Discovered a new author, new to me anyway, when I was poking around the Well Red Coyote book store some months back. Novelist Linda Olsson divides her time between her native Stockholm, Sweden, and Auckland, New Zealand. Amidst all that back and forthing she writes wonderful novels, two of which—The Memory of Love and Sonata for Miriam—I’ve now read.
Marion Flint, the protagonist in Memory of Love, is in her mid-fifties, living a small and quiet life on the New Zealand coast. The calamitous event upon which Olsson’s plot turns is firmly under wraps. One thread at a time, Olsson unspools Marion’s past—primary relationships upended, a turbulent childhood, a love relationship gone asunder. Then she begins reweaving each past trauma upon the warp of Marion’s present—the young boy whose life she is trying to save, a career at a standstill, the widowed neighbor whom she barely acknowledges.
Many times I see where a novel’s going; the red herrings are, if not completely obvious, swimming pretty close to the surface. But in Memory of Love, and in Sonata for Miriam, I was so involved in the story, so enmeshed in Olsson’s fiction, that the inevitable plot implosions took me as much by surprise as they did her protagonists. It was delightful to be so involved in an author’s worlds that I was shocked in real time right alongside her main characters’ experience of them. Next up for me is Olsson’s Astrid and Veronika.
And, 2 more … Woman Upstairs & Beautiful Ruins
Getting a jump on my book club I’ve already read the June and July offerings: The Woman Upstairs (Claire Messud) and Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter). The first page of Woman had me laughing out loud and applauding within. Nora Eldrige is an elementary school teacher, the one whom everyone counts on and no one really sees. Not the artist, mother or even lover she once dreamed of being, Nora is shaken from her fortress of beige when the Shahid family comes to town. Alas, I liked the first page better than much of the rest of the novel.
Beautiful Ruins, on the other hand, mesmerized me. The book opens in Porto Vergogna, Italy, the fictional and flailing step-sister of a town adjacent to the five seaside gems known as Cinque Terre. Cleopatra is in the midst of being filmed, Richard Burton has gotten with bambino one of the film’s actresses (not Liz). There’s a young innkeeper with big and unrealistic dreams, a creepily over face-lifted Hollywood producer and an army veteran who returns to the inn year after year to write a novel that never quite materializes past the first chapter. It was a crazy quilt of a novel that Walter pulled together so sweetly and deftly. It’s the kind of book that leaves you smiling and sighing with gentle empathy for the characters and all they have withstood.
I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, tell me what you’re reading. Please, add a comment below. Even better, let’s share this conversation with friends. Take a moment and click on the blue-“f” Facebook icon (there’s one at the top and bottom of this column). Invite friends to come read along with you.