Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Massey Murder

Starting the summer off with some true, patriot love, I finished Charlotte Gray's The Massey Murder this afternoon.  It's not a typical title that I would choose, but I wanted to read it because:
a) Ever since Charlotte Gray demo'ed her razor-sharp wit and debating skills during CBC's Canada Reads 2013 debates, I've been promising myself I would read something of hers
b) It's non-fiction.  My literary conscience tells me I need to read more of that.
c) It's KW's "One Book, One Community" selection for this year and the book nerd in me needs to be a part of these kinds of things.

So it turns out that Gray had every right to be critical of the books in the Canada Reads competition.  She can write.  Not only that, but she gives narrative to history that makes it more accessible for readers like me who are all about the story.

She also gives a voice to the voiceless in this book.  Subtitled, "A Maid, Her Master and the Trial That Shocked a Country," this book offers best guesses as to what really happened when Bert Massey was shot by his maid when entering his house one February evening in Toronto, 1915.  Gray highlights how Carrie's (the maid's) voice was hardly needed or given consideration in a male-dominated, morally-motivated and class-driven society.

I like this quote: "Servants are everywhere and nowhere in history.  Carrie and women like her worked too hard to have any energy left for writing diaries or letters, and if any of them did manage to scribble down something, it has probably been lost.  When a youngster like Carrie went into service, she walked into the shadows." (p. 90)

Gray does an excellent job of putting Carrie Davies' story in context.  She provides background on the famous Massey family, the Toronto newspaper wars, class divisions, and Canada's place in WWI, which gives the story significance not only in the changing tides of 1915, but also today.

My one complaint about the book is that is the writing seems to mellow or loosen by the end.  Initial chapters give the impression that the book is leading to something greater and more powerful at the end.  But maybe that was intentional.  I'll have to think on that a little longer.

Anyway, it's definitely worth reading and if anybody wants to join me at the September 2014 author visits where this book will be discussed, do let me know. ;)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Summer Reading List

Ulysses by James Joyce

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The House At Riverton - (Downton Abbey Withdrawal, Anyone?)

We consume TV seasons in our household much like Cookie Monster does cookies.  (Full season?  Me want! Nom. Nom. Nom.)  Needless to say, Season 4 of Downton Abbey was finished within a week or so of it arriving in our mailbox.  The episodes paraded by before my Downton Abbey fix was satisfied.  Luckily, I had something waiting on my bookshelf to ease the withdrawal symptoms: The House At Riverton by Kate Morton.

The novel is split into four parts.  Narrated by Grace Bradley, a 98-year-old archaeologist who lived many of her years in service at Riverton House, working for the Hartford family.  Told through a series of flashbacks, realizing she is nearing the end of her own life, Grace slowly reveals and untangles years of family secrets, including what really happened the night of a mysterious suicide on the family estate.

If you need more Downtown Abbey, here's your ticket. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

I Read Canada Reads

I spent much of my Christmas holidays reading.  That is to say, I read when I wasn't crocheting or watching Netflix or both.  Basically, I hibernated for two weeks.  And it was amazing.  And I miss it already.

Digging into the Canada Reads books has become my winter mission.  I started with Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues.

This is a fascinating story that dropped me into a world I didn't know existed and had never even considered: the Jazz scene in Germany during the Nazi regime.  It's a complicated emotional portrayal of guilt and regret from a character who was ultimately powerless, but who spends his life blaming himself for what he should have done.

As well-crafted (and well-researched) a novel as it may be, the only thing Canadian about this book is its author.  Also, it already won the Giller Prize in 2011 and was a finalist for the GGs and the Man Booker.  I kind of feel like this book has already received its public accolades.  So while it's a great book, it's not the underdog I'm hoping to cheer for in this year's Canada Reads competition.

Shelagh Rogers did a great interview with Esi Edugyan for her radio show, "The Next Chapter" and it provided some great aural distraction while I did several loads of laundry one day.

After Half-Blood Blues, I decided to tackle The Orenda.  I've never read anything by Joseph Boyden, but I feel like his books follow me around.  I find them on tables in bookstores with signage like, "The Best Novels You've Never Read."  The Orenda has also received a lot of press coverage, so I decided to give it a go.

I was glad I warmed up with Half-Blood Blues: compared to Edugyan's novel, The Orenda is a brick.  This novel is narrated by three characters: a Jesuit priest, a Huron warrior, and a young aboriginal woman taken from another village who becomes the warrior's 'adopted' daughter.  It was difficult to ease into--kind of like a fast-paced conversation that began without you--but once the narrators' stories began to intertwine, it was difficult to set the book down.  (Bonus: You can build some good muscles with this one!  It's large, available only in heavy hardcover, and hard to quit!)

A review from Quill and Quire comments on The Orenda's "blockbuster feel," adding, "The Orenda will be this year's Book of Negros, I think."  We could definitely do worse for entertaining, Canadian historical fiction!

Entertaining as it may be, it's definitely not fluff.  One impactful episode in the novel occurs when the priest loses the wampum that the warrior was to present to another tribe as part of a peace negotiation.  He bemoans: 
  • "I have lost my people's story, my gift to the ones who are our enemy, in the hope of changing that course." (p. 108)

This implies that Canadian history played out the way it did because the stories of certain peoples were lost or dismissed.  (Yikes.  This entry is starting to sound like a high school essay.)

Where Boyden's novel differs from many of the aboriginal themed/flavoured/inspired novels that I have read (and they are a genre of personal interest...I have read many!) is that the picture he paints of aboriginal history is much more brutal and complicated than the peaceful, idealistic scene that is typical.  I will be very interested to hear the commentary that accompanies this novel in the Canada Reads debates.  I'm hoping this book makes it to the final rounds because I know it will generate great discussion.

I guess I should stop here.  More Canada Reads comments to come.