Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

You can't judge a book by looking at the cover

“Winner of the Bollinger Everyman prize for comic fiction”. ‘Uproariously funny’. “Mad and hilarious” - Oh deary me, not the sort of book I’d dream of reading but… I really enjoyed it, though not for reasons of humour. The humour is a mix of Mcgill seaside postcards (vision of scrawny Pappa in nightshirt with homemade extensions groping busty Valentina) and Brian Rix farce – as Emily describes – very visual and an obvious film candidate. To be honest, I ignored a lot of this because I was gripped by the darker themes. Valerie’s talked about the care of the elderly angle, which was excellent. What engrossed me was the back story of how they all got to be there and how this may have affected their personalities – rather obviously in Vera and Nadia. I knew nothing of this historical period, just as nowadays we know nothing of what is going on in our name. (again I’d recommend Seiffert’s The Dark Room for another important take on this). I thought Lewycka interspersed this well with the comic plot – not easy to do I think. Pulled together beautifully with the locket at the end – we as readers have come full circle and now believe it is Vera’s by right.

The other theme I enjoyed was the short history of tractors. Clever to use the swords to ploughshares to swords metaphor for people, such as Valentina , eg p 136 “Never was the technology of peace, in the form of a tractor, transformed into a weapon of war, more ferociously than with the creation of the Valentine tank.” That was my reading of her character – a casualty of (a different sort of ) war - with her survival drive transmuted into this grotesque behaviour. We have more sympathy for how this affected Mother, Ludmilla, as she scrimped and saved and potted and preserved, but they are both driven by the same need to survive and help their children survive.

So, a good read in which I found lots to think about. And a classic case of not judging the book by the cover blurb.