Tuesday, June 15, 2010

June Reads I

I did not read Minette Walter's second book, "The Sculptress" next as I supposed I would on my June 1 post. Instead I turned to a book on my own library shelf - Wallace E. Stegner's "Angle of Repose" - the Pulitzer Prize winner of 1972.
I know I've read Stegner before because I recognize him as a 'favourite author'. But it has been a long time and I'm not sure which of his books I've read. It might be "Crossing to Safety" or "Remembering Laughter" - maybe both.
"Angle of Repose" is narrated by Lyman Ward - a retired history professor confined to a wheelchair due to a debilitating disease and the amputation of one leg. He has returned to live alone in the house where his grandmother died against the advice and insistence of his son who thinks he should be in a care facility. Ward is dependent for much of his care upon the same woman who cared for his father during his declining years. He has decided he will research his grandparent's lives and write a chronicle of their years spent on the western frontier a century before. He has his grandmother's letters, drawings and articles but nothing of his grandfather other than his own memories of the man.
Stegner based his grandmother, Susan Burling Ward, on the real life of Mary Hallock Foote. He had been given access to Foote's historical letters by a family member. There was controversy about Stegner's use of substantial passages from Foote's letters without credit after he won the Pulitzer. I agree with one critic that while the letters added to the authentic feeling of the story, it was Stegner's own imagination and prose which made the book so enjoyable.
It took me almost two weeks to read this book, partly because I was busy, but mostly because it is a book to be savored. When I finished the last page, I just sat in awe and asked, "How does he do that?" Then I ask myself why I would spend time reading some of the books I do when there are such first rate authors like Wallace Stegner?
I finished "Angle of Repose" a couple of days ago which gave me just enough time to read Anita Brookner's "Hotel du Lac" - winner of the 1984 Booker Prize.
Our protaganist, Edith Hope, has reached the hotel, on the shores of Lake Geneva, in a state of confusion. Her best friend made the arrangements and drove her to the airport, insisting she stay away until she has atoned for her unfortunate mistakes and "grown up". Of course we do not know what her mistakes have been until more than half-way through the book. We are allowed to learn about romance novelist writer, Ms. Hope, as she learns about herself through her interactions with and observations of some of the other hotel guests.
When one of those guests, Mr. Neville, proposes marriage after only a brief acquaintance and Edith accepts even though they do not love one another but because she does not want to end up in life alone, we do not know what happens until the final page. Even then we are left wondering about the future of Edith Hope; just as we are left thinking about our own life's choices.
And now I begin "The Sculptress".

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