Saturday by Ian McEwan

I am not a McEwan newbie. Saturday is the 4th of his books I have read and, thus far, my least favourite. But even though I didn’t love this book, I would still have to praise McEwan’s ability to write. If I have a criticism of Saturday it’s that it’s over-written. That may be the fault of McEwan’s decision to set the novel in one day in the life of neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne.

Saturday is Henry’s favourite day. He plays squash, does some shopping and on this particular Saturday- anticipates the homecoming of his daughter, Daisy. But, of course, this Saturday isn’t going to be like all the others. He awakens in the middle of the night and watches from his bedroom window as a plane- streaming fire, cuts across the sky to (crash, he assumes) land at Heathrow.

This event wouldn’t be the cause of so much concern if this story wasn’t set post 9/11 and on the very day when hundreds of thousands on people are set to march in London’s streets to protest the war against Iraq.

As Henry sets out to accomplish his long list of things to do before his daughter arrives he gets into a minor fender bender that will propel (although not quickly) the book towards its denouement. Whether or not you find the ending, or the book for that matter, satisfying, will depend on how much you care for Henry and the minutia of his Saturday.

Carrie’s Story by Molly Weatherfield

Man, it’s hard to find good porn. And I was hopeful about this book, I truly was. Apparently I have been spoiled by the Internet, though. Or perhaps I am just more perverse than I thought I was. Perhaps, five years ago this book would have shocked me…or made me hot. But…now?

Carrie’s Story
is exactly what the title says it is- Carrie’s account of being a sexual slave to Jonathan, a rich, good-looking guy with a penchant for having his shoes licked and beating Carrie’s perfect ass.

Carrie’s a smart cookie. She analyzes every little thing that happens to her and makes no apology for the fact that s/m turns her on. And, to her credit, Weatherfield doesn’t make any apology for it either. She acknowledges that whatever floats the boat between consenting adults- even if that means acting like a pony- is fine by her. And she writes about it intelligently.

But for me it was just so-so in the erotic department. I guess I just like my porn to be, well, pornier.

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

British born, Canadian raised writer Camilla Gibb’s stunning new novel Sweetness in the Belly divided my book club. I was among those who loved it. The book tells the story of Lilly, born to hippie parents and brought up, after their death, in the city of Harar as a Muslim. Her story is told by layering her young years in a politically charged Ethiopia with her life as a nurse in London. It’s a fascinating picture of a world torn apart by poverty and prejudice and by Lilly’s own beliefs. It is also a love story as we wait with Lilly to learn the fate of her lover, Aziz.

I know nothing of the politics of Ethiopia under Emperor Haile Selassie. I know very little about the Muslim religion, but Gibb’s beautiful prose and attention to detail (she conducted fieldwork in Ethiopia for her PhD in social anthropology) makes this book a page-turner. The characters are complex and interesting and the day to day struggles of the women, in particular, are riveting. I was both gutted and elated by book’s end.

The Ruins by Scott Smith

Smith’s book has been on my to-read list for a while. I have had a life-long love affair with horror novels…both the truly creepy (Peter Straub’s Ghost Story springs to mind) and the truly schlocky (just about anything by John Farris) but I don’t read them too much anymore. Still, The Ruins came with quite a pedigree. Smith wrote A Simple Plan a kick-ass book about how the discovery of a crashed plane and millions of dollars irrevocably changes the lives of three average guys. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.

The Ruins
follows the fortunes of four friends on vacation in Mexico. They go to the site of Mayan ruins with Mathias and Pablo to search for Mathias’s missing brother. What follows is an entertaining enough story of pure fantasy- meaning that the horror they encounter isn’t the worst thing to happen to them. (And it’s not all that believable, even for a horror fan.) Smith’s true talent is in scraping at the dark things people do to each other and themselves when they find themselves in a bad place.- For my money though, A Simple Plan does a much better job of making us both wince and shudder.

Stephen King called The Ruins “the best horror novel of the new century.” I’m a King fan, but I’m going to have to disagree. If you want to go to the dark place, read A Simple Plan or better still, read King’s classic, It.

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen’s book Black and Blue, was the first novel my book club ever read together- almost eight years ago now. I remember liking it quite a lot, so when her novel Rise and Shine was chosen for last month, I was quite happy.

Until I started reading.

Meghan and Bridget are sisters living in New York City. They couldn’t be more opposite. Meghan is the famous host of a morning TV show, Rise and Shine, and her sister, Bridget, the dowdier and less confident one, is a social worker. You can already see where this is going, can’t you?

Although Meghan seems to have it all- a wonderful husband and a fabulous son, both of whom Bridget adores, there are cracks in her seemingly perfect life and one day she utters something wholly inappropriate on live television and her world comes crumbling down. And the problem with the book is  I could care less.

What follows is 269 pages of Meghan and Bridget trying to sort through their personal baggage and come to terms with each other on a different level. And all of that was okay- not great, but okay…until the last 50 or so pages when Quindlen does what I hate….takes all the lives she’s dangled in front of us and propels them into the future giving us the ‘happily ever after’ she so clearly thinks they deserve.

Ugh.

The Lake Dreams the Sky by Swain Wolfe

I don’t know how Swain Wolfe’s novel The Lake Dreams the Sky ended up on my bedside table. Somehow I managed to score an advanced reading copy of it and it has been in my ‘to-read’ pile forever. I finally picked it up and couldn’t put it down.

The Lake Dreams the Sky
tells the story of Elizabeth, a high-powered something or other who returns to the lake of the title to visit her elderly grandmother and reacquaint herself with the Montana landscape of her youth. What follows is a beautiful love story prompted by Liz’s discovery of a picture she’d admired as a child.

Liz’s story isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the story the picture has to tell. Ruth, a white woman raised by the Red Crow and Cody, a drifter who arrives in town when his truck breaks down, meet and fall in love. They are both good people who got dealt a shitty hand and their relationship fuels the jealousy of the small-minded people who live in the town. Their only allies are the owner of a local business, who is also an outsider of sorts, and Rose’s Red Crow mother.

Theirs is a story of passion and hope and it is beautifully told. If you aren’t rooting for them to make it by the book’s end, you have a hole where your heart should be.

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing has been on my to-read list for quite some time, but I had a difficult time finding it. I finally happened upon it at a second-hand book store. It’s a short book, only 159 pages, but it took forever to read because Lessing writes dense, intense prose. Every single word counts.

About The Fifth Child, Newsday said: “I’d be willing to wager that if she never wrote another word, it would be The Fifth Child– and not, say, her famous The Golden Notebook– that ultimately confirmed Lessing’s stature as a writer.”

Harriet and David meet at a party, fall in love, buy a house that is too big for them and immediately start to fill it up with children. Theirs is a seemingly happy family- extended at holidays with parents and siblings and over the years more children. Each of Harriet’s first four pregnancies are without difficulty. She seems one of those natural mothers, perfectly content to waddle around feeding whoever happens to be sitting around the table, doting and content.

But then she gets pregnant for the fifth time. Understandably, with four small children to cope with, Harriet is upset by this unexpected pregnancy- but it is more than that.

…she could not sleep or rest because of the energy of the foetus, which seemed to be trying to tear its way out of her stomach.

“Just look at that,” she said as her stomach heaved up, convulsed, subsided. “Five months.

The arrival of the fifth child, Ben, throws the Lovatt family into turmoil. The aftermath of his birth, his otherworldliness and Hariett’s attempts to cope make up the remainder of this book.

I can’t say that I loved The Fifth Child. As a mother, I certainly understood Harriet’s feelings, first of antipathy, later of remorse and finally of acceptance does get under your skin- but Lessing writes from a sort of detatched point of view and I never felt completely settled in Harriet’s world. Or maybe that was the point.