Saturday, August 13, 2016

Witness and Mysteries. . . What I've Been Reading

I'm supposed to be on a blogging break now, but that, of course, means that I have more time to read, which in turn means there are more titles to record here. . . . and then I look ahead on the calendar and see our big move ahead and some travel plans a few weeks after that. Plus, of course, I'm getting ready to host a Read-Along of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend in a few weeks. . . My mother used to use an old expression, "Your eyes are bigger than your stomach," and it seems to apply well to other appetites and consequences than those for food. I'm often wanting to do more than I can really manage, tempted to "bite off more than I can chew." Perhaps my new resolution for my blog(s) might be to under-promise and then try to over-deliver. . . . Sadly, there's another old expression, something about old dogs and new tricks, that suggests I might not change my ways so easily.

Excuses and explanations done, then, I'll confess that as much as I'd wanted to spend more time telling you about Anthony Marra's wonderful, haunting, painful A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, all I'm going to say is that BuffaloGal was absolutely right when she commented that the novel about the damaged humanity left in the wake of the Second Chechen War, "it was brilliant- a story of love, loss, and what binds us together. Run- don't walk!! I can't get it out of my head" I finished the book a few weeks ago, and the characters are with me still. The setting is as well, I'm surprised to say -- much of it is a setting of devastation, to be honest, and depressing more than horrifying. A setting I'd prefer to consign to a Mad Max movie, one that lays bare humanity's willingness to hurt and destroy in the name of a cause or an idea or simply a hatred. But there are also small, persistent images of tentative hope, hope against better judgment, admittedly, often betrayed, yet just enough affirmation of goodness and strength and guarded tipping into love -- just enough to keep me mesmerised, reading forward through the pain.

Wonderful descriptions of the role of art in the novel, particularly its value, if any, in the face of obliterating, banal destruction. Often woven together with these descriptions is an ongoing meditation on the decaying of memory, the disappearance of an entity -- a sorrowful notion, yes, but rendered throughout in lyrical terms that will make you look away from the page for a moment or two and just consider. . . I love the narrator's voice as well, detached somewhat, yes, and omniscient, but with a wry care for the characters he tells us about -- often this narrator will tell us that a certain character will, 30 or 40 years' hence, do such-and-such an action. This inflects the novel's intense focus on a particular, destructive historical and geographic moment, putting it onto a much bigger canvas, time-wise at least, and arguably, by extrapolation, spatially as well.  I think it also has the effect of emphasising the role of witness, a role (and a responsibility?) that I believe a novel like this invites us to take up. My life is undeniably privileged, but at the very least, I can be attentive to the world's sorrows so that I might use that privilege as responsibly as possible. Pursuing this concept here would lead me into a much longer post than I have time for (See? Eyes bigger than my stomach again! Mom was right!), so I'll leave it at that. . .  Thank you BuffaloGal for recommending this and I second your advice to other readers: Run, don't walk! Read this book.

Just quickly, now, to list a few mysteries I've read lately:
Julia Keller's Bitter River.  As with the first in this series featuring West Virginia prosecutor Bell Elkins, I enjoyed this well enough once the rhythm got established quite a few chapters in. I couldn't help but be irritated by the references to the events of the last novel, and overall, I wished for more editing. There are too many metaphors, too much figurative language altogether, and for me at least, too much "folksy," for want of a better word. I like the characters, like the setting well enough, the plotting was satisfying, and I would probably read another in the series, but I won't rush to find one as I have with other mysteries (the two below being examples).

Donna Leon's Quietly in their Sleep (alternatively titled The Death of Faith) -- fifth in the Commissario Guido Benedetti series set in Venice. The target of Leon's ongoing exposure of corruption in Italy is the church, in this novel. I know many of you have already read the series, are perhaps enjoying the latest title now, but I'm fortunate enough to have started them quite recently (I mention others here and here, and it's such a delight to watch the relationships and characters develop -- Benedetti and his wife's particularly.

Denise Mina's Field of Blood. Also lucky to have just discovered Mina, via my blogging buddy Sue at High Heels in the Wilderness. This title is the first in a series featuring young journalist Paddy Meehan, and I'm already hooked by the way Mina captures the hopes and fears and impatiences of an 18-year-old looking out at the exciting possibilities of city life from her hermetic family and community neighbourhood.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm really on a blogging break and I have some books to read. . . Comments? You know I love them, although I hope you'll understand if I hold back responding while on my vacation.

Friday, July 29, 2016

More July Reading -- Two Titles for You

When I last wrote here, I was partway through Teju Cole's Open City, remarking on how much Cole's writing reminds me of W.G. Sebald's and discovering (with some embarrassment) that I was far from the first to make that link.  Indeed, there are many, many fine, nuanced, comprehensive responses to, and analyses of this novel and Cole's writing overall, that I won't attempt to say much more about it here. I know this is a book I will return to, and if/when any of you have ready it and are ready to chat about it, I'll be happy to do that -- something is introduced at the end of the novel that flips it completely on its head, giving the narrator's meditative if dispassionate voice throughout a troubling tone. I'm still trying to sort out how that works and why and whether the narrator is reliable at all.  I don't think his voice will leave me anytime soon, but I'm leaving it in the background for now, turned down low.

Meanwhile, as I wrote last post, I'd checked out an ambitious little pile of books from the library. The Steve Burrows' mystery,  A Pitying of Doves, second in a series of Birder Murder Mysteries, was a quick palate cleanser before another more serious novel. I'm happy to have discovered this series set in Northern Northfolk, near a coastal saltmarsh favoured by birders. The protagonist Domenic Jejeune is an expat Canadian, a police inspector whose unconventional approach has nevertheless brought considerable attention in the wake of his successful solving of some high-profile murders. Jejeune, however, would prefer a life as a birder, a field in which he also enjoys some renown, but his undeniable talents as a detective keep pulling him back toward a career that doesn't seem to bring him joy. His girlfriend of several years is trying to convince him that his talents demand to be used and that the notion of a career in birding is a pipe dream he needs to grow out of.  Other characters are struggling with various life challenges as well, and there are several potential romances to speculate about from one novel to the next as the series develops. I'm looking forward to reading the next one, and I happily recommend the first two for anyone looking for a new mystery series to enjoy.

Next up, and I hope to say a few words about it soon, was an e-book I'd put on hold at the Vancouver Public Library. This was a first for me, borrowing in electronic form, but it couldn't have been easier. I could have downloaded it via my Kobo app, but I opted instead to use a program called OverDrive. I downloaded the e-book and read it on my iPad Mini, and the whole experience was so easy that I will be doing this again regularly and often. In fact, I just got a notice that another e-book I'd put on hold has just come available.  Can you see why I'm having a problem writing these posts? I'm too busy reading!

But for now, there's a quick update. Time for you to let me know what you're reading, and whether or not you've read or heard of the two books I mention here today.

Remember, beginning in September, I'll be hosting a ReadAlong of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend for anyone who'd like to participate. If you've already started reading it in preparation, considering jotting down a few notes as you go -- I'll be very keen for any of you to share your thoughts, and I know I find it easier to remember if I either make notes in the margins (I know! Some book people are aghast at the thought of writing in a book, but it's been a scholarly habit of mine since my first degree and throughout my grad school and then teaching years) or in a notebook that I keep alongside my reading if I'm working with an e-book or a library book. Of course, you might have a much better memory than mine and that's not necessary. And you might not feel comfortable commenting at all -- rest assured that will be just fine as well. This is the first ReadAlong I've attempted and the idea is to keep it fun and inclusive while nonetheless hoping to build, collectively, a stronger understanding of and engagement with a book well worthy of some protracted attention.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Recent Reading Adventures -- the Public Library and Beyond. . .

After years of not using the public library, relying instead on the academic libraries of my grad schools and then of the university I taught at, I finally renewed my membership at the library in Nanaimo just a few months before we moved. Packing my copious collection of books into boxes for storage, rather despairing of finding enough shelf space when we unpack in September, I could see the library might be a better option than buying more books. Or, at least, a check-and-balance that means I might not buy quite so many, that I might restrict the buying to those I'm quite sure I'll want to return to more than once.

A couple of weeks ago, then, I decided to pick up a membership at the Vancouver Public Library, and I came home from that visit with three books: two mystery novels -- a favourite genre, but one I tend not to reread -- and an early novel by Elena Ferrante, one that reader Georgia had recommended to me. The latter, though, is the original Italian novel, La Figlia Oscura, and I'm unlikely to finish it in Italian in the time allotted by the library. What a wonderful resource, though, to find it on the shelf there. So far, I'm just trying to work my way through a few paragraphs a day, no expectation that my rudimentary Italian will get me through an entire novel, but absolutely tickled that I can understand what I'm reading as long as I continually consult my online dictionary. Particularly tickled that I didn't have to pay a penny for the experience. . . .

Of the mystery novels, I gave myself an escape-the-world day last week to gobble up the first of a series I spotted in a bookstore in Ottawa a few weeks ago, featuring a female prosecutor, Belfa Elkins, working in West Virginia. Although I'm glad I saved the $12 I would had to pay for a paperback copy of Julia Keller's A Killing in the Hills,  I enjoyed it enough that I'll check the library shelves for more in the series. Bell (Belfa's nickname) is bright, feisty, and fairly recently a single parent of a teen-aged daughter, having been divorced just a few years. There's a hint that she may embark on some romance, but she has a dark past that she's also dealing with.  There's also more than a hint that the series may get even better now that the groundwork's been laid -- I found myself caring much more about characters at about the halfway point. I'm further intrigued by the setting, which I don't know much of. Keller goes well beyond a physical sense of the geography, the flora and fauna, the architecture, and the weather. She also describes the socio-economic impact on this region of the downturn in coal mining, and she paints a compelling picture of the effects on a previously rural, even hermetic social structure of an all-too-connected and globalised world in which young people are very vulnerable and their elders despair of knowing how to help them.

Next up? The other mystery novel I picked up at the library is the second in Steve Burrows' Birder Murder mysteries, A Pitying of Doves. But before I begin it, I have to finish Teju Cole's Open City, a novel which is demanding a very different kind of attention and pacing.  This was a novel I bought, knowing it will be one I return to (prompted to buy it, in fact, by a blogging friend's Instagram post in which she mentioned rereading it).  A meditative and erudite consideration of the post-911 world, the Open City seeming to be New York, based on what I've read so far, but also referring perhaps to Lagos, to Brussels, to international cities that feature in our grand, collective imaginaries. The narrator is a psychiatrist, Nigerian-born and raised, but with roots also in Europe -- and in Europe's trauma -- now walking the streets of his adopted home, the city whose streets he walks, pondering the state of the world, of humanity.

 I kept trying to remember, as I read through the first hundred pages or so, whose voice, whose tone, whose rhythm I was hearing. What was it that felt familiar? What did it feel familiar to? And I'd have to go back and read the two side by side, but what I think I'm feeling echoes of is W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz.  Admittedly, Cole's style and structure don't challenge the reader with density and duration/length the way Sebald's do in Austerlitz. But both novels share gravitas, both span decades and countries insisting on connections across pathways we often try to ignore, both have a gentle urgency about the state of humanity and the world, both employ erudite pauses on what can appear to be arcana (more details than you ever wanted to know about bedbugs, in the case of Open City, for example).  A stretch, perhaps, to link these two writers, but if you've read both, please weigh in. And if you've only read one, might I suggest/request you try the other, and then report back?

Oh dear, I've just Googled Open City, thinking I'd tell you which book prizes it was shortlisted for -- National Book Critics Circle Award and The Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje prize --  and which it's won -- the PEN/Hemingway award -- and I see that the publisher's description of the book includes the phrase "The bestselling debut novel from a writer heralded as the twenty-first-century W. G. Sebald." I'm too chastened to go find out who heralded Coles as such, but I suppose I should also feel vindicated that others made the connection as well. So now, I'll just click on "Publish," and then wait for any comments you might care to share. . . read any good books lately?
And I'm curious to know what proportion of your reading involves books borrowed from the library. Also, tell me whether your library habits are regular or whether their erratic and involve shameful fines (my current fear. . . ). 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

What I Read, First Half of 2016

A friend pointed out to me the other day that, with the end of June, we were already halfway through 2016. The observation gave me pause. Pater and I have done so much already in these first six months of the year, having managed to prepare our house for the real estate market, list, sell, and move out of it, buy a new home in a very tough market, and begin a very different lifestyle in the city after more than twenty years on our little island.

And through all that, I was reading. . . .

I've often thought that I should post my reading list halfway through the year, and my friend's comment gave me the nudge I needed to make that happen.  You'll see that for some titles,  I've added links to earlier posts in which I've mentioned or reviewed those books.  For a few others, I've added a few notes about the book to the list I start making at the beginning of each year; the remaining titles don't even get that, and I wish I could do better. Maybe in the second half of 2016? (but probably not...)

1. Gertrud Schnackenberg, Heavenly Questions
2, André Alexis, Fifteen Dogs
3. Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
4. Cynthea Masson, The Alchemists' Council -- Note that when I reviewed this book, I did so from a reading copy, and the book hadn't been published yet. It was released a month or so ago, and I'd love to hear from you if you should get a copy (available in trade paperback and in e-book version)
5. Donna Leon, Death and Judgment
6. Virginia Baily, Early One Morning
7. Paul E. Paolicelli, Dances with Luigi
8. Ian Rankin, Even Dogs in the Wild
9. James H.S. McGregor, Rome from the Ground up -- Still dipping into this, not finished but will before year-end.
10 Haruki Marukami, What I Think about when I Think about Running Began last year; finally finished. Even if you're not a runner, you might enjoy this memoir/collection of essays about writing and running and ageing and life. Certainly, this is the most accessible introduction you're likely to find to Marukami's writing. Fascinating to read how his writing career began, apparently rather haphazardly. . . .(short shrift, I know, and this book deserves better -- read it and see for yourself!)
11. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Boyhood Island -- still hoping to write something about this. I loved it! Delightful bit of respite in the series, perfectly placed to work retroactively against the earlier volumes
12. Paolo Giordano, The Solitude of Prime Numbers -- liked this very much, but never found time to review
13. Peter Robinson, Before the Poison
14. Emily St. John Mandel. Station Eleven
15. Hanya Yanagihra. A Little Life. I'm still thinking about this one. Thinking about how manipulated I was, emotionally, even as part of me registered incongruities of circumstance, character, coincidence. Wondering -- admiringly, I think -- how, precisely, the author managed that, what was going on stylistically, how deliberate was it. There's a play with stretching realism's possibilities that very much intrigues me in retrospect. But I do understand why some readers hated or resented the novel.
16. Michelle Gable. A Paris Apartment 
17. Paul Kalinithi. When Breath Becomes Air
18. Patricia Cornwell. Flesh and Blood
19. Mary Karr. The Art of Memoir In the midst of moving, never managed to finish this before having to return it to the library. May try to borrow it again. . .
20. Patricia Cornwell, Depraved Heart
21. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Dancing in the Dark Another I still hold out hope I might find time to write about -- really enjoyed and would recommend. At least, I'd use this one (and Boyhood Island) as incentive/promise to encourage readers to stick with the first two vollumes in the series. Sort of an "It Gets Better" promise. . . .
22. Donna Leon, Acqua Alta
23. Chevy Stevens, Those Girls
24. Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic Didn't quite finish before I had to return it to the library, but I think I'd already got the gist. Several passages made the book worthwhile, and if you're looking to rev up your creativity, it's very much worth dipping into. But this is really a magazine article s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d into a book.
25 Sunjeer Sahota, The Year of the Runaways Very moving novel about intersecting characters, Indian immigrants both illegal and legal-but-precarious trying to make a better life in England but barely able to find a living day to day, never mind to get ahead. Timely reading for me, as I finished this not long before the Brexit vote and I was so alert to how much Britain's (and many other countries') economy depends on migrant workers such as these -- yet how exploited and mistreated they can be.
26. Jonathan Evison, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! Quirky, cute-enough novel that my daughter passed along to me, it's about a widow in her late 70s, adjusting to life without her husband and re-evaluating her life. At least, the narrator seems to be evaluating it for her, sometimes rather patronisingly. I wasn't quite sure how much I liked his tone, quite honestly. He (I couldn't think of the narrative voice other than as "he," although there's no concrete evidence for that assumption) provided context for the narrow safeties she'd Harriet had chosen throughout her many constrained, suburban, bourgeois life, but still seemed more judgemental than I was comfortable with. Still, I found it amusing enough with the appearance of her husband's ghost, trying to warn her about something she's soon to find out. No spoilers here, so you'll have to see for yourself. Let me know if you do. . .
27. John Farrow,  Seven Days Dead
28. Steve Burrows, A Siege of Bitterns, Great fun, the first in a series of Birder Murder Mysteries. . . if you're at all interested in Birding, this is the mystery for you . . .
29. Francine Ruel, Petite Mort à Venise, just finishing this and very much enjoying practicing my French to read about three "women of a certain age" discovering Venice together. A charming novel, delightful armchair travel. . .

So there it is, my reading list for the first half of 2016. I've already got a big stack lined up for the second half. But if you have recommendations to make, I'll happily add them to my list. And if you want to share your response to any of the titles above, please do. I'm also curious to know if any of you keep track of your reading and if so, how? Interestingly, for me, I've just realised that this is the first reading list I've made in years that doesn't include titles I'm rereading. That will change this fall as I launch my first-ever Readalong on the Blog, a Read-along of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend. More about that later, but I do hope you'll plan to join us. . .

Friday, July 1, 2016

Ferrante Again. . . and some plans. . . and an apology from a bad blogger

A month after I last posted on Elena Ferrante's four-volume Neapolitan series, and there's no longer any point in pretending that I will be able to write what I'd once hoped to.  Goofily, however, I'm not quite ready to give up on having a really satisfying conversation about these books, which have so deeply engaged me, which provoke so much thinking about womanhood, friendship, motherhood, and how those three conditions or states interact and how much they're inflected by the cultural context. As well, so much to think about stylistically and structurally. . .

I have this foolish idea that I may try to organise a read-along of the first novel in the series, My Brilliant Friend, not until Pater and I have moved into our new home in September, but something that takes a manageable approach to reading and posting, perhaps a chapter at a time. . . I'm hoping to draw more readers over from my other blog, but I want to do some planning first so that I don't get myself caught up in commitments I can't meet.

For now, I apologise profusely, but I'm reneging on my promise to write more about the Neapolitan series  -- it's either that or sneak away from the blog in shame and never post my reading again, and I'm not ready to do that. In fact, tomorrow I'm going to give you my list of What I've Read So Far in 2016, since we're now halfway through the year -- maybe we can compare notes. Meanwhile, to round out our conversation about Ferrante for the moment here are some thoughts fellow reader Dottoressa sent me by email quite some time ago, with my apologies for taking so long to share them with you:

 As I said once before, Ferrante writes  so intense,so brusquely,there is no  embelishment,only reality,naked truth.  Without  exempt,she is unfeigned and cruel to anyone,herself in the first place.
Thinking about her books  my feelings  and impressions often change,there are so many facets in her descriptions of personal relationships

 Elena and Lila,two friends,seem to find the missing part one in the other,they exist like yin and yang,intertwined from the beginning to the end ,needing the other one like a mirror,inspiration,appreciation,finding their strenghts. They are best friends as well as rivals,they compete and help each other with ambivalent feelings .

They are often  in confrontation with everyone,cruel to the wold,family ,lovers,husbands,inlaws. 
It was tough time to be a girl in Naples, but Elena(author?),due to her inteligence and hard  work,desperate because of  the lack of her family support, struggles through the reality of Naples and Italy,south and north,social  effervescence,struggling through classes and Italy itself. This world is brutal,raw,even ugly

She writes rarely about happiness,it is all drama ,pain,fear.insecurities. Her characters seem to be afraid to show love ,showing love is like showing weakness and than there must be  some punishment waiting in the future. 

Men characters are mostly weak,unreliable,even when they have the power of money,position,connections   family support,even when they are brutal,driven by passion (I am not sure  would love be proper word for their emotions),wish  for possessing,revenge,greed…
Women are (or have to be )strong,or they lose everything,respect,selfrespect,support,even sane mind. They are often driven by strong,fatal  feelings,feelings  that threat to destroy(or are destroying) their future.

I find very interesting to observe Elena's and Lila's relations with their children.  There are no median in their feelings,from  insensibility,even neglect to obsessive love or temporary hate.

I could write for hours….

When I was  15,16 years old, in 1974 or 1975 I visited Naples with my parents.I am very sorry now that this trip was blurred with Rome,Capri and Pompei,more interesting for a young girl, but in my memories stayed  beautiful colours,light,music and indefinite fear(we were alarmed by our guide not to walk alone or in small groups in the dark)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Very Brief Recommendation -- Weekend Reading, a Great Mystery

I know, I know . . .

But just popping my head in to say that if you followed my earlier suggestions to read John Farrow's wonderful Emile Cinq-Mars' mysteries, mostly set in Montreal, you might be as happy as I am to know that Cinq-Mars is now solving a mystery on vacation with his wife Sandra in Grand Manan (in the Canadian Maritimes). Beautifully written, cleverly plotted (the opening is diabolical, really), with rich characterisation and a lush evocation of place. . . I'm reading it in an e-copy on my Kobo, and I have only a few chapters left, resolution and denouement still to come. I hope I'll tell you more about it later, but given my recent record, I'm not promising anything!

But in case you're looking for a good mystery this weekend. . . .

Monday, May 30, 2016

Finally, More Ferrante . . .

I can't tell you how much I'm regretting some of the promises I made around here. Neck deep in packing and everything else that goes with moving, I'm more inclined to read murder mysteries* than to write about literary novels I read months ago. . . But having made those promises, and having had readers generous enough to send me their notes on said literary books,  I'm going to try -- finally! -- to consolidate some of my thoughts on Ferrante's Neapolitian series here, with links to what I've said about the novels in earlier posts.

The easiest part first then, is to sum up and point to what I've already written elsewhere about the series
At the end of 2015, I briefly mentioned finishing the last novel in the series:  "For now, though, just popping in to say that I've finished Elana Ferrante's The Story of the Lost Child, and while I will save my response to this last volume, and the series overall, for another, more considered, longer post, I have found every one of the four books compelling and absorbing. I've been mesmerised by the microscopic examination of a female friendship that is suffused with rivalry, and by the way that friendship holds our attention while we consider the many social, political, economic, and cultural changes that have shaped women's lives -- in Italy, yes, but beyond that, across European borders and with obvious resonance for North America as well (at the very least).  This balancing of the very particular and the sweeping global, this fascinates me, and the way it's held in the conversational, if confessional, tone of one of the two central characters, the over-abundance of some detail while there is so much we cannot or will not be told...."

Before that, back in August last year, preparing for a trip to Italy, I wrote about Books 2 and 3 in the series,

And the last paragraph in this post from May 2015 is about having just finished the first volume in the series.

My chronology is awkward here, scrolling backwards through the series. The most recent post on Ferrante here, a lovely guest post by our Manitoba commenter Georgia, brings us into 2016, February, but it also throws us backward in Ferrante's oeuvre, usefully sketching out the Italian writer's earlier writing. Georgia makes some very perceptive and intriguing connections between Ferrante's backlist and the Neapolitan series, and she convinces me that I must get to some of those titles before too long.

First, though,  I'm determined to finish writing about the Neapolitan novels here, and to do that, I was sure I had brought them to Vancouver with me so that I could refresh my memory before trying to share my responses. Indeed, when I unpacked, I found Books Two and Three, but I've already told you something about those; Book Four, the one about which I've only written that brief paragraph above? Nope. Not here. Aargh!

The preceding portion of this post, above, took me two weeks of writing and procrastinating and since I was stopped by not having Volume IV with me, another week during which Pater brought the book over for me. Today, I'm supposed to head back to our island home, and I'd planned to take the early ferry, but packing up my stack of Ferrante once again made it even more clear how inefficient this continual postponement has become.


I'm going to stay right here in our Vancouver apartment, with the stack of Neapolitan novels to the right of my computer, and I'm not leaving until the post is done.  The 8:30 ferry will just have to sail without me, and with luck and commitment I'll be feeling a little bit lighter when I board the 10:30 boat.

I haven't left the computer, but I did lean back in my chair for a few minutes to pick up my iPad and open my Kobo (eReader app) to read again the opening pages of the 1st volume of the series, My Brilliant Friend. I have often regretted that in my impatience to begin the series, I bought a digital edition rather than waiting to get to a bookstore for a hard copy.  And over the past year or so, reading and thinking about the third and fourth volumes, I've wanted to thumb through those introductory chapters, to remember exactly the context in which the narrator-protagonist Lenù (Elena Greco) begins writing. So much easier to do so with a "real book," although I've had the digital copy only a minute or two away, if I'd pushed through the annoying clicks and navigations and waiting for screens to fire up . . .

Doing so just now confirms what I've remembered -- that, in her late 60s, Lenù begins to write out of resentment and competition, perhaps even revenge, after her childhood friend -- her alter ego, one might have to say, even, the antagonist of the story, except that the two are too intertwined to be oppositional -- has disappeared. That is, Rino, the (lazy, parasitic, weak-willed) son of her closest friend and fiercest rival, Lila, has called her to say that his mother has not been seen for weeks and, furthermore, there is not a single trace of her left in her home, nothing in the closets, no digital trace in her computers, not a single image left in any photograph.

In Lenù's words, "She wanted not only to disappear herself, now, at the age of sixty-six, but also to eliminate the entire life that she had left behind." In response, Lenù "was really angry" and says to herself, "We'll see who wins this time," as she "turn[s] on the computer and beg[ins] to write -- all the details of our story, everything that still remained in my memory."

Reading those opening pages again and then flipping to the last twenty or thirty pages of The Story of the Lost Child confirmed several other things I've thought while postponing the writing of this post. First of all, it's shocking to once again confront how quickly I can forget important details. I'll be considerate here and avoid spoilers for those of you who still have to read this, but suffice it to say that to do the novel justice, I would have to at least skim it again to recover some of the intricacies of plot, the machinations of the various characters in the vivid small world of the Neapolitan neighbourhood, the entanglement of families and businesses and politics, the persistence of that entanglement over decades, the way the politics and the social relationships played out on a micro scale against those national and global developments they paralleled, at least temporally.

As well, reading the opening pages again and juxtaposing them with a quick study of the closing ones, some 1800 or so pages between them, confirms that the novels require a careful second reading. The attention these opening and closing pages pay to the role of memory, to the competing claims of those who remember, to the ephemeral evidence that supports that memory, invites -- demands? -- a more careful examination of Lenù's narrative. At the most immediate level, for example, I'm puzzled by what seems a discrepancy: she claims to be writing her story because of Lila's elimination of "the entire life that she had left behind" (including, of course, Lenù herself). However, reading the closing pages, she writes that Lila's disappearance had actually begun in response to Lenù's having retrieved some of her celebrity as a writer by publishing a novel based on their lives, on very painful experiences they had shared.

Lenù writes, in the closing pages of her huge narrative, that "I was violating an unwritten agreement between Lila and me. . . she wouldn't tolerate it." After writing the first draft, she deliberately chooses not to show her lifelong friend the novella she's written about them, and she makes the decision "out of fear," knowing, as she writes, that "if it were up to her I would never publish a line." Once the book is published, and it revives Lenù's career as a writer, keeping her "from joining the list of writers whom everyone considers dead even when they're still alive," she first considers it "the best I had written." Gradually, though, she comes to hate it, and she blames Lila for that, blames her "refusing in every possible way to see me, to discuss it with me, even to insult me and hit me," so that, finally, Lenù has to "acknowledge that our friendship was over."

The dolls -- their retrieval from their burial in the basement of patriarchy that governed all lives in that hermetic Neapolitan neighbourhood -- reappear at the novels close, recalling the early incident that bound the two young girls together and became emblematic, in so many ways, of their relationship. I won't tell you how, but their appearance throws doubts -- her own and ours -- onto Lenù's rendition of their story.

And then my daughter texted: Could she and my one-year-old grandson come visit? And as much as I wanted to finish this post, I couldn't bring myself to say "No." And instead of the 10:30 ferry, I got to the 12:30 one, but that was a week ago, and since then I've bought my next home via some stressful offers and counter-offers. All legitimate reasons for not finishing this post, don't you think? But I haven't posted anything here since April 22nd, and although I'm quite sure I only need another hour or two to round out my thoughts about the series, I'm going to publish this as it is and promise one more final post on it. That next post will also include some notes that Dottoressa sent me months ago (sorry to take so long, D, with sharing these), and I would love to think it will be up within the month, but this next little while may be hectic. I appreciate your patience.

Meanwhile, though, if anything I've written here resonates, please comment. Have you finished the series yet? Did you pick a favourite volume? Have you found yourself going back to reread sections and compare what was said in Volume Four with details from earlier in the series? And how important do you think the role of the narrator is to the way the story is told? What does the narration suggest about memory and its filters? 

*It's the public library's fault, honestly. Both of Patricia Cornwell's last two titles, the only two I hadn't yet read of her Kay Scarpetta series, were displayed on the Recent Aquisitions shelves, my last two respective visits, practically shouting "Take me Home!"  Cornwell's writing has been uneven across the season, sometimes suggesting onerous publishing contracts -- bloated, under-edited writing, odd voice shifts. But when she's good, oh, she's good, and as with so many mystery series, I've formed connections with several of the characters, surprisingly, as they're all rather unlikeable at first glance...Very graphic, often gruesome, I have to warn you. If your mystery preference is for "cosies," don't read these!