|Barkskin by Annie Proulx
I usually enjoy Proulx’s writing very much. Her earlier novels, The Shipping News and collection of short stories, Close Range: Wyoming Stories (including Brokeback Mountain) were a joy to read. But, this 717 page story is heavy handed from the start. The plot follows English and French settlers to the early Canadian region. These newbies force out indigenous people, cut down timber, spread disease, inflict the concept of individual ownership and more, all in the name of entitlement and progress. Eillima T. Vollmann, in a NYT review, agrees that the novel could be a little less preachy: “Annie Proulx is on the side of the angels. We need more writers like her to hammer home the message that we had better stop mistreating one another and our planet. Unfortunately, hammering is just what she does …'” I thought I could stick with it, but skipping to the middle and end pages, I felt that the “hammering” did not ebb. With relief, I moved on to another book in my stack.
|The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Author Catton was awarded the 2013 Man Booker Prize for this novel. The 826 pages takes some dedication to wade through, but at heart it is a love story. Catton uses astrological signs to divine purpose in events. But if you don’t understand the moon and the stars device, it’s OK. The story is still engrossing. A review by Bill Roorbach of the NYT’s Sunday Book Review notes, “The setting, circa 1866, is the gold rush town of Hokitika, in the wild southwest of New Zealand, a place where the Maori had long sought greenstone. A type of jade, as a quick Internet search reveals, and holy. It took European settlers to notice the unholy gold, great chunks of it wedged between boulders in the Hokitika River, and more buried everywhere. The town is only a few years old, but already there are mansions on the hillsides. And a jail in progress. A busy courthouse. And a newspaper. Ships coming in and out of a treacherous harbor daily, sometimes foundering. Saloons in hotels alongside brothels and banks.” It’s a doozy of a 832 page read and it’s sometimes difficult to keep all the characters straight. It’s currently being filmed by the BBC for a TV drama. Can’t wait to see it. Just the images of New Zealand will be captivating.