I like Louise Penny mysteries. I’ve read many and reviewed many here and I don’t have much new to say. Same good stuff: descriptions of food, truth about a person can be read in their eyes, being a murder investigator Takes a Toll, etc etc. This latest offering, A World of Curiosities had me legit in suspense though – like had to put the book down, walk away and make a cup of tea I was so nervous – in suspense. Take note: I prefer my mysteries to be cozy (though I’m not sure Gamache qualifies) and very, very comforting. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this one – I really did! Just that I had some genuine concern. And there was no inclusion of maple bacon or flaky warm croissants! True deviation from the series. Be warned. Make your tea first and be prepared to be a littllllee nervous.
What a strange, strange book. I must have started – and stopped – D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel (first published in 1981, so don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it) fifteen times. Why did I persist you ask? Because m. named it as one of her favourite books, and loaned me a copy with Please Return underlined and so I thought, okay, okay. I’ll try again.
And why did I keep giving up? The intensely erotic (pornographic?) opening sections (say the first 100 pages) was A Lot to get through and I kept thinking is the whole book this… smut? (lol – it’s not smut. But also so much fisting and adults breastfeeding). Anyway, I kept reminding myself this is meant to be read by Freud (as Freud, our opening character has sent this account of his patient, Anna G, to a friend) and so keep it together, Erin.
Does it improve? I don’t know. The elaborate sex scenes diminish in the later sections that are narrated from the perspective of the patient – actually Lisa – a kinda mediocre singer and her prophetic visions. It ends – somehow – in the mass murder of Jews at Babi Yar with Lisa/Anna in attendance. And then maybe Palestine. With some letters to Freud in-between. And a confirmation that Lisa/Anna is an extremely unreliable narrator being interpreted by… Freud.
It is A Lot. And unlike anything I’ve read before. I am very certain ChatGPT could not dream this one up, and so cause for some hope for the future of the novel. Though Freud interpreting The White Hotel would be neat.
And so I leave you with this:
Erin to ChatGPT: “write me a review of The White Hotel in the style of Freud”
ChatGPT : “As a psychoanalyst, I find “The White Hotel” by D.M. Thomas to be a fascinating exploration of the human psyche. The novel tells the story of Lisa, a patient of mine, as she recounts her past experiences and memories to me. Through her recollections, we are able to delve deep into the workings of her mind and uncover the complex and often disturbing elements of her psyche.
The novel also explores the relationship between Lisa and myself, and how this relationship is both therapeutic and destructive. The author masterfully portrays the transference process, and how it can be both beneficial and detrimental to the treatment.
The writing style of the novel is unique and poetic, which adds to the intensity and emotional impact of the story. The novel is not only intellectually stimulating, but it also evokes a wide range of emotions in the reader, from empathy to horror, as it delves into the dark and disturbing aspects of the human mind.
Overall, I highly recommend “The White Hotel” to anyone interested in the workings of the human mind and the complex relationship between patient and therapist. It is a novel that will stay with the reader long after it is finished, as it forces us to confront our own inner demons and the fragility of the human mind.”
Like I said. Extremely weird.
R. who is (somehow) now 5 picked out Uri Shulevitz’s memoir Chance: Escape from the Holocaust from the library which was (I suppose appropriately) shelved in the children’s section as it is pitched at an older young adult reader. Anyway, I’m pretty shrug shrug to whatever the kid brings home to read – we’ve read a lot of garbage Little Critter books and a lot of much to adult books about dragons as a consequence – but in this case I thought I’d give it a quick go over before reading it to him (something I have truly not done before – which results in a lot of adapted stories let me tell you).
And not that I won’t read it to him, but maybe not at 5. He is still, after all, afraid of giants and requires illustrations with ‘angry eyes’ to be covered up, so not sure he’s ready for the steady description of a family of Jewish refugees from Poland through Soviet Russia (and back again) during WWII. Like the descriptions are never super graphic, but the relentless hunger, terror, uncertainty and sudden death of loved ones… might be a lot.
It does make me wonder when the right time might be to read books to him (or the other kid) that are… difficult. Like we’ve been reading books that explore racism, or violence, or death or other manner of hard stuff forever – in (I like to think) age appropriate and supported ways. But eventually he will be ‘ready’ for a book like this one – where the fate of the author is genuine chance (or maybe God, but you know, chance) and he’ll have to sit with that. I guess I’ll just leave it to school to figure it out. Ha ha.
But seriously – how have you figured out when to read something with a younger person that might be Hard? Or when have you yourself approached a challenging topic and what did you need to read through it well?
Except I finished it Jan 2, 2023. Sorry, Kate Beaton, my kid was barfing everywhere and I couldn’t finish it before midnight on the 31st. Oh well, it’s a great, great way to start 2023: a graphic novel about the oil sands, sexual assault, environmentalism, indigenous land rights and economic ‘opportunity.’
It also made me wildly nostalgic for when my friends and I sent one another Hark! A Vagrant comics. Prompted me, too, to read L. The Princess and the Pony which she totally appreciates because she, too, wants to battle everything and does not like cozy sweaters At All.
Beaton, in the autobiographical account of her two years spent working in the Alberta oil sands, may have wanted to battle everything, but as the book so beautifully captures, figures out that the space for pushing back or speaking out can be so narrow, and that too often, the outcome of saying something is to actually make things worse. In the Afterword, she notes that the oil sands are neither one thing or the other – neither all good or all evil, nor the people there. But as the book explores, that many – many men (including the ones you hold dear) could ‘become’ the crude and cruel men that she encounters, not because they are always like that, but because the material conditions of the isolated camps and worksites makes such behaviours possible and permissible.
Some of you may be thinking, sure, Erin, but a graphic novel? Come on. Your time for graphic novel skepticism is a decade out of date. Put in your library request and be prepared to wait six months. This one is popular and for very good reason (that reason is likely that the New York Times named it a best book of 2022. But you know, probably also because of this fine review).