Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Biblio-Bits: Connie Willis, Cathleen Schine, and Jeanette Winterson

Here are some biblio-bits about books I've been meaning to write about.  

ALL CLEAR.  I waited seven months to read All Clear.
All Clear is the sequel to Willis's compelling novel, Blackout, published last spring.  Blackout is half science fiction, half historical novel. It centers on three Oxford historians who time-travel back to the 1940s to study World War II.  Polly works as a shopgirl in a department store in London, Eileen is in charge of evacuated children at a country house, and Mike observes Dunkirk.  The three get stuck in the past, and it ends on a cliffhanger.  
Willis intended Blackout and All Clear to be one book, but her editor chopped it into two.  The first book is brilliant. I read it in a couple of days. The second took me a month.  It is suspenseful but wordy, slightly sagging in the middle.  I needed to know what happened next, but not urgently.  100 pages could have been cut. But I loved the characters and cried at the end.  
My feeling is that if you gave both of these together as a Christmas gift, they would fit together better than two volumes of one book published and read months apart, and you wouldn't have to keep asking yourself, "Who was this character?  What happened...?"  
As you know, I'm a big science fiction reader, and go through stages where I read nothing but Clifford D. Simak and Marion Zimmer Bradley. The winter is a very good time to retreat into another world, and tere's lots of Willis to read.

THE THREE WEISSMANNS OF WESTPORT.  I decided to read Cathleen Schine's The Three Weissmanns of Westport after reading a bad review at Nicola's blog, Vintage Reads.  I had read excellent reviews last winter, had vaguely registered TTWOW on my radar, and then forgotten about it.  Nicola was fair about it, so fair I wanted to read it.  This charming comedy, based on Sense & Sensibility, is perhaps for those of us with middle-aged sensibilities, as the heroines are fiftyish, Annie (Elinor), a librarian, and her impulsive sister, Miranda (Marianne), a literary agent whose business has gone bust because of fraudulent memoirists (think James Frey).  The sisters move into a cousin's cottage with their mother, Betty, whose 78-year-old husband is divorcing her.  There's romance and whimsy.  It's very, very funny.  

In an interview at Book Page, Cathleen Schine downplayed the similarities between her novel and Sense and Sensibility.  “It’s somewhere between a theft and an homage, but what it’s not is an appropriation or a comparison. That, I know better. Jane Austen is an inspiration to anybody who writes a comedy of manners because she practically invented it.”

You can read this fast little book while your husband is watching football.  It reminds me of how good Schine is.  I loved her novel, The Love Letter.

Midsummer Nights.  Midsummer Nights, edited by Jeanette Winterson, is a collection of short stories commissioned to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Glyndebourne Festival of Opera.  The narrator of Jackie Kay's story, "First Lady of Song," based on the opera, The Makrapulos Affair, considers the horror of eternal life:  her father fed her the elixir of life, and she has outlived several generations of lovers, husbands, and children.  This fascinating but disturbing story describes her numbness and desire to die.    

"I have not loved for so many years, I can't really be sure of the sensation of it, how it feels, if it is good or if it is frightening.  If it is deep, how deep it goes, to which parts of the body and the mind?  I have no real idea.  My biggest achievement was getting rid of it altogether!  Shat a relief!  I remember that.  The sensation of it!  The day that I discovered I could no longer love."

I'm trying to read one of these a day: of course, it would help if I knew all the operas.  But there are synopses at the end of the book.  So far I've read stories by Joanna Trollope and Antonia Fraser.  

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