It’s been a while since I’ve read several “real” books in a row – meaning, of course, paper books with pages that turn. But I made that up in the last week or so’s reading, with Two Fat Books.
The first book was Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Now I am embarrassed to confess I had not read Franzen at all, and for a long time didn’t even realise that this should be embarrassing for a person who considers themselves well –read. Then I realised.
So when I re-joined the library, I took it as an opportunity to read books I missed like Franzen.
I started it with that wonderful feeling you get when you know that a writer fits with your brain, and the journey is going to be lovely. I found the characters and relationships interesting and compelling, and the portrait of a conflicted marriage excellent. I loved the different angles that the story came from – none exactly as one would expect – which kept the reading experience interesting. But then . . .
The politics. I don’t mind politics if I set out to read about it (which I seldom do) or if it is absolutely VITAL to a story, but with Freedom, one minute I was happily ensconced in a very character driven read, and the next minute I was dumped in a bird reserve full of politics. It feels to me like American writers don’t think that they are allowed to write books that don’t make a big deal about 9/11 in particular, and US politics in general anymore. I’m sure for some people this was a gripping new level of the story, but for me, it was a bit boring and I was glad when we could get back to the people.
Still, I enjoyed it, and have been told that The Commitments is “much better”, so I look forward to reading that.
Then I changed direction and read a new book – The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.
I must be honest, I was slightly ambivalent about reading this. I was not a huge fan of Eat, Pray, Love, although I liked the premise of it; but I am not even that interested in my OWN inner journey, let alone someone else’s. Also, The Signature of All things is a historical novel which is not my very favourite genre. But Twitter raved about this new book by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I liked the cover when my bookclub got it, so I tried.
And I am so glad that I did! What a wonderful, wonderful read. Alma is a remarkable, strong female character surrounded by other equally compelling characters. It tells the story of a woman who is a talented botanist living what seems to others to be a “small” life. Yet her inner world is complex and compelling and Gilbert takes us into areas that sound like they should be dull – like the classification of mosses – without losing my interest for one single second. Like with Franzen’s work, there is a small political agenda in this book . . . but it is subtle and never goes beyond serving the plot and the characters.
This is a book that has made me re-examine my own life – and in that way may have something in common with Eat, Pray, Love. It has made me want to learn and travel and above all, embrace life. But mostly, it has made me want to read the next Elizabeth Gilbert as soon as it hits the shelves.