Mrs. Mike is one of those books that I love to re-read every couple of years. This time, I dug it out because my neighbour Elizabeth, who is 18 and in grade 12, has never read it and I feel like it’s the kind of book that every high school girl should read.
My mom gave me my first-ever copy of Mrs. Mike (and the one I still have) when I had to do an individual report on a Canadian book for Grade 11 English in 2001. I’m sure Mr. Liffiton thought I was mildly insane when I teared up during my presentation (I kept it all together, don’t worry), because Mrs. Mike is one of the most moving, sad, funny, heartwarming, lovely books in the world. And best of all, it takes place right here in Canada.
It’s certainly not a new book. My mom remembers reading it as a kid and my old, tattered copy says it was originally published in 1947. It tells the true story of Katherine Mary O’Fallon, a city girl from Boston who travelled to Alberta in 1907 at age 16 to recover from pleurisy. (I had to Google pleurisy. I’m pretty sure that 2001 Kaitlyn had to look it up in an actual dictionary. At any rate, it is an inflammation of the lungs. I’m not sure how an Alberta winter would have helped with that, but I am very glad that Katherine Mary came to Canada, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have this beautiful book.)
Anyway, Katherine meets Sgt. Mike Flannigan of the RCMP, falls head over heels in love with him, and before she knows it, she’s a teenage wife living in one of the harshest and most remote places on earth. It’s a story of survival, bravery, luck and true love, and I love it every single time I read it. I also kind of fall in love with Sgt. Mike a little bit each time I read it too. Just make sure you have a box of Kleenex with you when you do, because it’s a tearjerker.
Did you know that Rilla of Ingleside, the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series, is the only Canadian novel written about WWI during the actual war from the viewpoint of the women who stayed at home while their sons, brothers, boyfriends and husbands went off to fight?
I sure didn’t when I first read Rilla of Ingleside as a kid – I was way too preoccupied with hoping that her handsome boyfriend Ken Ford would make it home safely from the front. But for my 20th century Canadian History class (a prerequisite for the Bachelor of Education I hope to start in September), we had to write an essay on the historical impact of a piece of Canadian fiction. When I saw Rilla of Ingleside on the list, I knew I had to re-read it.
As it turns out, re-reading a beloved childhood classic as an adult is a lot of fun. There were lots of parts about Rilla that I remembered, and other parts that I either forgot about or just didn’t register when I first read it, which must have been when I was about 11 or 12 (I got the entire Anne of Green Gables box set for Christmas the year I was in grade five, though my mom and I had read Anne together years earlier).
I didn’t know (before I had to write my paper and spent hours poring over this stuff) that diary entries made by Rilla on specific key dates during the war were closely linked to diary entries made by LM Montgomery herself as the battles in France raged on. I also wasn’t mature enough to figure out the similarties between Walter’s (Anne’s second-oldest son, and Rilla’s favourite brother) poem The Piper and John MacRae’s In Flander’s Fields, or to catch the portrayal of Rilla as a symbol of Canada worth dying for. But it’s all there in this moving book, which I enjoyed even more the second time around.
Rilla of Ingleside contains very little of the lightness of the early Anne books – in fact, it’s rather deep and dark, and possibly works better as a standalone piece of fiction than the end of an iconic series. But it’s worth a read for its historical significance alone. I’ve never had so much fun writing a school paper before.
You know those books that everybody talks about but you haven’t read? And then they make a really well-received film about the book and then you feel like you can’t possibly go and see the film without reading the book? And then years pass and everyone has seen the movie or read the book except you and you just sort of smile and nod when people talk about it, because now you have to seek it all out on your own or risk being the person who can’t follow along with important cultural touchstones?
Well, for me, that’s The Reader.
I hadn’t really heard much about this book until the 2008 movie with Kate Winslet, but I didn’t want to see it until I had read it. And even though it won tons of awards and was part of the 2009 Academy Awards hosted by Hugh Jackman (in my opinion, the best Oscars ever – just check out the opening number!), I never got around to seeing it. Or reading it. To tell you the truth, I actually kind of forgot about it.
And then I came across a slightly beat-up copy at the thrift store and thought it was time to bite the bullet. I’m so glad I did. For a slim book, it deals with really weighty subject matter (is there ever a time when the Holocaust is light? I don’t think so). In fact, I learned a brand new word when I was trying to figure out how to describe The Reader – Vergangenheitsbewältigung. It means the struggle to come to terms with the past, and it is often used to describe post-1945 German culture and literature.
It’s the perfect word to describe The Reader, which is moving and confusing and sad – all the emotions that this type of book really ought to be. The Reader presents complicated issues and moral dilemmas in a way that isn’t always satisfying, but is very realistic. I thought about it for a long, long time when I was finished – and isn’t that the mark of very good writing?
Oh my goodness, I loved this book. My mom lent me this over the holidays and with a week off (and some house/cat sitting) this week, I’ve been diving into reading like a maniac.
I’m a sucker for books with unconventional narrators (Budo from Matthew Dicks’ Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, Death from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, etc.) and this is no exception. Enzo the dog is looking for meaning in his life, believing that a dog who is prepared can be reincarnated in the afterlife as a human. Apparently, Garth Stein was inspired by a Mongolian film titled State of Dogs, which (not being a Mongolian film aficionado) I’ve never heard of before, but now would really like to see. There’s a really lovely review from the Toronto Star here that incorporates an interview with Stein about the process of writing this book.
Enzo’s unfailing love for his owner Denny, his sharp and innocent observations and his bright energy make him a charming hero of a narrator, and there are plenty of great twists and turns that kept me reading all the way through. There’s lots of detail about race car driving in this one (Denny in the book is a race car driver, and evidently it’s a passion of Stein’s as well), which is apparently very accurate.
I read this lovely little book in one sitting with a mug of tea in one hand and a box of Kleenex in the other. It’s sweet and sad and charming and touching if you’re a dog lover. Samson got an extra pat on the head when this one was finished. He’s 15, and if he gets reincarnated as a human at the end of his life, he’ll be the loveliest (albeit laziest) man around.