I have put off writing this review of my favorite book of 2021, not because it was so hard to choose (This novel is a hands-down winner for me.), but because I feel I can’t give this amazing book its due. It is hard to describe, but I’ll do my best.
Doerr’s third novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land, is the answer to critics who asked, “What in the world will you follow All the Light We Cannot See” with? Doerr has created many characters and many plots in this big, challenging novel and has connected them all masterfully in the end. Cloud has been described as “joyous,” “uplifting,” and “a triumph of imagination and compassion.” “Original” is definitely a word I would use to describe this novel. Like some of Shakespeare’s plays within a play, the novel is a book within a book. It deals with five protagonists, five plots, and five settings, all reading a fictional novel written by a real author of the ancient world, Diogenes. Reading Cloud is a challenge because it skips between Constantinople during the 15th century, a small town in present day Idaho, and a intergalaxtic space ship decades into the future when the earth is ruined. The characters: Anne, Omeir, Zeno, Seymore, and Konstance are not only formed well and develop into real personalities during their time on the novel’s pages, but ones you care about and will remember long after finishing Doerr’s book.
As I approached the ending, turning pages rapidly, hurtling towards the end–the ending of the novel was magnificent drawing together the different characters and different settings in a speedy way. It was enough of a “ride” to make the reader hold his/her breath. The conclusion did not seem rushed , but a methodical, logical, natural convergence similar to the ending of All the Light We Could Not See. Overall, one is left with the sense of the power and possibilities of reading and books. This book will surely become a modern classic that will “stand the test of time.”
It is a “full” book; full of troubles and blessings; full of sorrows and griefs, full of happiness and hope. Doerr’s novel has been declared a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award and several other honors. It definitely has won a place in my heart and the title of “Best Book I read in 2021.”
Today’s Tuesday Teaser comes from our November selection, Gracelin O’Malley, first book in a trilogy, by Ann Moore. The story takes place in the great potato famine in Ireland. Our character, Abban is taking a cart loaded with starving, dying men from Gracelin’s home on the orders of her cruel husband. .Gracelin had offered the manor’s tenants food and medical care during her husband’s absence. Now Abban must find another place of refuge for the dying men.
“The hour of midnight had come and gone, the wind had blown itself out, and the snow fell lightly again. He felt alone in the world, and was heartened to see , out in the bog, the flickering light of camp-fires shielded by the low, rough huts people had dug to make temporary shelter. So many had died, but there were others staying alive just as he was–day by day, night by night.”
I remember as a young girl my father telling me his people had come to America from Ireland during the great potato famine because there were no jobs to be had and very little food to eat. This book brings the conditions they must have lived through to life and so far is a darned good read.
Inventory: of possessions and through the possessions of our memories, our life. Inventories are lists of “what matters.”
Judith Kratt’s life is defined by the fact she is “Daddy Kratt’s” daughter. The eldest of the Kratt children, she has a love-hate relationship with her siblings, brother Quincy, a snoop who makes it his business to know everyone’s dirty secrets; and sister Rosemarie, her “wayward younger sister” who fled their town of Bound “that fateful evening in 1929.” Olva, companion to Judith rounds out the cast of this character-driven story.
As with many Southern stories, Last List deals with family secrets, race issues, and interpersonal relationships. The plot unravels bit by bit through flashbacks until the reader has the whole truth. Filled with subplots and the metaphor of an inventory list of the family’s possessions, the novel is a darned good read.
Usually blogging friends do WWW Wednesdays, answering What have you finished? What are you currently reading? and What will you read next? Instead, I’m only going to answer one “W,” What have you finished?
Zadie Smith is an established writer whom I’ve read in The New Yorker and in more than one novel. These essays showcase her literary journalism skills. It is the author “thinking aloud.” (from the Foreward). Smith includes thoughts on recent events, politics, and current culture.
“Why Do We Love Libraries?” is an essay that appeals to bibliophiles everywhere. “Elegy for a Country’s Seasons” deals with climate change in a timely manner, as the author discusses the “new normal.” She points out our responsibility as we will be held accountable by our grandchildren either for our part in it or for doing nothing. Many of the essays “spoke” directly to me, and all were very readable.
This novel employs alternating chapters that come together with a twist at the end, one of my favorite techniques to follow. I was literally unable to put it down. Joyce, as usual, has “bewitching characters” the reader comes to care about. Anyone who does not have empathy for Byron and Jim has a heart of stone. Love, forgiveness and redemption are all themes dealt with by Joyce as she spins two tales that seem totally unrelated to each other–until the very end.
The opening would make a good Tuesday Teaser:
“In 1972, two seconds were added to time. Britain agreed to join the Common Market, and ‘Beg, Steal, or Borrow’ by the New Seekers was the entry for Eurovision. Two seconds were added because it was leap year and time was out of joint with the measurement of the Earth.”
Writing like the above makes this novel a page-turner and a “darned good read.”
I also love debut novels. My theory goes along with the old adage that, Everyone has a novel in them. In other words, that novel fighting to get out at the very beginning is often the best novel an author ever writes. Themes of love, grief, and the connectedness of community are present from the very beginning. In the story, the small-town library is the heart of the community, and when it is threatened with closure, the eccentric library patrons vow not to take it lightly.
June Jones, the assistant librarian and the protagonist, is as plain and shy as her name connotes. Alex, an old school friend, plays the love interest. June overhears what she believes is a plot by self-interested businessmen, one of whom is on the city council, to sell the library to a coffee franchise, netting themselves a tidy profit if the council closes the library. June, always too shy to speak up, and threatened with losing her job, must gather the courage to take a stand on something for the first time in her twenty-eight years.
The book has been described by critics as “delightful, uplifting, and sublime”. It is totally irresistible to readers who love books, librarians and libraries. Last Chance Library is “an inspiring call to muster our courage and fight for the things that matter.”
Friday Firstliners should be from a current read. Here’s mine from a book I’ve just begun:
“You can tell a lot about a person from the library books they borrow.” These are the opening thoughts from June, the librarian at the Chalcot Library in a very small town. Soon she gets word that the city council has met and is considering closing the library. What happens next is out of June’s comfort zone and totally unexpected.
I was unaware of this 2020 publication until my blogging friend Carla reviewed in on Carla Loves to Read. I had read Olive Kitteridge, Strout’s introduction to this character as a Third-Tuesday book club selection some time ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. In that novel, Olive was a middle-aged junior high math teacher, who reminded me of many math teachers during my time teaching in junior high. She is one of my favorite literary characters.
“Prickly, witty, resistant to change, yet ruthlessly honest and deeply empathetic”, in the sequel, Olive Kitteridge struggles to understand others and herself. If nothing else, she is resilient. Themes of aging, loss, loneliness, and love are what Olive is dealing with now that she is an old woman.Olive’s story is set in Cosby, Maine, and as often is the case with Strout, she deals with “ordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.” I found the New England setting interesting, coming from Virginia and now living on the Texas Gulf Coast, and agree with one critic who says of Strout, She “startle[s] us, move[s], and inspire[s] us [with] moments of transcendent grace.” It is a well-written novel and a darned good read/listen.
Today’s First Liner is from
Here is the first line:
Whenever I hear a train’s horn in the distance, that bruised sound, I think of Quincy. He spent half his life days down at the depot, true enough, but it’s the nature of the sound that reminds me of him, how it’s at once familiar and remote.”
Uh huh, “that bruised sound”…my kind of writing! I can’t wait to get started.
This book was published back in 2017, and I have “been meaning to read it” since then. I heard so much about it, not all of it good, BTW. It definitely is different. I finished it the weekend before this one that just passed.
The back cover describes the novel as “original, transcendent, and moving,” and it certainly is. The setting, one year into the Civil War, in a graveyard with its (trapped) inhabitants providing a chorus of voices, reminiscent of a Greek chorus in classical plays. Lincoln’s son, Willie, the one most like him and his favorite has died at age eleven. Lincoln’s grief is heroic and utterly devastating. Newspapers of the day report that Lincoln actually did return alone and grieving to the crypt where his son’s body lay, and at one point (at least) took the body from the coffin and cradled it against his own body. There is enough fact and truth in the story, with enough imagination provided by comments of the dead in the cemetery to describe marvelously Lincoln’s emotions and actions against the background of his grief over the splitting of the country of which he was President, and the war that pitted brother against brother.
The format of the book is also very different.
Pages are divided into quotes, some from historical statements, documents, and journals of the time; others from “quotes” by imaginary residents of the graveyard, who are all rooting for the young child to find peace in the afterlife. (The Bardo is a Tibetan traditional state after death, a kind of purgatory or waiting place. ) They are also aware of the grief and depressed state of the President, for whom they want peace and comfort. Both the format and the theme are highly imaginative/original, presenting a “kaleidoscopic state,” a disorganized tangle of living and dead, historical and invented by the author’s imagination. The philosophical question Saunders poses is, “How can/should we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?”
SPOILER ALERT–You may wish to skip these last few lines.
The ending of this emotionally written book is extremely satisfying. We see the boy’s transition into the afterlife and Lincoln’s easing of the great grief and guilt he experienced as he resolves to continue the fighting of the war he believed in so strongly at its inception.
It turned out to be a “reading experience” for me. I highly recommend it.
At first I thought I was not going to like this 2017 publication because it began with a suicide. However, when the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor arrive and try to cover up the suicide, so the surviving widow can bury her husband in concentrated ground, my interest perked to attention. Set in Catholic Brooklyn in the early 20th century, this novel presents Annie, the pregnant widow and then her daughter, Sally who are taken under the wing of the caring nuns, and follows them through their lives until Sally is old enough to consider taking a vocation. What she decides and why she decided it was a surprise to me, as were many other twists and turns the novel took, right down to the end, where the ending itself was a surprise.
The Ninth Hour has “quiet power,” one of the characteristics of literary fiction. The novel’s basic themes are “love, sacrifice, and forgiveness.” Sister St.Savior and Sister Jeanne are unforgettable characters who will remain with one long after they have turned the last page. It is definitely a “darned good read.”