Fiction Read in August
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
My one sentence impression is: I’m glad I read it but I wouldn’t say I really enjoyed it. Rushdie is an amazing writer, that’s for sure. He tells the tale of Saleem Sinai who was born at the exact moment of India’s independence from Britain. Along with the other children born in that midnight hour, he is endowed with magical powers. On one level the novel is the story of Saleem’s life. On another it’s the story of India itself. It’s definitely a book where you have to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow. I typically like magical realism but this one was just a little too weird or maybe the characters weren’t really ones I liked. Something about it kept me at the level of admiring the workmanship but not really loving the book itself. I read this one along with my book club, which I would definitely recommend if you read it. Having a group to discuss it with added a lot to understanding the book.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I’m planning on suggesting this one next to my book group as I really really want someone to discuss it with. It’s another extremely well-written and often beautiful book but one that left me a bit cold at the end.
The concept is unusual, to say the least. Ursula Todd is stillborn on a snowy February night in 1910. She then is born again on that same snowy night, only to live a few minutes. And then to be born again. Yes, on the same snowy night. Each time Ursula is born her life changes in small or sometimes large ways. This conceit could have gotten old or boring as often the same scene is being replayed. Atkinson, however, does it well. She moves in and out of time periods and uses different perspectives in a way that is never confusing but keeps you interested. I definitely found the book compelling and stayed up too late several nights reading it.
The reason I say it left me a bit cold was that I kept wondering what the overall theme or message of the book was. I’m not sure there really was one. And I’m still confused about the ending. I don’t mind reading books that are confusing or disturbing or about awful things but I want there to be some underlying redemptive thread. This one didn’t have that, at least I don’t think it did. Like Midnight’s Children, I’m very glad I read it. Of all the books I’ve read recently it’s one of the most memorable.