Excuses and explanations done, then, I'll confess that as much as I'd wanted to spend more time telling you about Anthony Marra's wonderful, haunting, painful A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, all I'm going to say is that BuffaloGal was absolutely right when she commented that the novel about the damaged humanity left in the wake of the Second Chechen War, "it was brilliant- a story of love, loss, and what binds us together. Run- don't walk!! I can't get it out of my head" I finished the book a few weeks ago, and the characters are with me still. The setting is as well, I'm surprised to say -- much of it is a setting of devastation, to be honest, and depressing more than horrifying. A setting I'd prefer to consign to a Mad Max movie, one that lays bare humanity's willingness to hurt and destroy in the name of a cause or an idea or simply a hatred. But there are also small, persistent images of tentative hope, hope against better judgment, admittedly, often betrayed, yet just enough affirmation of goodness and strength and guarded tipping into love -- just enough to keep me mesmerised, reading forward through the pain.
Wonderful descriptions of the role of art in the novel, particularly its value, if any, in the face of obliterating, banal destruction. Often woven together with these descriptions is an ongoing meditation on the decaying of memory, the disappearance of an entity -- a sorrowful notion, yes, but rendered throughout in lyrical terms that will make you look away from the page for a moment or two and just consider. . . I love the narrator's voice as well, detached somewhat, yes, and omniscient, but with a wry care for the characters he tells us about -- often this narrator will tell us that a certain character will, 30 or 40 years' hence, do such-and-such an action. This inflects the novel's intense focus on a particular, destructive historical and geographic moment, putting it onto a much bigger canvas, time-wise at least, and arguably, by extrapolation, spatially as well. I think it also has the effect of emphasising the role of witness, a role (and a responsibility?) that I believe a novel like this invites us to take up. My life is undeniably privileged, but at the very least, I can be attentive to the world's sorrows so that I might use that privilege as responsibly as possible. Pursuing this concept here would lead me into a much longer post than I have time for (See? Eyes bigger than my stomach again! Mom was right!), so I'll leave it at that. . . Thank you BuffaloGal for recommending this and I second your advice to other readers: Run, don't walk! Read this book.
Just quickly, now, to list a few mysteries I've read lately:
Julia Keller's Bitter River. As with the first in this series featuring West Virginia prosecutor Bell Elkins, I enjoyed this well enough once the rhythm got established quite a few chapters in. I couldn't help but be irritated by the references to the events of the last novel, and overall, I wished for more editing. There are too many metaphors, too much figurative language altogether, and for me at least, too much "folksy," for want of a better word. I like the characters, like the setting well enough, the plotting was satisfying, and I would probably read another in the series, but I won't rush to find one as I have with other mysteries (the two below being examples).
Donna Leon's Quietly in their Sleep (alternatively titled The Death of Faith) -- fifth in the Commissario Guido
Denise Mina's Field of Blood. Also lucky to have just discovered Mina, via my blogging buddy Sue at High Heels in the Wilderness. This title is the first in a series featuring young journalist Paddy Meehan, and I'm already hooked by the way Mina captures the hopes and fears and impatiences of an 18-year-old looking out at the exciting possibilities of city life from her hermetic family and community neighbourhood.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm really on a blogging break and I have some books to read. . . Comments? You know I love them, although I hope you'll understand if I hold back responding while on my vacation.