As I couldn't do much else this month, I read quite a bit. Nothing too taxing on the old post-anaesthetised brain, and I was prone to falling asleep many times mid-sentence. However, there is nothing more relaxing than snuggling under a cosy cover with a book, several pillows and a restorative cuppa.
My Anne Tyler read this month was an early novel, first published in 1974, "Celestial Navigation". It is the story of Jeremy Pauling, an artist who is agoraphobic and has serious issues which appear Asperger-like. He owns a boarding house and in 1961, a beautiful woman with a young child comes to stay. The story spans thirteen years, Mary and Jeremy never marry but have several children together until Jeremy's fragile state of mind, forces Mary into a decision. Once again, Tyler writes so well, you feel as if know these people, and I felt such pity for Jeremy, a man who navigates life as if by the stars, the celestial navigation of the title.
I've mentioned before that I enjoy the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall-Smith. The latest about the Edinburgh based philosopher is called "The Uncommon Appeal Of Clouds". Isabel is asked to help investigate a case of a missing painting. I do like these gentle stories, I like the character of Isabel with her younger partner and her endless lapses into musing on the meaning of almost everything. The stories are not at all dynamic, but like an old slipper, they are comfortable to return to when required!
Barbara Kingsolver is another author I really enjoy. Her latest book, "Flight Behaviour" is excellent. Dellarobia is a young wife and mother, smothered by boredom and poverty in rural America. She accidentally discovers an environmental phenomena which brings scientists and the media to her door with life-changing consequences. Kingsolver is never didactic but I felt informed and educated by her writing on the effect global warming and other environmental issues are having on, in this case, Monarch Butterflies. By using the story of Dellarobia, the larger subject is 'humanised' and brought into every-day relevance. Farmers, like Dellarobia's in-laws, desperate to scratch a living, can earn money by de-logging but this quick fix solution leads to devastating mud slides and the further annihilation of the natural habitat of species, such as the butterfly. Increasingly wet weather, caused by global warming, adds to the air of gloom that pervades the novel. I thought it was written very well, the characters were vividly drawn as was the landscape of back-woods America.
Whilst I was in hospital, I read "I Remember Nothing" by Nora Ephron, a series of reflections on getting older. This is a particularly poignant read as Ephron died not too long after publication. It is very funny and full of bathos. It concludes with a list of things she will miss and not miss when she dies. She won't miss washing her hair or Fox TV but oh, butter and pie...I totally concur!
I also read "Maine" by Courtney Sullivan whilst in hospital and it was an ideal book for the occasion, easy to read and not too demanding! It tells the story of a family who own a holiday home in Maine, the elderly matriarch decides to bequeath it to the church, and the novel explores why she came to this decision and the effect it has on her dysfunctional family. I liked the characters, thought it was well written and it kept my interest to the end. It would make an ideal holiday read.
"Alys, Always" by Harriet Lane was another good read. When Frances, a young woman with a fairly unexciting life, comes across a car accident involving the wife of a novelist, she is drawn into the bohemian world of the bereaved family. Frances is quite a chilling character, her metamorphosis from mouse to arch manipulator is compelling, a real page turner.
Finally, to cheer myself up, when I came home, I read "Moranthology" by Caitlin Moran. This had me straining my stitches, she really is a very funny writer. I enjoyed being able to dip in and out of these essays, mostly previously published columns in The Times.