Tag Archives: class

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne: You Should Not Read this Book Alone in January. And a #metoo digression.

As if to test whether I am in fact cured of my reader’s block, I read Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. Published in 1955 the novel accords with its time in offering a methodical character study touching on themes of religion/morality, gender and class. It is to Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train what organic, fair trade, shade-grown, bird-friendly, coffee  is to maximum fizz cherry coke: infinitely more substantial, if tasting a little too healthy for satisfaction (and with all the same self-righteous satisfaction for reading it).

But really, if you accept its pace and its narrow focus, you’ll find yourself utterly absorbed and utterly devastated. The novel follows Judith Hearne as she attempts – once again – to meet a man (any man!) who might love her and rescue her from her desperate financial and social straits*. She is entirely pitiable, and (perhaps inevitably) primed to make you either appreciate the social connection in your own life, or to descend into a pit of wallowing sadness about your own isolation and loneliness. Probably not a book to read in January when temperatures are -40 so you can’t go outside and your only companion doesn’t do language and so you find yourself muttering about the existence of God and the dignity of single women. I mean. That could be any one. I’m just saying. That is to say, Moore does a tremendous job of encouraging the reader to empathize with Hearne, even while she is represented as boring, irritating and desperate: quite the feat.

*The reader should, of course, take issue with the representation of women as entirely dependent on men for sense of self and fulfillment. And not to excuse this representation because certainly there are many novels published in Canada in the 1950s that offer alternate visions/realities of femininity, (Gabrielle Roy, for instance) but this reader was willing to read the novel of and by its time and didn’t take too much umbrage with the way Judith casts about for meaning in the form of a man. Where I did find myself concerned is in scenes of sexual violence that present and uncomplicated representation of male violence as instinctual or impulsive, while simultaneously blaming the female character and/or altogether ignoring the consequences for her life of the experience of such violence. We might reasonably ask questions about what we can expect from Moore, writing when he is, and writing female characters. While we might make some allowances for the social mores of his time, I did find these scenes disturbing and the treatment of the women (that is to say, their literary representation, not their literal experience in the novel) put to service the characterization of the male predator, a frustrating and disturbing double “use” of the female character. Perhaps I am overly sensitive (yes, let’s blame me for my ‘sensitivity’) awash as we are in the #metoo moment, but I suspect most readers would find some level of irritation at the surface treatment of sexual violence here and the way it is rendered both quotidian and inevitable.

Okay. All that said, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the book (enjoyed seems like the wrong word for a reading experience that is so successful in making you feel so… sad). So if you find yourself looking for something to make you feel suitably smug about your reading habits… go ahead. Read it on the bus with its cover in full display, for you are someone who reads Literary Things. (also Literary Vice).

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Filed under Canadian Literature, Fiction

Small Island: Of Course this book was adapted for a BBC Miniseries.

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It’s easy to see why Andrea Levy’s 2004 monstrously successful Small Island was turned into a BBC mini-series. It has all the right stuff: historical fiction setting of post-WWII London, heady and illicit romance, examination of societal changes in race, class and gender through the small and focused familial experiences of one London home. Ditto why it’s so enjoyable to read. Continue reading

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Filed under Fiction, Orange Prize, Prize Winner

Break In Case of Emergency: On Being 32 and Childless (and not on purpose)

Break In Case of Emergency is funny. You’ll read it and laugh at the satire of office life. You’ll laugh a little at the portrayal of income inequality in 30 something friend groups (that sudden realization that your friends make way more (or less) money than you do; or that your friend inherited a heap of money and so never has to think about whether to replace their air conditioner). You’ll chuckle at the representation of hipster politics: the effort to be *seen doing good. It’s the story of Jen – 30 something artist, who starts the novel unemployed and begins working at a (parody of) nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the lives of (all) women. The novel offers sharp observations on white, middle class feminism, on the changing dimensions of female friendship and a whole heap of a lot about fertility. Jen wants a baby. A lot. And she’s infertile. (and some stuff about New York, but who cares).
I guess if you’re an any-age someone you could stand to read this novel for how it demonstrates the extent to which (young-ish) women are bombarded All. The. Time. by messages about their (in)fertile bodies, the judgements heaped upon these bodies for reproducing (or not), the myriad of outrageous and hurtful things that get said out of assumptions about why you have (or more obviously haven’t) had a baby. Continue reading

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Filed under American literature, Fiction, Funny, Popular Posts, Reader Request

The House of Spirits: This is how you end a novel.

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Since reading Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune at the beginning of the year I resolved to read more of her work. Almost at the same time I agreed to supervise A. in a directed reading on magic realism (pointing out that I have no expertise in magic realism didn’t seem to matter as much as my willingness to do it – further evidence to those counting that enthusiasm trumps knowledge – a fact I insist upon each week at trivia in order to maintain my place on the team).

ANYWAY. The book. The House of the Spirits makes many of the top lists for magic realism because its magic is used to unsettle dominant ideas of class and gender. And because it offers such a pointed (and compelling) feminist view on class conflict. The novel makes the top lists for novels because it is brilliantly written. Okay, you want more? Because it seamlessly shifts in time and character in ways that offer nuance and depth to plot and theme. Because it has beautiful writing and crisp images. Because it captures epic love and historical moments with small moments that are at once pointed and sweeping. I loved it less than Daughter of Fortune (perhaps because it had many similar qualities and I had hoped for the new), but I loved it all the same.

If you read my last post on Lawrence Hill’s The Illegal, you’ll know that I’m only happy when protagonists suffer and ultimately end up heartbroken and alone (okay, that’s an exaggeration, but whatever). The House of the Spirits  is a perfect example of a conclusion that is at once focused on resolution and on continuation. (I’m not sure continuation is the word I’m looking for, so let me go with this a minute). The ending of The House of the Spirits is excellent both because it concludes the plot sufficiently that readers know where everyone is and probably will be, that we feel the conflict has been addressed and resolved AND because it leaves thematic questions open: paternity (in a book preoccupied with lineage and familial connection), politics and community. It’s a different result than the ending of Gone with the Wind, for instance, that leaves the plot very much unresolved, or the ending of The Illegal, which ties everything together with such a bow that you close the book and forget all about its contents. It’s a resolution of plot with a continuation of theme that makes the story linger and resurface as you read other things (or do the dishes). It’s a way of ending that lets the characters live, but doesn’t torment you with wondering what if and when the sequel will be delivered. It is, in short, an excellent ending.

Taking my own advice I’ll end this post… now.

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Filed under Bestseller, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Prize Winner