Saturday, January 19, 2008

travel reading

With all of that airport time last week I managed to get quite a lot of reading done, much more than I expected on a working trip.

Madame Zee by Pearl Luke
This well-researched novel tells the story of Mabel Rowbotham aka Madame Zee, the mistress of cult leader Brother XII, who founded a utopian community on Vancouver Island in the 1920s.

I found this book fascinating. I knew nothing of Brother XII (or Theosophy for that matter) before picking up Madame Zee (which I'm sure gave me a much different reading experience that for those familiar with the cast of characters). What I liked most about the book is that it focuses primarily on Mabel's life before she joined Brother XII, depicting her as a real person and a sympathetic character. Her life and struggles before joining the cult were in many ways much more interesting than the drama-filled years on Vancouver Island.

Madame Zee is well-crafted (though that's to be expected as Luke won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for her first novel, Burning Ground). Luke's writing is marvelous and the story is compelling - yes, you want to find out what happens, but you also want to soak up each little detail on the way.

Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton
Another lovely piece of fiction, Endymion Spring is the story of a mysterious book discovered in an Oxford library. I don't want to say too much about the plot because half of the joy of reading this book is in following where the story leads you.

I loved the juxtaposition between the present-day and 1450s and how Skelton used the changes to illustrate different aspects of the book. I also liked the historical tie to Gutenberg and Skelton's use of fantastical elements (I'd never heard of the specific type of dragon that appears in the story) and superstitions (like the play on printer's devil).

My only complaint is that things wrapped up a bit too easily in the end, but that's the way with fiction sometimes.

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
I splurged on this book on Monday when I was stuck in JFK. There wasn't a huge book selection in my terminal, but I vaguely remembered hearing something good about The Friday Night Knitting Club so I picked it up.

I thought the book was fine. I liked the story and the various characters in it (some of them make very strange decisions, but I guess that makes them more realistic in some way), but The Friday Night Knitting Club definitely feels like a first novel. It could have been better.

There are some things in the novel that just don't make sense, like the student obsessed with Julia Roberts. It was unnecessary and didn't add anything to the narrative. And, I don't remember Jacob ever giving an explanation of Darwin's name. Not that that's terribly important, but given that Darwin's family was very traditional it seems like a very strange choice for them and because of that an explanation really was in order.

The other thing I didn't particularly like about the book was the pattern in the back. I know that the author and publishers were following along with what's been done with a lot of knitting fiction and I don't have a problem with that, I just think they made a poor choice in pattern. Who needs a super basic scarf pattern? It would have made much more sense to include the pattern for the sweater that all the club ladies were knitting at one point because that is much more connected to the story.

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