A Reliable Wife

In ways, a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but with the added element of a taboo, nearly incestuous, sexual affair (or perhaps this should be plural sexual affairs). This book was recommended to me by someone at the library and was met with some approval when it was published last year.

Despite the (at times) overly melodramatic descriptions of winter in Wisconsin and the annoyingly deluded thoughts of the mail-order-bride-turned-reliable-wife, there is an interesting story about deception and love-- and every possible combination of those two themes. The book however is far from chaste, everyone in the novel is a sex crazed maniac and an inundation of violence and sorrow visit every character indiscriminately.


Beatrice and Virgil

I hurried to finish Martel's newest novel in time to decide if it would be a good birthday gift for a friend. The second novel written by the author of Life of Pi also casts animals as major characters, only this time instead of being face to face with a tiger on a raft, the narrator is face to face with animals in a taxidermist's store and work room.

The novel almost seamless integrates two seemingly unrelated stories about a  failed Holocaust novel written by Henry (the narrator who shares some resemblance to Martel) and a bizarre relationship that he later builds with a socially-outcast taxidermist who requests his writing advice.

Martel obviously and purposely shows of his skills of description by exploiting all of the senses while writing a scene where a donkey describes a pear to a howler monkey, and again when the narrator gives writing advices to the taxidermist-turned-writer of the play starring these two unlikely friends.

I say almost seamlessly because I found the ending of the novel somewhat abrupt and contrived after all of the beautiful descriptions of Beatrice and Virgil, as well as some of the other animals in the taxidermist's shop. The novel was saturated with metaphors about writing and human (or animal) interactions and relationships, but the final pages of the book shift gears entirely. Whether this is a shortcoming of the novel or a purposeful technique in juxtaposing the good with the bad, the beautiful with the ugly is unclear to me, but I did immensely enjoy the novel and Martel's writing style and look forward to seeing more of his writing. Or maybe I too just have a weakness for animals.


The Time Traveler's Wife


I heard about this novel some month back on NPR when they were doing a piece on a similar, but more recently published, biography titled Passing Strange: a gilded age tale of love and deception across the color line. Both books address the issue of individuals attempting to pass as another race. It later appeared on NPRs suggested reading list which I peruse periodically.

In Passing Strange, the author attempts the difficult job of piecing together a biography from letters and records in an effort to explain why a white man who worked for the US government passed as African American for 13 years. Nella Larsen's novel written 80 years before deals with the more commonplace occurrence of light-skinned African American passing for white for a variety of social or financial reasons.

The novel unfolds itself very simply by reuniting three female friends who went to school together but have lost touch after marrying and having children. Though each of these woman can pass for white, they have each decided to follow different courses in life. One marries a black doctor and lives her life as a black woman. The second marries a white man who is well aware that she is black but doesn't care. However, the third has found herself married to a rich white man who does not know about her heritage and is a bigot and a racist.