It’s that time of year. The days are short and dark, cold and flu season rears its snot-ridden head, and the holidays descend in an inevitable whirlwind of festive obligations. As the house executive (aka, stay-at-home mom), it is my duty to keep everything going in reasonable order. Though I mostly want to curl up in bed declaring a state of hibernation, armed only with what I can forage from the kitchen and my ever-growing to-be-read pile – I instead launch myself into a daily flurry of cookie baking, present wrapping, and party hosting. It feels like a well-earned point of pride that I managed to get both kids healthy in time for Christmas (at this point, I can only assume that our elementary school has turned itself into a giant petri dish as part of their science curriculum).
Of course, I’ve managed to carve out time to read over the past two months. However, far too many days have ended with me too tired to read, and this little bitty blog suffered the brunt of my exhaustion. Case in point, I drafted an entire post on the topic of bookish gifts, but didn’t manage to actually publish it in time for anyone to order any of the items before the holidays. I’ll save it for next year.
Two of the books I managed to read over the past couple months deserve honorable mention. Actually, they deserve full reviews, but I simply can’t muster the energy. It has always been my experience that books are an understanding lot, so I assume they’ll forgive my transgression.
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
This is the story of a portrait artist, who moves into a remote mountain home after splitting up with his wife. The home was once the residence of his friend’s father, who was himself a famous painter. While ensconced in the mountain retreat, the portrait artist is met with a number of strange circumstances – a bell ringing in the middle of the night from the bottom of a pit in the forest, a mysterious rich neighbor commissioning portraits with questionable motive, and the discovery of a painting hidden in the attic that leads the portrait artist on a surreal quest to save a little girl, among other things.
This book is typical Murakami. His authorial voice is instantly recognizable; quirky and dream-like. It is nearly impossible not to be drawn into the oddities of the plot. Murakami presides over a corner of the literary world uniquely his own. Despite his prestige, readers who’ve read his previous novels will likely be disappointed by this one. It’s unnecessarily slow-paced, and dry. It’s just not as good as his other books. Is it fair to compare this book only to his other books though? For, though this book pales in comparison to his others, when I put it in the context of everything else I read this year, it stands out as one of the better written books – imaginative, memorable, and atmospheric. I don’t know if I would recommend it, but I did like it.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
Whilst working as an archivist in London, Elodie Winslow finds a leather bag tucked away in an old piece of furniture. Inside the bag, she uncovers a photograph of a beautiful woman, and some artist’s sketches of a house, which Elodie is certain she knows from a fairy tale told to her in childhood. Inexplicably drawn to the woman in the photograph, and curious about the house in the sketch, Elodie starts to research the photograph and sketch. Jumping back and forth in time, this book tells the story of Birchwood Manor, and its various residents throughout several generations. It is a ghost story, a love story, and a murder mystery.
I loved this book. Interestingly, I appear to be in the minority among reader reviews. Granted, there are a lot of characters in this novel, and there were times that I found myself questioning whether some of the characters were absolutely necessary. This wasn’t enough to dissuade me from thoroughly enjoying the story, though. Kate Morton is rather known for twisty-plotted historical fiction. With her usual gracefulness, she wrapped up all the characters and plot threads neatly by the end of the book. Thusly, I didn’t mind how many characters weaved in and out of the story, because by the end, each of them had a purpose and place in the plot. Certainly, this novel was more meandering than her previous ones. It felt a bit like taking an aimless stroll with her through the English countryside. It wasn’t always clear where we were headed, but I found the view scenic and the company pleasant. By the end, it all came together eloquently and cleverly, as is characteristic of all Kate Morton books. For my personal taste, this was one of my favorite reads all year.