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.
Category Archives: Canadian Literature
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 Your time for graphic novel skepticism is a decade out of date.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).
So the opening pages of Louise Penny’s Madness of Crowds features the relief of our beloved Inspector Gamache at the end of Covid. The vaccines have saved the day and Covid is eradicated. Onwards to hugs and shared food and no masks and no complicated decisions about coughs. I started the book in January 2022 and immediately threw it across the room.
I tried again while on holiday and was able to suspend my heartbreak on the state of Covid in the world and to instead play speculative fiction of What If and then go with Penny on that journey.
What follows then is a regular Inspector Gamache book where I should probably stop reviewing them because they are all sort of the same: great descriptions of food, long meditations on Gamache’s kindness/deep scars from making hard decisions, cameos from the Three Pines villagers etc. It’s good and fine and exactly the sort of book I wanted to read on the beach, but besides the post-Covid-not-actually-post-Covid part nothing stand out. So sure, read it, don’t read it, but probably you should read Cloud Cuckoo Land instead.
I didn’t read the news all day. Had Roe v Wade broken to me at a pizza picnic in the park and just.
The simulation hypothesis goes like this: we are living in a computer simulation. I mean it’s more complicated than that, but also that simple. And so all the bananas things we individually and collectively experience are just the simulation playing itself out. Like today. Just a part of the program.
Emily St. John Mandel, in an interview with Ezra Klein talks about how the idea of the simulation hypothesis and the current fascination with the multiverse offered her a way to write a book – Sea of Tranquility – she already wanted to write about time travel. That if we live in a simulation it solves the problem of a recursive time loop that time travel in reality would introduce.
And those of you who read The Time Traveller’s Wife this is not that. This is… god, I don’t even know where to start with how good this book is. But that’s my job here so let me try:
Let’s start with a novel self-aware that its novelist is most famous for her pre-Covid incredible pandemic novel, Station Eleven, but that the new novel is being written during a pandemic and all of its readers will have been in a pandemic and so why not make a narrative space for that experience. And it’s so breathtakingly sharp in the section of the novel set (oh yeah, it covers 600 odd years with lots of jumping around in time) just before a pandemic is going to rip across Earth and the moon colonies (oh yeah, much of the setting is the literal moon (hence the title)). The conceit of time travel means we know already what will happen in a way we didn’t and couldn’t and still don’t with Covid, and the helplessness of watching what is about to happen, to not being able to intervene, the (what is a stronger word than desire?) desire to go back to yourself in December 2019 with a set of instructions. (and what would yours say?)
And then a novel that is guttingly beautiful writing. Just come on.
And a protagonist in each temporal section – but particularly Olive and Gaspery-Jacques – that are whole and human but also believably in their future settings. Like the particular genius of describing one of the moon colonies as having broken it’s artificial sky and so it being perpetual night (The Night City) in a way that fills a world-building function but also gets at the particular ache and beauty of feeling (or being) alone in the darkness when government just won’t or can’t spend enough to fix the sky.
And then back to the question of how do we know that there is anything approximating a ‘real.’ That even if we believe that we are not in a simulation – that the couch under you and the ground under that is just material in an ever-expanding universe of material – we are nevertheless in simulations of identity and community and politics and nation and family where we convince ourselves (as we must) that our beliefs and our choices are somehow real.
So not a book to read while high, maybe.
But a thousand times a book to read.