Saturday, 9 August 2014

Mini-reviews: Doctor Sleep, Landline &L. M. Montgomery

Doctor Sleep - Stephen King

After rereading The Shining earlier this year and surprising myself with how good it was, I approached its long-awaited sequel Doctor Sleep with some trepidation. Stephen King says he periodically asked himself: "what's Danny Torrance up to now?" and Doctor Sleep sets out to answer this question. When I started reading, I felt that I didn't really want to know what the adorable precocious child turned out like as an adult, and the start of the book confirmed this. Danny, now known as Dan, has inherited many of his father's self-destructive traits and starts off in a very bad place. Unlike his father, however, whose attempt to save himself and his family in isolation led to catastrophe, Danny finds redemption in a small community, with good friends and a job that uses his unique talents to help people.

As a horror story, Doctor Sleep isn't a patch on The Shining. The monsters look like a harmless group of elderly people who travel in camper-vans, but are actually a kind of vampire who achieve immortality by murdering "shining" children. "The True Knot," as they call themselves, repulsed but did not really engage me. I've said before and will say again that Stephen King is more than just a horror writer - his stories' strength is in making you care for the characters. I really wanted everything to work out for Dan and his young friend Abra Stone, a bright girl with far stronger "shining" powers even than Dan himself. And on an emotional level, the novel provides a satisfying sense of closure to the tale that began all those years ago. Dan breaks the cycle of destructive behaviour, and Jack Torrance gets atonement through his son. There is a beautiful moment which made me unexpectedly sob on the train.
You didn't need to be Ebenezer Scrooge to know there were good ghostie people as well as bad ones.

Landline - Rainbow Rowell

There's been a lot of hype about Landline in the blogging world, which has fallen head-over-heels in love with Rainbow Rowell like the characters in her books. I've found Rowell's books are all very different in tone: Attachments is cute, Eleanor and Park is raw and heartbreaking, while Fangirl felt like a chapter from my own life. Landline felt darker than Rowell's previous work, even Eleanor and Park, sad in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, an examination of a marriage that might be in trouble. The story takes place over the Christmas period, when television writer Georgie decides to spend the holiday at home working while her husband Neal and their daughters go to visit his family. Being plunged into the situation at the start, my thoughts were "That's a real shame - at Christmas! - but why is everyone assuming that divorce is on the cards?" Of course, the book reveals that the marriage has had its ups and downs for a while. Luckily, in Georgie's old bedroom there is a magic telephone that allows her to phone Neal - but Neal in the past. "How does that work?" I asked when I read the premise. "How can that possibly not cause a time paradox?" But Rowell handles it well, and reveals how these telephone calls had an impact on their relationship in the past as well as in the present.

Landline is saved from becoming depressing by Rowell's trademark humour and the cute moments captured on paper, little details unique to this couple, this family, and an adorable ending that had me crying happy-tears. It was a quick read which provides a lot of food for thought about communication and compromise, the essential ingredients to any successful relationship.
When Georgie thought of divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.

Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery: Volumes 1 and 2 (1889-1921)

It's no secret that Anne of Green Gables is one of the books that made me what I am today, so when I found the journals of author Lucy Maud Montgomery in the Oxford University Press shop, I couldn't stop myself from splashing out, curious about the woman who invented the beloved redhead. Montgomery lived with her grandmother on Prince Edward Island until the latter's death, and then married a minister and moved to Ontario. Her diaries give a picture of the joys and frustrations of being an intelligent woman at the turn of the last century, with an untamed imagination but having to conform to social expectations. Montgomery, known as Maud - never Lucy - was an observer of life, but not a people-person, which made her role as a minister's wife at the heart of a community a difficult one indeed. She writes of the strain of being expected to socialise with people she had no affinity with, and being unable to make close friends within the parish for fear of showing favouritism.

Those familiar with the Anne books will recognise phrases and incidents that later got translated into fiction, as well as the familiar dreamy prose. The diaries from the war years are particularly interesting to read alongside Rilla of Ingleside as a contemporary account of World War 1 on the home front. The journals are also illustrated with Maud's photographs, and she and some of her friends look far different from the usual stern Victorian and Edwardian portraits. Maud looks like she really lived, her eyes revealing an intelligent sparkle and amusement. I could tell just from the photos that she was a kindred spirit. There are also some
pictures of a pair of china dogs, brought back from honeymoon, which must have been the model for the ornaments Anne falls in love with at her boarding house. I couldn't really understand from the description in the book what was so alluring about these dogs, but the photos reveal them to be positively cute and cheeky little creatures, very different from the austere hounds I had imagined.

L. M. Montgomery kept these journals from the age of fourteen until near the end of her life, and they reveal a fascinating social history of one woman's life in a changing world; as a girl, wife and working woman.

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