Monday, March 28, 2011

Scribbling Women blog tour

Wanted to let everyone know about the blog tour for Marthe Jocelyn's newest book, Scribbling Women. I'll be posting a review and a brief interview with Marthe (a local to me author) on Friday, but the blog tour starts today so you can visit other posts AND enter the fabulous contest that publisher Tundra Books is hosting. Here are the details from their blog:

Not only do we have a blog tour, we are also running a contest! Let’s just say that the is prize quite amazing!

The prize: A collection of Marthe Jocelyn books – for the very young to young adults! That’s 28 books! What do you have to do to enter? Follow the blog tour and leave a comment on any of the participating blogs, but it must be on their “Scribbling Women” blog tour posts. We will be updating the links daily to make it easier for you to follow the blog tour and enter the giveaway.

Details: Here’s the best part, you can leave a comment on ALL of the blogs and that will count as 31 entries! Spamming doesn’t count, so one thoughtful comment per blog please.

Dates: Contest starts on Monday, March 28, 2011 and closes on Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 11:49pm EST. One winner will be randomly selected and announced on Monday, April 11, 2011 to receive the prize.

The entire list of participating bloggers with links can also be found at Tundra Books blog.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dream Wheels

Dream Wheels / Richard Wagamese
Toronto: Doubleday, c2006.
398 p.

I picked up this book as part of my challenge to myself to read more Canadian books written by men. I have a tendency to prefer women's writing overall, but have been finding some intriguing books now that I am consciously selecting things I might not usually pick up. I would certainly not have automatically thought of picking up a modern Western full of cowboys and rodeos.

This book is set in Western Canada -- it is deliberately vague in setting, it could be a ranch in Alberta or in Montana, there are no specific towns or locations to tie it to. Despite that, it has a strong sense of place. The landscape, the work they do, the trails they ride and mountains that surround them are everpresent.

The story focuses on Joe Willie Wolfchild, a rodeo bull rider and as they say, a true Indian Cowboy. He is at the point of winning a ride that will make him a major champion, when there is an incident. He is thrown, in an ugly way, and instantly loses all chance of ever riding again. He is taken back to his ranch by his family - his parents and grandparents - to recover physically and emotionally.

Into this set-up comes Aidan, a troubled teen from the city. Aidan is half-Black, and has been in prison on robbery charges for the last couple of years. He and his fragile mother are being sent to the ranch on his release as part of a rehabilitation scheme for him.

Two angry young men, an epic landscape, and nurturing mother figures... macho bull riding juxtaposed with the healing power of family and landscape. It has all the elements of a somewhat clichéd tale, but rises above that. The emotions are real for Joe Willie and for Aidan, and they come to a grudging respect for one another. The writing itself is flowing, poetic even when it describes the sweat and pain of bull riding. The ranch seems like an island of beauty and relief from a troubling world; it deals in the natural world and its inhabitants - bears and other wildlife - rather than the people in the mean streets of the city.

There are many topics that interweave in this novel: Native identity, family, belonging, purpose. The title refers to something that Joe Willie's grandmother Victoria says at a bonfire they are having one night. Joe Willie has been fixing up an old, vintage truck in the shed as a kind of occupational therapy, and he and his father had briefly referred to it as dream wheels, a truck that had held and carried all their dreams over the years coming and going to various rodeos. Victoria starts to talk about Dream Wheels at this bonfire, and is asked to explain. She begins:

"I'm talking about the stories of the lives of a people. Doesn't have to be a nation. Can be a family or a town, a valley like this or a broken-down old truck like that old girl out there," she said. "A dream wheel is the sum total of a peoples' story. All its dreams, all its visions, all its experiences gathered together. Looped together. Woven together in a big wheel of dreaming... The fire was the keeper of the dream wheel. When people gathered around it, the stories came. Even way back when, people were charmed by fire, stared into it like you are now, somehow feeling like it could conjure something, take them somewhere -- and truth is, it could. When the stories started they were transported, lifted up and out of their lives and their fears of the night and taken on dream journeys."

Overall I was glad I picked it up. It was different from anything I've read lately, and gave me another way of seeing life. There were some issues I had with it, specifically the beatific presentation of the women in it, at least the women in the Wolfchild family (Joe Willie's long time girlfriend, a blonde ditz, dumps him once he is physically injured and unable to be a champion any longer, which is rather abrupt and unexplored). And I did find the characters to nearly all speak in the same way, making it a bit difficult to ascertain who was speaking at times.

But it did inspire me to seek out Richard Wagamese's blog, A Writer's World, which is full of beautifully written thoughts on his life. And because I was thinking about him and his work, I also came across a very recent presentation called Smoked Fish, Bannock and Indian Tea he gave at Royal Roads University in B.C. -- it is online presently and if you want to hear him talking about the importance of storytelling and community, check out their site.

This is a book that will appeal to many different ages and kinds of readers, I think, and thanks to reading it I might just pick up another of his books -- especially since I have a copy of Ragged Company on my shelves. He is a prolific author with more books coming out this year so I will have many titles to choose from.

This brief bio is taken from Richard Wagamese's blog, A Writer's World. His blog is full of thoughtful and beautifully written posts on varied subjects of importance to him, and is very worth reading:
I am the author of seven titles with major Canadian publishers. I am also a Native American or, as we say in Canada, a First Nations person from the Ojibwa nation. My home territory is a place called Wabaseemoong in NW Ontario on the Winnipeg River near the Manitoba border.... In 2011 I will publish four titles in four separate genres. My new memoir, One Story, One Song arrives in February and then in the fall, my new novel, Indian Horse will be followed by my first collection of poetry, Runaway Dreams, and my literacy improvement novel in Orca Press’ Rapid Reads series, The Next Sure Thing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party

Toronto: Knopf Canada, c2011.
213 p.

This is the 12th volume in an extremely popular series...and is available here in Canada as of today. I've read them all and enjoy McCall Smith's writing greatly. In this volume, Grace Makutsi -- the secretary and assistant detective at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, for whom I have a soft spot -- is finally getting married to her gentle suitor, Phuti Radiphuti.

There's nothing really new in this book; the mystery is slight, more concerned with human behaviour and relationships than with anything truly mysterious. Grace Makutsi and Mma Ramotswe drink tea and discuss life in their office, with Mma Ramotswe offering some pre-wedding husband management advice. Apprentice mechanic Charlie is as irritating as ever, but gets a big scare when he is told he is the father of twins -- is it enough to turn his life around? We hope so but it is not quite certain. Charlie has always been an irresponsible kind of fellow, but McCall Smith seems to treat him quite leniently, with some fondness. There we must agree to disagree, as I am more of the opinion held by Mma Makutsi: Charlie is an annoying young man who must be shown the error of his ways!

But the charm is still there, and the landscape is strongly evoked. The people of Botswana have become more nuanced as the series has grown; there are nasty people and even the good ones are not above some finagling to prevent an unwanted situation (ie: Mma Makutsi and Mma Potokwane, matron of the orphanage, join forces to stop Grace's archnemeis Violet Sepotho from running in a local election). I've heard a few rumblings that this might be the last book in this series, and if so, McCall Smith has nicely tied up all the loose ends, with relationships mended, both Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi happily married, and the future of the detective agency assured. The final scene, that of Mma Makutsi's wedding, is delightful, full of high spirits and beauty. If this is indeed the end, it is a high note to finish on. Of course, I fervently hope that it isn't the end, as I've come to enjoy spending time with these characters and to love Botswana itself through his presentation of the traditions, the beautiful landscape and the people.

Once again, a lovely read, full of pithy words and gentle reminders of the need for kindness and understanding for all.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Page's Kaleidoscope

Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill Press, c2011.
256 p.

Talking about this wonderful collection is a perfect fit for World Poetry Day. It's an enormous compilation, arranged chronologically, of some of P.K. Page's most known poetry. And it is amazing, all 256 pages of it.

This is, according to the publisher's website, a companion to a 10 year project for an online collection which will be more academic, taking advantage of the capabilities of a digital site. This is a 'reading copy' so to speak, and if you are so inclined you can learn more as the online site grows and is filled in with more and more academic content over the next decade.

From the earliest poem to the latest, this collection shows the mastery that Page had from the beginning. Her poetry is often formal, following structural rules, and yet is always fresh and exploring new thoughts and images.

Page was also a painter, and this sense of the visual appears in her poetry. Sometimes painting appears literally, as the subject of a poem as well. But I believe there is something in this collection to catch any reader. I was almost overwhelmed with a sense of beauty and skill as I couldn't stop reading...I love this book. A few of my old favourites appear: Evening Dance of the Grey Flies, Planet Earth, The Blue Guitar (a glosa). But there is so much that I didn't know in this book, and it will be one that I keep by the bedside to dip into repeatedly. I've read and talked about some of her previous poetry, specifically Coal & Roses, a collection of glosas. And she presented her poetry often, as a respected and prizewinning author; see her reading Planet Earth at the Griffin Poetry Prize event.

If you are interested in seeing the developments in the long career of an exemplary poet this book is a gem. If you want to celebrate World Poetry Day by enjoying the products of a fertile, original mind, again, this book is for you. As Page is a wonderful Canadian poet who needs to be even more widely read, this collection of her work is something I will be recommending for all poetry lovers for a long time to come.

Thanks, Porcupine's Quill, for offering me a copy of this book that continues to awaken my eyes and ears to the world around me!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Astrid & Veronika

Astrid & Veronika / Linda Olsson
New York: Penguin, c2005.
259 p.

This is the first book I've chosen to read for the Nordic Challenge. I've had it on my list of to-reads for quite some time, though. And I finally got my hands on a copy and found it well worth the wait.

Linda Olsson is a Swedish writer who lives in New Zealand and wrote this while living there. She suggests that it was in part the experience of being so distant from the place in which the story is set that allows her to create such a convincing and atmospheric setting. It is richly presented, absolutely.

Veronika is a young writer who has come to stay in a rented house in a small village in central Sweden. Next door is the village recluse, Astrid, who rarely interacts with others and only slowly warms to Veronika. They are both hiding secrets and pain, but seem to understand one another somehow, and come to be friends. Their age difference is leapt over by the compatibility of their personalities, and the months that Veronika spends there lead to healing for both of them.

The book is written in a spare manner -- the extreme grief and loss they've both suffered is made clearer with such a style; the story could have become maudlin or sentimental, but Olsson carefully presents the facts dispassionately. At the same time, she uses poetry to open each chapter, and shows a depth of feeling in each character that reveals their emotion without becoming sappy. The story discusses relationships, love, loss, memory, meaning.....many deep issues, in a precise and beautiful way. Both Astrid and Veronika begin to share fragments of their pasts and their stories fill in slowly and unavoidably - you know you are going to learn something painful but it seems natural and timely when the information arrives.

I found both these characters well constructed, and the setting evocative. The midsummer celebrations with long, light evenings; the swimming hole that Astrid and Veronika walk to in the summer heat and then take a dip; the food they eat and drink; even the interior of both their houses...all of these were so real and strongly present in the story. The cover of the book I read is quite eye-catching, and as I read I found the significance of the image chosen. Astrid has a patch of wild strawberries in her yard, overgrown, that she had transplanted from the forest years before. With Veronika's coming Astrid has recalled it, and opened a bottle of strawberry liqueur that she had made previously. She says:

"I didn't know I still had a bottle left. It's been so long. I didn't think there would be anything left behind the house, either. But when I checked the other day, I found it -- my strawberry patch -- overgrown and hidden under weeds but still there."

She lifted her glass and looked straight at Veronika. "Like secrets," she said. "Like memories. You can make yourself believe that they have been erased. But they are there, if you look closely. If you have a wish to uncover them."

That is the premise of the entire book: a fortuitous, chance encounter allows both women to uncover their secrets and painful memories, and to heal each other through building a deep friendship. It's quite lovely and memorable in itself, with Astrid, especially, being a character I won't soon forget.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Since I am about 1/8 (or perhaps 1/16) Irish, I'll share a few things that I love about St. Patrick's and Ireland today.

First, of course, some books I'm reading!

Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams is a story of a boy and a girl who grow up and move on an ever-nearing track...until they finally converge and they meet their destiny... There are some nice landscapes and character sketches in this one so far... I am enjoying.

Land of Spices by Kate O'Brien is on my TBR. She's a beautiful writer, and this one about a young girl coming of age in an Irish convent sounds fantastic.

I don't have any other Irish books on tap right now, so if anyone has any favourites, please share!

Another lovely Irish treat is local to me, but I have to mention it... local chocolatier Derek Barr of Chocolate Barr's has created a seasonal treat that is already legendary after only a few years of production -- the Guinness Truffle. These are available for approximately four weeks before St. Patrick's and after tomorrow you are out of luck until next year. They are yummy and shaped like tiny pints painted with white chocolate foam. So adorable! I've had six packages of four already this year. They are my great downfall.

And finally, a beautiful Ireland inspired necklace created by my sister. Her new business, called Nutz About You! offers a special design this month, "Lush". Made of green jasper and hematite, and of course, with a Buckeye Chestnut pendant, as she says it is a great alternative to green beer :) There are a lot of other beautiful creations on the website so pop over and take a look, and you can support testicular cancer research with style.

Oh, and a final, random comment..... I looooove leprechauns ;)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Black Bird

Black Bird / Michel Basilieres
Toronto: Knopf, c2003.
320 p.

For my Canadian Book Challenge reading, I thought I'd pick up this book set in Quebec -- it is set during the era of the FLQ and deals with the machinations of a very unusual family. The Desouche family is half English and half French, and they all live in a big old house connected to a funeral home on the other side. This is convenient for the family business, which is grave robbing. Grandfather and Uncle run the business, Father is too squeamish to join in, Step-Grandmother has a pet crow in the kitchen, Mother sleeps nearly all the time, while twins Jean-Baptiste and Marie split definitively down the French/English line -- Jean Marc is a writer who reads and writes only English, Marie turns into a secretive Separatist. This is a strange family.

It's a family saga that incorporates three generations simultaneously. Grandfather and Father and Jean-Baptiste; Step-Grandmother (who only speaks French), Mother (who only speaks English) and Marie; they are all intertwined, generationally and culturally. The strange progression of the family business is tied in with Marie's separatist friends; Jean-Baptiste's feeble poetry ends up causing him to be suspected of separatist tendencies (which couldn't be further from the truth); meanwhile mad goings-on by Dr. Hyde at the Royal Victoria hospital up the hill reach their apex thanks to the random death of Marie's separatist lover Hubert. All the threads are connected and pulling on one jostles the entire web. It is hard to summarize the plot of the book as it is made up of circles within circles -- but it is clever and amusing.

Basilieres admits that he plays fast and loose with historical fact in this novel. There are some inconsistencies that gave me pause, but the book has an energy of its own, careening toward its conclusion. It's hilarious, terrifying and entertaining, although the adaptation of some historical elements did bother me. While I didn't mind the exaggeration and the recasting of real historical figures into fictional analogues (such as Dr. Penfield and his brain experiments inspiring the crazed Frankenstein-like Dr. Hyde, which was actually quite funny) there is an instance near the end when Marie kidnaps a diplomat -- and that felt a bit too close to the bone for my liking.

Still, this was a very entertaining read. The setting was used to great effect; the Mountain in the centre of Montreal, the very familiar to me Atwater Avenue, and varied nooks and crannies of the city. It was fun, original, clever, absorbing, crackling with energy and overall a really great book. A nice find for this reading challenge, for sure.

I'll finish with one quote I really enjoyed -- it is Jean-Baptiste and Marie's birthday, and she is looking for a gift for him. She goes into a bookstore as a book is the obvious choice for him, but realizes that he doesn't read French, and there is no way she is going to spend money on any "English writers and their Toronto publishers", so she finds what she thinks is perfect -- a blank book. Nothing defaced by that maudit anglais type for Marie! But her intended insult is subverted when Jean-Baptiste opens his gift:

When Jean-Baptiste opened the book, words deserted him.

What is a blank book? he thought. It's a book waiting to be written. It's not simply blank paper, on which one can scrawl anything: lists, phone numbers, meaningless doodles. It's cut to size and bound in boards because it's a complete object whose leaves follow one another from beginning to end, continuously, like a journey or a lifetime. A blank book is not nothing, it's simply an untaken journey, an unlived life. It's a concrete potentiality, and, as such, an invitation and an affirmation. It's an acknowledgement that a book should be written upon it, that it can become anything. It can mean anything. And because its meaning must be physically manifest upon its blank pages, it can mean precisely what its owner -- its writer, its reader -- wants. The giving of a blank book is the giving of a voice.

"Thank you," he said. "Thank you, Marie. It's perfect."


Michel Basilieres lives in Toronto and is writing his second novel. His other writing projects include a produced stage play, independent film work and a radio drama for the CBC, as well as arts journalism. He has worked as a bookseller in both Toronto and Montreal.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Anne of Ingleside, and Rainbow Valley

Anne of Ingleside / LM Montgomery
Toronto: McClelland Bantam, 1983, c1939.
277 p.

Anne of Ingleside is another of the "fill-in" books that LMM wrote to please her insatiable Anne fans. It was written after Rainbow Valley and set the stage for many of its events; LMM was a consummate professional and made sure that the storylines and the characters fit, with nothing out of place and foreshadowing tipped in to books written later but taking place earlier in the chronological storyline. This was actually the last book that LMM wrote, struggling through mental agonies in her own life, but finding relief through sitting down to write and finding herself in the company of her old Avonlea and Glen St. Mary folk again.

In this book, Anne is a mother of five. After the tragic death of her firstborn daughter in Anne's House of Dreams, she had a baby boy whose arrival caused great delight at the close of that novel. Now she has three sons and twin daughters, and during this book also gives birth to her final child, a daughter, Rilla. This is another 'episodic novel', in which Anne and Gilbert interact with the strange characters living around them.

The construction of the book is very well done, with difficult situations for Anne to face both at beginning and end, and a reference to her own writing ambitions at the centre. At the start, Gilbert's Aunt Mary Maria comes to stay, and is a bitter, critical, patronizing woman who drives them all batty. Finally, Anne tries kindness, throwing a party for her 55th birthday. Aunt Mary Maria takes this effort as an insult, with Anne revealing her age to all the other women, and departs (finally!) in high dudgeon. Near the end, Anne suffers terribly as she begins to think that Gilbert no longer loves her and is interested in his old university sweetheart Christine Stuart, who is visiting the area once more. This proves to be completely false, but Anne suffers agony throughout this experience.

The rest of the book focuses on her children and their trials and tribulations as they deal with other mean children or the mockery of the adult world. A greater strain of darkness, or reality, appears in this book. As Mary Waterston says in Magic Island, "This last novel shows a surprising ability to introduce, in however veiled a manner, several modern fields of interest: aging, family studies, child psychology, childhood bullying, dysfunctional marriage."

The opening of the novel, however, is quite lovely. Anne is back in Avonlea for Gilbert's father's funeral. Despite this sad occasion, Anne stays on for a week to visit, and meeting Mrs. Lynde and Marilla again, as well as seeing Anne and Diana become girls again as they take a day to themselves to throw off responsibility and ramble through the woods, is delightful. There is a sense of the melancholy of passing time in this novel, right from the beginning as parents die, children grow up, and Anne and Diana wonder if they might meet the ghosts of their former selves as they wander home through the Haunted Wood. It's quite a sophisticated novel -- it will never be one of my frequent re-reads, I don't think, but I did appreciate it more on this reading.

Rainbow Valley / LM Montgomery
Toronto: McClelland Bantam, 1988, c1923.
225 p.

Rainbow Valley is ostensibly about Anne's children. And they are a huge part of this tale. However, another major element is the arrival of a new minister and his rag-tag family. Rev. Meredith is dreamy and inattentive, and his four children run wild. They only have an old aunt to care for the house and for themselves, and she isn't really up to the job. The Meredith children become close friends of the Blythe children, and the stories of their escapades from the bulk of the book. Through them we are given the avenue to learn about all the relationships in the town.

The Rev. Meredith also gives LMM scope to create a romantic storyline, something she excels at. Gilbert and Anne are long married and rather staid by this point, so LMM creates a story in which the widowed Reverend to fall in love with Rosemary West. Rosemary in turn falls in love with him, but lives with a severe, bossy sister Ellen who will not permit her to marry. Only through a very convoluted path and a final marriage opportunity for Ellen do Rosemary and Rev. Meredith find their happy ending.

Religion, as an institution, is a big part of this book. LMM comments on its importance to a community, and makes a few digs at her husband's own religious preoccupations, which only resonate now that we know so much about her personal life and struggles through her diaries and the academic study that has been done of her.

Much of this book reflects LMM's preoccupation with living as a minister's family. They are held to higher standards, with more social responsibility and often less income. Everyone feels they have a right to comment on the children's behaviour. As eldest daughter Faith says passionately at one point, "I'll never, never, never marry a minister, no matter how nice he is!" LMM seems to be focused on church life in this book, and is able to be severe, sarcastic, funny and respectful all at the same time. She skirts close to the edge of acceptability at times, to great effect. For example, the Meredith children befriend a runaway who has fled an abusive position as domestic servant, and discuss theology with her:

"Hell? What's that?"

"Why, it's where the devil lives," said Jerry. "You've heard of him -- you spoke about him."

"Oh, yes, but I didn't know he lived anywhere. I thought he just roamed around. Mr. Wiley used to mention hell when he was alive. He was always telling folks to go there. I thought it was some place over in New Brunswick where he come from."

While this one has never been one of my favourites, it is entertaining reading in parts. It's not as "Anne-ish" as one might expect from a book in this series, but I find that as the series goes on, Anne rather fades away into a motherly presence in the background. I'm glad that LMM returned to some of Anne's internal life in Anne of Ingleside. Sequels and prequels are not new to the movie business, but the difference is that LMM is such a skilled writer that her 'prequels' fit perfectly into the chronological reading of this series, with no false notes or missteps. She is a talented, skilled writer who has proven her enduring appeal, and I am glad that she is getting the critical appreciation that she deserves.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Some stuff I've seen

A quick little sharing of a few links I've noticed lately...

I'll start with myself ;)

Over at my business blog I've started posting a series called "ShelfHelp", a series of book recommendations based on a specific need or theme. This week's theme is March Forth, taking advantage of the date to encourage us to make the change we need to in our lives. Pop over and give it a listen if that sounds like something you might want to learn about.

Then over at Eco-Libris they are starting up an Earth Day Campaign called "41 Reasons to Plant a Tree for your Book" You can suggest reasons to do so and starting on Earth Day they will post 41 of the best reasons they receive. Gift card to The Strand, and various books and audiobooks are available for prizes!

Finally, this art has been making the rounds, but thought I'd share a bit of Brian Dettmer's book sculptures. His website has tons of images to enjoy and some info about him and his exhibitions. Here is one example from his 2010 collection.

Just some bookish fun for a lazy afternoon!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Lively: Going Back

London: Mammoth, 1994, c1975.
122 p.

All of Lively's work seems to focus on the vagaries of memory; how remembering occurs, what the past means to us in the present, what is remembered and what is not. How memory colours and sometimes overwhelms the present. How we can't quite restore the reality of the past through memory despite our best efforts. This is another example of a childhood re-experienced through deep memory, something Lively excels at writing about.

This is published and marketed as one of Lively's children's books, but I don't think it is one. The characters are children, yes, but the narrator is looking back at an event in their childhood from an adult perspective, and the themes and preoccupations of the novel are definitely appealing to an adult sensibility. Despite that small disagreement with the proposed readership, I did love this book, as I have so many of Lively's other novels.

Two children, Jane and Edward, exist within an enchanted childhood -- even though they are motherless, and their father leaves them to go off to the Second World War. They live in an old country house called Medleycott, and are left in the care of the cook & housekeeper, a motherly woman named Betty. Joining them eventually are two land girls and a conscientious objector, Mike. Jane and Edward have nearly unlimited freedom; they explore their world and spend their days roving the countryside and interacting with a few friends, especially local boy David, who is exotic to them since he lives in a regular working class family and gets along with his parents.

Upon their father's irregular returns, nerves overtake them, especially Edward, who is a disappointment to their father as he is unsporty and uninterested in 'manly pursuits', preferring music and art. Their father decrees that Edward must attend boarding school (Jane of course is not worth any educational consideration) and this precipitates the main action of the book -- the children run away, trying to find Mike who has been moved to work at a distant farm. They are out overnight but are returned to Betty the next day. They must adjust to the realization that they can not control the trajectory of their lives, and are forced to accept their new surroundings. The enchantment is broken, and Jane and Edward drift apart; we hear the ends of their stories near the finish of the novel when Jane updates us on what has occurred since that moment.

That summary covers the extent of the plot; really not an action filled one, it is more interested in questions of detail -- what can one recall of the past? What stands out? The action takes place during the war, and yet the children are most shocked by the discovery of a mutilated rabbit's head in the quarry they have been exploring. These kind of moments remain. Who are the people around one in childhood? Jane's narrative tries to capture Betty, Edward, Mike, the land girls, even their father, but each is an incomplete picture. Mike's late decision to enlist, after first being a conscientious objector, is never really explained, simply presented. But Jane wouldn't have known the reasons behind that decision, and as a child would not have discussed it with others; people and their decisions remain mysteries to us as adults. As readers, we can try to make sense of the elements of the story from our own perspective, but Lively is more interested in exploring how the children perceived their world and how they understood and absorbed their surroundings. Misperceptions, misunderstandings and having their own perspectives and preferences ignored seem a common occurrence, and yet all they can do is adapt to the adult world and its demands.

As Cressida Connelly said of this book in the Guardian a few years ago now:

Going Back is a lyrical, moving book about a country childhood. But it also tackles important themes: pacifism, the English class system and how it was altered by the Second World War; how children are affected, morally, by events and people. The beauty of fiction is that it can address such questions without appearing to do so, through sleight of hand.

Lively once again reanimates a moment in the past in all its fragmentary recollection, with landscape and a physical house playing major roles. Her ability to enter into a child's perceptions is uncanny, and as usual the characters feel very real. She is endlessly returning to the idea that memory itself is a circular notion. I'll end with a quote that I found appealing and have copied out for myself:

Spring: summer: autumn: winter. Years are orderly things. One should be able to twitch away months from the mind, like sheets from a calendar, and say, 'Ah, yes, of course -- before that happened there was this...' But it is not so at all. In the head, all springs are one spring -- a single time when we are in a garden jungly with birdsong, blackbirds sweeping across the lawn with vampire shrieks, primeval croaks and moanings in the elms. And all autumns are one purple-fingered blackberry picking and all winters are one scramble across glass-cold lino to dress quick without washing before Betty sees and down into the warm kitchen for breakfast.

And all summers are one hay-making and raspberry time and lanes tented over with leaves and the tipping hillsides bleached pale where they have cut the corn.
As usual in my experience of reading Lively's works, this is recommended. It is a beautiful, nostalgic yet thoroughly unsentimental read.