I really, really want to hold books in my hands, but so far, all the reading has happened on my Ipad, via either the Kindle or IBook app. Sad. Reasons: The first I had purchased when it was first published and intended to read it on the Italy trip. The rest are easily available in digital versions, not so easily on paper, especially when you’re hunting for good reading at 11:17 pm, as I usually am. So.
- Everybody’s Fool. I loved Nobody’s Fool. Loved Straight Man, and not only because it’s a representative of my favorite genre, the academic novel. Even after many readings the prologue still brings me to tears – of laughter. “The Whore’s Child” is a great story – read an excerpt here. In general, I really like Richard Russo.
But Everybody’s Fool didn’t do it for me. At all. I didn’t care about any of the characters, even Sully this time, and the whole thing seemed forced, which is the opposite of the impact of the beautifully natural, organic Nobody’s Fool.
- I’m currently reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. My son has to read it for school, I’ve never read it…so why not? Book Club!
- Perhaps you have heard of Nevil Shute. I remembered him as the author of the post-apocalyptic On the Beach which I had never read, and A Town Like Alice, which I have also never read, and the movie adaptation of which I have never seen, either.
- Nonetheless, after running across a list of his novels, I was intrigued with a couple, so I read them over the past few days.
- They are the type of novel that hardly ever gets published in the United States these days. Not of any particular genre, not for any particular market niche, just….stories.
- The two I read were Pied Piper and The Trustee from the Toolroom.
- Now, the general consensus (discerned from surveying Amazon and Goodreads reviews) seems to declare the second the (marginally) better book. I disagree. I enjoyed them both, but I found the first less predictable and a more nuanced.
- Pied Piper tells the story of John Howard, 70-year old Englishman, grieving over the death of his son, who takes a holiday to France in the late spring of 1940 – not a great time to be traveling to France, as we now know. The gist of the story is that this elderly fellow somehow ends up escorting children – first two, then three, then more – up towards northern France, trying to outpace the Nazis and somehow get across the channel back to England.
- It’s interesting to read the book in light of the fact that it was written in 1942, before the war was over. The children are very well depicted, as their interest in the soldiers and machinery they see along the way is at times tinged with fear, but more often just straight curiosity and even excitement, no matter who is wearing the uniform. That’s very realistic.
- Shute writes straightforward, uncomplicated prose, but still gets across enough of the inner life of his characters to give the story depth and recognizable humanity. I liked this book quite a bit, enough to try another.
- (It was made into a film starring Monty Woolley, for which he was nominated for an acting Academy Award. It appears from synopses that in the film, the Howard character dislikes children, which might make for good film scenes, but is not true to the book. He doesn’t dislike them, he is simply awkward around them. It was adapted for a made-for-television movie in 1990, this time starring Peter O’Toole as Howard.)
- So I picked Trustee from the Toolroom. It’s another story about a man accepting a responsibility thrust up on him, and following through with resourcefulness and commitment.
- Keith Stewart is an Englishman who designs and writes about miniature machines. He is married, but childless, lives humbly and contentedly. The plot is set into motion by his sister and brother-in-law’s deaths in a shipwreck of their own vessel off a Polynesian island. Their daughter comes to live with Keith, and his improbable task is to find a way to get to the wreckage and retrieve his niece’s inheritance, which he, the engineer, had helped his brother-in-law seal up in the boat (they were planning to emigrate to Canada, and later send for their daughter).
- Fairly crazy plot, but the core of the story is really not these machinations, but the character of Keith: unassuming, technically brilliant, but untraveled and a bit naive.
- There is a lot of tech talk in the novel – so if you are into engineering and navigation, you might look at it for that reason. I am not into those things, and did some skimming of those parts, but that isn’t the reason I liked it less than the other. No, it’s that the details of the plot didn’t have as much tension as I had expected, especially after the halfway point, and the way that Keith ultimately resolves the quest – and more – was just too pat, I thought. In addition, while Keith does change a bit as the result of his adventure, it is not of the depth of John Howard’s development, and not nearly as moving.
- But both novels are noteworthy to me because they feature, not the social anxiety, psychic agnosticism and bottomless emotional hunger of so many characters in modern fiction, but people who just know what they know and use that knowledge to be useful and helpful, even if it means some – or a great deal – of sacrifice.
- In other words, I suppose, they are novels for adults – about adults.
- Next up, as soon as I push “publish” –