AS SHE CLIMBED ACROSS THE TABLE by Jonathan Lethem

You know, sometimes a book just tickles your funnybone. Is that two words?  Funny bone?  Well, whatever.  What. Ever.

Not sure just what the genre is, but it is about a particle physics scientist, a young woman, working with a university physics team, and and her boyfriend, an anthropologist at the same university.  The physics team has just created a void … a hole in the universe, which they have named Lack.  Well, this void has preferences.  It will accept certain items into its nothingness, but not others.  Alice fall out of love with the boyfriend, and into love with Lack, whose preference is not for her.

All kinds of folks, scientists and non-scientists alike try feeding items into Lack.  But the one thing it definitely doesn’t want is Alice.

The distinguished Italian scientists predicts that Lack will eventually close, he can see the signs already.  He also claims to have solved the riddle of Lack.  He says that

Cnsciousness creates reality.  Only when there is a mind to consider the world is there a world.  There’s no world where there isn’t a mentality to consider a world.  An example: there are subatomic particles as far as we are willing to look.  We create them.  Consciousness writes reality, in any direction it looks — past, future, big, small.  Wherever we look, we find reality forming in response.

Reality is unwilling to fully exist without an observer. If consciousness is required to confirm the new reality, you have to provide the consciousness too.  You can’t make just a whole new universe full of reality, without making the commitment to look at it.

So, the upshot is that Lack is a void with consciousness that wants to make a reality and so it uses the stuff that the folks are tossing into the void to create another world, or dimension, if you will.

Our boy tries to enter the void …. and OMG … is successful and ends up in a strange world comprised of all the junk and items that people had tossed into Lack.  He returns to the entry point, and pops back to the lab, to find it is still not his original world, but that of some blind guys who entered Lack, and he is now in their blind world.  He tries again and ends up in the void, as the void.

It is a pretty interesting concept, and reads way better than this pitiful plot description does.

It is a bit about science and physics, a bit about love and romance and how fragile that can be, a bit about tweaking academia,  and a bit about ‘how far can I go with this concept?’.   Really a fun read.

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JOURNEY BY MOONLIGHT by Antal Szerb

This is considered a classic of the thirties, written in 1937 by one of the major Hungarian writers of the twentieth century.  He was a formidable scholar, and wrote a number of non fiction works which are still considered important in the field today.  He was from a Jewish family, who had converted to catholicism.  During the Second World War, he was given numerous chances to escape antisemitic persecution (as late as 1944), but he chose to remain in Hungary, where his last novel, a Pirandellian fantasy about a king staging a coup against himself, then having to impersonate himself, (Oliver VII,) was published in 1942. It was passed off as a translation from the English, as no ‘Jewish’ work could have been printed at the time.  Szerb was deported to a concentration camp late in 1944, and was beaten to death there in January 1945, at the age of 43.

Journey by Moonlight was translated from the Hungarian by the renowned and award-winning Len Rix.

Well, I loved this book. If you have read any Iris Murdoch, then you know the sense of the romantic/ironic/searching undertone which pervades her books, and you will find it is part and parcel of Szerb’s work as well.  Here’s the basic story line:

 Mihály has dreamed of Italy all his life. When he finally travels there, on his honeymoon with Erszi, he soon abandons his new wife in order to find himself, haunted by old friends from his turbulent teenage days: beautiful, kind Tamas, brash and wicked Janos, and the sexless yet unforgettable Eva. Journeying from Venice to Ravenna, Florence and Rome, Mihály loses himself in Venetian back alleys and in the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside, driven by an irresistible desire to resurrect his lost youth among Hungary’s Bright Young Things, and knowing that he must soon decide whether to return to the ambiguous promise of a placid adult life, or allow himself to be seduced into a life of scandalous adventure.

Szerb has a stunning talent for description, and I found myself fully immersed in 30’s Italy, in the Italy of my imagination.  The characters are strange and dreamlike,  none that we feel we might actually meet in Real Life.  They are not exactly larger than life, but rather different from life, from another dimension, perhaps.   The journey is one every young person takes, if only in their head, one of exploration, searching for redemption for unknown sins and a clear path for the way to Life.

Great book.

FALL ON YOUR KNEES by Ann-Marie MacDonald

“They are the Pipers of Cape Breton Island — a family steeped in lies and unspoken truths that reach out from the past, forever mindful of the tragic secret that could shatter the family to its foundations. Chronicling five generations of this eccentric clan, Fall on Your Knees follows four remarkable sisters whose lives are filled with driving ambition, inescapable family bonds, and forbidden love. Their experiences will take them from their stormswept homeland, across the battlefields of World War I, to the freedom and independence of Jazz-era New York City.”

The above is official.  Not much of a description, is it.

It is about a family, about race and  racism, about The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name, about loyalty, and about lots and lots of drama. What a great book.  Tome.  A great tome.  It is huge, 508 pages.

Here’s the outline:  it starts with the dad, a young piano tuner, who meets 13 year old Materia, pianist extraordinaire, one of a number of children of a prosperous Lebonese family living in Cape Breton, when he is called in to tune their piano.  Materia falls in love with him, and runs away with him the following year to marry.  She is pregnant with their first child, Kathleen, who turns out to be a vocal prodigy.

Materia becomes a little crazy, ok maybe a lot crazy, and is befriended by the wife of the Jewish butcher.  Eventually she has several other children, all girls, when Kathleen is a preteen.  The story follows their lives, and honey, let me tell you, it is drama city!  Whoo ee.  And let me tell you, you will not believe who does what to whom.

It is a saga, sure enough, and what a read.  The proverbial page-turner.  I loved this book.  LOVED this book.

It is MacDonald’s first novel.  She is  a Canadian playwright, novelist, actor and broadcast journalist.  What talent.  I have MacDonald’s The Way The Crow Flies,  which is even more of a door stop at 848 pages.  Think I will read a few other genres before I start in on that one.

 

 

 

OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout

Olive is a plain speaking, almost-not-nice woman,  but she sure is interesting.  In this novel-in-stories form,  Olive is not always the principal focus of the particular story, but she always appears, however briefly.

Each portion of the book deals with a different character, giving us their back story and current life.   All the stories point out the sadnesses that all lives contain, even the live seemingly the happiest on the surface.

The official plot description is this:

Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life – sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty.

Olive is profoundly flawed, and profoundly noble, and she is each of us.  She exists to mirror ourselves, whether we want to see ourself as we really are or not.

Loved this book!

THE SOJOURN by Andrew Krivak

The Sojourn is the story of Jozef Vinich, who was uprooted from a 19th-century mining town in Colorado by a family tragedy and returns with his father to his father’s village of Pastvina  in rural Austria-Hungary, (which is now part of the Czech Republic) to take up an impoverished shepherd’s life.

Josef’s father then marries a woman with two young sons.  she turns out to be cruel, treats her own sons well, but starves the young baby of her husband.  The husband comes home from the high pastures and berates the woman, and takes his boy with him into the mountains for the months he is sheepherding.  They live the hardscrabble existence of shepherds, barely able to put food on the table, in the cold and brutal climate of the region. Josef and his father live for part of the year in a cabin in the Carpathian Mountains and ply their trade of husbandry.

At the age of ten, Josef is introduced to his father’s Krag rifle, and is instructed in the art of hiding and hunting their prey. A distant cousin, Marian Pes–nicknamed Zlee–who was one year older than Josef, is sent to live with them. Zlee has an instinct for shepherding, and together they form a brotherly bond of love and respect. Josef’s sleep is haunted by dreams of loss and he gradually becomes distant from his father.

World War One comes. In 1916, when Zlee turns eighteen, both boys go to the conscription office to join up. Josef alters the age on his identity card so that he can go, too. During artillery training, they are recognized for their skill of aiming and shooting, and are sent to train as snipers, or “sharpshooters,” which in German is called Scharfschützen. , surviving a perilous trek across the frozen Italian Alps and capture by a victorious enemy.The novel is set in a time  when Czechs, Slovaks, Austrians, and Germans fought on the same side while divided by language, ethnicity, and social class in the most brutal war to date. It is also a poignant tale of fathers and sons, addressing the great immigration to America and the desire to live the American dream amidst the unfolding tragedy in Europe.

After being in a prisoner of war camp in Sardinia, Italy,  until the end of the war, his cousin/brother having been killed, he sets off on foot for his home in Austria-Hungary.  When he finally arrives, he finds that his beloved father has died, and his step mother, both of her sons having also been killed in the war, was delighted to give him a letter from his father in English, which she did not speak, which expressed concern to his son that he had nothing at all to leave him.  But hidden deep in the 8 page letter was information that he had hidden up in the mountains 5 ounces of gold, with directions on how to find it, and once in possession of it, to take it to Prague along with his birth certificate from the US, and get a passport and go to America, which he did.

A beautifully written story of a young man’s life, written from his perspective as an old man.

 

HELLCORP by Jonathan Whitelaw

The plot:  Sometimes even the Devil deserves a break!Life is hard for The Devil and he desperately wants to take a holiday. Growing weary from playing the cosmic bad guy, he resolves to set up a company that will do his job for him so the sins of the world will tick over while he takes a vacation. God tells him he can have his vacation just as soon as he solves an ancient crime .But nothing is ever easy and before long he is up to his pitchfork in solving murders, desperate to crack the case so he can finally take the holiday he so badly needs

The reality:  well, the mystery was pretty lame…  a guy stabs another guy 40 years ago in a mugging, and then four decades later, the stabee dies of some sort of internal scarring which resulted in a blockage and death.  Meh.  Howsomeverly, the whole rest of the book was a hoot.  Lots of fun.

He gets the  clever idea of making Hell a legitimate business — Hellcorp will be a ‘one-stop shop for anybody and everybody who wants to get on in life.’ It seems perfect, an idea he puts to the Pope whom he thinks is God’s holy snitch.  God calls him up to Heaven, which is designed as a premier golf course complete with clubhouse, and advises the Devil he can have his vacation after he solves a cold case mystery.

God sends the devil to earth in a human body without all his devil powers.  He proceeds to get beaten up and ends up in the emergency room where he meets a young lady doctor, whom he hauls along with him when he takes off.  The rest of the story is all about what they do together to solve the so-called mystery.

So basically, there was very little about Hellcorp, the title of the book, and a whole lot of mystery solving.

Fun read, cleverly constructed.

 

EYE OF THE MOON by Ivan Obolensky

Official blurb coming atcha:

“Johnny’s legendary socialite Aunt Alice mysteriously died while reading the Egyptian Book of the Dead when he and Percy were ten. They have been kept in the dark about that night ever since…

Twenty years later, they are reunited, along with family and guests, for a weekend house party at Rhinebeck, the sumptuous estate once owned by Alice.

But Rhinebeck holds more than just childhood memories.

From the family butler, they learn that Alice’s story is far darker than anticipated, and will impact all their lives, particularly Percy’s, before the weekend concludes.

All who attend are ensnared in a surprising web of mystery, Egyptian occultism, sumptuous elegance, and intrigue, where family members, guests, and even the staff have their own agendas, and nothing is what it seems.

This complex and sophisticated gothic mystery thriller is a page-turner you will not be able to put down.”

I second that emotion.  I really loved this book.  A lot of the story is told by various characters telling it to our first person protagonist narrator.

Some fun paranormal, but paranormal in the sense that we are not certain whether the experiences are from psychotropic drugs or what, but everyone keeps saying how eerie the house is, how there feels like ‘there is something there.’

A lot of family intrigue and manipulation, and financial skulduggery, and the reveals just keep on comin!

Great story, wonderful writing, but I can see how it could be not everyone’s cup of tea.  But I am just a sucker for gothic-y kind of stuff

A fair amount of Egyptian woo-woo in the story, and the title refers to:

…Wadjet, the patron goddess of one of the great oracles of the ancient world located at Buto, in lower Egypt.  She was known as the Green One and was often depicted as a cobra.  She preformed a protective function.

This Egyptian religious symbol is also called the Eye of Hathor, the Eye of Horus, and the Eye of Ra.