Friday, December 05, 2008

Book Reviews: A Partisan’s Daughter and The Hour I First Believed

I know that in my last post I wrote about being book-barren. Fortunately, my most favorite authors in the whole wide world recently released (like my alliteration?) new novels, which coincided perfectly with my T-giving travel plans.

Making my 5 ½ hr. flight, with layovers, much more bearable.

I started off with Louis de Bernières's A Partisan’s Daughter. I’m going to assume most of you are unfamiliar with the genius and stunning literary glory that defines de Bernières's novels. He’s one of those authors who too often flies under the radar, but his books really are works of art. He did receive some notoriety a few years back when Correlli’s Mandolin was made into a movie—but like most movies, it didn’t do justice to the book. Birds Without Wings, hands down my favorite book EVER, came soon after.

So imagine my excitement when one of those creepy Facebook ads—the kind that stalks your reading preferences—appeared on the page, announcing de Bernières's latest gift to the world.

Upfront clarification: My favorite works by de Bernières's are those that tackle wars, families being split, heart-rendering suffering—all of the good stuff. A Partisan’s Daughter, in contrast, is a short novel that doesn’t involve a graphic war, or Greek islands (again, a bit of an anomaly for de Bernières's), but it’s still lovely.

It describes a strange relationship that develops between a London man and a Yugoslov woman, whom he assume(s) to be a prostitute. The book follows their long friendship, and slowly, page-by-page, her past is seemingly told. It reminded me a bit of Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron. Both books reveal rather tragic stories of women and contain protagonists who are intrigued—and somewhat ruined—by them.

It was a quick read. I do recommend.

I moved onto a 700 + masterpiece by Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed. Lamb is a bit more well-known—his books, This Much I Know is True, and She’s Come Undone, received the unfortunate modern American equivalent to the Western canon—endorsement by Oprah. I’ll admit, though, sometimes she has good taste—and somehow, in-between all of her cover shoots for her magazine, she manages to read a book. (Oh, look! Oprah’s on the cover, AGAIN.)

Anyhow, in typical Lamb fashion, his protagonist is screwed-up and completely fallible, but by the end of the novel, you’re a huge fan. Lamb’s books absolutely suck me in—I get so caught up in the darkness of his plot twists, the unjust fates that afflict his characters, that by the end, I’m basically pleading with Lamb to write just ONE GOOD THING that will befall them. He comes through, but not in a sappy-feel-too-good-about-it way.

When I first read the book cover for The Hour I First Believed, I wasn’t entirely sure. Not that Lamb has ever let me down—but one of his subject matters in this book—Columbine, seemed a bit too dark—even by Lamb standards. Well, more than dark—it was real, it happened, and even though his books always deal with tragic debacles, he customarily sticks to fictional creations.

Columbine certainly influences the book—but the book is so, so much more. I found myself ignoring my family and curled up in a ball on the couch reading, digesting the tale. In the spirit of not ruining the story, I will say that his main character, Caelum Quirk, manages to befall many more tragedies than just Columbine, giving him the official seal of a perfect Lamb protagonist.

Do read it—but clear your schedule first.

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