Book reviews

Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes

Book description: Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

My review: I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book because of the cover. Yes, I totally judge books by their cover. This one was boring, and so I expected the book to be boring too.

Wrong. I loved this book. It was so well done, I can’t remember the last time I cared SO MUCH about what was going to happen to the characters. Like, holding my breath, tears in eyes, not even sure what I want to have happen.

Moyes does an excellent job of bringing her readers into the heart of a very contentious topic, euthanasia. She does it so well that it’s hard to not see both sides of the argument. And by the time it’s over, you feel like you’ve been through the emotional wringer, and you’re both happy and sad and a little confused and thoughtful. All this from a book I thought would be kind of trite. I unconditionally recommend this book.

Elle, by Douglas Glover

Book description: Imagine a 16th-century society belle turned Robinson Crusoe, a female Don Quixote with an Inuit Sancho Panza, and you’ll have an inkling of what’s in store in Douglas Glover’s outrageously Rabelaisian new novel — his first in ten years. Elle is a lusty, subversive riff on the discovery of the New World, the moment of first contact. Based on a true story, Elle chronicles the ordeals and adventures of a young French woman marooned on the desolate Isle of Demons during Jacques Cartier’s ill-fated third and last attempt to colonize Canada. Of course, the plot is only the beginning. The bare outline is a true story: the Sieur de Roberval did abandon his unruly young niece, her lover, and her nurse on the Isle of Demons; her companions and her newborn baby did die; and she was indeed rescued and taken home to France. Beyond that, Glover’s Rabelaisian imagination takes over. What with real bears, spirit bears, and perhaps hallucinated bears, with mystified and mystifying Natives, with the residue of a somewhat lurid religious faith, and with a world of self-preserving belligerence, the voluble heroine of Elle does more than survive. Elle brilliantly reinvents the beginnings of this country’s history: what Canada meant to the early European adventurers, what these Europeans meant to Canada’s original inhabitants, and the terrible failure of the two worlds to recognize each other as human.

My review: You know what? This book is exactly why I have a problem with book awards sometimes. This is the winner of the Governor General’s award, and I found it to be completely inaccessible. It started off with promise, then divulged into a bizarre dream world where nothing made sense, including why I was still reading this weird book. And it wins this really prestigious award. I think most people would not like it. I know I didn’t like it. I wonder if there’s an element of “if you don’t get it, you’re just not smart enough/don’t know art” argument going on here, but I claim pretention. I don’t think something should need a translator in order to be accessed and enjoyed by most readers. The whole thing kind of made me angry, actually.

Sarum: The Novel of England, by Edward Rutherford

Book description: A masterpiece that is breathtaking in its scope, SARUM is an epic novel that traces the entire turbulent course of English history. This rich tapesty weaves a compelling saga of five families who preserve their own particular characteristics over the centuries, and offer a fascinating glimpse into the future.

My review: It is with profound relief that I say I FINALLY finished this book. I have been working on Sarum for years. Years, literally. But I wouldn’t give up, oh no. I was going to read every goddamned 1050 fine print pages if it was going to kill me. And the thing is, this book is truly a masterpiece. It looks at a small piece of land in England throughout the entire human history, from the very beginning to 1985. And it follows families through this time period, as the descendants of prehistoric man in Sarum pass through the bronze age, the Druids, the Romans, the Medieval times and beyond. It should be fascinating. In fact, it is fascinating.

But man is it long. And often rather dry. I was kind of hoping there would be a running narrative throughout the book, like the families of Nep and Krug were always meant to be together, but they were always pulled apart by the nefarious Godefrois or whatnot. And in some ways, there was a continuity, in that the families would betray certain traits throughout the generations: the Masons were kind of losers, the Forests calculating but successful, the Shockleys charming and passionate, the Porters pretentious and self-aggrandizing, and the Wilsons were out and out criminals. But there wasn’t really any continuity in a story. No tale of revenge that was followed throughout history. And I think that’s what I was missing here: a real narrative. I basically wanted this to be a Sweet Valley Saga.

Now, this book is immaculately researched. My hat is off to Rutherford for the amazing work that he did. To have been able to convey realistically what life would have been like in England in something like 20 different periods is beyond amazing. Maybe another one of my issues is HOW realistic it is. The author clearly put reality above the narrative. Often, people would just die, and it didn’t mean anything. WAY too much like life. A section would end basically by: and he got the Plague and died. and she was sacrificed to the Druids. she really thought that women should receive the right to vote, but it didn’t happen. It was kind of disheartening.

Anyway, if you ever want to take on this book, just know that it is a challenge. But one that you will feel satisfied with if you complete it. I sure do.

 

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