Wednesday, September 15, 2010

the last book I read

Light On Snow by Anita Shreve.

12-year-old Nicky Dillon and her father live on the remote outskirts of a New Hampshire town, where Dad ekes out a living hand-crafting Shaker-style furniture. On one of their evening constitutionals out in the woods Nicky and Dad find a baby abandoned in the snow - wrapped up in a sleeping bag, but abandoned nonetheless.

They bundle up the baby and rush off to the local hospital, where, once it becomes clear the child is in no danger of dying, the police take an interest. Suspicion initially falls on Nicky's father, but soon it becomes clear the mystery woman gave birth in a room at the local motel, from where a set of bootprints lead into the snow.

We're starting to wonder what Nicky and Dad are doing way out here at this point, and where Mum might have got to. So we get a bit of back-story: the whole family used to live in New York, but moved away after Nicky's Mum and her baby sister Clara were killed in a car accident a couple of years previously. No sooner do we learn all this than the baby's 19-year-old mother Charlotte turns up - Dad is a bit of a local celeb following the dramatic baby-rescuing, and she wants to thank him. Dad isn't too keen to talk to her and has half a mind to turn her in to the police, but then the snow comes down and the house is temporarily cut off.

By the time the snow clears some resolution has happened: Charlotte and Nicky have bonded over some girly talk of periods and the like, Charlotte and Dad have had an air-clearing talk about the baby-abandoning incident (the no-good boyfriend - a rich college kid - was largely responsible, Charlotte being too traumatised by all the pain and gore to know much about it), and the subject of Mum & Clara's death has been dragged out and given an airing, Nicky and Dad having been reluctant to talk about it before. Charlotte is going to have to face the music with the law, but kindly old Detective Warren probably won't be too hard on her. Meanwhile the baby has been released from hospital and re-housed with some foster-parents, and all in time for Christmas too.

So it's all fairly cosy then, the baby providing a means for the family's grief over their own loss to be confronted and resolved. Not much unexpected really happens, though as with the earlier Anne Tyler book it's not really that sort of book anyway, the point being the characters and your caring about what happens to them. In that respect it's nicely done, Shreve's economical style being quite well-suited to a tale of repressed emotions and failed communication. You might still argue that it's a bit light and inconsequential, as Julie Myerson does in this Guardian review; this one in the Independent is quite a bit more complimentary. My own view probably falls somewhere between the two; it's a bit fluffy, but it's very readable, the characters are neatly drawn and you want to find out what happens, which is good enough for me. For what it's worth I thought it was better than the slightly more ambitiously-plotted The Weight Of Water, which is the only other Anita Shreve book I've read.

Those of you endowed with sharp eyes or prodigiously long memories will know that the review of The Weight Of Water was the very first one I ever wrote for this blog, way back in September 2006. Well, I can reveal that this one, a smidgen over four years later, is the one hundredth one I've written. The first thing to say is that no, it's not a coincidence that the hundredth features the same author as the first. Sneaky, huh? Secondly, here's a few stats:
  • 25 of the 100 were by women, 75 by men. That's a 3:1 male-domination ratio, not good. Must try harder to smash the patriarchy.
  • 100 novels in 1475 days equals a novel just over every fortnight.
  • Those 100 books comprise 28,398 pages, at a rate of 19.25 pages per day.
  • My concerns about reading opportunities drying up once I was no longer trekking in to work on public transport have proved (mostly) groundless. 40 novels in 573 days pre-driving at an average of 21.01 pages per day, 60 in 903 days since at an average of 18.12 pages per day. Down a bit, but not much. 
  • Longest book on the list: The Corrections at 653 pages. Oddly, this was immediately followed by the shortest, Bonjour Tristesse at 108 pages.
  • The only authors to feature more than once are: the aforementioned Anita Shreve, Iain M Banks, Joyce Carol Oates, Cormac McCarthy, Michael Dibdin, Lawrence Durrell and TC Boyle. All of them have appeared twice. That means that the 100 books featured 93 different authors. Also, 42 of the featured books were the first book I'd read by that author, which I like to think reveals a commendable willingness to try new things.
I will now, to use a cricketing metaphor, take a fresh guard and go for the double-century. Join me if you like.

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