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Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

I was a little skeptical of the praise Trick received (it’s on at least one list of best translated books of 2018) because I wondered if the star power of Jhumpa Lahiri as the translator turned reviewers’ heads. I was wrong: this is just a good book, deserving of praise. It’s the story of an artist in his seventies, recovering from poor health, a widower. He is called to his daughter’s house — the house he grew up in — in Naples, to care for his four year old grandson while she and her husband, both mathematicians and professors, go to a conference. He quickly ascertains that they are fighting, and that the boy, Mario, is both ” well behaved and out of control.”

I have to say Starnone does a terrific job of writing Mario — he is precocious in his family’s eyes, as all children are, and yet ordinary, well spoken as children of the well educated often are, and yet fully a four year old. He also writes Daniele Mallarico, the elderly artist, very well. He has recently been commissioned to illustrate a deluxe edition of Henry James’ story, “The Jolly Corner.” Which I plan to read.  He is struggling to send off a few plates to his editor before he goes to Naples when the book opens.

As he cares for the child, he reflects on his own childhood and especially, his adolescence in Naples, and on what he became, and whether he is who he wanted to be. He also reflects on his body of work and as is so often the case with creative people, doubts himself. It’s an incredibly poignant, but also incredibly realistic, examination of identity, creativity, and growing up — and old. Mario represents what childhood is but also what childhood means at the end of life; his actions and his contrary, slightly crazed little self bring out both love and doubt in Daniele, and create both a tension and a source of introspection and examination. Is Daniele a talented, important artist or did he simply believe those who saw talent in him, regardless of what he was actually capable of? It’s a good question and this novel really drills down on what is talent and what is human nature, and it desire for influence and importance?

There’s also an amazing appendix of “notes and sketches” for the illustration project. A good read.

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Ok, book people, I have a confession. Before this week I’d never read one of Neil Gaiman’s books. I’ve seen Coraline and I’ve bought or checked out from the library his books for young readers for my daughter. As a librarian, I’ve followed his work and sometimes read his blog and noted all the very kind things he says about libraries on his website and just about every time he speaks. But I’d never read one of his books.

And now I have. And I want to go into a cozy room by myself and read all the rest of them over the course of a few days, and do nothing else.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I’m told by some die hard fans, isn’t even his best work. But I loved it. I want to still be reading it. I want to be IN it, although I don’t want to be the sister.

This story is about a man who returns to the road he lived on as a child, in rural England, when he’s in town for a funeral. He finds himself visiting the farm at the end of the road (lane) where the Hempstocks lived, a grandmother, mother, and daughter, Lettie, who he knew when he was seven and Lettie was eleven. As he sits “on the dilapidated green bench beside the duck pond” — or ocean, as Lettie called it — he is unsure why he is there. But he remembers.

His remembering is almost a reliving, it’s that vivid. You get the sense when he’s done, he’s worn out as if from a very strong dream. And when you read his remembrances you too get that out-of-time-and-place, almost lost feeling, as if anything could happen. I recognize that feeling. I had it as a child, whenever I was able to read for hours, so totally immersed in a book it was as if I’d entered its world. Which I still love to do when I can.

I won’t give away too many specifics about The Ocean at the End of the Lane except to say the writing is meaty and juicy, so descriptive it drips with sensory details. It’s about a man recalling himself as a little boy and the strange women he met and what happened and what he came to know as a result, but it’s also about human nature, and how what we think we want may not be what we really want, how we’re influenced by forces outside of us to act on impulses we don’t stop to understand. It’s also a book about agape, the kind of unconditional love that sacrifices itself for another.

If you have a few hours this weekend, treat yourself to reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane in one sitting so you can feel like a child again, free to while away an afternoon in a comfortable spot with a book, and if possible, a pet to keep you company. This book, I’d say, is good for sharing with a cat.

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