This installment: a psychological thriller (f); Le Guin’s last essays (nf); a contemporary ghost story (f); Irish domestic confusion (f); a spoof of the human potential movement (f); and a kids’ book on CD that covers broad territories delightfully (f).
The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan
Jo and her young daughter Ruby never intended to return to the family manse in England, but Jo’s American husband died, leaving them in financial straits. Jo—then known as Jocelyn—loved her nanny Hannah who disappeared when she was 7. Now Hannah shows up in the nick of time; Jo needs childcare so she can go back to work. But Ruby is frightened of Hannah and Jo’s chilly, aristocratic mother Virginia seems bent on shaping Ruby to a life and attitude that Jo hates. There’s a body in the lake, a lot of confusion, and a very surprising ending. Quite a psychological thriller!
No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin
Subtitled Thinking About What Matters. A collection of essays written from 2010 to 2013. Subjects: aging, cats, literature, society, music, nature—eclectic and charming. A light touch though strong feelings come through as they must. A chance to hang out with Le Guin which almost feels intimate and is very welcome, especially now that she’s gone.
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
I spent a delightfully solitary New Year’s Eve scaring myself silly with this contemporary ghost story. Rowan is a nanny tasked with a very demanding job. The isolated house is loaded with technology, possible spirits, and 4 very difficult charges. Mom and Dad, architects, turn this over to her with a 90-page binder of instructions and go away. Rowan has a murky past, we discover. There’s a handyman/groundskeeper, Jake, who seems like a saving grace until…And did I forget to mention the poison garden? Ooh—deliciously chilling.
Grace After Henry by Eithne Shortall
Grace’s young husband dies suddenly in a grotesque bicycling accident (the scarf she knitted him got tangled in the wheel, he fell over, and a lorry flattened him). She’s in their new house but utterly undone. She’s barely emerging from her grief when who should appear: his double! Literally. Adam had a twin, adopted and whisked away to Australia, who’s now come to find his roots. Adam’s parents never told him he was adopted. Very confusing, very tempting, especially when she discovers she’s three months’ pregnant, but Grace has enough wisdom to recognize the moral and ethical tangles that might ensue if Andy slipped into Adam’s place (an outcome Adam’s mother yearns for). A thoughtful, charming book from Ireland.
On The Edge by Edward St. Aubyn
I like this British author very much and though I have some quibbles with this particular novel, I want to share it here because it’s such a wicked send-up of the Human Potential Movement (which I’ve had considerable exposure to). All these seekers from England end up at Esalen after other sojourns at Findhorn, the “Lakoda” reservation (big quibble there), and other power centers in American. It ends in a kind of Midsummer Night’s Dream raunchy conclusion in which most get their dreams fulfilled. Very silly but such a tempting target.
Strange Birds by Celia C. Perez
Subtitled A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers, this kid’s book which I listened to on CD covers broad territories with grace: the environment, class and race—heavy subjects deftly handled. Four 12-year-old girls are drawn together in Florida. Each is an outsider of sorts and they form a club to challenge the Flores, a local institution that features an iconic hat made of feathers from endangered birds. One girl is African-American, one Latina, one Caribbean, and the last white, rich, and miserable. They get into all kinds of scrapes, some extremely funny, some pretty scary. Delightful, especially in the ear—all those accents.
Back next week.