The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

“Every night I cut out my heart. But in the morning it was full again”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 307 pages.
Read from July 22, 2018 to July 29, 2018.

Is there a book list out there that doesn’t have this book on it somewhere? Probably not. This book has been awarded numerous accolades, most recently the Golden Man Booker prize for this year. As a Canadian, this book has been on my to-read list since my university days, especially since I have already read In the Skin of a Lion, which I sadly have no recollection of. Admittedly, I didn’t even know what this novel was about prior to picking it up so I was happy to see that the plot is set during WWII as I do enjoy historical-fiction from that era.

WWII may have just ended but not in the minds of those who were deeply involved in it Hana is a nurse who has refused to leave her post at a war-time hospital in Italy despite it being abandoned and still within the vicinity of landmines. She will not leave a burn patient who is barely alive and has no memory of who is he or how he got here. A family friend, who also served, comes to find Hana and ends up staying with her at the hospital. They are then joined later by an aloof stranger who is also can’t stop being a soldier and is having trouble letting go of the war that has traumatized them all.

As a reader, you are kept at length from all the characters in the book, despite their dire emotional states thus following how the characters themselves keep each other and their feelings also at a distance. At first, I was intrigued by the approach and eagerly read my way through the first half of the novel, however, the last half felt like a slog as the intrigue wore off and I realized how the story and the characters were going nowhere. The burned patient, this unknown person who has lost their memory, was initially very compelling especially with the relationship he had with Hana, but I felt the details of his story got too messy and drawn out that by the end that I didn’t end up really caring who he was despite his eventual connections to everyone. The story of this book is like a slow-moving dream including the muddiness that often comes when you dream.

With all that said, I did enjoy Hana’s character and story and there were aspects of this novel that I loved. The story transported me to the historical setting and I did find myself wrapped in that world long after I finished the novel. Many readers feel that this book is somewhat of a love story and I find that is a bit of stretch. I feel the story is more about on the characters trying to heal through each other from their individual traumas and the unique bond of the war that connects them in the strange abandoned hospital.

Ultimately, I did enjoy this novel I just wanted more out of the story than what was provided but it was still a worthwhile read. This story would suit any historical fiction fan and while I cannot remember much of the plot from In The Skin of a Lion, I read that the two are more meaningful if paired together.  Perhaps a re-read is in order?

 

Charon’s Claw by R.A. Salvatore

Will Drizzt act on his building jealousy? Where will this path of revenge lead him?

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 352 pages.
Read from June 27, 2018 to July 5, 2018.

In anticipation of the newest release the in Legend of Drizzt series, I have been trying to make a bit of progress through this immense series. If I am honest though, I don’t really want to catch up. This series has always been a reliable go-to easy and enjoyable read that has almost always gotten me out of book slumps. While the last book in this series, Neverwinter I found a bit lacklustre, this book helped revive the story a bit.

Drizzt is still following his lover, Dahlia, on her path for revenge against the Netherese lord Herzgo Alegni. This is not typical behaviour for Drizzt as he has often followed a path of righteousness, or at least he did with his old companions. As in Neverwinter, you get to see a darker side to Drizzt that wasn’t present in the previous novels. Drizzt does not feel the same remorse while killing and he finds himself feeling something he has never felt before: jealousy. Dahlia and Drizzt’s frenemy Artemis have a connection and an understanding of suffering that he cannot relate to. A suffering that has lead the two of them to questionable lives, in Drizzt’s opinion, but is also drawing them closer together. Dahlia seems a little too concerned about the impending end of Artemis as the journey to kill Herzgo and destroy the sword that has enslaved Artemis well past his human lifespan. Will Drizzt act on his building jealousy? Where will this path of revenge lead him?

It’s kind of nice to see Drizzt have a few faults. I mean, the elf is damn near perfect otherwise and the darker themes lend well to developing his character. Do I like Dahlia? Not particularly. Do I feel bad for her awful childhood? Yes. Artemis, I have always had a thing for as he mirrors the other side of Drizzt. Unfortunately, there are a lot of side characters in this book that I don’t care for that convolute the plot, a problem I also had with this book’s predecessor. I am still, however, looking forward to the final book in this four-part series and will continue to follow Drizzt until the end of the total series in which I am still about 10 books behind in.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

“Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer, rather than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 238 pages.
Read from June 3, 2018 to June 5, 2018.

It is hard to imagine a book considered so scandalous that is was banned for decades; this book, Chopin’s masterpiece, did just that. It was published in 1899 and from then on it has struggled to get away from the banned book realm even though it’s included on most essential feminist reading lists. Chopin is considered one of the author’s that helped in ushering 20th-century American feminism.

This Victorian novel gives a shockingly honest account of identity and infidelity from a woman’s perspective. The protagonist is trapped in a stifling marriage. She has fulfilled the role that society has put in place for her but she realizes that the life she is living is not truly her own. Following her passions, she takes in a lover and begins to make her own choices about what she wants to do with her life in accepting herself as she truly is. She begins to question how women seem to ‘belong’ to men rather than to themselves. She even distances herself from her own children as her insights begin to weigh on her further.

“…but whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.”

The popularity of this novel comes not from its relevance in the history of feminism but the fact that many women can still relate to the protagonist, to a smaller extent, when it comes to themselves and the choices they have to make as women. Spoilers ahead… The main controversy today comes with how the protagonist ultimately abandons her children, a choice unforgivable to nearly any modern mother. However, taken from within in context, the protagonist was never given a choice about having children. She had to. She was married, there was no birth control and it was expected of her that she would be a mother as that is the only thing of value given to women in that timeframe. The protagonist may be rich, coddled and spoiled but she does love her children. The problem is that she feels she was never given a choice in the matter when it came to becoming their mother.  Does that mean she gets to revoke her responsibilities as a mother? No, but she did anyway. This brutal honesty is what continues to make this novel so scandalous.

Readers have attacked the protagonist for her selfishness and her inability to stand on her own two feet despite the choices she eventually makes. All valid. I don’t disagree but again, what makes the book so potent is that the protagonist’s feelings are not unique, in that women all over the world know to some extent what is or what it might feel like to be in her shoes even if they would never make the same choices. Spoilers ahead… The protagonist’s demise is tragic, as her turmoil is so intense that she believed suicide was the only option for her. Suicide, with its intentions, is not in and of itself a selfish act as sufferers do believe that they are doing the world and their loved ones a favour in making the choice to relieve their suffering. The dynamic between empathy, shock, disbelief or disagreement as well as tragedy, whether for the protagonist, her children or both, are what continue to make this book so exceptional. Accompanied by Chopin’s eloquent writing, it’s no surprise the impact this novel continues to have.

“But the beginning of things, of a world especially, is necessarily vague, chaotic, and exceedingly disturbing. How few of us ever emerge from such beginning! How many souls perish in its tumult! The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamouring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.”