The husband is back from the frozen north, and we're having our annual winter heat wave here in southern California. The kids are settled back in a school routine, though the youngest has a particularly nasty cold. It's time for me to get back into a blogging routine. I've realized I haven't written reviews for a bunch of books I finished late last year and early this year. So I'm going to do some mini reviews, so that I don't get further bogged down. Here goes:
The Painted Veil, by Somerset Maugham. Shallow socialite Kitty marries doctor Walter Fane because she fears she will not find anyone else. She moves to Hong Kong, where Walter works, and there she has a passionate affair with Charles Townsend, the equally shallow but glamorous assistant colonial secretary. When Walter discovers the affair, he gives Kitty a choice--marry Townsend or come with him to the cholera-ridden interior of China. Townsend won't marry her, so she goes with Walter, to what she believes is certain death. Kitty gains respect and liking for her husband as she watches him work to save the Chinese cholera victims, and she finds some fulfillment working at a convent orphanage. Walter succumbs to the disease, and pregnant Kitty leaves Hong Kong for England. There she seeks to remake a relationship with her father, who she had mostly ignored earlier in life. Probably more shocking when it was published in 1925, the novel barely registers as feminist now. However, it is still an interesting examination of a woman's spiritual journey. Kitty doesn't change and grow as much as I'd like (with my modern sensibility), but she does become more self-aware, and Maugham's characters never make radical changes (especially for the better)--though they often come to see what they are. Maugham is a master of portraying human weakness and failing, and he does it very well here. I also enjoyed his comparison of how people search--through religion, work, opium, sexual infatuation--to find meaning, and to both lose and find themselves. The ending is a little disappointing--without giving it away, it's almost as if Maugham needed to find some sort of redemption for Kitty, but wasn't willing to go the whole way.
The Dearly Departed, by Elinor Lipman. Amateur actress Margaret Batten and her long-time lover Miles Finn are discovered dead in Margaret's house, victims of carbon monoxide poisoning from a broken furnace. Margaret's daughter Sunny comes home to the little town of King George, New Hampshire to deal with her mother's death, and she meets Miles's prickly son Fletcher. Fletcher is her age, and has the same type of hair she does--flyaway and prematurely gray--which makes Sunny, Fletcher and all the townspeople realize Fletcher and Sunny are siblings. Most of the story is taken up with Sunny coming to terms with her own past, and surprises from her mother's past, in the small town where she grew up. I love Lipman's quirky characters and amazingly witty dialogue. I had trouble with the lack of plot, and some inconsistencies in character, especially in the character of Fletcher, who starts off as a seemingly uptight and difficult fellow, and ends up basically pursuing Sunny as a new sibling. I found Sunny's journey more involving, and her interactions with the town's chief of police, who had been a schoolmate of hers, worth reading. I like Lipman's style, so though I don't recommend this book wholeheartedly, I do look forward to reading more of her stuff.
Purple Hibiscus: A Novel, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I loved Adichie's later book, Half of a Yellow Sun, so I really wanted to read her first novel, Purple Hibiscus. It was wonderful, too, but different in scope. Through one family's travails, Half of a Yellow Sun really tells the story of the Nigerian nation's travails. Purple Hibiscus is more of a personal story, the story of a girl's coming of age. It tells the story of 15-year-old Kambili and her brother Jaja, who are the children of a financially successful factory owner who is also fanatically religious, and who abuses his children and their mother in the name of that religion. Kambili finds freedom from the repression and abuse of her father's home in the warm and lively home of her Auntie Ifeoma, a college professor, whom Kambili is allowed to visit. As Kambili wakes to the world around her and the possibility of a different life than she's previously known, the political situation in Nigeria begins to fall apart, and the political crisis brings all the characters to personal turning points. I enjoyed Adichie's very readable writing style, and found Kambili's journey to be a very engrossing one.
Let me know if any of you have reviewed these, so I can link to your reviews!
Here is Booksplease's review of The Painted Veil, and also her review of Half of a Yellow Sun, which was a wonderful read!