The Sense of an Ending

I was so happy to have been pushed to read The Sense of an Ending by my book club.  It has been on my TBR 12280827for a while and on my shelves for about 6 months.  I enjoyed this book so much that I’ll be holding it up as an example of why short, sweet, and precise is a lot better than long-winded winding and vague.  What a brilliant book!

The Sense of an Ending is the story of Anthony, nickname Tony.  It ranges from his life as a 15-year-old boy at school till he’s a man in his sixties.  We see how the events of our past aren’t always remembered accurately and are sometimes even completely forgotten.  Barnes constructs a simple story of friendship, love, and life, which gradually becomes something a lot more surprising.  The writing style is simply ingenious and each word was obviously chosen conscientiously.  Some may find Tony a bit of a wimp always complaining and never facing any of the difficulties he was confronted with.  From his failed marriage with Margaret, to his daughter Sophie, and his ex-girlfriend Veronica, frankly, he’s not very reactive.  “He just doesn’t get it.”  The phrase that’s repeated constantly the last quarter of the book.  In spite of all of his whining, I still liked him.  He seemed to be a man trying to lead a very normal life no matter what, which is what most people do.

The ending left me bewildered so my first reflex was to reread the last 20 pages.  That still didn’t help me understand.  At that point I felt that the interaction between Veronica and Tony was a way to fuel the end of the story, particularly Veronica repeating “you just don’t get it” all the time.  Well at my book club discussion we finally worked out the mystery and then things seemed to fall into place a lot better for me.  The Sense of an Ending made sense, however I can see how some people might completely pass over the ending and not getting it.  The clues are in Tony’s past and it’s for the reader to find the sense of the ending.

The only other book I’ve read about the fragmentary nature of memory is Marcel Prout’s Swann’s Way from the  series In Search of Lost Time.  Julian Barnes goes about it in a different way but I feel it’s worth the read and simply special in its own way.  Barnes is English and is known for writing novels, memoirs, short stories, and essays.  He won the Man Booker Prize in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending.  He’s also well-known for having written other memorable novels such as Arthur & George, Flaubert’s Parrot,  and England, England, which were all shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  He won the  Prix Médicis Étranger for Flaubert’s Parrot and the  Prix Femina Étranger for Talking it Over.

The Best Books of 2013

Well now that we’ve started 2014 and I’ve had the time to really reflect on my reading experience of 2013, I feel that it was pretty darn mediocre.  I’d hoped to read more books that would wow me but that wasn’t the case.  It was if I chose my books because they just fell in my lap.  That’s not how I want to proceed with my book choices this year.  You’ve already seen a select few of the big books I plan on reading this year, but just know that there will be more engaging and thought-provoking titles added to that list.

My reading goals of 2013 comprised:

1. reading more works of people of color

2. reading more classics

3. reading graphic novels

4. reading out of my comfort zone

I guess two out of four ain’t bad.  I managed to do one and three, but only really read one book that was a little out of my comfort zone.  So I know now what I need to concentrate on this year.  I’d like to have a well-rounded reading year but most of all I want to read more books that really speak to me, move me.  2014 is the year of quality! I hope.

So, in no particular order, let’s take a look at my top ten best books of 2013:

Firstly we have the books by authors of colour or about people of color:

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Well as you can see that’s half of my favourites list.  All I can say is these five books really stuck with me and enlightened my reading experience as well as taught me some things.  I was taken aback by the passages in Black Like Me.  The descriptions written by John Howard Griffin, a white man who was just being a black man for a few months struck me to my core.                                   If Beale 

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Street Could Talk weighed on me heavily as well reading about the injustices of the seventies, while in the back of my mind knowing these situations are still happening today.  Cutting for Stone was that epic African novel that surprised me at every page.  I really couldn’t anticipate what was going to happen next or where the author was leading me.  I felt like I’d traveled stretches of kilometres to Africa to  meet and follow Marion and Shiva from their beginnings to adulthood.  That was a rich and informative reading experience that taught me a lot about Ethiopia, a country that I almost visited over sixteen years ago.  Kindred took me back to the days of slavery, filling me with fear and disorienting me in a world where the codes didn’t correspond to me or Dana the main character.  Lastly, but not least The Cutting Season brought me back to my home state of Louisiana. The story brought out anticipation and fear of the unknown – who killed that young woman on the plantation grounds called Belle Vie?  I could feel the heat, the humidity, and smell the earth.  Darkness engulfed me and Caren the main character.  Running through it for fear of what she might find or worse what or who might be waiting for her.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman was the only classic I read last year.  That is if you don’t count Harry Potter and the Philosopher’ Stone and If Beale Street Could Talk.  Those two could technically be considered modern classics.  Ok enough of me trying to stretch my non-existent list of read classics.  In spite of it all,  I can thank my 56034book club for choosing this one.  For without them, I’m not really sure when I would have read it, in spite of it being on my physical and mental TBR for aeons.  I could also place this one under number four of my reading goals because it definitely got me out of my comfort zone.  In the beginning I didn’t think I’d make it through, but at the halfway mark something changed.  I became more invested in the story, not to mention that the writing style changed for the better.  I also started to get used to those omniscient footnotes that lead me through the story that was going on above like a dog on a leash.  Undeterred by it all I finished and loved it!  Now that doesn’t often happen to me.  I usually give up if I can’t get into a book by page 150.  It was a worthwhile reading experience and I persevered to the end!  So I definitely have to read more classics this year.

1261125351GiFItYmkLThe next two novels were my comic relief of the year.  I don’t often pick up comical books and that’s probably because it’s not a genre that I’m really familiar with.  I was compelled to pick up Where’d You Go Bernadette  since everybody was talking about it in the blogosphere and about its unorthodox style of being written in email and letter form.  I like epistolary so I thought why not.  It turned out to be a great choice.  I read it in one afternoon and laughed out loud a bit.  Oh Bernadette! She was a mess!  I liked her though.  Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff Christ’s Childhood Pal was the same.  It took me longer to read but boy did I have some laughs.  The wittiness of that novel is just simply brilliant!  It’s a must read if you haven’t gotten to it yet.

Now you know I’m not that over the moon about Young Adult novels and any time I read one it’s so that I can41WvR8-CBUL suggest it to the students I tutor in English or to my daughters, and of course because I suspect it might be good.  I ran across Speak because I saw a couple of bloggers talking about it.  I read it in one sitting and fell in love with the way the story was told but most of all with Melinda’s voice.  Superb!  A reader couldn’t ask for a better narrator, especially a young adult reader.

12280827Last but not least, my absolute favourite and best read of 2013 was The Sense of an Ending.  What a fantastic way to talk about memory!  I got so much from this little tiny 150-page book.  Unbelievable! There are so many themes packed into this book.  I was asking myself what took me so long to pick up a novel by Julian Barnes.  Nevertheless, I finally did and it was also thanks to my book club.  Book clubs can bring out the best and sometimes the worst in one’s reading however in my experience it’s been great at 100%.  Check out this wonderfully woven story of middle-aged Tony after school, marriage, children, and divorce.  Memory can be deceiving after the fact and at times spot on…

Well that’s my wrap up of my top ten books of 2013.  I hope you enjoyed reviewing some of them with me.  Clicking the titles will take you to the reviews.  So how about you guys?  Was your reading year a 3.0-3.5 like mine or better?  Let me know below and don’t forget to include your favourite books of the year.  I love getting recommendations from you!  Happy reading y’all!

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge Day 5 Favorite Play

Day 5Favorite Play – I’ve had to put two recommendations for this challenge.  I’m strongly recommending August Wilson’s The Century Cycle series. I haven’t read all of IMG_2438them yet but woking on it. Here’s my copy of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone which I’ll be reading this month.  It’s the second play in the ten-play series set in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, which covers the development of African-Americans over the 20th century.   These plays are great American classics and literary award winning – Pulitzer Prize for Drama Fences in 1987 and Piano Lessons in 1990.  Joe Turner’s Come and Gone was winner of The New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play in 1988.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone – “When Herald Loomis arrives at a black Pittsburgh boardinghouse after seven years’ impressed labor on Joe Turner’s chain gang, he is a free man-in body.
But the scars of his enslavement and a sense of inescapable alienation oppress his spirit still, and the seemingly hospitable rooming house seethes with tension and distrust in the presence of this tormented stranger. Loomis is looking for the wife he left behind, believing that she can help him reclaim his old identity. But through his encounters with the other residents he begins to realize that what he really seeks is his rightful place in a new world – and it will take more then the skills of the local “People Finder” to discover it… “(Goodreads description)

My second recommendation is Topdog/Underdog by the underrated and hardly spoken about Suzan-Lori Parks.  She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for Topdog/Underdog, which IMG_2441is believed to be her magnum opus.  I’m in the middle of reading it and I’m loving it.  Parks is a playwright and screenwriter. She was born in 1963 in Fort Knox, Kentucky.  She soon moved to Western Germany because her father was stationed there as a career officer in the United States Army.  Those years studying in Germany in middle school and high school taught her about what it means to be considered foreign.  Parks is also known for writing a debut novel called Getting Mother’s Body, for which she was a nominee for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award in 2004 for Debut Fiction.  Girl 6 was her first screenplay for Spike Lee in 1996 and later she worked on the screenplays of Their Eyes Were Watching God in 2005 and The Great Debaters in 2007.  Parks had the opportunity to study under the phenomenal writer, James Baldwin who encouraged her to pursue writing plays.  She apparently had a habit of acting out her characters when presenting them in class.

Topdog/Underdog  – “A darkly comic fable of brotherly love and family identity is Suzan-Lori Parks latest riff on the way we are defined by history. The play tells the story of Lincoln and Booth, two brothers whose names were given to them as a joke, foretelling a lifetime of sibling rivalry and resentment. Haunted by the past, the brothers are forced to confront the shattering reality of their future.” (Goodreads description)

My copies:  Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, paperback – 94 pages

Topdog/Underdog, paperback – 112 pages

 

I’m an affiliate for The Book Depository. It would be much appreciated to click the link below if you’re interested in picking up any of my recommendations. It will help fund my incessant book buying.
http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=browngirlreading

 

Ayiti

 

imageHaving read but one short collection this entire year, I’m ending 2014 with a really good one. I was gifted this signed copy by a friend and I am so grateful. Ayiti is Roxane Gay’s debut novel of short stories. It confronts the reader with Haiti, the good and the bad. It consists of fifteen short stories all carrying different themes about Haiti and the  Haitian diaspora.

All the stories have a flavor of island living that is hard to ignore. The first four stories recount fitting in in the United States as an immigrant, being different because one has an accent, and people’s reactions to those differences. The other stories relate Haitians’ desires to leave their country for a better life in the United States. Gay depicts the difficulty from both sides – the Haitian that emigrates and the Haitian that stays back home, very well. Each story details aspects that we the reader may not be prepared to read. We are confronted with the dark side of life in Haiti and immigrant life in the United States.  At times, her stories take on an erotic tone, but it isn’t at all gratuitous.

Kidnapping and prostitution are two of the darkest subjects in this collection. The fifth story Things I Know About Fairy Tales speaks specifically about being kidnapped. It is the short story that became An Untamed State. I haven’t read it yet but even as a short story it was dark, menacing, and heightened the senses.  I’m curious to see how this short story develops into An Untamed State.

Haiti is a country that seems to get under its citizens’ skin and is difficult to leave. The idea of leaving for good seems to be impossible for some and a necessity for others. Haiti’s breezy beaches, gritty cities, simple lifestyle yet fearful, dangerous, and imminent violence are haunting. Ayiti is definitely a short story collection worth checking out. It gives an excellent view of Roxane Gay’s poignant and refreshing writing style. I just love the way she adds pop culture references into her storytelling. It helps the reader understand even better what she’s trying to say and gives particular life to her short stories.

NW

I opened NW on Friday night and immediately became submerged in this part of London that I’ve never been too.  I closed andIMG_1092 finished it late Sunday night.  My reading was supported by the excellent Penguin audiobook.  The two first-rate audiobook readers added to the tremendous life that Zadie Smith put into writing NW.  Each accent gave me that perspective I needed to relate to the characters but most of all to give me the right tone.  The tone that I imagine Zadie Smith was imaging when she wrote NW.  I found myself comfortably reading and merging into this complex story – “the story of guests and hosts and everybody in between” (back cover of NW, Penguin edition).  Uncomfortable. Challenging.  Shocking.  Colorful.  Sincere.  Brutal.  NW  packs the punch that maybe some aren’t ready to read.

NW is the story of two girls, Kesha and Leah, that have grown up together and been close friends for a long time. One is white and the other is black.  We follow them as young girls who become successful young women.  Their starting point is NW.  NW is their shame, their fond memories, their family, their friends,….  It isn’t far from shopping on the High Street, sightseeing on double-decker buses, and lounging in Hyde Park.  However, it seems to be a place that is important to both characters since it is the place they grew up, their focal point, and it is part of who they are, no matter how much they try to hide it.

The novel is split into 5 parts.  Each part tells the story of inhabitants of NW who may or may not be directly connected to the main characters.  The majority of the second half of the book is a series of short sections that are numbered from 1-185.  What is important is the feeling and ambiance that you’ll get as the story continues.  Contemporary in structure, this sort of stream-of-consciousness writing is captivating and spirited.  It will keep you hooked.  At times, it made me laugh aloud.  Nothing really happens in NW because it is a character driven novel.  Don’t go into reading this thinking it’s just a typical plot that moves from A to Z.  It’s more than that and you’re going to have to work to enjoy and to understand the importance of it.  Imagine trying to piece together a puzzle.  However, everything fits together in the end.  I highly recommend the audiobook, which is extremely helpful with the different accents.  Being American I would have had difficulty imaging them all in my head correctly.  Really, that audiobook made a significant difference.

The writing is continuous speaking, with scattered dialogue here and there.  It’s the first time I’ve enjoyed stream-of-consciousness writing.  I can’t explain it but for me it made sense.  The mosaic of characters, incidents, and life happenings made the story tangible, until I got to the end.  Sure life is abrupt, but the ending lacked a serious amount of reality.  That was the only thing that really bothered me.  I read somewhere that Smith was taking care of her young daughter when she was working on NW so wrote in chunks which is probably what gave birth to the numbered sections in the second half of NW.  All the same, I’m impressed with Smith’s capacity to capture the authenticity of each of her characters no matter how minor they are in dialogue.  It’s brilliant.  I could even imagine what each character might look like even though there weren’t necessarily descriptions.  Dialogue is so important and she is the “Queen of Dialogue”.

Having read White Teeth and The Embassy of Cambodia (loved them both), I read On Beauty and didn’t like it very much.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect with NW.  Well it’s really good, however a challenging read it is well worth it.  I’m rating this one 4,5 stars.  I have to say I’ve fallen in love with Smith’s writing again. The next Zadie Smith’s I’d like to read is Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays and The Autograph Man (nobody ever mentions it).

 

 

Ladies Coupé

1122258Ladies Coupé is the story of Akhila and six other women that she meets on the train.  Akhila is searching for the answer to the question ‘Can she live alone?’  Traditionally in Indian culture women are supposed to get married and if that doesn’t happen their only other alternative is to live with family.   Akhila has been the breadwinner of her family since the death of her father when she was in her early twenties.  She worked providing financial support to her mother, younger brothers and sister as they grew up.  All the while Akhila was forsaking her life to respect her duties to her family.  One day gets an idea into her head to live alone but doesn’t know if it’s really possible for her. or for in other woman for the matter  So she invents a work trip to get away to reflect on her future as maybe a woman living alone.

Once she arrives in the train, six different women enter the car.  They are different ages and are living completely different lives and social statuses.  Each one recounts openly the story of their lives.  Meanwhile Akhila is using this time to reflect on her dilemma.  Ladies Coupé is a succession of stories of women starting life fresh, wide-eyed and energetic but are slowly but surely faced with the harsh realities of being a woman in modern-day India.  Each story is personalised, saddening, and  sometimes disturbing.  They almost all ring with a sense of frightening reality.

As I was reading I found the chapters to be very long and sometimes difficult to read quickly.  The chapters are full of information, names that aren’t so easy to remember either and it’s difficult to stop before the end of one.  The story is told changing from third to first person frequently, making identifying with the characters a difficult task.  Sometimes I wonder if it was just difficult to relate to them because of the cultural difference.  There were times when I just wanted to fling my book across the room in frustration with what was happening to the women.  I guess that could be considered a sort of relating to the characters.  As I approached the end I was anxious to see how Anita Nair would tie this story up.  Unfortunately she disappointed me because she didn’t have the courage to deal with the ending head on.  She coped out and that was really what made me give it 3 stars over on Goodreads.  As a reader, I needed a concrete ending to match the concrete stories of these women.  Nevertheless, it was interesting to read and discovering a new female Indian author was enlightening.

Anita Nair is a popular Indian writer and has written several novels and children’s stories.  Ladies Coupé, her Anita-nair-portrait-wikipediasecond novel, has been translated into 21+ languages along with her first novel The Better Man, which was published in 2000.  Ladies coupé was rated one of the top five books of the year 2002.  Nair also wrote a collection of poems and a poetry workshop anthology through the British Council.  Some of her other novels are Adventures of Nonu, the Skating Squirrel, Living Next door to Alise, Mistress, and Magical Indian Myths.

Black Like Me

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The old saying is that you never know what someone else is going through or living until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes and frankly it’s impossible.  However, John Howard Griffin turned his skin black and tried to live as a black man for six weeks while travelling through the Deep South in 1959.  He persisted to take a medication which is normally prescribed to patients suffering from vitiligo, a disease where white spots appear on the body and the face, in conjunction with exposure to ultra-violet rays to darken his skin.  This process would take from six weeks to three months but since he wanted the process to be accelerated so that he could get on to his project, the doses were augmented so that he could start on his journey as a black man.

Now this is actually my second reading of this book.  I’d forgotten how powerful it is, not to mention I was only seventeen the first time I read it and really can’t remember what I thought of it.  I don’t usually have the habit of rereading books, but I think I may have to change that.  You do see things differently reading books at different ages.

Black Like Me really does explore the life of a black man, but directly through the eyes of a white man.  It’s like being a fly on the wall.  Griffin went through the Deep South in 1959, riding buses, hitchhiking, trying to find jobs, and meeting blacks and whites of all classes.  The book is recounted in journal entries since this is what he used as a way to record everything he’d seen and felt for the day.  So, it is like we have a sneak peek into his travels.

One main positive point of Black Like Me is that it is particularly well written and Griffin had an astute sense of analysis about the people he met along the journey, about some the things they said and even their body language and facial expressions.  He interpreted situations perfectly.  In fact, there were moments of high suspense where we as the reader feared for him.  All in all his experience helped him to tell the story of his journey.  Now I’m sure some African-Americans will have a problem accepting Black Like Me because it’s a white man telling it, so its authenticity is on the line and he was white so he couldn’t really know what black people were going through.  I get that, but I have to disagree, in this case.  Griffin approached this whole idea like a journalist but with the skin he was in he would have had to be blind not to feel some of the things blacks were feeling and going through at the time, for everyone that looked at him treated him like he was black.  He makes that point quite clear in the novel when he talks about the hard racist stares and how the blackness of the skin is what seems to be despised and why the black man was treated as inferior.  He reflects on this and explains how illogical this way of thinking is and the more and more that he continues on his journey the more that he feels like a shadow.  “I have held no brief for the Negro.  I have looked diligently for all aspects of “inferiority” among them and I cannot find them.  All the cherished-begging epithets applied to the Negro race, and widely accepted as truth even by men of good will, simply prove untrue when one lives among them.  This, of course, excludes the trash element, which is the same everywhere and is no more evident among Negroes than whites.  When all the talk, all the propaganda has been cut away, the criterion is nothing but the color of skin.  My experience proved that.  They judged me by no other quality.  My skin was dark.  That was sufficient reason for them to deny me those rights and freedoms without which life loses its significance and becomes a matter of little more than animal survival.  I searched for some other answer and found none.  I had spent a day without food and water for no other reason than that my skin was black.“(Black Like Me, p.115)

In essence, I believe this book was written for the white man.  Most people believed black people were poorly educated and probably dismissed their writings and absolutely didn’t believe that they were disenfranchised.  Whereas Black Like Me was like a ripple in the river that couldn’t be ignored, I remember hearing my Uncle Lawrence talk to me about this book when I was young, as well as Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Dick Gregory, W.E.B DuBois, and others.  He felt that Black Like Me was an accurate account and felt that every American should read it.  He used to say, “It happened, is still happening in some places, and we should talk about it.”

As I was reading Black Like Me this second time, I was thinking about my mother and my Uncle Lawrence and wondering how in the world did they survive all of that.  I wondered deep down inside if I would have been as strong and combative as they were.  I felt this especially at the moments in the book that  made me feel sick to my stomach and very fearful.  This just reinforces that history must be told in its entirety and truthfully.  We can’t afford to leave anything out.  Our youth and future generations are depending on our capacity to be thorough, but most of all honest.  Everybody needs to know where they’ve come from, how they’ve acquired what they have today, and what they hope for the future.

51. Nobody Has to Know

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Nobody Has to Know Book Summary:

Nobody Has To Know, Frank Nappi’s dark and daring new thriller, tells the story of Cameron Baldridge, a popular high school teacher whose relationship with one of his students leads him down an unfortunate and self-destructive path. Stalked through text-messages, Baldridge fights for his life against a terrifying extortion plot and the forces that threaten to expose him.Nobody Has To Know is a sobering look into a world of secrets, lies, and shocking revelations, and will leave the reader wondering many things, including whether or not you can ever really know the person you love.
Review:
Well I thoroughly enjoyed Frank Nappi’s Nobody Has to Know.  I read it in a day and could have read it in a lot less time if I hadn’t had so many other things to do.  The main character of this thriller is a high school English teacher which intrigued me since I’m an English teacher as well.  There’s nothing like a story where the main character is heading for a collision.  You know it and he knows it but he can’t help himself.  I found myself thinking, for a man that’s supposed to be so smart gosh he’s dumb.  I wonder if Nappi was trying to show how some men can be easily manipulated by beautiful, young women.  Control and common sense, that is what Cameron Baldridge was missing.  The story will definitely give you second thoughts on trying to get to know your students too closely.  Nappi does a good job depicting the descent of Cameron Baldridge, the young, attractive, well-liked, perfect teacher.  All the characters in this story have complicated, tortured lives and their backgrounds drive their actions.  They all hook up quite well together.
The writing style is smooth and entertaining, but there were some word usage problems, missing words, and changes from third to first person at inappropriate moments, but all in all the story holds together.  However, part of the ending was predictable early on.  Even though, Nappi threw in a surprise twist at the end that left me a little disappointed.  I would have preferred an ending that dealt with all the principal characters and not just Cameron.  It’s true Cameron is a piece of work, but the others shouldn’t have been left out.  Essentially, it’s a good book and I rated it 3,5 stars on Goodreads.  It’s straight forward and to the point and not too long.  Nobody Has to Know is an easy carefree read that deals with a subject we’ve heard in the news lately- teachers having love relationships with their students.  I’m looking forward to seeing what Frank Nappi has in store for his next book.  Check it out guys!  Happy New Year and Happy reading!
Frank Nappi’s Bio: frank
Frank Nappi has taught high school English and Creative Writing for over twenty years. His debut novel, Echoes From The Infantry, received national attention, including MWSA’s silver medal for outstanding fiction. His follow-up novel, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, garnered rave reviews as well, including a movie adaptation of the touching story “A Mile in His Shoes” starring Dean Cain and Luke Schroder. Frank continues to produce quality work, including Sophomore Campaign, the intriguing sequel to the much heralded original story, and is presently at work on a third installment of the unique series. Frank lives on Long Island with his wife Julia and their two sons, Nicholas and Anthony.
Price/Format: $3.99, ebook
Publisher: G Agency LLC
Release: October 16, 2012

Kindle buy link ($3.99):
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009RF9S8E?tag=tributebooks-20
Frank Nappi’s Web Site:
http://www.franknappi.com/
Frank Nappi’s Blog:
http://www.franknappi.com/blog.htmlFrank Nappi‘s Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/authorfranknappiFrank Nappi‘s Twitter:
https://twitter.com/FrankNappi
Frank Nappi‘s Goodreads:
http://www.goodreads.com/fnap33Tribute Books Blog Tours Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tribute-Books-Blog-Tours/242431245775186
Nobody Has to Know blog tour site:
http://nobodyhastoknowblogtour.blogspot.com/

18. Lucy

Here’s the second novel this year that I’ve read from Jamaica Kincaid.  Lucy is a coming of age novel about a girl of the same name from the West Indies who is sent to North America.  There she is meant to work as a jeune fille au pair for Lewis and Mariah.  They are a young, successful, wealthy couple with four children.  They seem to be the perfect couple – happily married and of the upper class, but shortly after her arrival Lucy starts to notice some blemishes on this idealistic family.

Lucy is a young West Indian who seems to be happy to have left home, and particularly her mother.  Even though, her coming, to what appears to be New York City, immediately  triggers a sense of profound homesickness.  She feels as if she is in the middle of two worlds.  She is different and that is accentuated from the moment she arrives in North America – the cold air, a pale yellow sun.  “I was no longer in a tropical zone, and this realization now entered my life-like a flow of water dividing formerly dry and solid ground, creating two banks, one of which was my past-so familiar and predictable that even my unhappiness then made me happy now just to think of it-the other my future, a gray blank, an overcast seascape on which rain was falling and no boats were in sight.  I was no longer in a tropical zone and I felt cold inside and out, the first time such a sensation had come over me.” (Lucy p. 6-7)  Through the story it becomes clear that Lucy’s moods change as the seasons do.  In the winter she is lonely.  The spring brings to her a sense of renewal, while summer contentment and autumn disillusionment.  She has not lived with seasonal change and finds it unnecessary.

As the story continues Lucy proves herself to be an observant critic of her surroundings and of her host family.  It’s as if Kincaid uses this character to express the trials of a lot of West Indians that come to work or to  immigrate to North America.  She mentions how people start to speak with her by saying, “So you’re from the islands?”, as if all the islands are the same or worse claim to know where she’s from because they were there on holiday.  Lucy is unsympathetic and extremely hostile, which often leads to her somewhat blatant commentary.  It is sometimes a little comical, but is the principal reason she is perceived to be difficult and bitter.  She tries to make her place in this family and develops a relationship with Mariah which is similar to a mother-daughter one.  Searching for more independence, her sexuality evolves through sexually interested relationships that leave her dependent.  It’s apparent that Lucy desires full independence and a break from her past but she speaks of home and her mother often.  This proves the overwhelming force or her mother Annie Potter, despite her physical absence.

Food is described in distinct memories and the passages are beautifully written.  you can almost imagine yourself eating the delectable – mullet and figs and the fried fish.  Not to mention the lovely descriptions of the warm sun and the beautiful blue sea.  In comparison, there is a scene where Mariah asks Lucy if she has ever seen spring and speaks of daffodils, which happen to be Mariah’s favorite flowers.  For Mariah, daffodils are symbols of beauty and the arrival of spring.   Unfortunately, it only brings up Lucy’s feelings of hatred toward colonialism and her colonial education.  She remembers how she had to memorize a poem by Wordsworth called Daffodils, when she had

never seen one, while she felt the beauty of her own homeland was ignored.  Lucy is very short 160 pages and I found it making me want more.  It isn’t really a plot driven novel, but more so a character developed one.  Kincaid just needed to write a bit more (another 50 pages at least).  Not knowing much about West India, I marvel at the way the sections describing Lucy’s memories of home-made me  feel that sensation of warmth, sea breeze, and enticing scents, the same as in Annie John.  Nevertheless, I’m not sure this book is for everyone.  I say give it a try because it’s a little different from what most people are used to reading.  Kincaid’s simple style allows you to fall quickly into the story, but the abrasiveness of Lucy may put some people off.  I rate Lucy 4 stars and will be looking for some more Jamaica Kincaid novels to read next year.  Below I’ve copied the Wordsworth poem Daffodils.  What do you think about this poem?  Does it inspire spring and rebirth to you?  Do you enjoy reading Wordsworth?

“Daffodils” (1804)

I WANDER’D lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the Milky Way,

They stretch’d in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

By William Wordsworth (1770-1850).