Monday, February 26, 2007

Book number five of the year is The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. I wasn't expecting to like this book as much as I did. I mean, it wasn't great, but it was interesting enough to keep me going and the prose was fluid and descriptive and also not too bad.

I received this book for Christmas from G's sister. Its not normally something I'd pick up by anymeans (meaning its not fantasy or historical fiction or historical non-fiction or even horror, which is the bulk of what I read), rather its good 'ol best sellers list stuff.

The book is about a doctor, David Henry, who, in the 1960s, finds himself delivering his own set of twins on a snowy night, unable to get his wife to the hospital in time. Everything is fine with the first baby, a healthy little boy, but the second baby, a little girl, is born with an obvious case of Down's Syndrome. Henry, having grown up with an invalid sister who died young, makes the decision not to 'burden' his wife with this child and so tells his nurse to take the baby away to a home where she will be cared for. He later tells his wife (who has been unconscious for the later part of the birth) that the baby girl died.

The twist here is though that the nurse, Caroline, does take the baby (called Phoebe) to the home, but sees immediately that it is a horrible place, and so makes the decision to take Phoebe and raise her as her own. She does indeed tell Henry that she has done this, but she doesn't tell him where she moves to, as she doesn't want to give up the child.

What ensues is a very interesting look at the dynamics of the two families who are formed by the doctor's fateful decision. The doctor's wife Norah, never comes to terms with the depression she continuously feels after her baby's 'death', and the doctor forever holds himself apart from his family, protecting the terrible secret he created. The family slowly disintigrates over the years, drifting apart, never talking, no one but the doctor knowing what the real problem is, so never being able to fix it.

The second family, the nurse's, turns out much more happy really. She does live with some fear that she will lose her 'daughter', and she fights very hard for Phoebe's rights, ensuring that she gets a fair education etc. She also has the happier of the two marriages by far. Because of this, I couldn't help but feel that obviously, Caroline made the 'right' decision in not abaonding Phoebe, and so, while there are some hardships, she does have the happier emotional life.

Of course, its also very interesting seeing the way Down's Syndrome was percieved in the 60s. While it may seem increadible to us that David Henry would just immediately sentence his child to an institution, back then, this was what most doctors would recomment. Caroline's story of struggling to win the basic rights for her daughter to even go to school is very fascinating, and its strange to think that this wasn't always such an automatic thing.

So yeah, quick read, but a good one, I think this really only took me three days to read.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Number 4 of the year is Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay.

Guy Kay is my favourite author. He wrote my very favourite books ever (in fact, I'm re-reading the Fionavar Tapestry again right now), and during university, I wrote a paper on them (which, if you go to Kay's site, you can read it there.) I realized it had been awhile since I'd visited the site, so last Monday I decided to pop on over and see what Kay was up to.

Imagine my surprise to discover he had a new book out. Ok, surprise probably isn't the right word... shock is more like it. I couldn't believe I'd missed it! I couldn't believe I'd missed him doing his usual book launch reading at Hart House! I have all his books and each and every one of them are signed. This is the first one that hasn't been and I feel... let down. Let down by myself more than anything really. But, I'll keep track now and hope that he does another reading again at some point. After all, he does live in Toronto.

So anyway, yes, Ysabel. I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. Mainly because two characters from Fionavar show up in this, and I was just tickled to see them. Oh, the book has its own merits of course, and its actually quite the departure for Kay as well. Its his first book set wholly in the 'mundane' world. Rather than having characters from our world cross over into a fantasy world, or rather than having the story take place entirely in a fantasy world... Ysabel takes place completely in Provence, France. And in another departure, the protagonist of the book is only fifteen years old, which makes for an interesting perspective. I'm not entirely sure Kay writes a youngster perfectly, but he does well enough.

The plot is mainly a cat-and-mouse game that has been going on for thousands of years, and its a game with deadly consequences that the protagonist, Ned, finds himself wrapped up in. Kay likes the themes of people with hidden potential caught up in stories that they don't mean to find themselves in and rising to the occasion, and he writes them very well. I also thought that despite the title of the book, Ysabel herself is not really... in it much. She is discussed and sought after and the raison d'etre for the entire book, but we don't really see her much as a character, which meant I felt myself rather distanced from her, but I think that was the point. Ysabel is from a time so long ago and alien to us that its hard to understand what is happening with her and her two, eternal suitors, Cadell and Phelan. We see the story pretty much entirely through Ned's eyes, and while sometimes this is good, sometimes its frustrating because I would've liked to know a little more about WHY everything was happening. A little more explanation would've been nice.

But other than that, I didn't have any complaints. I burned through it in a week, and the exclamation of joy I made when I realized who indeed Aunt Kim was, made this book all worth it for me.