Two shorter reviews of books I read last year…
Nutshell by Ian McEwan
I read McEwan’s novel between Christmas and New Year, and the terrible thing is, I know I really enjoyed it. I know it was funny, outrageous and inspired by a quotation from Hamlet, yet I can’t really remember any detail about it other than the whole is narrated by the all-knowing baby hiding in his mother Trudy’s womb, waiting for his time to make a grand entry. I know that first, baby has to cope with Trudy and Claude’s plot to murder his father too, but the rest is now a blank. This bodes well for a re-read! Does this ever happen to you too?
I’ve just re-read the first chapter, and it’s wonderful to see McEwan having fun. Here is the baby on Claude:
A man of riffs. On shaking hands with a stranger – I’ve heard this twice – he’ll say, ‘Claude, as in Debussy.’ How wrong he is. This is Claude as in property developer who composes nothing, invents nothing.
Python fans amongst us will be taking that joke one step further, going, ‘No! It’s ‘Claude Achile Debussy’ (hear the Decomposing Composers song here, sung by Michael Palin). And not for this baby an alcohol-free pregnancy – he looks forward to his mother’s tipples:
I like to share a glass with my mother. You may never have experienced, or you will have forgotten, a good burgundy (her favourite) or a good Sancerre (also her favourite) decanted through a healthy placenta.
Excellent stuff. It’s so witty and very clever, but I don’t have time to re-read any further at the moment. I had noted it down as 9/10, so I’ll stick with that!
Source: Own copy.
The Postman’s Fiancée by Denis Thériault
Translated by John Cullen
This novel is effectively a sequel to French-Canadian author Thériault’s The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman,(reviewed here). Although this novel does just about stand alone, I would really recommend that you read the other first. For a start, these bittersweet romances with their dark sides are so delightful, you’d find yourself wanting to find out more about what happened before The Postman’s Fiancée begins anyway. The sequel does feature Bilodo, the lonely postman of the first book, but the story is told from café waitressTania’s point of view; Tania was a minor character in the first novel.
Tania had arrived in Montreal five years before, ostensibly to attend university and perfect her French – her second language, which she’d learned in high school – but the real reason for her coming was to be with a boy she’d met on the Internet. The boy had disappointed her; the city, however, was very much to her taste, and she’d decided to settle there. Perhaps Tania wouldn’t be a waitress all her life. At some point in the future she’d probably complete her studies, even though boredom had caused her to abandon them for the time being. But that wasn’t a pressing concern; for at the moment, working at the Madelinot gave her a sense of happy equilibrium, a feeling of harmony with the universe.
She works hard at being the best waitress she can, looking after her customers which includes Bilodo, who comes in every lunchtime, sitting alone, away from his colleagues. Bilodo practises his calligraphy and haiku writing and Tania is interested, and the two of them hit it off. However, the course of love is destined never to run smooth, she dare not declare herself to Bilodo, so when she finds a love poem he’s left, she thinks it is for her and goes to find him. But it wasn’t and things get very awkward indeed… leading to Bilodo being knocked down lifeless in exactly the same spot as Gaston from the first book had perished one year ago. Tania saves Bilodo’s life and when he comes round in hospital suffering amnesia, she leaps in to take the place of the woman the poem was really meant for…
The two novels were published around a decade apart, with different translators for each volume. Despite this, they do, however, mesh together wonderfully well – not only in the language, but in the interlinking of their plots. As before, although delightful and witty, there is a darkness at the heart of The Postman’s Fiancée and I highly recommend it and it’s prequel. (9/10)
(See also Susan’s review here.)
Source: Own copy.
The Postman’s Fiancée, Denis Thériault (Oneworld, 2017) flapped paperback, 208 pages.