Friday, December 12, 2008

Favourite Reads of 2008 - A Librarian's Picks Part Eight. . .

In the last of our series, we're happy to welcome back a former Dewey Diva and founding member of our little group, Maureen Johnson, now manager of the Westdale Branch of Hamilton Public Library. Thanks to everyone who contributed - these lists have been a lot of fun to read and have certainly inspired some gift ideas and added several books to my must read list. Here are Maureen's favourite reads of 2008:

While in Edinburgh this spring, I wandered into Waterstone's and lingered over the Local Authors section. I must have been in a fairly dark mood as I chose two books that examine the power of evil. The Cone Gatherers: A Haunting Story of Violence and Love by Robin Jenkins is set during the Second World War and is based on Jenkins' own experience as a conscientious objector working in the forests of Argyll. Two brothers, Calum and Nell, are cone gatherers, moving through the large estates of Scotland gathering seeds to preserve and maintain the forests. Their simple life together provides stark contrast to the life at the estate house. The brothers' light and warmth is threatened by the madness and obsession of Duror, the gameskeeper. This is an obsessive read where the outcome is foreshadowed and inevitable but the reader cannot look away. Jenkins (1912-2005) also wrote The Changeling, Happy for the Child and Guests of War.

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson tells the story of a Presbyterian minister with no faith in God. The story is presented as a manuscript, mused over by a publisher and fact-checked by an investigator. Gideon has very little issue with his lapsed faith until he tumbles into a ravine called the Black Jaws. Believed dead, he resurfaces three days later with an alarming tale. He has spent the last three days in the company of the devil. Shunned by church, town and friends, Gideon must deal with his disturbing new reality.

And while in London at yet another Waterstones, I finally picked up Barbara Pym: Excellent Women and Jane and Prudence. High comedy is set amongst the churchyards, jumble sales and rose madder of 1950's Britain. Pym plumbs the domestic with a penetrating eye. Her characters make the reader squirm with self-recognition. This is delicious fiction. If you like EF Benson's Mapp and Lucia series or Cold Comfort Farm, read Pym.

And then read Mary Wesley. (Insert Maylin's excited endorsement - yes, yes, yes!) Wesley came to writing later in life, writing her first book at the age of seventy. Her style has been described as arsenic without the old lace. Filled with irony, compassion, honesty and sexuality, The Camomile Lawn has an unvarnished vitality that fairly leaps off the page. Wesley follows the lives of 3 families through the Second World War, setting up, and, in turn, satisfying and spoiling reader's expectations. Wesley's own, rather unconventional life, no doubt provided fodder. Which is why I am so looking forward to reading Wild Mary by Patrick Marnham. Wesley cooperated with her biographer asking that nothing be published before her death. Her son, Tony Eady, upon reading his mother's story, didn't speak to anyone for a week. Bravo Mary. (Wild Mary is a Diva Pick - thanks Maylin, I'm finally catching up with those lists!)


Sarah said...

Thanks for this series, it's given me many gift ideas and yes, more books I simply must read.

I've discovered Mary Wesley for myself this year, and am slowly working through her novels. Then I too will be reading the bio.

dovegreyreader said...

Mary Wesley lived very near to us here in Devon and so these books were very much in our thinking when they were first published in the 1980's, lots of local publicity and you'd often see Mary shopping in Totnes where she lived. I had a lovely group of friends, all of us young mums together and we passed these books around each other. They always remind me of feeding babies at 3am and folding terry towelling nappies!