Saturday, December 27, 2008

Catch-up Post at Boxing Day: another mystery and more Edeet Ravel

Even when our family budget was constantly stretched with the demands of raising our four kids, we never, ever shopped on Boxing Day, no matter how enticing the supposed bargains. For us, Boxing Day has always been for lazing around living on turkey dinner leftovers and cracking open the new books. Yesterday was no different. I'd wrapped up the latest Michael Connelly hardcover for Pater, plus a cookbook intriguingly called Fat (by Jennifer McLanagan -- I've been browsing a bit and it looks great), and knowing P wasn't doing much shopping himself, I treated myself to the Elizabeth George hardcover.

Instead of starting with those, though, we've been finishing up earlier reading projects, and I'm also thinking I should get my recent reading into my log, since it's been a while since I wrote anything here.

My escape reading while I was slogging through all those first-year papers earlier this month was Jonathan Kellerman's Compulsion -- I'm not sure if it's those circumstances that made this mystery so "meh" for me, but there wasn't much of what I usually like about this series. The plotting was interesting enough but formulaic, the motivation seemed laboured, and the relationships between Alex and his cop buddy Milo Sturgis and between Alex and his GF Robin, even the "character development" of A&R's new-and-improved French bulldog, Blanche -- didn't seem to move forward in any interesting way. It must be difficult to infuse new life into ongoing series, and I think Kellerman's been wise in the past several years to flesh out some of the corollary characters in books that intersect, but aren't exactly of, the series.

After that, wanting something with a bit more substance, I read Edeet Ravel's wonderful Ten Thousand Lovers (lucky me -- I got the hardcover from a remainders shelf at Chapters for less than the price of a paperback). I wrote about her Look for Me here several weeks ago, and about wanting to read more by Ravel -- Ten Thousand Lovers has confirmed that conviction and further convinced me to read more by this author. Sadly, the book is back in Nanaimo and I'm doing my catch-up here in Vancouver, so I can't quote from it, but this novel has in its narrator a similar charming quirkiness to the younger narrator in Look for Me and it similarly explores the landscape of moral ambiguity that is Israel. Against these similarities, this novel offers the distinction of a brilliant etymological unfolding every few pages, if not more frequently. This unpacking is always edifying, often surprising and humourous, and sometimes shocking. Words used daily, when their historical roots are explicated, reveal surprising connections across borders fortified today and also expose racism and xenophobia for the powerfully dangerous foolishness it is. Again, I wish I had examples to quote, because this explication is done in a deft, lighthanded, entertaining manner that my description doesn't capture at all. Indeed, part of Ravel's power is that without compromising in her presentation of the ugly realities of Israel (today's headlines show how horribly relevant and important her writing is), she offers us the possibilities of redemption. Her narrator, looking back at her younger, idealist self and her passionate, confused love for a man whose work as an interrogator horrifies her, has survived the events I won't reveal here. Part of the novel's moral complexity is that somehow joy can still be found and life can move on even in a world that includes hate and destruction.

I never set out to write comprehensive reviews of books, but rather to try to sketch out a quick record of my reading and perhaps eventually to engage in discussions through the comments feature. Sometimes, though, I do regret not affording time to engage more deeply (as does my virtual friend, Mardel, over at Dooney's World). If I did that, however, there'd be less time for reading (and, indeed, for living!) and a woman's got to make a choice. If I get a chance, I'll share a brief excerpt or two with you when I get home next week, but meanwhile, if you can, get hold of one of Ravel's books (I'd probably recommend Ten Thousand Lovers which is the one that drew her international praise and many, many nominations for prizes. I'm going to be ordering her Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth -- even without having read the other two, I might order this on the basis of title alone!


  1. I like that idea of sketching a quick record of my reading. Interesting about the Kellerman, I have been eyeing it as I have enjoyed others in that series. I think it is difficult to keep a series going and engaging. Perhaps I will pass.

    The Ravel sounds interesting and I will have to look for her.

    Interesting when you wrote that the book was back in Nanaimo it struck me that my current novel, Sointula, is set in that area, and one of the protagonists was just in Nanaimo when I last left the book. I don't know how well Bill Gaston portrays the area but I am enjoying the reading. It seems that the book is more about the people and their expectations of and reactions to the place than it is about the place.

  2. Mardel: I've got Gaston's Sointula but haven't yet got to it. His portrayal of Prince Rupert in his latest novel really captured the sense of the place for Pater and I (we leaved there for seven years), and I suspect he's done the same for the island. I'll have to dig out the book as soon as I get home and read it in parallel with you. Impressed that you've picked him up so far away -- you are a catholic reader, aren't you! (either that, or Gaston's better known abroad that we Canadians expect him to be, which often turns out to be the case, we being modest and the whole "a prophet in his own land" thing).

  3. No I don't think he is popular here. I found this lonely book on a second-hand bookstore shelf and suspect if I want more I will have to be ordering from Amazon-Canada or something.