The Shoemaker’s Wife

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The Shoemaker's Wife (Photo: HarperCollins)A copy of The Shoemaker’s Wife came into my possession after my mom’s book club read it last month. A sweeping epic about Italian migrants to America in the early 20th century wouldn’t be my normal go-to reading, but that’s the joy of book clubs (both mine and other people’s). They expose you to things you wouldn’t normally pick for yourself and it’s nice to get out of your comfort zone.

Not that my comfort zone isn’t sweeping romantic family sagas, because it often is. My favourite book is Gone With The Wind and I also have a soft spot for The Thorn Birds, which I was probably much too young for when I read it at 14. The Shoemaker’s Wife is probably a lot more similar to the latter than the former, and despite its size, it’s a good, pacey read. I liked that the majority of the book was told from the man’s point of view, which is a different take on the general norm for historic romantic novels.

It’s no Gone With The Wind – and hey, it’s no Thorn Birds either – but it was pretty good for what it is, and with so much going on, I can see why it’s a popular book club pick.

 

Petite Anglaise

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Well hm. I didn’t really like this one.

Petite Anglaise by Catherine Sanderson has all the trappings of a book I should like – based on a successful blog (http://petiteanglaise.com), chic English-speaking woman moves to France, etc. But unlike the books I read when I was in my full-blown Francophile phase last fall (French Women Don’t Get Fat and Bringing Up Bebe. Don’t ask me why I read either of these while staying at my friend Amy’s house last fall. I neither need to go on a diet nor am I rearing a child), this one left a very sour taste in my mouth.

Why? It’s about a woman who starts to feel disconnected from her long-term partner (who she has a young child with) and then, instead of communicating with him like a normal person, TAKES TO THE INTERNET to blog about her loneliness and relationship woes, and eventually meets another guy, with whom she has an affair. As a former colleague of mine would say, what the actual?

Affairs bother me so much at the best of times (I speak from zero personal experience here, I just think that it’s the ultimate betrayal and I’d prefer to believe in true, Disney-style love. Call my glasses rose-tinted and my outlook idyllic, but for goodness’ sake, if there’s something going wrong in your relationship, there are lots of other things to do besides have an affair), but Petite Anglaise’s affair seemed like a bit of an overreaction to her situation. For example, if it really wasn’t working out, Petite Anglaise could have MADE A CLEAN BREAK, sparing her partner and her daughter (who is surely going to grow up and Google her mom at some point) considerable embarrassment and anguish. Or she could have SHUT UP ABOUT HER LONELINESS AND MARITAL PROBLEMS ON THE INTERNET ALREADY. In the end, her blog ended up costing her a relationship as well as her job.

(In case you are wondering, this is why this blog is primarily about books. The people in my day-to-day life don’t need me dragging their names – even as pseudonyms – through my judgemental insecurity and loneliness in the style of Petite Anglaise. Blogging like that just sort of seems like a desperate cry for attention, which is not really the way I roll. And I’d like to think that if I were to meet a nice guy and start dating him, he’d never, ever be worried about what I might write about him on the internet. Because really, that’s just not cool.)

I read Petite Anglaise because it was facing out on a shelf at the library and it was about an English-speaking expat who moved to France. But I’m not sure it’s a memoir I’d recommend. It made me feel disheartened about love, and that’s never a nice emotion for an author to leave you with. I’m glad I read it at the library and didn’t fork over any money for it, because I was disappointed in her.

Committed

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Committed (Photo: Bloomsbury)I know it’s kind of cliched now, but I really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, which I got for Christmas several years ago (and pre-Julia Roberts movie). I re-read it in the fall of 2012 when I was going through a breakup (breakups, I’ve learned, make for pretty crazy reading choices. At this time, I also actively sought out several books about French women dieting and/or raising children – not a literary inclination I’ve ever had before or since. In retrospect, that was a very odd phase of my life that culminated with my purchase of a jaunty pink beret and ended as suddenly as it started).

What I appreciate very much about Elizabeth Gilbert is the frankness and honesty with which she discusses every element of her life. Committed sort of picks up where Eat, Pray, Love leaves off. She’s got the guy, they’re doing the international, border-hopping, dating thing and then they get thwarted by American customs officials, the Ruiners of International Relationships. Basically, unless Elizabeth and her guy tie the knot, he won’t be allowed in the United States anymore. But … cue the crisis … both of them have decided that after their disastrous and devastating divorces from their first partners, neither one of them is the marrying type. So what are they going to do?

It’s here that Gilbert breaks from the personal narrative for a bit to explore what commitment looks like in different cultures around the world – with or without pomp, fanfare and a ring. It’s well-researched, deeply touching and quite a lot of fun. Not a lot of books written for women or by women focus on the question of ‘Why don’t I want to get married?’ and it’s pretty apparent that Gilbert approaches the task from a place of introspection and curiosity.

Committed is certainly a more facts-and-figures type tome than the breezy, diary-like feel of Eat, Pray, Love, but I kind of liked that about it. I like that Gilbert wonders about her life in the context of the wider world and that she enters into her personal quest for information about marriage in culture with a very open mind. She’s a really great interviewer.Research, according to this great review from The New Yorker that contrasts Committed with Eat, Pray, Love, is Gilbert’s coping mechanism. Sometimes I think it may be mine, too.

It’s refreshing to hear about how she found love after a devastating break-up and how she and her partner are creating their own relationship on their own terms. I guess it’s kind of hopeful, in its own neurotic, well-researched way. It made me feel hopeful, anyway. And it made me think, which is what good writing is always supposed to make you do.

 

Safe Haven

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Safe Haven (Photo: Hachette Book Group)I know. Nicholas Sparks. I know, I know, I know.

I went through a minor Nicholas Sparks phase in high school when the movie version of A Walk To Remember came out – and then again briefly during my first degree when The Notebook was in the theatres. I actually watched The Notebook before I read it. I watched it on a plane while travelling home from Toronto to Calgary alone (I think it must have been Thanksgiving, in the days where Air Canada still showed movies on planes) and before I could stop myself, I was bawling all over the place. A nice elderly lady shared a bag of Scotch mints with me and I’m sure she thought that I was crazy. That was the extent of my Nicholas Sparks phase.

My childhood friend Stephanie has been in town for a few weeks while she waits for some paperwork to go through so she can return to the Cayman Islands (I have the neatest friends. I love them). Having been through the misery of waiting on international visas before (three times!), one of the best things you can do is distract yourself, so we’ve been going to a lot of movies. And because Safe Haven is out and I have quite a lot of love for Julianne Hough of Dancing With The Stars fame (I also liked Rock of Ages and the Footloose remake far more than is socially acceptable), we decided to go.I thought it was only fair to read it before we went to the movie.

Surprisingly (or really, unsurprisingly), it wasn’t that bad. Nicholas Sparks is Nicholas Sparks, of course, but both the man and woman managed to stay alive, there are a couple of cute kids and an interesting twist with a ghost that actually reads much better in the book than it plays out in the movie. It was a quick and predictable read, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. It’s the perfect sort of thing to read in the bathtub, and I finished it within a couple of hours.

Plus, while I wouldn’t say I read this book ironically, this is really, really funny.