The summer holidays is the time when I relish the opportunity of reading guiltlessly (i.e. I don’t have to trade a good novel for a pile of unmarked papers or choose to ignore the papers and feel guilty about it!), so while everybody else was making sandcastles, I buried myself in Barbara Kingsolver‘s The Bean Trees.
This short novel is pure poetry. I read (somewhere in the New York Times) it was her first novel and she felt she had split herself up into many parts to create her characters to the point when she thought she could never write another novel. Fortunately, time has proved her wrong!
Truly enough, all the characters seem ever so perfect even though genuinely different in their perfection. Their lives are not easy -event threatened at times as when Estevan and his wife run away from dictatorial Nicaragua or when Taylor realises Turtle ( a three-year-old) was abused- but they are so resilient it seems some magic is operating all around them. This magic is probably Barbara Kingsolver’s incredible writing skills. It’s sheer ‘realistic poetry’. It’s so beautifully written, so vivid in colours, made so real thanks to the subtle presence of nature (not the so-called sublime descriptions that you end up skipping in some novels), that the story delicately echoes the modesty of those who suffered a terrible ordeal and simply, humbly recovered.
Taylor, the main character and narrator, is young and poor, and starts the story, like some sort of American rite of passage, on the road. She rather quickly (after just 17 pages) ends up in charge of a small child, who is the guideline and cement of the whole novel. Yet, this story is not a Bildungsroman, it is likely to appeal to all generations.
This page will be dedicated to feedback, follow-up, commentaries, etc. linked to the book club monthly or so meetings.
So feel free to participate!
Writing, for Jeanette Winterson, is probably a matter of survival. Last summer, I read Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, which is her memoirs really. This is a must-read to understand both life and literature.
These memoirs were in fact a late twin to her fist novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, which I found the time to read this summer. This first book is a genuine literary experiment, an exploration; and also a quest into common sense and the absurdity of religious excess. Jeanette is an adopted girl brought up by an invasive mother and her church. We follow her and re-build the puzzle of her childhood until she is compelled to leave.
What I found remarkable and truly impressive about this novel is Jeanette Winterson’s masterly use of tone and language. The story is written from the point of view of the girl, who is extremely respectful of the mum’s choices and decisions as well as clearly questioning the way they live. Jeanette is torn apart and the reader can feel it too without becoming judgemental.
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is a tour de force.
Besides, Jeanette Winterson’s introduction to the book should be read and re-read by all literature students.
Tracy Chevalier is a very active contemporary author. She’s American but lives in London. She really became well-known with Girl With A Pearl Earring and she did a TED Talk about how she wrote the story which is eye-opening regarding the way a novelist can create a story.
Burning Bright is the story of two teenagers roaming the streets of late 18th century London and encountering William Blake himself.
Tracy Chevalier did a lot of research to complete this work so the mix of reality and fiction is particularly compelling and breathtaking. This novel is a great opportunity to both be entertained and learn quite a few facts about London, Blake and the influence of the French Revolution in the lives of Londoners.
I finished reading Burning Bright just two days ago and would have loved it to go on forever… So, enjoy!