Monday 29 December 2008

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

I enjoy reading books about the inner workings of the art world. It must be the deep seated envy that wishes I were an artist. Much to my disappointment, there is not an artistic bone in my body. I live vicariously through artistic friends (of which I have many including my husband) and I savour literature about art and the souls that produce the drawings, paintings, and sculptures that have the power to take my breath away and feel wholly inadequate in the space of 1/2 second.

What I Loved is a VERY cerebral but highly accessible novel. It is the story of love, grief, friendship, parenthood and our perception of ourselves and others in our various roles.

Set in Manhattan it is a story of an artist and an art history professor, their lives and losses, their children and aging. There are some disturbing events which will cause great anguish and fear in every mother and father who reads this novel.

Often I complain about the lack of character development in novels. The characters in this story are incredibly complex and Hustvedt uses thrilling and evocative language to develop the multiple dimensions of their personalities so much that they feel real. I so desperately want to meet Violet and Bill and Leo. They are not perfect people and I think they would make fascinating dinner guests. I'm certain they exist.

The ending of the novel is sad and yet not so sad. Not unlike many of our lives.

If you have harbour an intense interest in art and aren't afraid of exploring the possibilities of children growing into monsters (some do), then I highly recommend this book. If art bores you and/or you would rather avoid thinking about the monster scenario, give this a miss.

Saturday 27 December 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Uncle John urged me to read this short, exquisite story set in Germany during the second World War. Now I would have thought this topic had been done from every imaginable angle and that no new perspective could be found.

I would be wrong.

Bruno is a young boy whose father is in charge of the death camp at Auschwitz, which he calls "Out With". He's upset at having been moved from his wonderful home in Berlin to this outpost where he has no friends. He doesn't fully understand what his father's job is and although his bedroom window overlooks the grounds of the concentration camps he certainly doesn't understand what goes on there. He just wants to go on adventures.

As he walks the fence that separates his world from the other he finds another little boy sitting on the other side of the fence. They begin an unlikely friendship based on just talking. I loved this part because if you've ever watched boys play, they don't talk much. Oh, they make pirate growls and the sounds of cars driving and very realistic explosion noises but they don't talk much about what they think. These 2 little boys had no other choice. They had no toys and couldn't go exploring together.

But most extraordinarily, they don't talk about what is really happening mostly because they are too young and too innocent to believe the horrors.

When the Jewish boys father disappears, Bruno agrees to help find him and plots to sneak under the fence. He is never seen again.

This novel is simple. It is simply poetic. It is poetic justice.

Read it. It won't take long and it will haunt you for a long time afterwards.

Friday 26 December 2008

The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

A woman, Sally, decides not to tell her husband that a business trip is canceled and steals a week away from him and her young daughter to spend it in a posh country hotel all by herself. She ends up meeting a man and has an affair. A year later she sees a man on television whose wife and daughter have died. They live not far from her and whilst he physically is not the man she slept with a year ago he uses the same name as the man she met did.

This book is a murder mystery detective novel but never quite gets going. The plot is convoluted coming at you from different people's perspectives and lives. There are complications of the detectives love life which never quite develops into having any real meaning to the story. All the various mothers are despicable characters who hate being mothers and are rather selfish, self-centered egoists. I suppose worst of all is Sally who honestly believes she would never have to pay the piper.

Don't waste any time on this one.

Monday 22 December 2008

Some Assembly Required

'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
I searched for the tools to hand to my spouse.

Instructions were studied and we were inspired,
in hopes we could manage "Some Assembly Required."

The children were quiet (not asleep) in their beds, while Dad
and I faced the evening with dread:

a kitchen, two bikes, Barbie's town house to boot!
And, thanks to Grandpa, a train with a toot!

We opened the boxes, my heart skipped a beat....
let no parts be missing or parts incomplete!

Too late for last-minute returns or replacement;
if we can't get it right, it goes in the basement!

When what to my worrying eyes should appear,
but 50 sheets of directions, concise, but not clear,

with each part numbered and every slot named,
so if we failed, only we could be blamed.

More rapid than eagles the parts then fell out,
all over the carpet they were scattered about.

"Now bolt it! Now twist it! Attach it right there!
Slide on the seats, and staple the stair!

Hammer the shelves, and nail to the stand."
"Honey," said hubby, "you just glued my hand."

And then in a twinkling, I knew for a fact
that all the toy dealers had indeed made a pact

to keep parents busy all Christmas Eve night
with "assembly required" till morning's first light.

We spoke not a word, but kept bent at our work,
till our eyes, they went bleary; our fingers all hurt.

The coffee went cold and the night, it wore thin
before we attached the last rod and last pin.

Then laying the tools away in the chest,
we fell into bed for a well-deserved rest.

But I said to my husband just before I passed out,
"This will be the best Christmas, without any doubt.

Tomorrow we'll cheer, let the holiday ring,
and not have to run to the store for a thing!

We did it! We did it! The toys are all set
for the perfect, most perfect, Christmas, I bet!"

Then off to dreamland and sweet repose I gratefully went,
though I suppose there's something to say for those self-deluded...
I'd forgotten that BATTERIES are never included!

Sunday 7 December 2008

Out of Africa

Both Abigail and Sebastian performed in the St George's Dance recital last week and it was nothing short of spectacular. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a mother and I have to.

The story was about a girl who dreamed of all the animals in Africa. Sebastian was a fierce lion and remains the only boy doing ballet in the school. This production did feature four boys who have doing tap for several years and their dedication to the art was obvious!

Abigail was an elephant. For the ears, the costume department had made little sacks made from gray fabric with pink ribbons. When they put their ponytails into the sacks and tied them they looked just like elephant ears. It was adorable.

The music was super cool and I saw many parents (including myself) getting down in the audience. The costumes and makeup were clever and creative.

Reception (Abigail's class) only performed in the first production and we went back to pick up an exhausted Sebastian quite late in the evening following the second production.
My heartfelt thanks go to Miss Maggie (the ballet teacher), Mrs Jones and the entire production crew who must have worked hours and hours to make this such a special evening for parents and pupils.

Monday 1 December 2008

Number Crunch

If you are lost in the sea of political mumbo jumbo about what has caused the financial crisis, this Vanity Fair article does really great job of laying the numbers bare.

The number is the first paragraph identifies that the world economic output was $48.6 trillion whilst the market capitalisation of the world's stock markets was $50.6 trillion and the total value of domestic and internals bonds was $67.9 trillion. These numbers are staggeringly large and impossible to fully comprehend (at least for a small mind/bank account like my own).

The article is long but extraordinarily useful for explaining how we got here and most importantly for putting it all in historical context. Take the time to read it.