Never having read A Winter’s Tale, the Shakespeare play on which this novel is based, I waded into The Gap of Time with no preconceived notions. The lack of familiarity wasn’t a hindrance, however; Jeanette Winterson thoughtfully provides a synopsis of the play before the novel begins; even that synopsis is unnecessary unless one is looking for the similarities and parallels. I wasn’t, and so I enjoyed the novel for its own sake.
Briefly, Leo Kaiser suspects his pregnant wife MiMi is cheating on him with his best friend Xeno, and believes that the child she carries is not his own. He mistreats her so badly that she leaves him, but not until he steals her newborn daughter. A series of miscommunications result in the infant being abandoned in a “Baby Hatch” and subsequently adopted and lost to her birth family. Some seventeen years later, circumstances bring unknowing child and unwitting parent together.
I loved young Perdita and Zel; Perdita’s adoptive father Shep is warm and gruff and sweet; Xeno and MiMi are beautiful and tragic…the only character for whom I couldn’t find any redemption was Leo, who is unremittingly awful to the point of caricature throughout the entire novel.
Leo aside, there is some gorgeous writing in this novel. I really should have marked the passages I found particularly lovely. Nicely done, Ms. Winterson.
Thank you to LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program for the opportunity to read this book.
Rachel’s daily commute takes her past the neighborhood where she once lived, when she was married. The train frequently sits for several minutes at a railstop right behind the back yard of a young couple whom often Rachel spies sitting on their patio; she has built up an elaborate fantasy existence for these two, fueled by the unfulfilled wishes of her own failed marriage. One day Rachel sees the woman kissing someone other than her husband, shocking her out of her fantasy. Shortly after that, she hears that this woman has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Convinced the strange man being kissed has something to do with the disappearance, Rachel goes to the police, only to be dismissed because of her well-known drinking problem. Undeterred, Rachel continues to investigate the disappearance on her own, in the process raising the spectre of her dead marriage and the issues that led to its failure.
The story itself is well-written and, although I started to get an inkling of how things would shake out somewhere about 2/3 through the book, the final twist isn’t telegraphed and still managed to surprise me.
But none of these characters is likeable. Except one. Rachel, the ex-husband, the new wife, the husband of the missing woman, all of them were simply awful. The only person who seems to have any compassion and goodness of character is Rachel’s roommate, who is treated shabbily and still shows Rachel kindness. And while that may make these people more realistic and human, it also makes them difficult to side with: even Rachel, who is her own worst enemy and manages to sabotage herself at every turn. (Having struggled through and overcome a substance abuse problem myself, I am predisposed to empathy for her; even so, I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shout at her more than once. If nothing else, she made me realize how incredibly patient and loving my loved ones were with me when I was in the throes of addiction.)
So, to sum up, a good story, an engaging story, but one peopled by unlikeable characters being unkind to each other. Such is the drama of the London suburb.
Lancelot, known to his intimates as Lotto, and Mathilde meet when they are in their early early 20s and baffle everyone who knows them — who knows Lotto in particular — by quickly marrying. The novel follows them throughout their married life, from dead broke college students to successful and well-to-do middle age and beyond, first from Lotto’s perspective (Fates), and then from Mathilde’s (Furies).
The language is gorgeous.
After having been married for quite some time myself, I’d say this a reasonably well-drawn and not entirely implausible study of a particular marriage, although not mine.
I rather liked both Lotto and Mathilde for the majority of the story. The two of them reminded me in some ways of a married couple I know: a pair who met and married very young; who, to all appearances, are still passionately in love with each other after all these years; who wholeheartedly support each other in all their endeavors, business, artistic, and otherwise. (Special note just in case one or both of them might happen to read this book AND this review: By no means do I mean to imply that either keeps the kinds of secrets that make up the crux of this novel. In fact, I’d be shocked to the core to discover such a thing.)
I loved the chronological synopses of Lotto’s plays as a device to show the passage of time. And the synopses themselves made me wish these were actual stage productions I could see performed somewhere.
Cal and Frida live in a little house in the woods. They farm what they can, they trade for goods they can’t make themselves, and they make the best of their primitive existence. Frida occasionally longs for the days when she had electronics and warm clothes, but this is the life they’ve chosen, and it was the best choice they could make at the time. Then Frida discovers she’s pregnant, and now the two of them have to choose anew: stay where they are, by themselves, and hope they and the baby survive; or travel to a nearby secretive settlement and hope to be taken in?
Set some 100 years or so into the future, California is a bleak vision of a possible future world, one wrecked by climate change and pollution; stratified by extreme income inequality; a world in which people escape dangerous cities rife with domestic terrorism to eke out a desperate existence in the wilderness because it’s safer to starve in the forest than scrounge in the suburbs.
“Sisterland, population 2” was the sign Violet and Daisy posted on the door to their room when they were children. As twins, and specifically as twins within a dysfunctional family unit, it was often the two of them pitted against the world, at least until they were grown and left the family home to forge their separate ways.
In college, Daisy shed her childhood identity and became Kate (her middle name); she avoided mention of her twin with whom she shared a psychic talent; she deliberately suffocated that talent itself; and when she married and changed her name, she put behind her virtually all easily recognizable association with her family of origin. In the suburbs of a city the size of St. Louis, it was relatively easy to avoid anyone who may have known her when she was young.
Violet, on the other hand, failed at everything — college, relationships, jobs — and eventually embraced her psychic talent and turned it into her livelihood. When she predicts a major earthquake will hit soon, Violet attracts national attention, and Kate’s quiet suburban life is thrown into an uproar.
Sittenfeld has written a thoughtful examination of sisterhood and marriage, friendship and family, and how the choices we make affect not only ourselves but the people around us. Lovely work.
“Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah…you are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:17-18, excerpted
Peter, a Christian pastor from England — denomination unnamed but probably Anglican or Methodist — is selected out of many applicants to go to a distant planet as a missionary. After much discussion with his wife, Bea, Peter accepts the challenge and rockets away to Oasis to preach the Gospel to the natives.
Upon arrival, Peter quickly makes the acquaintance of the Oasans, as he calls them, and decides to live among them to better deliver God’s Word daily, rather than stay at the human settlement and visit the Oasans once or twice a week. He commences leading Bible studies; he oversees the construction of a church; he starts translating the Bible, known by the Oasans as The Book of Strange New Things, into the Oasan language; and he begins losing all but the most tenuous contact with his fellow humans, even his wife. Meanwhile, Bea is sending increasingly frantic and frightening messages from Earth, where all Hell seems to be breaking loose.
Let’s talk about Peter for just a moment. A former drug addict and alcoholic, he turned his life around when he met Bea; he became a Christian under her influence, and not just a Christian but an ordained minister. His name is no coincidence: like Simon bar Jonah above, he became a different person when he met Christ, and literally built a new church in a new world, despite facing opposition and misunderstanding and prejudice on nearly all sides.
Allegorical characterization aside, this is not a “Christian” novel by any stretch of the imagination and non-religious folks should not hesitate to dive right in. It’s a fish-out-of-water story. It’s a do-the-best-that-you-can-with-what-you-have story. It’s a character study of a man under extraordinary stress. The parts of the story that focus on Peter’s missionary work aren’t intended to evangelize the reader: this is simply what Peter does and who he is, and his story couldn’t be told without discussing the teachings of Christ.
Michel Faber leaves a few dangling threads in his narrative. For example, it seems odd that USIC, the multinational conglomerate funding the Oasis expedition, would want a minister as part of their team until one discovers that the native population of the planet in question demands it, and is withholding the food supply from the humans currently on the planet until said missionary arrives. So, Peter as replacement is easily understood, but why was a missionary — specifically, a Christian missionary — included in the first place? That question is left unanswered. And the grim foreboding that seemed to be building up about the planet, its climate, and its natives, was left completely unresolved. The plot didn’t take the direction I expected, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did leave me wondering if I had misinterpreted all that foreshadowing. The ambivalent ending left me somewhat dissatisfied, even as I realized there was no other way to resolve the storyline: thus, the three-star rating rather than a four-star. Regardless, writing and characterization were excellent, and for a non-traditional SF writer, Faber did a pretty good job with his world-building. While I still regard The Crimson Petal and the White as Faber’s best work, The Book of Strange New Things showcases his versatility.
But along with the general rejoicing all over the social media and news sites I frequent, a peculiar and disturbing “my civil liberties have been infringed by SCOTUS” theme has emerged from some not wholly unexpected quarters. RepublicanPresidential candidates, religious zealots, and conservative media dittoheads, as well as certain family members and a few friends — some long-term, some more recent — are spouting the fundamentalist party line that this decision means the next thing will be lawsuits to force ministers to gay-marry people, therefore Christianity itself is at risk, and we better gather up the womenfolk and chilluns because they’ll be coming for your guns and Bibles shortly.
What complete and utter bullshit.
News flash, folks. The Obergefell v. Hodges decision affects your civil liberties not a whit. Ministers are still perfectly free to not marry anyone who doesn’t meet their particular denomination’s dogmatic standards. You are still perfectly free to believe whatever you like, worship however you like, and hold whatever opinions you wish. You are perfectly free to bemoan the “moral decay” you think you’re witnessing. You are perfectly free to rant and rave and quote obsolete and irrelevant Old Testament verses that support your views. And you are perfectly free to call for a Constitutional amendment to override a decision that you find abhorrent.
(Personally, I’d like to see a Constitutional amendment that overturns the Citizens United decision, but that’s a different rant. I wish us both good luck with that, by the way. This republic’s Constitution has been amended only 27 times in the 226 years since it was ratified, and the first ten of those amendments were done only two years after initial ratification, so essentially only 17 amendments have passed muster in over 200 years.)
However, what you are no longer free to do is discriminate against your LGBTQ brothers and sisters with respect to the legal protection of marriage. You don’t have to like it. That’s part of your freedom, as well. But you have to understand that marriage has very little to do with religion, anyway.
*pause to insert earplugs to block the screams of outrage*
Yes, you heard me. Marriage itself has nothing to do with religion.
Now I know a lot of people choose to get married in a religious ceremony, with prayer and talk of God and holy matrimony and so forth. I did so myself; it was lovely and moving and very special indeed. But the religious service that constituted the saying of our vows has nothing to do with the facts of our marriage. We could have just as easily walked down the hall to the office of the Justice of the Peace on the day we picked up our marriage license, had that fine worthy perform the ceremony, and been just as married. Because what constitutes the fact of my marriage is this: My husband and I went to the county courthouse, purchased a license, had a ceremony performed by an individual who certified on that license that he was authorized to perform marriage ceremonies. He then submitted that certified document back to the county for the marriage to be entered into county records as proof of the legally binding contract my husband and I entered into on that beautiful spring day many years ago.
Marriage in the United States is a legal contract, and thus it’s a civil matter, licensed, recorded, and sanctioned by the government. The fact that many people celebrate their marriage vows with a religious ceremony is irrelevant. That means it’s also irrelevant if your religion says homosexuality is a sin, and therefore gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married. Marriage is a civil matter, and what your religion says has no bearing on the right of consenting adults to marry.
But here’s another thing you have to understand. Marriage equality is no threat to your church. Hordes of gay folk clad in rainbow-colored wedding garments aren’t going to storm your sanctuary, demand to be married at your altar, and file lawsuits if refused. Your church’s clergy are protected under the First Amendment and can refuse to perform a marriage ceremony for anyone who is perceived as not meeting dogmatic or doctrinal standards. For example, a Catholic priest may refuse to marry a divorced person because Catholic doctrine says divorce is a sin. An Orthodox rabbi may refuse to marry a Jewish person to a non-Jewish person because Judaism generally frowns upon interfaith marriages. Heck, my own pastor very nearly refused to marry my husband and me because my husband is an atheist.
As mentioned above, though, you’re perfectly free to believe homosexuality is a sin, although I would ask you to take a look at a little research on the so-called “clobberverses” that people with those beliefs generally quote to back their position.
And, because I don’t want to stop loving my friends and family who buy into this “my religious freedoms are being attacked” nonsense, I had to “unfollow” a few people on social media in the last couple of days. They aren’t de-friended or blocked, just not followed for a while, until their hateful, spiteful, inaccurate, or ugly status updates die down.
Enzo the large breed mutt tells us the story of Denny Smith, a mechanic with a passion and talent for high-performance racing: his life as a single man, his courtship of and marriage to Eve, the birth of their daughter Zoe, the death of Eve from cancer, and the fallout from that untimely passing.
The life of one family as seen through the eyes of their dog is not the type of novel I would normally choose. But The Art of Racing in The Rain was a book group selection; so, like a good little group member, I bought it. Then I moved and left that book group behind. Thus, Garth Stein’s book sat on the To Be Read shelf for many many months.
After I finally decided to read it, I nearly put it down when the first chapter made me cry. Wiping my tears, I persevered. About halfway through the book, I got so angry at the direction of the storyline, I nearly put it down. But I cheated and turned to the last few pages of the book to find out the resolution to that particular turn of events. What I saw convinced me to go ahead and finish the story. Grudgingly.
In other words, I did not enjoy the time spent reading this book. That one star rating has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, which is excellent; or the development of the characters, who are fully-fleshed for the most part; or the voice of the narrator, which is surprisingly enchanting.
It’s just that books with animal narrators almost never end well, and that tends to make me rather angry. I generally don’t enjoy fiction that makes me angry.
Bernardo Greene is a survivor of torture. Michela Ibsen is a survivor of domestic abuse. In The Company of Angels is the story of their respective healing journeys, alone, and then together. Thomas Kennedy’s spare elegant prose touches lightly on their sorrow, their pain, but this light touch reveals the depth of their damaged lives, and the damaged lives of the people who surround them. Bernardo struggles in solitude, opening up slowly, in fits and starts, only to his psychiatrist, and only to retreat once again when he feels he has revealed too much, until a chance meeting with Michela elicits a moment of hope, and this moment is a seed in frozen soil, until the spring when it thaws and pushes its tender shoots out of the ground into the light. Michela, on the other hand, has a lover, has a father, has a mother, all of whom hurt and continue to cause hurt, whether intentional or by happenstance, until her meeting with Bernardo allows a solitary ray of hope to enter her dark existence, and she begins to find her true self beneath the layers of lies she’s accepted as truth. And in the end, no one is too damaged to find some measure of salvation, some measure of peace, even if it’s only for a brief moment of clarity.
This book received through the Early Reviewers Giveaway at LibraryThing.