Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I actually do read Adult Books…the latest Ian McEwan novels, Sweet Tooth and The Children's Act

Sometimes when people ask me what I am reading I have to think… I used to read a book a week, sometimes less when I was teaching, and sometimes more.  I think I thought I would read more when I retired but that hasn't actually happened.  One problem may be the accessibility to all sorts of reading due to wifi and iPads and iPhones making it all so portable.  Now I do read books on my iPad especially when I am on holiday, but I still like real books.  Thinking about it, I think for me non fiction or something light works best as ibooks.

Anyway I seem to be back into reading.  It must be these dark nights and short days!  So here's a bit of what I have been reading in the last couple of weeks!

The Children's Act is Ian McEwan's latest book.  I am generally a fan and I love listening to him being interviewed because he is always just so interesting.  I had heard quite a bit about The Children's Hour before I read it.  And that is not always an advantage.

The last book of his that I had read was Solar which I really liked despite the both obnoxious main character  imaginable.  This time I couldn't help but wonder about his choice of a heroine or rather why he wanted to write in the voice of a woman.  I am still not sure I really am totally convinced by Fiona but that didn't stop me really enjoying this book.  Fiona is a a family court judge whose husband has just announced he wants to have an affair which makes her want him out of her marriage.  I guess that would put your nice safe life in jeopardy.  And then  she gets a case where a teenage boy not yet 18  has leukaemia and is supposed to have a blood transfusion but his family are Jevohah Witnesses.  She goes to visit the boy and discovers him to be an intelligent musically talented young man.  She does rule in favour of him having the blood transfusion and there are of course, unexpected results.

I liked how we saw into the world of judges.  I also like how Fiona feels confident about her ability to make good judgements until things begin to go very wrong first in her personal life and then it affects her professional life.

I recently heard an interview with a retired Ontario Supreme Court Chief Justice again looking at how hard it is to deal with some cases and coping mechanisms.

I think one thing I like about McEwan's books is how they make me think, question, as his characters are forced to do (well generally).

Since I was on a bit of an Ian McEwan roll, I started reading Sweet Tooth which actually he had written earlier.  I had read the first chapter as a preview on Ibooks, and it didn't grab me enough for me to want to buy it.  I heard him interviewed about the book and that was interesting.  At the library, I saw a copy of Sweet Tooth, and thought I would try again.  This time I am half way through and felt as if I needed a break.  I find myself wondering why McEwan keeps writing from the perspective of women. If I had difficulty seeing Fiona as three dimensional, I definitely have even more difficulty relating to Selena.  If I didn't like the main character in Solar, in some ways I think I like Selena even less.  And I just don't know anyone quite like her, but of course, since I don't really care for this fictional character, I guess I wouldn't be seeking out a real life version.

Selena, apparently quite beautiful and the daughter of a bishop,  ends up taking Maths and not doing particularly well,  at Cambridge (to strangely please her mother) although she would much prefer to be studying English.  She becomes involved with a young man who introduces her to one of his professors, and then she has an affair with this older married man.  He serves as a bit of a mentor to her and encourages her to enter the civil service, but after preparing her for this, rather unceremoniously dumps her much to her shock.  Confused and for her, heart broken, she does get a job in the civil service or rather to be exact MI5, in a branch that has one project fighting communism by infiltrating the intellectual world.  Her particular mark is a young writer whom she tells she works for a foundation that is encouraging young writers and will enable him to write without having to teach.  She reads some of his short stories before meeting him and is quite enamoured by his writing.  We get the replay of these short stories.  Currently they have embarked on an affair.  There is also a strand running that implies her mentor was a double agent.  It also comes out that he knew he had cancer when he broke things off with her.

It all seems so sleazy and far fetched-but no doubt based in truth.  It is interesting in that the setting is the early 70's and Selena is roughly my age.  Anyway as I write this I think I will return to finish reading the book.

I did finish the book.  And I got my explanation about why this book was written from my female perspective.  A bit of a surprise ending, but once again I have to appreciate McEwan's cleverness.  I also understood more about why we had to read summations of her mark's short stories and novella.  Apparently, these have plots similar to McEwan's own early work.  Using the work did  all made sense which I do appreciate when I come to the end of a book.  It had that quality of the spy novel of having to figure out what is real, not real.

It made me want to read more about this subject and era.  I found some things almost unbelievable in this book but life can be quite unbelievable so… And I actually did like Selena better by the end of the book as she "wrestled" with her conscience.  We also seemed to have been reading the same books then.  I also enjoyed going back to 1973/74 in Great Britain.  I actually was there in the late summer of 1974 for over a month but not sure how aware I was.  It struck me that life was a lot economically more difficult there than in Canada, but I really wasn't very well versed on British politics, more aware of North American politics.  I was basically skimming along as a tourist.  The England described in Sweet Tooth seems kind of grim while I had a certain feeling of that but as a North American felt the glitter and the history.

Now I just checked and McEwan is younger so was actually only a teenager in this time period. Hmm… Also a reviewer thought this was one of his happiest novels, well I found the mood rather bleak.

But  yes, in the end, Sweet Tooth, was well worth reading as was The Children's Act.

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