Book choice for September

Buddha Da by Anne Donovan [suggested by Mair Morgan]

front cover

Anne Marie's Da, a Glaswegian painter and decorator, has always been game for a laugh.  So when he first takes up meditation at the Buddhist Centre, no one takes him seriously (especially when his pursuit of the new lama ends in a trip round the Carmunnock bypass).  But as Jimmy becomes more involved in a search for the spiritual, his beliefs start to come into conflict with the needs of his wife, Liz.  Cracks appear in their apparently happy family life, and the ensuing events change the lives of each family member.

(Review from amazon.co.uk)

Winner of the 1997 Macallan/Scotland on Sunday short story competition and a Canongate Prize winner in 2000, Anne Donovan's stories have been widely anthologised and broadcast on radio.  Hieroglyphics was her first collection of short stories.  Buddha Da is her first novel, and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize.  She lives in Glasgow.  And that's pretty much your lot - no website, no Wikipedia entry.  A bit of a recluse, then?

 

Shortlisted for this month

The Blind Assassin [suggested by Simon Henshall]

The Blind Assassin

Synopsis

"It's loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward," writes Margaret Atwood, towards the end of her impressive and complex new novel, The Blind Assassin.  It's a melancholic account of why writers write - and readers read - and one that frames the different lives told through this book.  The Blind Assassin is (at least) two novels.  At the end of her life, Iris Griffen takes up her pen to record the secret history of her family, the romantic melodrama of its decline and fall between the two World Wars.  Conjuring a world of prosperity and misery, marriage and loneliness, the central enigma of Iris's tale is the death of her sister, Laura Chase, who "drove a car off a bridge" at the end of the Second World War.  Suicide or accident?  The story gradually unfolds, interspersed with sketches of Iris's present-day life - confined by age and ill-health - and a second novel, The Blind Assassin by Laura Chase.  Allowing a glimpse into a clandestine love affair between a privileged young woman and a radical "agitator" on the run, this version of The Blind Assassin is an overt act of seduction: the exchange of sex and story about an imaginary world of Sakiel-Norn (a play with the potential, and convention, of fantasy and sci-fi).

With the intelligence, subtlety and remarkable characterisation associated with Atwood's writing (from her first novel, The Edible Woman through to the best-selling Alias Grace), these two stories play with one another - sustaining an uncertainty about who has done what to who and why to the very end of this compelling book.

(Review by Vicky Lebeau from amazon.co.uk)

About the Author

Visit her website (an annoying fixed and tiny window on her world) or read her rather dry entry on Wikipedia

The Corrections [suggested by Lisa Williams]

The Corrections

Synopsis

Critically lauded and an Oprah Book Club choice, Jonathan Franzen's third novel The Corrections is already a huge success in the US, and it's none too difficult to see why.  Whereas his earlier novels, The Twenty-Seventh City and StrongMotion could be seen as single-issue works (on inner city decay and abortion respectively), the long-awaited The Corrections is far more grandiose in its ambition and its scale.

Framed by matriarch Enid Lambert's attempts to gather her three grown children back home for Christmas, The Corrections examines their lives: Enid's husband Alfred, sinking into dementia, her sons banker Gary and writer Chip (now in Lithuania) and daughter Denise, a chef, busily re-evaluating her sexual identity.

With these characters, Franzen gives himself plenty of room to examine the foibles, fears, hopes, anxieties and neuroses of 21st-century American life and the mad Lithuanian subplot provides some real laughs.  But most striking and surprising about The Corrections is its reassuring normality.  Despite all its well-signposted dysfunction, this remains at heart a big sprawling family saga, with all the security that implies.  The book closes with Enid noting "that current events in general were more muted or insipid nowadays than they'd been in her youth" during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Now, "disasters of this magnitude no longer seemed to befall the United States".  It's a line Franzen couldn't have written after 11 September, 2001 - and, perhaps because of its now forgotten confidence, The Corrections is a book that readers will take to their hearts.

(Review by Alan Stewart from amazon.co.uk)

About the Author

Jonathan Franzen was born near Chicago in August, 1959, and grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.  After graduating from Swarthmore College, in 1981, he studied at the Freie Universit�t in Berlin as a Fulbright scholar and later worked in a seismology lab at Harvard University's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.  He is the author of three novels: The Twenty-Seventh City (1988), Strong Motion (1992), The Corrections (2001) � a collection of essays, How to Be Alone (2002), and a memoir, The Discomfort Zone (2006).  His honors include a Whiting Writers Award in 1988, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996, the American Academy's Berlin Prize in 2000, and the National Book Award (for The Corrections) in 2001.  He writes frequently for The New Yorker, and he lives in New York City.

Jonathan Franzen personal website
Jonathan Franzen Wikipedia entry

Previous Months' Book Choices

August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006