Saturday, May 05, 2007

2 more reads from April

[I know I promised a review of How To Cook A Wolf, but I can't seem to get it together. The problem is that I enjoyed and admired the book so much that I fear I can't convey these feelings properly. I tried just typing in caps: READ THIS BOOK. READ THIS BOOK NOW! to express my enthusiasm, but that lacked the sophistication MFK Fisher would have wanted to see in regards to a discussion of her work. So I keep toiling. Meanwhile, here are two reviews of novels I read in April.]

The Laments (novel) George Hagen
The Laments move from continent to continent, from country to country because, as Howard Lament puts it, "That's what Laments do...Moving is good." For many years, despite repeated disappointments, his wife, Julia, agrees with him: "Damn the neighbors. On to better things."

Howard, an engineer, is looking for the perfect job where his talents will be used and his brilliance recognized and respected by his employers. Julia wants her children to grow up in an enlightened country with enlightened people around them. "Lament" is a good name for this family because they never really get what they're seeking and lose a hell of a lot more than they find.

George Hagen's prose is admirably clear and clean, but his obvious admiration for John Irving is distracting. Not only does he have two tragicomic events that are major plot points, but the way in which he leads up to the event, switching viewpoints to maximize the readers' experience of the inevitable and horrible convergence is exactly the way Irving does it.

In addition, the doctor that is a catalyst in establishing the crazy-quilt pattern of the Laments' lives is reminiscent of Dr. Larch in The Cider House Rules. I keep wondering if The Laments is a deliberate homage to Irving, or if Hagen just read The World According To Garp at a formative point in his development as a writer and internalized mightily.

As the novel progresses, and especially after the Laments arrive in the United States, it seems to lose momentum and even seems stalled at the end, but I like Hagen's writing well enough to assume that he's mirroring the trajectory of the Laments themselves. I'm curious to see what his next novel is like.

The Colour (novel) -Rose Tremain.
It's not just that Joseph Blackstone is a bad husband, he also has a genius for the bad decision. The Colour takes place in 19th century New Zealand during the gold rush. Joseph brings with him from England his mother, Lilian, and his new wife, Harriet. He has decided to try farming near Christchurch. Lilian is a reluctant participant in the new adventure, but Joseph and Harriet are driven forward by a sense of hope and a sense of having narrowly escaped their respective pasts in England -- Harriet, spinsterhood, and Joseph, a terrible secret about a girl he loved.

When Joseph finds "the colour", (a trace of gold) on his farm, he conceals his find and subsequent search for more gold from the two women, then goes onto abandon them by running away to the almost impassable Southern Alps and working next to other gold-feverish men in filthy and degrading conditions.

As one in a string of bad decisions, Joseph, against the advice of his new neighbors, has built a temporary house made of mud and grass in an unprotected spot on his farm. After he sneaks off and runs away to the gold fields, his mother dies and soon after, his house, unable to withstand anymore harsh weather, blows completely away in a storm. Left alone and homeless, Harriet is determined to have some adventure also and follows Joseph to the gold fields, where she also hopes to get some answers about the sorry state of their marriage.

There's a subplot woven throughout The Colour that involves a young colonial boy (whose mother becomes friends with Harriet) and his mystical connection to his ex-nursemaid, a Maori woman. Although the writing is beautiful, this part of the story feels awkward, as if Tremain had forced it into the book just because it's set in New Zealand. When she leaves this alone and concentrates on the pathetic and primitive condition of Joseph's farm, Joseph's obsession with "the colour" as well as his guilty secret, the Blackstones' disintegrating marriage and the people and events that lead Harriet to her own discoveries and destiny, she completely succeeds.


kookie said...

Even an unconscious homage to John Irving would be worth reading. Anything with an Irving-esque feel to it appeals to me (as he is one of my top five authors), so I'll be looking for "The Laments" at my library. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

The Laments sound interesting but I od'ed on John Irving not too long ago. Maybe it would help me out of the anti Irving funk. It's a bad place to be.

So. I'm unclear. Think How To Cook A Wolf is worth reading? ;) I have had exactly those thoughts on reviews particularly since mine are fairly horrid anyway.

That Florence King books sounds like a great read. (Must. Quit. Reading. Book. Blogs!) (Maybe that should be: Must. Get. Second. Job).

herschelian said...

I really enjoyed 'The Laments' - as an expat from Africa living in the UK I found that Hagen hit the nail on the head about how white Africans are perceived in Britain and the US; As to "How to Cook a Wolf", I have copies of all M K Fisher's books, they are all wonderful reading, and I've even made some of the excellent recipes.
BTW is the stage of silk worm they serve called the "pupa"? The porridge you describe sounds a little like a risotto. Fascinating restaurants you list!

Bybee said...

George Hagen writes beautifully. His prose is crisp and clean. You could bounce a coin on it, as if it were a well-made up bunk. So that made the Irving imitation/homage stick out even more.

Carrie K,
Yeah, I liked How To Cook A Wolf so much, I've given myself writer's block over it. Recommended without reservation. Ditto the Florence King book.

I want to go on a wild buying spree and get MFK Fisher's other books of food essays. When this semester ends, I'm going to try some of the recipes as well. The "sludge" recipe alternately repells and attracts me.
The silkworm dish, bbondegi, translates to "chrysallis". (I think that's how you spell it.) The little buggers are just days from becoming actual silkworms.

MissMiller said...

I’d love to read a review of How To Cook a Wolf so I will let you percolate for a while and check back soon. I don't know anything about it but both you and Orpheus Sings have mentioned it recently. Definitely have me intrigued!

And yes I’ve not been blogging- I've had assignments and drivers licence mania (going for my test soon). Also, I have travel plans- will post more soon! Reading wise, I read another chicklit novel - the wishlist - by La'Brooy which was fantastic and a host of travel narratives.

Gentle Reader said...

I would really like to hear what you have to say about How To Cook a Wolf (no pressure!). I read a few MFK Fisher stories years ago and they stuck with me, so I was looking around to see what else of hers I could read...