
I find Lahiri very Ibsen-like. There is not a great deal of motion on the surface; it is mostly interior action. This is difficult to pull off without getting boring, but Lahiri does it brilliantly.
* Her Majesty’s Spymaster, Stephen Budiansky. This is history the way it’s meant to be told. Action-packed, deftly explained, and occasionally hysterically funny in a dry academic way, this slim biography of Walsingham–the man who, more than anyone other than Cecil, kept Queen Elizabeth I on the throne–just knocked it out of the park for me. It starts with a gripping description of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and managed to make me finally understand what the hell was going on with Mary Queen of Scots and why she and Elizabeth acted the way they did. I’ve read other books that haven’t given me half as much insight into Elizabethan society and political maneuvering.
* Along For The Ride, Sarah Dessen. I’m a big, big Dessen fan. I bought this in hardcover because I couldn’t wait. (Dessen’s Dreamland is one of the best YA books I’ve ever read, hands-down.) The protagonist, Auden, is an insomniac overachiever, dealing with her parents’ divorce. In trademark Dessen style, with lyricism and deft characterization, Auden finds solace in nighttime rambles with another insomniac, a boy haunted by a deadly accident. However, it’s in Auden’s relationship with her stepmother and her halting, painful relationship with her demanding mother, that Dessen’s craft really shines. A very solid, very beautiful YA book.
If I ever meet Sarah Dessen in person my brain is going to melt from the sheer fangirl squee. Nuff said.
So, it’s been a good run for me lately. I’m still working very slowly on other books, ones I either have to savor or slow down and really untangle each word of. Obfuscation is considered a sign of academic and literary athleticism, but it’s hell to work through even when one loves the material.
Poor, poor me. Yeah, I’m just unlucky all over, ain’t I.
Over and out.
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