Saturday, March 07, 2009

What am I reading?

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Well, that's what I was reading, - now I am re-reading bits and pieces before I have to return it to the library, and wondering why I waited so many months for my turn to enjoy it. Why didn't I buy it in the first place?

I didn't know it was going to be so charming, and at the same time have such depth to it. It was the title that first attracted me - a lot to be said for titles that capture the imagination. You could probably write a real dud, and if it had a fascinating title people would pine to read it, and at least get through the first few chapters.

Not so with the Guernsey book. It reminds me of an English trifle. I hope you have clicked on the link and read the review, for then you will understand that its light-heartedness is the whipped cream on the top of the trifle, - dig down and you will find an appetizing mix of fruit and cake, a little sweet sherry, some soft custard, and at the very bottom a bittersweet chocolate to represent the dark days of the occupation.

Charles was aware of the extent of the occupation of the Channel Islands, but I had not realized the hardships and oppression they lived with.

Epistolary novels (as this is) can be 'almost voyeuristic from a reader's point of view' - a clandestine reading of another's intimate correspondence. It lends a novel a certain realism when one considers the contents straight from the 'horses' pen. Personally I think this form of novel is very captivating, and carries one along with great interest to read just one more letter, and then just one more reply...and perhaps the next letter, - and on, and on.....

I am reminded of '84 Charing Cross Road' by Helen Hanff, and Alice Walker's 'Color Purple" and C.S. Lewis and 'The Screwtape Letters. Sometimes the epistolary carriage is a diary, as in that of Bridget Jones, and The Adrian Mole Diaries, and most famous of all, the Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Franke.

Now that I have been charmed by the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society I am back to where I left off reading 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog' by Muriel Barbery"

The Hedgehog is a small, exclusive apartment building in Paris. The book has two heroines, - Madame Renee Michel, the 54 year old concierge of the building, intelligent and introspective behind her guise as a poor peasant, and an occupant, Paloma Josse, a twelve year old French whiz kid who, from her amazingly realistic observation of life so far, has decided it is hardly worth the effort.

I found the reviews of this book to range wildly from slight venom to extravagant praise for its philosophical backdrop. It is said that the French have enfolded this book to their hearts much as Americans accept the writings of Alexander McCall Smith. Of course, with my fondness for Alexander McCall Smith I have a bias towards a more favourable view of the Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Here is what Michael Dirda of the Washington Post has to say...

"This is a very French novel: tender and satirical in its overall tone, yet most absorbing because of its reflections on the nature of beauty and art, the meaning of life and death. Out of context, Madame Michel's pensees may occasionally sound pretentious, just as Paloma might sometimes pass for a Gallic (and female) version of Holden Caulfield. But, for the most part, Barbery makes us believe in these two unbelievable characters."

I like it - but have half of the book yet to read. It still makes bedtime (reading time) something to look forward to.

And when I have finished - what next? Any suggestions....

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