Sunday, October 12, 2008

Time To Choose Again!

Dorothy kindly asked me to prepare a selection of books for the next Slaves discussion, which will take place on 31st January 2009. I so very nearly went for five comfortable reads in the category of social comedy (and you may well wish I had!) but then I changed my mind and, true to the tradition of the Slaves, I’ve been looking for books that are a bit different, this time in a genre-bending sort of way.

Here’s some suggestions:

Drusilla Modjeska – The Orchard

Balanced on an uncertain boundary between fiction and non-fiction, this book is a series of three interlinked essays on the theme of women, love and creativity that draws its material from the lives of Stella Bowen and Virginia Woolf as well as from myth and legend. From the amazon reviews: ‘three years in a row I have been using this book with my female students. Most of them have asserted that The Orchard changed their lives, as it changed mine when I first read it. The story of the handless maid, which epitomizes the book's message, invites women readers to reflect on issues such as maturity, identity, education, interpersonal relationships, autonomy and self-sufficiency. The magic mixture of essay, narrative, folk tale and biography creates a beautiful and complex tapestry, in which any woman, no matter her age, can recognize herself.’

Marianne Wiggins – The Shadow Catcher

Wiggins’ latest novel mixes autobiography and fiction in an undecidable way, intertwining the story of Edward S. Curtis, a Western photographer, and his muse-wife, Clara, with a tale of a narrator, also named Marianne Wiggins, driving to Vegas to confront a man claiming to be her long-dead father. Both men are subject to wanderlust that will ultimately trouble their relationships and leave a confusing remainder for those who try to understand them. From a Powell’s review: ‘Photographs taken by Curtis and from the Wiggins's family album, which she approaches from multiple angles, give the story several layers of immediacy. Curtis emerges as a fascinating, complex figure, one who inhabited any number of American contradictions. Suffused with Marianne's crackling social commentary and deceptively breezy self-discovery, Wiggins's eighth novel is a heartfelt tour de force.’

Ali Smith – Boy Meets Girl

One of the Canongate myth series, Ali Smith rewrites Ovid’s tale of Iphis from the Metamorphoses, displacing its scenario to a water-bottling factory in Inverness. It’s a love story that involves gender transformations, moral messages and rather more joyfulness, it seems, than the average Greek myth. This from the review in The Guardian: ‘Smith is a gravely moral writer - and that is partly why her contribution to the world of myth is so powerful. There is nothing detached or ironic here. Beneath all her jagged jumps and leaps of verbal facility, her sheer cliffhanging turns of storytelling, her books run deeply with the differences between right and wrong, love versus lies. By the time I finished the book, my heart was beating and tears stood in my eyes, even as I had the biggest smile written all over my face.’

Jeanette Winterson – Sexing the Cherry

I was going to plump for the more recent The Stone Gods, but in the end went for this one because it is such an amazing read. It’s the story of orphan Jordan who is discovered and brought up by the Dog Woman, a magnificent giantess. It’s set in the seventeenth century but its exoticness and charm is such that it could just as well be a fairy tale – and they abound in the narrative in any case. Funny and hugely imaginative, a fusion of history, fable and myth, it’s Winterson at her very best. From an amazon review: ‘Reading her words is a joy in and of itself. Her settings are bold, her characters are compelling, and she does not fill either her pages or her plots with minutia. This work is very much like an opera -- breathtakingly beautiful arias abound, strung together with plot-enhancing threads which glitter and glimmer. Take the journey, and savor it’.

David Markson – Reader’s Block

Apparently Markson heads a list somewhere of the best modern authors that people rarely read. This novel is an experimental mix that blends the story of a reader contemplating the creation of a protagonist who continually interrupts himself with a stream of literary trivia, including the fate of Auden's royalties; the suicide of Adrienne Rich's husband and Conrad's verdict on Moby-Dick (“not a single sincere line”). It sounds unlikely but the reviews seem collectively inclined to find it entertaining. From the amazon reviews: ‘I anticipated a slow and perhaps even difficult read. Instead, I found Reader's Block to be one a the most purely entertaining novels I've read in a long time. So long as you aren't a reader enslaved by narrative expectations (as perhaps Reader, the central "character" of the novel, might be enslaved by narrative expectations?) this book is a literary joyride, a feast of anecdotes, details, ephemera, and hesitation.’

I’ll count up the votes on Friday morning and let you know the outcome!


Anonymous said...

These are all on my TBR list except The Orchard which I have never heard of. Which one? Which one? Okay, my vote goes to The Orchard first and Reader's Block as second choice.

Rebecca H. said...

Hmmm ... nice choices! I think I'll vote for Reader's Block. But any of them will be fine!

Danielle said...

I'd like to try Jeannette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry.

J.C. Montgomery said...

Shadow Catcher is on my TBR list, but Sexing the Cherry sounds really interesting.

I would vote for those, in that order.

Sarah said...

These are on my TBR list except The Orchard, which is already a favourite. As it's alos Australian it gets my vote!

Iliana said...

Ooh so hard to choose! I think I'll go with Boy Meets Girl with a close second of Sexing the Cherry.

Thank you for the list of choices Litlove!

Oanh said...


Coming over from your other blog, Litlove :-D

I'd love to become a Slave of Golconda - what do I have to do?


I've made any number of abortive attempts on The Orchard and should give it a go again, so it gets my first vote.

Second vote goes to Boy meets Girl

And no vote goes to Sexing the Cherry, as I've already read it :-)

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

What a great selection of books. Any one of them would provide much food for discussion but if I was forced to choose I think I'd go for: 1) The Orchard; 2) Boy Meets Girl; and 3) Sexing the Cherry.

I read Winterson's The Passion a long time ago and can't remember much about it except that it was set in the Napoleonic era, and that I wasn't totally crazy about it. But I'd be keen to try Sexing the Cherry.

Anonymous said...

Sexing the Cherry, please. :)

litlove said...

Thank you all for your votes - I don't think there's a clear favourite at the moment! It's between The Orchard and Sexing the Cherry with a tiny half vote separating them.

Oanh, we ask Danielle very nicely to send you an invitation to join! I'll see if I can find an email address on your site and I'll pass it on to her.

Mike B. said...

I would have to go with Reader's Block first and Sexing the Cherry second.

SFP said...

I would like to read them all, actually, and will be happy whichever is chosen. But I'm going to vote for Sexing the Cherry because I've been afraid of starting this one for years. It would be nice to have intelligent people to explain things to me if it's all beyond my grasp.

Anonymous said...

Any would be fine with me, though I admit to a slight partiality in favor of the Cherry.