Town and Country
One more short trip soon and then I’m home for 2.5 months! Yea! I’m looking forward to enjoying winter and my gang and reading and writing in this blog…
Meanwhile, I wrapped up two more books this weekend.
#91 Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Three Pines Mysteries) by Louise Penny (kindle)
Thank you to Mary for recommending Louise Penny (and a couple other mystery writers). I kept them in the back of my mind and when I saw Amazon put one of Penny’s books on sale, I bought it. This is the first in a series of books with Inspector Gamache, I gather many of them based in Three Pines.
Inspector Gamache is a Quebecois homicide detective called in to solve a murder in the tiny village of Three Pines. Gamache is wise and talented and doesn’t seem to have the character flaws that are so typical of most detectives (alcoholic, hates authority, addicted to their job). He seems like a good guy with a happy marriage who is reasonably passionate about his work.
In the course of solving the murder, we come to learn a lot about Three Pines. In this way, it reminded me of Miss Marple. Although I’m not sure we learn all that much about Miss Marple’s village per se – first, I think it tends to be referred to mostly in the abstract (she is always talking about how she doesn’t have to leave the village to fully understand humanity and all its foibles and thus to understand murderers – she’s always drawing insights from a minor village slight that help her understand the murder in question). And Miss Marple is always traveling – I remember a couple local murders, but mostly it seems like she finds them when she is out of town. But I’ve always loved the cozy village-life, tea and knitting feeling that you get with the Marple stories and novels. And this Three Pines book is similar.
I was also comparing it to the many Scandinavian novels I’ve been reading. First, I really did learn a lot about the village and its inhabitants from this book. Many get their turn narrating and I’m guessing at least some of them pop up in future books in the series. The Scandinavian mysteries (written by many novelists so they do differ) treat social injustice themes (Mankell) and/or give more a sense of the personalities and characters and thoughts of the people involved in each book (detective, murderer, innocent victim, friend trying to solve the crime) – not so much all the characters around the murdered as this book did. Having grown up in a tiny, historic village in upstate New York of 500, I’m drawn to books that describe the residents and linger over the special qualities that give the village its character.
I enjoyed this book. Not only the village focus, but the Gamache character, the intelligence of the writing, the descriptions of great food (!), the characters who inhabit it. In its way, it is a gentle book, again more in the Agatha Christie vein than Henning Mankell. I would certainly like to read more of them.
#103 The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley (library kindle)
Susan, her husband, and her two young sons moved to Beijing for two years in about 2006 – the 2008 Olympics occur not long before they leave. Her husband, Tony, had lived in China for some time as a young vagabond-traveler, learning excellent Chinese and getting to know “real” Chinese as he traveled around and lived in different rural and urban settings. Tony loved China very much and had been lobbying to return for years. Finally, a two year job opportunity opened up and they moved, en masse, to Beijing.
They chose to live in a very large concrete apartment (it use to be part of a dormitory and has long concrete halls perfect for young kids to play soccer and badminton) among ordinary Chinese, not far from a hutong neighborhood that is eventually torn down. Her boys are around 4 and 6 and pick up Chinese quickly. Susan struggles harder although she finds a wonderful Chinese tutor. She spends a fair amount of time with other expats (her sons go to an international school) but also with some Chinese, although these are mostly their staff (driver, ayi, tutor, cleaner). I enjoyed her descriptions of China very much. She is funny, acerbic, insightful… Early on she is diagnosed with breast cancer (being a writer, part of her had to be saying, what a great story!) that necessitates surgeries and a temporary return to the United States, but when her treatment is complete, she does return to finish out their tour in Beijing.
It has taken me awhile to realize I’d moved into reading China memoirs and this is another one of those – given that I notice that I move into the memoir phase of reading once I’ve exhausted a passion otherwise (gardening, reading, dogs) I’m surprised that I jumped to this phase with China so quickly. It isn’t as if I lived there or anything… Being in a country 2.5 weeks doesn’t constitute living somewhere. But I’ve really enjoyed adding these various insider/outsider books about China to my list. I like hearing them echo something I noticed. I enjoy learning more about some new aspect of life there. And Susan, as mom and “wife of” the person with the job and cancer survivor, adds a new view. But not one that gives you insights into “real” Chinese – she’s too removed from that. Overall, her writing is very good and really pulled me along. I enjoyed learning about her and her family and their experiences.
And it does seems to be helping to try to focus in on a book or two and read it through all at once (or over a couple days) – maybe its also the books, but I found it easier to engage and stay engaged. I’m going to keep trying to do this with future reading rather than jumping around so much.
Happy Reading! Ruby