Monthly Archives: April 2014

Benediction – Kent Haruf

Benediction - Kent Haruf

Benediction – Kent Haruf

As I read and enjoyed Plainsong, I was keen to read this when I saw it at the library – although I now suspect I have read them out of order and would have gained more if I had Eventide instead.

Here is the blurb …

When Dad Lewis is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and his wife must work together, along with their daughter, to make his final days as comfortable as possible, despite the bitter absence of their estranged son. Next door, a young girl moves in with her grandmother and contends with the memories that Dad’s condition stirs up of her own mother’s death. A newly arrived preacher attempts to mend his strained relationships with his wife and son, and soon faces the disdain of his congregation when he offers more than they are used to getting on Sunday mornings. And throughout, an elderly widow and her middle-aged daughter do all they can to ease the pain of their friends and neighbors.

I do like Haruf’s writing style – his prose is sparse and simple. This novel has a melancholic feel to it. The end of a life and how to achieve that gracefully. What happens to his store? Will his estranged son return? The community is also affected by Dad’s dying – the little girl next door remembers her mother’s death, the new preacher trying to fit his version of Christianity into a small town with narrow minded views of the world, the preacher’s wife and son trying to fit into another new town and the middle aged woman who feels that life has past her by – a brief affair with a married man that seems to have doomed her to a lonely life teaching and then living with her elderly mother.

This novel is short and easy to read, but not to be read by the downcast.

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/05/benediction-review-small-town-kent-haruf-holt

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/books/review/kent-harufs-benediction.html?_r=0

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Hester – Margaret Oliphant

Hester - Margaret Oliphant

Hester – Margaret Oliphant

We’re reading this for my Victorian book group – I did finally make it to the end, but not in time for the meeting! It is not as long as some of the novels we have read (Bleak HouseLittle Dorrit), but I still struggled to get to the end. Not because it was difficult to read, it was easy to read, but it needed editing (a lot of editing!).

Here is the blurb …

 Hester tells the story of the aging but powerful Catherine Vernon, and her conflict with the young and determined Hester, whose growing attachment to Edward, Catherine’s favorite, spells disaster for all concerned. Catherine Vernon, jilted in her youth, has risen to power in a man’s world as head of the family bank. She thinks she sees through everyone and rules over a family of dependents with knowing cynicism. But there are two people in Redborough who resist her. One is Hester, a young relation with a personality as strong as Catherine’s, and as determined to find a role for herself. The other is Edward, who Catherine treats like a son. Conflict between the young and the old is inevitable, and in its depiction of the complex relationships that develop between the three principal characters, Hester is a masterpiece of psychological realism. In exploring the difficulty of understanding human nature, it is also a compulsive story of financial and sexual risk-taking that inevitably results in a searing climax.

When I try to write what this novel is about I am overwhelmed with possibilities – the role of women, the mother/child relationship, financial speculation, dependence and independence and there is a large cast of characters to highlight all types. Hester and Catherine both strong-willed women who want to take charge of their own destinies – Catherine because she is wealthy achieves this, but even she thinks it would be better for Hester to marry than work, Edward – who at first seems so steady and then risks everything (well other people’s everything) in risky financial speculation, Emma who wants ‘her chance’ (that is the chance to find a husband), Ellen flighty and extravagant, Mrs John (Hester’s mother) who is gentle, loving, but dim-witted, Roland Ashton charismatic and the catalyst for Edward’s speculation, and finally the malicious tenants of the Vernonry.

Nothing about this novel feels forced or contrived. I was never jolted out of the story and reminded that I was reading a novel. It would make a great BBC adaptation.

I think most modern readers would struggle to finish this novel. There is a lot of internal dialogue – there is a whole chapter where Hester wonders if Edward loves her and if she loves him and no one is any the wiser at the end! A good prune and this novel would be exciting as well as insightful. However, fans of George Eliot and Dickens should really give this one a go after all it’s only five hundred pages rather than a thousand!

Here is a link to the Margaret Oliphant page at Victorianweb.

 

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