Friday, August 9, 2019

First Lines: July 2019 edition

NOT a quiche of death

Here are the first lines of the 6 books I finished reading in July.  Fire, either actual or metaphorical, is a prominent feature in several of them.

Book 1
Mrs. Agatha Raisin sat behind her newly cleared desk in her office in South Molton Street in London’s Mayfair.  From the outer office came the hum of voices and the clink of glasses as the staff prepared to say farewell to her.

Book 2
The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound.

Book 3
“Saturday evening,” remarked Isabel Dalhousie.  “A time for the burning of the ears.”
Guy Peploe, seated opposite her in the back neuk at Glass & Thompson’s café, looked at her blankly.  Isabel was given to making puzzling pronouncements – he knew that, and did not mind – but this one, he thought, was unusually Delphic.

Book 4
Chapter 1: A Good Café on the Place St. Michel
Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. You would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus at the terminal and the Café des Amateurs was crowded and the windows misted over from the heat and the smoke inside.

Book 5
Marsh is not swamp. Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky.

Book 6
Isabel Dalhousie saw Brother Fox that morning at eleven minutes past four.

The titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, by M.C. Beaton.  © 1992.  
This print book needs editing – sometimes (at least in the first chapter), the main character seems to have a different name. It’s as if the author first intended to name her character Angela, and then switched to Agatha, but there was no “find-replace all” option in 1992.  Otherwise, an enjoyable “cozy mystery” – a diversion from today’s news.

Book 2
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi.  © 2016. 
Homegoing is a historical novel, following two parallel stories of a family through history – one branch in “Gold Coast” (Ghana), Africa, the other branch in America.  Each chapter is a vignette from a generation. I chose it because Ta-Nehisi Coates said “Homegoing is an inspiration.”  Please note that it includes many accounts of rape and other violence.

For its summer reading bingo, the library put this book in the category of “Historical fiction with a female protagonist”, but this is not at all a story with one protagonist.   Like the author of Pachinko, Gyasi shows us how the experiences of previous generations affect the following generation.  But this type of story is, I think, more work for the reader, and gives less depth to each character.    In Homegoing, the stories of each generation are well-told and adequately connected to the previous generations. I still think about certain characters from this book and their place in history, so maybe there is plenty of depth to the characters after all, which just highlights the talent of the author.

Book 3
The Charming Quirks of Others, by Alexander McCall Smith  © 2010. 
The 7th Isabel Dalhousie novel.  More diversion.

Book 4
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway.  © 1964.
I read for the second book club.  I suggested it, having enjoyed it for the first book club, but it was not as enjoyable for this second reading.  The account of the car trip with F. Scott Fitzgerald is now quite painful to read.  The two white male American writers drive through France in a car without a top, drinking wine every time they pull over to the side of the road to avoid the rain.  And they get away with it – no repercussions. Hemingway is a truly great writer, but also kind of a jerk. 

I was intrigued by Hemingway’s use of the pronoun “you” when he clearly was referring to himself – this technique is evident even in the opening lines I quoted above.  I thought it might be a way of distancing himself from his own decisions, but it also draws the reader in and places us right there in Paris in the 1920s.  Yes, a great writer.

Book 5
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens © 2018.
Good nature writing.  Totally implausible plot.  Where are the mosquitoes?

Book 6
The Perils of Morning Coffee by Alexander McCall Smith.   © 2011.
This is one of those teeny books you can get only in e-format.  A very short book.  Just what I needed.


Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I loved Homegoing. I always enjoy that style of short stories folded together into a longer read as she does. Definitely a literary feat.
Crawdads was good. It would make my top 10 list of last year's reads, but not the top 5 though.
SO hard to read Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the rest without setting aside modern sensibilities about sexism, racism, etc.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I just finished Crawdads over the weekend, and YES, THE ABSENT MOSQUITOES! I did really enjoy the poetic nature passages.