December Reads

Two reading recommendations follow.

The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes

Recommended by Kerry

The Sense of An Ending

Considering how much I read, it has been a happy and continual surprise this year to be recommended titles by authors I'd heard about but somehow not yet read. Julian Barnes is yet another one. He is a multiple award winning author, and he won the Man Booker Prize for this book. Reading The Sense of An Ending makes you realize why it won this very prestigious prize.

It seems like a simple, straightforward story. Tony is advised he has been left a small bequest from ex-girlfriend Veronica's mother (whom he had met only once as a young man). Trying to figure out the meaning behind the bequest drives the rest of the story.

Tony Webster is somewhere between 65 and 70, I think, and he lives a life that satisfies him. He is a careful, cautious divorced dad, still on friendly terms with his ex-wife, and active in retirement. He had a decent career, is financially stable, and values his self-described peaceable nature. From the start of the book, it is clear that memory and remembrance will be a key feature when Tony observes "remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed", and he goes on to confess that he doesn't understand time well. We come to realize that there is much about life in general, and his life in particular that Tony also doesn't understand.

As he tells stories of golden youth with his three close friends, we see there is promise in all of the young men, but none so much as with Adrian, who became the centre of the group. Adrian, who goes on to have a relationship with Veronica, and who makes an impactful decision that resonates for decades.

The title of the book may suggest a number of endings. An ending of youth. Of relationships. Of life. Of self-deception and willful blindness. What is clear, however, is that at the heart of the mystery of why Tony received the bequest concerns a specific action taken by him in relation to Adrian and Veronica. It turns out that Tony's self-satisfaction with being peaceable was achieved by leaving chaos in his unconsidered and unplanned wake.

What a powerful book.

Get your copy of The Sense of An Ending today.



Habibi by Craig Thompson

Recommended by Kajol

Habibi

I approached reading this title with both anticipation and a certain anxiety, as I've not read a graphic novel before, so I didn't know how I'd rise to the challenge. Craig Thompson is a multi-award winning and highly regarded graphic novelist, so this was a good option to start with. That being said, trying to figure out what to say about it has been a bit difficult. There are aspects that I very much admired, and others that I didn't quite connect with. One issue I had will likely sound ridiculous but my goodness, this was a very heavy book to read. Over 650 pages may not seem a lot, but the weight of the paper is heavier than in standard print novels, so physically (and I am no weakling!) this was a tough book to manage.

Things to admire? The author's vision. This is a book rich in the traditions of Arabic calligraphy and folktales from One thousand and one nights, and it is further informed by the Koran and the Bible. The art enriching the book's pages dazzled with amazing imagery. Calligraphy is beautifully rendered as shapes subtly morph into script, and vice versa. It is a story that teems with people, places and themes: from prejudice, sexual violence, immigration issues, environmental degradation, poverty, water rights, casual brutality, religious faith, kindness, hope, and horror. The scope of the story was epic in scale, and the suffering experienced by the principle characters of Dodola and Zam was equally epic.

In fact, the suffering was so relentless that it did make me struggle to finish the book. We meet Dodola as a nine year old girl, sold by her impoverished parents into a marriage to a middle-aged man, from whom she is soon torn and enslaved. This is the beginning of a life which is often measured by sexual violence and extreme cruelty yet Dodola is a spirited and determined person. She is also a principled religious adherent, which drives her to rescue another slave, who becomes very important to her. His life, too, is torn by violence and misery. However, eventually they find in each other a shared devotion and religious faith which helps them overcome the many barriers to a safe and happy life.

It was difficult to know when the book was set. Initially I had assumed it was set in the distant past due to the rather stereotypical expression of the exoticism of the east, replete with souks, eunuchs, and unconvincingly evil Arab sheiks, but eventually realized to my surprise it was modern day. There was a lot of story to tell, and while the visuals were often stupendous, I'm not convinced that the quality of the writing quite matched the art.

While this book wasn't a homerun for me, I am still very glad I read it. A key element of this year's reading adventure with you was predicated on challenging myself to read titles I would never have picked up. I have now confirmed that my reading tastes lean more to the written than the visual story telling framework. But the visuals from Habibi will stay with me. Thanks, Kajol.

Get your copy of Habibi today.