my monday

My Monday: Like Water for Chocolate

O0, ah…

My choice this Monday, Like Water for Chocolate is my guiltiest pleasure. I’m no romantic, but this love story moved me and has stayed with me since first read.

I’m not sure if it was the magic, the mythology or the menu that drew me to this novel, but I found Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate completely irresistible.

“A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and in desperation he marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next 22 years Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all odds.”

Constructed around a culinary calendar, this novel is as much recipe book as it is love story and for me, with a weakness for cookbooks, this was always going to be a favourite. Couple this with the fact that it is a fine piece of magic realism, with more than a dash of absurdity, and it is securely in place in my top ten.

Esquivel’s use of imagery is very unique, at once symbolic and also surprisingly literal:

“The way Nacha tells it, Tita was literally washed into this world on a great tide of tears that spilled over the edge of the table and flooded across the kitchen floor. 

That afternoon, when the uproar had subsided and the water had been dried up by the sun, Nacha swept up the residue the tears had left of the red stone floor. There was enough salt to fill a ten-pound sack – it was used for cooking and lasted a long time.”

Similar to my last My Monday pick, Lessing’s The Memiors of a Survivor, the fantastic and starkly realistic are inseparable from each other. This makes Esquival’s novel a curiousity, a delightful mixture of myth and matter-of-fact.

The passion of the relationships in this book is intense. Readers are given a true sense of the hatred, the torment of desire. Tita’s love for Pedro is insurmountable, and the complexity of mother-daughter relationships is fascinating.

In short, this book gripped me. Even now, on re-reading the last three pages of the book for this review, it gave me chills, goose-bumps and a tickle of a tear.

What’s the most moving love story you’ve ever read?

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My Monday: Memoirs of a Survivor

I’ve got some pretty cool reviews lined up this week, but I just couldn’t bring myself to skip My Monday, especially since this week is a spooky pick.

I really like Halloween, and we’ve had a great time letting the kids pick out their costumes. We had a ball trick or treating this afternoon, and I had fun last night chatting to a friend about our favourite horror films of all time.

It got me thinking about some of the scarier books I’ve read over the years, and of course one of the first that came to mind was a novel that sits in my top five all-time favourites…Doris Lessing’s The Memoirs of a Survivor. 

It’s not a book of blood and gore, and it’s not horror in the same sense as the novels of, for instance, Stephen King or Clive Barker. It is, nonetheless terrifying in it’s confronting recollection of a dystopian society where:

“…reality is the everyday of a few years hence, when barbarism is what is normal, and each of us has to fight for survival – men, women, and even little children who are so brutalised by necessity they are more frightening than the ferocious adults. From her windows the narrator watches things fall apart, sees the migrating hordes seethe past in search of safety, the shelter, the good life that is always somewhere else.”

At the time, I wondered to myself, if this was how Londoners had felt during the recent London riots, as they watched news reports identifying disturbingly young looters committing theft and voilence.

As much as I like zombies, brains and gore (Dawn of the Dead, I am Legend, and 28 Days Later are amongst my favs) it is the horror of a post-apocolyptic world that gets under my skin the most. I recently worked out that this fascination started when I was a kid, when I read Z for Zachariah, by Robert C. O’Brien.  It’s since gone on to mean that my collection includes charming tales such as The Road, I am Legend and movies like Children of Men, 12 Monkeys and so on.

There are a few elements that make The Memoirs of a Survivor so memorable for me. Firstly, it’s rare that the protagonist in these types of stories is a woman. The unnamed female narrator’s placement at the centre of this story lends a compassion, a reflectiveness and a sense of heartbreak not usually seen in these types of novels. Her care for Emily throughout the story makes this novel multidimensional, dealing not only with disaster, but equally with issues of responsibility, nurturing and loyalty.

Secondly, a complete picture of the disaster which has brought about this dystopia is left unclear, making this post-apocolyptic memoir all the more powerful. Lessing’s cautionary tale could easily be interpreted as a warning against scenarios of war, extreme civil unrest or environmental catastrophe. One thing that is certain is that the trauma and subsequent brutality is unavoidable:

“I shall begin this account at a time before we were talking about ‘it’. We were still in the stage of generalised unease. Things weren’t too good, they were even pretty bad. A great many things were bad, breaking down, giving up, or ‘giving cause for alarm’ as the newscasts might put it. But ‘it’, in the sense of something felt as an immediate threat which could be not be averted, no.”

Finally, Doris Lessing is an absolute master at the genre of magic realism. Her fantasy is so matter-of-fact, so seamlessly integrated with the everyday that the real and fantastic become one. The reader is expected to completely accept all that is put in front of them, as fact. This mastery of a very challenging genre is a delight.

This is a smart book, a sensitive treatment of a sorrowful theme. Lessing is an incredibly talented author, and unless the world comes to a horrible end, I’m sure I’ve not read this book for the last time.

Do you like scary books? What was the last scary novel you read?

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My Monday…

As you know, I’ve been undertaking to read differently of late. This has meant that at the moment, the books on my reading pile have been largely chosen for me. This, so far, has been a successful experiment – I’ve discovered some new and exciting novels and experienced genres which up until now I’ve avoided. I’m looking forward to continuing this process for some time yet.

But, I’ll also admit that it’s made me miss my old books just a little. By this I mean the books that I’ve read and re-read, the authors which I follow religiously, and the books I love to pick up off my bookshelf regularly and flick through a couple of chapters.

And so, to give me an excuse to revisit, I’ve decided to have a little fun at the start of each week. I’m going to call it My Monday.

On My Monday, I’m going to share with you a personal favourite. I kind of hope this might give you some new reading ideas, but at the very least it will tell you a little bit more about me and my tastes, and maybe even shed a bit of light on why I’m just a little loopy, especially for reading.

So stay tuned this evening for my very first pick, I hope you like it…

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