Monday, May 17, 2010

The Shadow of Her Smile by Mary Higgins Clark

If it is April, it must be that Mary Higgins Clark has a new book. The latest from the popular mystery writer is The Shadow of Her Smile. As is usually the case, the novel concerns itself with a larger issue than the murder mystery. In this book, beatification of a former nun serves as the background for the story.

Olivia Morrow, an octogenarian, has been told that she has very little time left to live by her doctor. She is in possession of papers that contain a family secret about her cousin, Catherine, a nun, who because of her ability to heal those suffering from a terminal disease, is in the final stages of the beatification process. While in her teens Catherine gave birth in Ireland to a boy who was given up for adoption. Olivia is conflicted as to whether to divulge the secret or take it to the grave with her.

Monica Farrell is a pediatrician at a small hospital in New York who has treated a small boy with brain cancer who was miraculously cured. She is also very active in trying to secure a grant for her hospital from the Gannon foundation so that the pediatric unit could be expanded and become state of the art. As the novel begins Dr. Farrell is treating a Sally, a toddler for asthma and pneumonia. Sally's mother, Reneé Carter, is mysteriously absent and is being cared for by a nanny. Monica is also celebrating the miraculous remission of Carlos Garcia's leukemia.

As is typical of Mary Higgins Clark's books, the numerous characters - Monica, Olivia, Dr. Clayton Hadley, Alex Gannon, Greg Gannon, Reneé Carter, Tony Garcia, and Ryan Jenner are all interconnected. Tony Garcia drives Olivia Morrow to the cemetery where Catherine is buried and proves to be the fulcrum on which the novel hinges.

There are the perfunctory murders, blackmail, and stalking. This is not one of MHC's best efforts. It was fairly easy to solve and not much of a thriller. It did keep my interest and was a good light read after Suite Français. The topic of beatification and medical miracles was an interesting subplot and one that provokes some extended attention. I will await next April's publication with the hope that Clark can regain the skill with which she used to write the involved and complicated novel.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

Suite Française is a posthumously novel published by Irène Némirovsky, a Russian Jew who lived in Paris during the German occupation. It had originally been intended to be a five-part work, modeled after a Beethoven symphony. However, Némirovsky was arrested and deported in 1942 and eventually died at Auschwitz before the work was completed. The work that exists today was found in a suitcase by her daughters Denise and Elizabeth who could not bear to read their mother's words. The novel was eventually published in 2005.

The first part of the novel is "Storm in June" and recounts the massive exodus of Parisians at the time of the German occupation through the eyes and actions people of people trying to flee the city. The Péricands are a wealthy family who have their servants pack all their belongings for them. They will be traveling to Nimes. Gabriel Corté, a writer, is fleeing with his mistress. The Michauds are a couple that work for a Parisian banker. They originally believed that they would be evacuated with the rest of the bank workers, but were left behind when there was no room for them. They were given orders to meet the bankers by a given time. Charles Langelet goes it alone by trying to steal gasoline from unsuspecting motorists. At times comical, poignant and very satiric, this movement of the symphony is allegro.

The second part of the novel is "Dolce" and is told through the eyes of Lucille Angellier whose husband is a prisoner of war. Her disdain for him because of his unfaithfulness leads her down the path of guilt as she must come to grips with her romantic feelings for Bruno, a German soldier who is billeted in the house that she shares with her mother-in-law. Their platonic relationship grows into what will more than likely become a romantic one. Or will it? To complicate matters, a German officer is shot by a local hunter and Lucille is drawn into the situation when asked to harbor the criminal. The novella is the adagio movement, told slowly and serenely. The descriptions are incredibly beautiful with the reader dwelling on each phrase as to breathe in the scene that is being created.

Némirovsky was a devout fan of Tolstoy's War and Peace and also Turgenev and Chekhov. As we think what would have been if she had finished this literary symphony, we can only surmise that it would have been on equal standing with Tolstoy's masterpiece. She was an accomplished writer at the time of her death and we can be thankful that at least we have a portion of her masterly crafted opus magnus.