Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

Written by an unnamed narrator,  The Friend is a novel that recounts how she came to take in a Great Dane dog into her 500 ft. square apartment in New York City. The previous owner of the dog committed suicide and his current wife did not want to keep the dog. 

It is difficult to describe the exact genre of this novel. Sometimes it is a memoir, a diary, a philosophical treatise on life and death, and an accounting of a relationship between two people - one living and one dead. 

The narrator is an English professor as was the owner of the dog. They had at one point had a brief amorous relationship and maintained their friendship throughout his subsequent marriages.  The prose contains many quotations form the lives of outstanding writers, especially Rainer Maria Rilke and Letters to a Young Poet. (Note to self - read this book). 

As the narrator adapts to life with Apollo, she fears that she will be homeless since the apartment in which she lives does not permit dogs. However, weighing that risk vs. turning the dog over to a shelter with the possibility of him being euthanized allows her to come to the decision of keeping him. He likes to be read to and he sleeps in her bed, so very much missing his former master. As she writes to and refers to "you." the man who has committed suicide, she reminisces about various workshops and encounters with students, especially one in particular that dealt with the victims of human trafficking. Throughout, she questions place of evil in the world and the value of life itself. 

The winner of the National Book Award. The Friend is a slim volume packed with ideas and themes for the reader to ponder. Foremost among those themes is grief and the grip it holds on people and dogs. By the end of the novel, the reader is assured that grief can enable life and allow someone to move on with grief becoming a part of that life. 

The twist at the end of the book will leave a bit of head scratching and pondering as to who really is the friend. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Cometh the Hour by Jeffrey Archer

At the conclusion of the previous novel in the Clifton Chronicles, Mightier then the Sword,  the verdict in the Lady Virginia Kenwick vs. Emma Barrington libel case was about to be read. The accompanying cliffhanger was the mysterious suicide note of Alex Fisher, MP. As the reader would expect the note would be a double edge sword: it could exonerate Emma, but could also ruin the political career of Giles. At a family pow-wow, it was decided not to disclose the contents of the note. And the reader is left to wondering what exactly it did say. 

Lady Virginia is one of the most scheming villains of any novel which I have read. In the installment she is facing being disowned by her father, which would cut off her monthly allowance. This would severely hamper the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed. She needs to figure out how to secure the money that is need to keep her in her comfortable life. And so she cooks up a preposterous scheme that involves a U.S. politician, engagement, and pregnancy. 

Harry Clifton continues to work to free Anatoly Babakov. This story line has contributed to some of the most dramatic of the novel. Emma Barrington is brought into this thread as she is called on to support Babakov's wife. 

Sebastian's life seems to be back on track after coming to terms with Samantha's marriage and Jessica's school life. He has an ally in Dr. Wolfe, head of the school who keeps informed as to Jessica's life there. Jessica is a delightful and precocious child and provides a bit of humor in an otherwise serious book. Sebastian meets Priya, an Indian woman, and falls head over heels in love with her. However, her parents have a different idea of what her future looks like. 

As in all of the Chronicles, there are twists and turns and suspense enough to make the reader hasten on to the last in the series.