Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Back Reviews Reel: November 2015

Three years ago I reviewed four very different books. November being a month of commemoration, I started with the classical novella The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh that is love story as well as satire on the funeral business in California of the late 1940s. Moving from the radiant American west coast to a poor Afro-American community in Ohio some years earlier, The Bluest Eye by en-Nobel-ed Toni Morrison drew me into the dire life of a teenager from a dysfunctional family who despises herself for being ugly. The scene of The Guest Cat by Hiraide Takashi is an old Tōkyō neighbourhood about forty years later where a childless married couple grows attached to a furry visitor belonging to their neighbours. And finally, I followed the true story of the rise of a French silk merchant’s daughter to the Queen of Sweden fictionalised in Désirée by Austro-Danish author Annemarie Selinko.

- - - - - satirical novella The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh is a rather morbid love story surrounding a young English poet. After World War II he moved to Hollywood to work in the film business, but much to his class-conscious compatriots’ dismay he has come to prefer his job in a pet’s cemetery since. When he arranges the funeral of a friend, he meets a junior cosmetician who attracts him at first sight for being different from all other American women he knows. She has a crush on the senior mortician, though, and doesn’t pay any attention to him until they meet on the cemetery by accident and she finds out that he is a poet. About his job on the pet’s cemetery he keeps quiet and then the mortician has to arrange the funeral of his mother’s parrot…
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- - - - - her debut novella The Bluest Eye Nobel Prize recipient Toni Morrison evokes the dire reality of a twelve-year-old in an African-American community in Ohio of the early 1940s. The girl dreams of being beautiful and popular like Shirley Temple to distract herself from her life in a poor dysfunctional family and from the constant mortification of being called ugly. After a stint with a foster family because her drunken father set fire to their home, she returns to live with her family in the new place that her hardworking mother found them. It’s then that her fate turns from bad to worse. Her father keeps drinking heavily and his adolescent daughter suddenly reminds him of his wife as a young woman rousing his passion. Not even her mother believes her, but she is pregnant…
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- - - - - scene of The Guest Cat by Hiraide Takashi is Tōkyō during the late 1980s. The middle-aged narrator and his wife live in a traditional house in an old neighbourhood with narrow crooked streets. They scarcely know their neighbours, but the small white stray cat with black blotches that they adopted a while ago regularly visits them on her strolls. Despite themselves the two get used and strongly attached to the cat over time, not least because the narrator turns to full-time writing after a while and works at home like his wife. However, they take care to keep treating her like a guest, not like a member of their family which would be out of place. After all, the cat isn’t theirs although she obviously considers their house her second home. One day the cat stops showing up…
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- - - - - Selinko starts telling the story of Désirée in the later queen’s native town Marseille, France, in spring 1794, when the French Revolution reaches the family of the wealthy silk merchant’s daughter. The girl of fourteen meets Joseph Buonaparte and invites him  to visit her family with his younger brother Napoleone. Joseph marries her older sister Julie and Napoleone asks Désirée to become his wife, but then he leaves for Paris. Having been without news from her fiancé for long, Désirée runs off to Paris to talk to him. With the help of General Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte she gets into the salon of Joséphine de Beauharnais where she finds Napoléon flirting with the widow. Three years later, Désirée sees Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte again and they soon marry…
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1 comment:

  1. I have read The Loved One, The Bluest Eye, and Desiree. Enjoyed all of them!


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