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Category Archive for 'Ic – Iv'

In this newly reprinted Italian classic by Natalia Ginzburg, originally published in Italy in 1961, Elsa, an unmarried young woman of twenty-seven, becomes the primary narrator/commentator on her own life, the lives of her family, and the social scene which they all share in a small, unnamed town in Italy during and after World War II. As the only first person speaker in the novel, Elsa guides the action in three chapters, giving personal insights and a sense of honest reality to the day-to-day lives of which she is part. Four other chapters, concentrating on the points of view of other characters, emerge from her parents’ generation – their prewar lives illustrating where they have started and their postwar lives revealing the effects that fascism, socialism, communism, and the partisanship of wartime have made on their domestic lives, family, and friendships. Unusual to the point of being unique, or almost unique, Voices in the Evening deals with the growth of fascism in Italy, World War II, and the postwar conditions – big, complex subjects – but these issues become almost peripheral to the everyday gossip and personal stories on which the main characters and the community depend for their daily lives. The issue of moving from their local towns and cities for parts of the war and its aftermath is treated almost casually, with more attention paid to love stories and their complications, gossip, and personal tales than to the big subject of Italy during the war. By changing the focus so dramatically, the author is able to gain some dark humor while developing a creeping horror of the way in which these people allow their personal issues to camouflage the dramatic changes taking place in their lives and throughout the country.

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WHEREABOUTS does not identify any particular country as its setting, though it is presumably set in Italy. Author Jhumpa Lahiri is far more interested in the emotional reactions of the main character, a forty-six-year-old professor of writing, as she responds to the events affecting her. She is an independent woman, never married, though she has had serious relationships, and she cares about all aspects of her life. Choosing to tell her story by recreating brief episodes that take place in ordinary locations familiar to us all, the narrator frees herself from the necessity of co-ordinating the events of a plot in order by date. Dividing the novel into forty-six short episodes, some only a paragraph long, the narrator talks about her life – On the Street, In the Bookstore, In the Pool, In the Sun, At the Cash Register, At the Coffee Bar, etc. Strikingly, she reveals three episodes from “In My Head.” These talk about solitude as her “trade,” about the unraveling of time and the fact that sometimes she just cannot get up and out of the house, and eventually about her childhood at school when she hated recess though her friends were euphoric. Eventually, she learns that she has won a fellowship which will require her to leave her apartment, her community, her family, and her friends and move to another country for the duration. Readers will enjoy looking back at their experience with this woman, evaluating how ready she might be to leave and take on a new life, whether she is capable of finding some kind of personal fulfillment, and if she is capable of forming genuine, caring new relationships. She and her life will be challenging, no matter what she decides.

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Watching the arrival of Violet, a young, three-year-old elephant from Ceylon, purchased for the Bellevue Zoo in Belfast in 1940, Hettie Quin looks forward to getting to know this new star of the zoo. She “had never seen so many people at the docks: it was as if British royalty or a famous screen actress were among the steamer’s passengers arriving that morning.” A twenty-year-old with no interest in pursuing any of the traditional roles for women in 1940, Hettie has set her sights on becoming a zookeeper, and she quickly focuses in on Violet with her attentions. The elephant, who is relatively untrained and tense after her long voyage, will need some special help settling in. Not long after the elephant’s arrival, Belfast is bombed, and Hettie Quin takes it upon herself to save Violet by hiding her somewhere in Belfast where she cannot be found. In 2009, the zoo discovers the name of a real woman who took care of a real young elephant at the Zoo during nights of bombings in WW2. Links are also provided to the story of the real elephant and her savior.

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In a novel which defies genre, written in a style which feels like a cross between Wilkie Collins and Bram Stoker, Irish author Paraic O’Donnell creates a complex mystery set in London in the late nineteenth century. Fun to read, often humorous, just as often mysterious or violent, and filled with vibrant description of all kinds, The House on Vesper Sands stands out for its uniqueness among all recently released novels for the year. Providing gothic thrills at the same time that it also creates an intense picture of Victorian spiritualism, ghostly manifestations, and changing church practices, it is structured as a formal religious Requiem from 1893, at the same time that it features ironies and elements of humor which will provide some hearty laughs. And always, always, the author remembers that his primary goal with this novel is to entertain.

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In this “Tartan Noir” mystery set in 1973, thirty-year-old Harry McCoy, a member of the Glasgow polis, is about to have a week to end all weeks. From July 13, 1973 to July 21, 1973, he will be busy twenty-four hours a day with a series of heinous crimes that will take him from investigations in his native Glasgow to Belfast and back. Several missing persons and some grisly murders, which seem to be the most efficient way to solve difficult problems among the various crime lords of Glasgow, will keep him and his fellow officers so busy they rarely have time to drink, socialize, or experiment with substances. Only a few hours (and ten pages) after the novel begins with the disappearance of thirteen-year-old Alice Kelly, McCoy discovers the body of musician Bobby March, “the best guitarist of his generation,” a man who was not only asked to join the Rolling Stones, but said “no, thank you” to the offer. The noir gets even darker as the novel develops, with more grisly murders and a trip to Belfast by McCoy in search of more information regarding funding for the crimes in Glasgow. The references to Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones give context to Bobby March’s talent, and provide a bit of a break in this very dark narrative.

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