Granny's Good Reads 

Sonia Lee is one of our most treasured customers and a voracious reader.

November 2016

 - Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, author of the acclaimed Bel Canto, begins in Los Angeles at a christening party.  Gatecrasher Bert Cousins falls in love at first sight with the baby’s mother, they subsequently marry and their two spouses and six children have their lives irrevocably changed. Fast forward to Chicago, where Franny Keating, the baby of the christening, has dropped out of Law School and is working as a bar waitress. She resolves not to be a lawyer and not to take her clothes off, the former being easier than the latter when writer Leon Posen walks in and her life too changes irrevocably.  In pillow talk she tells him the story of her two dysfunctional families and he turns it into a bestseller, setting off more chain reactions. Patchett writes dispassionately but she has in effect written a morality tale. I shed a few tears over this one.

Anna Quindlen’s Still Life with Bread Crumbs is one of my favourite novels. Her latest, Miller’s Valley, is a coming-of-age novel. The narrator is Mary Margaret Miller, Mimi to everyone, and her father owns a not very successful farm which the authorities want to flood and turn into a reservoir. Her mother, a nurse who works the night shift at the local hospital, tells Mimi to make something of herself and get out of the place. Eddie, the eldest son, gets to college and becomes an engineer. Tommy, the apple of his mother’s eye, joins the Marines and ends up in Vietnam, coming home not Tommy any more. Mimi surprises herself by winning a scholarship to medical school. Quindlen cleverly gets her narrator to change from an  eleven-year-old to an old lady with laconic character assessments and vivid descriptive phrases. The valley eventually gets flooded and many secrets are buried under the water while some resurface. I loved this book.

Tell the Truth Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta, author of Looking for Alibrandi, is a thriller set in London. It begins in Calais with a bomb blast in a bus full of English teenagers. ‘Bish’ Ortley, a suspended Chief Inspector from the London Met whose daughter Bee was on the bus, is drawn into the case. Also on the bus was Violette Le Brac, whose grandfather bombed a supermarket twelve years before. The tabloids tag her as the bomber but she disappears with young Eddie Conlon and the race is on to find the fugitives. After the earlier bombing Violette’s father supposedly committed suicide, while her mother Noor who confessed to being involved in the crime is still in prison serving a lengthy sentence. By sheer coincidence, Bish was the person who took little Violette from her mother and  placed her in care. Since then she has grown up with grandparents in Australia who think she is in Tasmania on a Duke of Edinburgh Award hike. The so-called terrorists are of Algerian extraction and the reader soon suspects that there has somewhere been a terrible miscarriage of justice. The chief attraction of this novel is Marchetta’s depiction of the teenagers and their modes of speech and the engaging bunch of survivors that help Bish unmask the real bomber and prevent a further tragedy. A real cracker of a novel and another ‘Must Read’.

My daughter told me I should read the four ‘Neapolitan’ novels by Elena Ferrante so I did. They tell the story of Lila and Elena, two girls born in 1944 in a deprived district of Naples. Lila is stupendously bright as well as beautiful but her parents don’t let her go to high school, so she marries at sixteen—not a wise move in Catholic Italy with, at that time, no divorce. Elena goes to high school, wins a scholarship to uni. in Pisa and writes a bestseller. After each of the first three novels I vowed I wouldn’t read the next one, wrung out as I was by all the tempestuous carry-on and the incredibly horrible life choices made by the heroines—but each time I recanted, swept along by the plot and longing to see how everything was going to turn out. A journalist has recently disclosed the likely identity of Elena Ferrante but it doesn’t really matter because the novels are out there and truly brilliant. I’m very glad I read them.

My favourite novel for 2016 is Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift. My favourite non-fiction is Idle Talk: Gwen Harwood’s Letters 1960–64.  Sonia