It’s been a long time since I’ve done a Worth Reading post. I have been reading, but not as much as I would like to be. Some good books found their way into my collection over the past few months, however, and here are a few I recommend:
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters It has been a long time since I’ve stayed up late to read a novel, a long time since I plopped down on the sofa after work and read for several hours straight. This amazing novel drew me in immediately with its gorgeous language and rich descriptions, and it was hard to put down. Set in post-WWI London, The Paying Guests explores a developing romance between two young women, one a spinster seemingly resigned to her fate of living with her mother in a formerly elegant home, and the other a married woman boarding with the mother and daughter. The build up to the romance is deliciously paced, and just when it appears that the lovers have found happiness, there’s a shocking twist, a crime and its ramifications, that disrupts this sacred, private world that the women have created. Waters upsets the reader’s expectations with this twist, but takes the novel to a new and thrilling place. It’s a must read!
A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter Ah, France. Ah, youthful, passionate love. In this novel, published in 1967, Salter captures a love affair between the young American Phillip Dean and the French woman Anne-Marie. The author plays with point-of-view throughout the story: sometimes we see scenes from Dean’s perspective, and other times we realize that we are seeing things (perhaps events that didn’t even happen) from an unnamed, older American narrator’s viewpoint (a fellow visitor to provincial France). The descriptions of the French countryside are marvelous, and Salter writes with a certain Hemingway-esque flair. The novel’s frank sex scenes were considered fairly shocking upon publication, but modern readers would find little surprising, other than that there is a lot of sex, as one would expect from two young people in love/lust. And without giving away too much, it is a tale of love without the happily-ever-after, which I eminently prefer.
The Martian by Andy Weir The Wall Street Journal listed this book on their Best of 2014 compilation, and the story of this novel is compelling: a self-published author, loyal readers, and a forthcoming movie directed by Ridley Scott. Pretty terrific and inspiring! (Here is an interview with Weir, which tells more of his story.) The technical details in this novel are amazing. Weir crafts a believable tale of an astronaut struggling to survive after being accidentally left behind on Mars. Our hero Mark Watney documents his experiences, and these parts of the novel are fascinating. What I didn’t care for were the scenes off-Mars involving various NASA personnel endeavoring to bring Mark home. The writing at times was clunky, and the dialogue…writers, this is NOT how you write dialogue. That said, this is a compelling story, both on- and off-page, and it’s a fun, quick read.
The Lover by Margeurite Duras The movie version of this novel caused a buzz back in the 1990s with its torrid and graphic portrayal of a forbidden romance between a young girl and an older man. The novel itself is a languid prose poem that weaves itself through the narrator’s memory of her relationship with a Chinese man in French Indochina (Vietnam) during the 1950s. Sometimes, the narrator returns again and again to a moment in time–she is standing on the boat, wearing a fedora, when her lover first sees her. Other times, the story takes a leap forward–the lovers reconnect, years later. There is so much packed into this slim volume: Western colonization and de-colonization, race, class, abuse, mental illness. Don’t expect a straight-forward, linearly-told romance, but take some time to enjoy the beauty of the prose and imagery.