The Language of Dying–Sarah Pinborough

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The cover of this book has a lovely gray-scale illustration of a tree on a hill, birds taking flight from its bare branches into the name of the author and, above the name, a prancing unicorn.  At the very top is a quote from Neil Gaiman, “A beautiful story, honestly told.”

I love Neil Gaiman.  I respect him as a storyteller.  His word was enough.  But there was also the subject–a daughter home with her dying father.  The beautiful cover art was frosting on the cake.

The novel is told in first person.  The narrator is a middle daughter–older siblings, brother, sister, younger twin brothers.  The twins are drug addicts in varying states of recovery and addiction.  The sister is a success–beautiful, married with children, solid job, charisma.  The brother is successful, but never feels successful enough and so drifts and disappears from his life and his family for periods of time.  The narrator herself drifts and, at the time of her father’s dying, has bought her childhood home and is doing a bit of hiding out from the world.  She works at the local library and cares for her father.  Her marriage was abusive.  Their mother left them when they were young after years of the children listening to them arguing.  The father coped by drinking.  He smokes and cancer is killing him.

The story revolves around the last days of the father’s dying when the other siblings are summoned home.  The narrator knows this is necessary, but at some level resents their intrusion on the intimacy she and her dad have cultivated in his dying process.  The narrator resents her siblings to varying degrees, but it’s her relationship with her sister that seems most complicated.  When Penny, the successful sister, returns, the women sleep in the same bed and have a warm-fuzzy sleepover complete with giggles while their father continues dying in his room.  Penny calls the brothers.

Pinsborough captures many of the smaller moments in this episode of a family’s life.  How long it takes for each sibling to climb the stairs to see their dying father.  How long they stay.  How they talk to him–or don’t.  How they talk about him–or don’t.  How they try to recapture their childhood relationships–and how they fail.

Pinsborough reveals the relationships first, then begins revealing the narrator’s back story outside of her siblings.  I did not foresee the ending–and it was abrupt.  Perhaps I would have been less surprised had I known that Sarah Pinsborough often writes horror.  Grief is madness and for our narrator that madness has red eyes and hot breath–and it is both an enemy and a friend.  How comforting to see grief as embodied and external,

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance review copy.  The US publication date is August 2, 2016.

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The Road to Little Dribbling–Bill Bryson (Audio)

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I loved Notes From a Small Island, so thought the audiobook of its sequel would be just as fun–and, hey, great title. England and Bryson have both aged in this volume, and neither, it seems, have become softer or gentler. I nearly stopped listening to the book several times. Bryson’s The world, once beautiful and wonderful, became cheap, commercial, and selfish. I kept going, however, because I long for a road trip across the English countryside and, eventually, Bryson stopped trying to convince us that 1980s and 1990s England was superior to the 2010s and admitted what he loved about England. In my favorite chapter he listed how many years it would take to see all of the historic churches in England if you saw one very day, how many inventions had come out of England, Nobel prize winners, etc.

Unless you like being harangued for hours, I would not recommend joining Bryson on his walks through memory lane.  Instead, check out the original.

 

The White Cottage Mystery–Margery Allingham

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I chose to read this novel because it’s by an author that J.K. Rowling highly recommends.  I loved the straightforward prose and plot of this novel.  Constable W.T. Challoner and his son Jerry investigate a murder of a neighbor hated by everyone by gunshot in a locked room at waist level that everyone heard, but no one saw.  Cue beautiful mysterious women, trips to Paris, and lots of misdirection.  Now you have a perfect British cozy.

W.T. is the consummate professional and Jerry the promising, but naive, pupil.  W.T. questions suspects for entire chapters, revealing key details of the murder, while Jerry listens, impressed and slightly confused at the method behind his father’s madness.  W.T. then questions Jerry about his impression of the interview and corrects his errors.

Add a romantic subplot or two, international intrigue between Challoner and the Parisian authorities, as well as a disabled husband in a wheelchair and an adorable young daughter and the ingredient list is nearly complete.  The last piece is an ethical dilemma–what to choose between what is right according to the law or according to our good sense.

The careful craft of a cozy is on excellent display in The White Cottage Mystery.  Even the title is a model.  Thank goodness, however, that when J.K. Rowling chose to delve into the cozy genre, she added greater complexity and layers to her mix.

Thanks to NetGalley and Bloombury for a review ebook.

 

Snowstop–Alan Sillitoe

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The premise of this novel was intriguing.  A group of strangers stranded in a rural hotel in England during a terrible snowstorm.  Sillitoe introduces us to the various characters in part one as they go about their days, starting with Keith, who has killed his wife and then headed north for a camping weekend.  Aaron, the forger book dealer who lives with his sister.  Eileen, the hard-living young hitchhiker.  Sally, the slightly unsatisfied housewife on her way to surprise her husband at the airport, although he expects to be surprised.  Daniel, the school teacher who is driving a van full of explosives to Coventry.  Parsons, the union rep, traveling with his secretary, Jenny.  Alfred, taking his aging father to a nursing home that he has claimed is a resort.  Fred, the owner of the White Cavalier Hotel and Enid, his surly waitress.  All find themselves marooned at the hotel and joined by three bikers who drove the van of explosives from its place in a snowbank at a safe distance from the hotel to a parking spot right outside its doors.

Sillitoe takes us deeper into the lives and characters of each of the players, gets them drunk, pairs them up, causes some fights, and then begins to toy with our judgments when the truth about the contents of the van emerges.  First impressions, as you might

There are so many characters and so many seemingly disparate details that I struggled to keep them all straight until they were all safely ensconced in the hotel and interacting with one another.  Sillitoe’s characters were well developed and the scenario was modern and traditional.  If I could change one aspect of the novel, it would be the pacing.  Because Sillitoe was so careful about developing the characters, at times the pace moved slowly for a novel that revolved around a foiled terrorist attack.  This is not your typical thriller.  The bomb is the excuse for the building of characters rather than the characters being an excuse to move the bomb plot forward.  I was enamored with Sillitoe’s style enough to put his Moggerhanger on my Kindle.