Category Archives: female authors

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

If you liked Children of Men, by PD James, (book or movie) or Never Let Me Go (2010) you will enjoy this sci-fi apocalyptic-y novel. Jessie Lamb is an idealistic sixteen year old who is living in a grim world.

It is the near future. Women are unable to have children. A virus, called MDS has infected all women in the world leaving them unable to have children. Women are able to conceive, but shortly into the pregnancy, the virus kicks in and the woman dies.

Jessie’s father works in a reproductive tech lab, where they have found a way to vaccinate stored, frozen embryos against the virus MDS, offering the only hope for  the future of humanity. These vaccinated babies will be able to reproduce and populate the earth. However, they need young women to incubate the babies. These women are impregnated and then put into comas before MDS can kill them. After the baby is born, they die.

In order for there to ever be new babies, young women need to sacrifice their own lives.

Jessie volunteers as an incubator.  Her parents refuse to support her, arguing that scientists will find a cure for MDS in the future. Jessie wants to use her life for the betterment of the future, but her friends and family see her self-sacrifice as a type of suicide and a cry for help.

The ethics around reproductive technologies interest me a great deal. I also really enjoyed thinking about the dichotomy of self-sacrifice and selfishness. Jane Rogers created an extreme foil where a life must be given for humanity to continue. Especially in light of our depleting resources and the increasing ozone hole. We are still not willing to sacrifice our lifestyles. If you need some more proof that this is true of humanity, read my interview with a friend of mine about climate justiceJessieLamb

I also enjoyed the idealism (or stupidity) of Jessie. Our culture does not have examples of this type of sacrifice. We are not used to any form of sacrifice. Jessie’s gift to humanity seems unnatural.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I was not entirely sold on the main character. Jessie was a bit flat, and too resolved in her decision. I found her unconvincing. But otherwise the story was interesting enough that I’d recommend this novel.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers was shortlisted for the 2012 Booker Prize.  Cheers!

Giddy for the Giller #2:The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler

The Imposter Bride is a decent read.

Ruth, the main character, is a Jewish woman growing up in Montreal in the 50s.  Ruth was abandoned by her mother as a newborn, leaving her husband and daughter and a mystery. Her mother immigrated from Russia right after the war, and leaves a past there that is hard for Ruth to reconcile. Identity seems irrelevant, and family ties loose.

Ruth is loved by her family and community, but spends her “growing up” years trying to let the people who loved and raised her, fill the void that was left by her mother.

The message of this book is compelling, especially about the immigrants after WWII who were missing people and their former lives. Immigrants coming into Canada were struggling to carry on and rebuild. I immediately pondered the relevance of a society built up on these issues. In the late 1940s, and during the 1950s, Canada received 1.5 million immigrants from Europe.  Among these numbers were all four of my grandparents.

The characters were a bit flat. I enjoyed the flashbacks in the story about Europe, but not the 1990s Montreal stuff because it felt forced and cliched. The interest for me in the story was the Jewish immigrants fleeing to Canada, or a place where they were meant to settle and rebuild halved lives.

There were a few circumstantial and non-relevant things that struck me as weird about this book: one, that it was set in Montreal (again, so was Inside by Alix Ohlin); also, Nancy Richler writes about Montreal, and so did Mordecai Richler, maybe they are related.

But the story wasn’t profound or new. It felt like a novel that could have been published thirty years ago. It detailed life in an older style of writing. One where the reader sees the character grow up and become someone. These are traditional Canadian novels, but I still finished it and felt enriched by it.

Cheers!

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! was one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year. Some of my favorite things in life are eating chocolate, learning about new things, and uninterrupted sleep (preferably through the night). Swamplandia! helped with ONE of those. It was fascinating!

This ambitious novel, written by the twenty-nine year old Karen Russell, was buzzing around on some must read lists for 2012.  Swamplandia! is a theme park deep in the Florida Everglades. It’s an almost fantastical place with gator wrestling, sensational Everglades memorabilia, a quasi-historical museum and an endangered family called the Bigtrees.

Ava is a thirteen year old girl. She has an older brother, Kiwi, and an older sister, Osceola. Her family is normal in a sense that they love each other, they have history and they are alive. But they are also a little strange. They live isolated but fulfilling lives on one of the alleged Ten Thousand Islands (not our Ten Thousand Islands) of the Florida Everglades. The Bigtree family’s connections with the rest of the world are few. One is an old  houseboat that serves as an outdated library for the very scattered community of islanders. The other is the ferry that brings tourists back and forth from the mainland to adventure in Swamplandia!

Hilola Bigtree is the mother of this family and she is also the main gator wrestler!  (exclamation point was not really necessary in this sentence) She’s good; a good showman and a good mother. But she dies quickly of cervical cancer leaving her family fragmented,  and the struggling theme park without its headliner.

Simultaneous to Hilola’s death and Swamplandia!’s fizzle is a mainland theme park opening called The World of Darkness. Tourists stop coming and the family’s way of making a living and surviving in the proud Everglades impossible due disheartening big corporation market push over.

The mourning children deal with their deep loss. Kiwi leaves the island for the mainland with intentions to make money and save Swamplandia! He ends up getting a job at The World of Darkness as a janitor.

Osceola becomes a spiritualist  using an Ouija board to try and contact her dead mother. Unfortunately, her mother is not accessible and she starts dating ghosts of young men.

Ava trains with great diligence, dreaming to be the next Hilola Bigtree, the best gator wrestler in the world. She tends and trains the gators in their pit as hard as her thirteen-year-old self can. 

Their father leaves the island to save the bankrupt island. The children believe he is meeting with investors for a few weeks, but he is actually working on the mainland as well. Kiwi is gone, and Osceola and Ava are left on their own to tend to the gators and the island. Osceola starts to become more and more bizarre. She runs away, deeply in love with a dead dredgeman to elope in The Underworld, which is where dead people go.

Ava wakes up alone with a note explaining the run away, and a promise ringing in her ears to her brother about keeping their whimsical sister grounded. She sets off with a strange, transient man who is known by locals as the Bird Man, a transient middle-aged man who scares away troublesome birds. The Bird Man’s appearance is serendipitous because he tells Ava he knows the way to The Underworld and can help save her sister.

Evil and hardship await the siblings as they follow their own way to save their realities. In the end it seems that people must be adaptable to the way the world changes. Even if it is for the worse.  Because life can always be full of love.

Why?

Swamplandia! is eerie and haunting. Some parts reminded me of The Dead Marshes of Tolkien and even though the Everglades is a real place, the book feels like a fantasy. It’s fabulously alluring and Russell uses amazing imagery to pull it off.  In the scene where Ava and the Bird Man are setting out, one lovely sentence reads like this:

We poled around the scummy crystals of the oyster beds and made a beeline for the mirror-like slough. I watched a line of water creep up his pole as the channel deepened, like the mercury in an old-fashioned thermometer, and then we broke into wild sun (page 160).

This movie is Tim Burtonesque, complete with a creepy and unreadable Johnny Depp character. I think people would enjoy the humour and stunning beauty that Ava sees. Russell draws her alive, and gritty, although slightly more mature than thirteen would allow; she is easy to root for and connect to.

Swamplandia! is thick with details. Russell knows the world of the Everglades well, and the history portrayed in the novel about the land and the people who survive there is rich and enthralling. Also, every time that Swamplandia! is printed in this lovely tome, Swamplandia! has an exclamation mark on it. It’s details like that which really won me over. 

This book made me do a lot of online research about the Everglades. I now want to go there someday and I love books that expose me to new and exciting places. Everglades is an amazing place! I read some cool stuff here: Everglades in Wikipedia, and the government website for the national park.

I also enjoyed the theme of old vs new, of history vs progress. Swamplandia! was old-fashioned and a bit out of touch with popular culture. The World of Darkness (Read: World of Disney) represents the large-scale corporations that have all but taken over the States (and Canada). Russell also talks about survival of the fittest.

The tension between these two ideas makes for a thought-provoking read. Swamplandia! was one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year.

Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers

Who?

  • Women
  • Fans of the Midwife of Venice (this is a MUCH better book)
  • Canadian History fans (are there any out there?)

The Book:book cover of bride of new france

Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers  is about the “filles du roi” or King’s daughters. In the late 1600 the King of France paid for young women to move to New France to help populate the settlements.  These women were usually orphans from the poor houses of Paris.  The women married the ex-soldiers or officers already settled in New France. Prior to the King’s efforts these men seemed more interested in reproducing half-native half-french children.

Most of the women who came as a Filles du Roi had no experience in farming or sustenance living. It was a lonely life, one that would need a great deal of resolve and bravery to survive. Desrochers imagines this world through the eyes of the young woman Laure. Her spunk get’s her sent from Paris overseas on a six-week journey to the great wilderness of Canada.

Laure shows us the new world in its beauty and strangeness. She marries a man who seems decent enough, but she is left for most months of the year along while he traps animals and gallivants around with the native women.

Laure meets a young Iroquoian man. He is rough and crass, but eventually they fall in love and have a clandestine affair. She becomes pregnant as a result. I will not spoil anymore details, but she learns to comes to term with the life she must live in the new world. Laure is also able to see the opportunities available to her as a woman living in New France.

Read It?

I picked up this book for a few reasons.  I’ve always been a bit of a history buff and this book, set in the late 1600s, was a historical fiction fix.  It’s sometimes difficult to find Canadian historical fiction maybe because of an inferiority complex about our proud past.

I also have a soft spot for début books (which this is), as I enjoy new voices in Canadian Literature.  This fiction started out as a Master Thesis for Desrochers at York University. It is well researched and fully conceivable as Desrochers brings this time in history to life.

But I cannot wholly recommend this one.  I enjoyed the story enough. The plot held my attention because of its setting, but Desrochers’s introspection came through too strongly in the character Laure.  It really felt forced and I kept telling Desrochers (telepathically) the old writers motto “show don’t say.”

Laure is flat, unbelievable and too neutral or reserved to cling to.  However, if you enjoyed the Midwife of Venice, you may enjoy this one and it’s much more historically sound.

Cheers!

 

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Who?

  • Women
  • women who like a little depth to their chick-lit
  • people interesting in racial inequality in 1960s Mississippi

The Book:

Kathryn Stockett‘s debut novel called The Help is a rapid and easy read.  I spend a great deal of time delving in thick literature because it’s what I love,  but surely one enjoys a break for a soft and girly read every now and then.

The Help is about the lives of black maids in the 1960s Deep South. Stockett reveals the tension of love and hatred that the maids feel towards the families they work for.  Skeeter is a young white woman who grew up on a cotton plantation. After university gradation she returns to Jackson Mississippi, but has a hard time meeting traditional expectations for women of the time.  She  has a secret dream  to be a writer or a journalist in the editing business. Although she seems to have no real drive for her dream, she applies for random jobs in large cities. It’s a feeble attempt at escape.

A few events occur that highlight the huge injustices in her town between the “help” and the women they work for. In fact, Skeeter’s own  mother fired the family maid out of sheer racism. Skeeter feels convicted to act and enlists the help of two maids, Aibileen and Minny, to write a book from the point of view of the domestic help. Both  Minny and Aibileen have spent their entire adult life being maids for white families of Jackson Mississippi.

With great difficulty, and with the help of Aibileen and Minny, Skeeter is able to gather narratives and stories of the lives of The Help. They publish it anonymously to protect the women from losing their jobs or reputations among the white families in Jackson. The book is popular, and creates a stir in Jackson and all over the country.  The voice of the maids is heard.

I enjoyed this book. I felt like the plot was thoughtful. I was emotionally involved in the lives of the maids and their sufferings through the injustices.  What a hard existence.

However, I didn’t LOVE this book. The characters were slightly flat. Skeeter, in particular, was not believable.  I didn’t feel like she was compassionate towards the maids.  It was more of a decision of the mind, rather than the heart.

There was also something a touch “draggy” about it. I  finished it, but the last 2/3rds felt forced.

The Help was published in 2009, and they have already made it into a movie. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s good. Check out the trailer. It made me tear up a bit, because I’m a bit of a sap.

Cheers!

Books I DID NOT Love

The Reject Pile:

I haven’t had a dry spell like this is a while. This past month I’ve finished so little of the books I picked up it was almost frightening.   True to the name of my blog, these should not be read past page ten.

My opinion may matter if you are looking to pick any of these books up:

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness –

I read the first chapter in this book. To be honest, I didn’t have great expectations,and was looking for a quick easy read.  It had been recommended to me by my dear friend, The Globe Book Reviews, which often leads me to compelling and, sometimes, overlooked novels. The premise of this novel is witches that live among us…. so perhaps a Harry Potter for women?  The dialogue was forced and clichéd, and you’re just thrown into a story that seems unoriginal.   Boring!  Also, I flipped to a further chapter and there seems to be a vampire love interest… hmmm. Anyways not worth my time.

Say Her Name – Francisco Goldman

In this heartbreaking, true story, the reader is plunged into the depths of despair, as the author, Goldman, mourns the loss of his young wife, Aura. I’ve been a little melancholic of late, and so, perhaps this book came to me at a bad time. However!  The writing is touching and comes from the heart. This man loved his wife and that is admirable and divine. I just felt like it was too sad. Or, the first seven chapters dwelt too much on the loss in his life, which he no doubt feels, and not enough on the life that they shared, not enough celebration . Goldman! I can’t imagine your pain. You  must be miserable. But the book was too sad for me, sorry. Also, there is a strange sort of underlying current to the book that I didn’t like. Goldman was trying to save face, trying to prove to his mother-in-law that Aura loved him, and that it wasn’t his fault she died.  Kind of a weird premise for writing a story.

The Forgotten Waltz- Anne Enright

When I read in the Globe and Mail, that Anne Enright had published a new book,  I was very excited. I LOVED The Gathering, a book that won her the Booker Prize in 2007. Her new book, The Forgotten Waltz, is more lucid and plot driven. What I liked about The Gathering is that it felt like a woman’s thoughts coming out as a confession. Sometimes unclear, sometimes unformed. It was also full of very beautiful insight, little phrases stuck out and embedded themselves in my heart. The Forgotten Waltz is about a woman who has an affair with an acquaintance. There is no glorification, or romanticizing of the relationship, it is seen for what it is: physically driven and not really very meaningful. I was mad at the main character because she seemed to give up a nice relationship, with a kind man, for some asshole that only wanted promiscuous sex. The plot and the character bothered me, but more importantly, the prose contained only a portion of the poetry I had come to love from her. Over all, a tad bit disappointing.

There you have it folks-  three books I am returning to the library today, unfinished!