Tuesday, January 08, 2008

the year for words

And, hopefully, a little less me. After a real stalemate with reading, this post seemed to kickstart my book appetite. Since then I've been devouring novels. So with a healthy dose of inspiration from Ragdoll I've decided to join the Canadian Book Challenge. That means 13 books by July 1st, one from each province and territory. It started in October, so my reading of Consumption by Kevin Patterson counts (phew!) and last night I finished my Quebec portion, The Extraordinary Garden by Francois Gravel. Now the daunting task is to actually say something about it. First, an excerpt:

"I thought about Josee, about life, which is always improvising, which doesn't know how to do otherwise. That there are errors and blunders is unavoidable. For one successful love story, how many others start up again and again, and always bump into the same obstacles? How many are abandoned along the way, after a promising start? Why get attached to something that may have been just a rough draft?"

The narrator, Marc-Andre, lives the perfect suburban life. He manages his marriage like a business and his wife is a formidable partner. But although things are perfect, solid and, dare he say, happy, he meets a neighbour, Josee, and spends the next seven years in love with her, and then another seven trying to forget her.

Sure, infidelity is a common theme, but even if you take away the suburban setting I found the honesty of this story wonderfully compelling. Marc-Andre simply fell in love with another woman and struggled to live with such a love while trying to maintain the perfect life he had with his family. For seven years he did not indulge his desires, but still they never waned. Josee was a woman he felt he had known forever, a woman who just "got" him, a woman who made his own wife feel like a stranger to him. He hadn't asked for such an obstacle to be put before him and he tried his best to do what he felt was right.

I adored Gravel's descriptive handling of physical intimacy, which suited the frankness of his prose (though as a note, this is a translated version). And I was intrigued by his characters' responses to both guilt and infidelity. Nothing felt preachy, no judgements were made and I felt relief in my position as an objective observer.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this novel and once I reached the halfway mark, I couldn't put it down. For this reason here is how it rates in my personal reviewing system: The Extraordinary Garden was like knitting a basic hat, from a tried and true pattern, but using an indulgent wool. You think it will be a steady, practical knit but the wool keeps it exciting and you finish it in one afternoon, more pleased with the final product than you expected.

And now, it would seem that I have some more reading to do.


John Mutford said... [Reply to comment]

It sounds like it could have gone either way in terms of excitement. Glad to here it worked.

lamb-things said... [Reply to comment]

Sounds like a lot of reading, when do you find the time? I am really enjoying 'Plain Truth', already half way through it. Have you read 'Love in the Time of Cholera'? I have it whenever you run out of things to read which might be a very long time.