Nah, I didn't read any Chaucer this month. I'm overdue for a reread, actually. Maybe I'll get to that in May... or June, the way this month is already flying by. I just couldn't seem to get arsed to write promptly about any of the books I read in April. But here we go.
First up, The Bees by Laline Paull. This was the rare work of fiction that The Dave read first and recommended. His track record is very good at predicting the intersecting portion of the Venn diagram of what he enjoys compared to what I'll enjoy. I would likely never have read The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffinegger or Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke except for his reco. So, he's a good picker. (Hey, wait, all three of those books were debut novels by women. I love a good coincidence!)
Like those books, The Bees creates a fully realized, highly believable world with interesting characters, rituals and distinct cultural history without the crutch of an ungrammatical or weirdly punctuated language or exhausting explication. It's about, well, bees. A specific bee, actually, who's born into a specific role within the hive but with natural abilities that allow her and compel her to become more. It's a fascinating tale that explores how one's "destiny" as defined by society does not have to be one's fate. Beautifully written, this one had me turning pages and leaving the light on far too late.
Hell's Cartel: IG Farben and the Making of Hitler's War Machine by Diarmuid Jeffreys came next. Wow. I just had no idea, none, about how willingly and enthusiastically massive German businesses supported and enabled the Third Reich. I'm embarrassed to admit that. But learning late is better than learning never.
It was also a recommendation, this time by a colleague, who brought it up as a digression in a discussion around Trump and the strange, scary way utterly unvarnished racism has somehow become permissable in American political discourse.
I picked it up back before Christmas and it took me a few months to find the gumption to get into it. (I'm tempted to make a Leni Riefenstahl Triumph of the Will reference, but maybe I should leave that unsaid. Oops, too late.) Anyway, once I did get immersed, it was actually a riveting read about both the emergence and considerable genius of the German chemical industry and about how there is no inherent moral core to business doing business. Recommended reading, for sure.
I know I read The Rebel Wife by Taylor Polites next, but not much of it stayed with me. About a young widow whose husband dies from sort of contagious fever-y, bloody illness, it takes place in Post-Civil War Alabama. The widow never much captured my attention or my sympathy. I'm not sure the author was all that emotionally invested in her either. I find myself remembering more about some of the side characters: the dead husband, a slaver turned abolitionist; the "mammy", a woman slave whose own babies had died before she became a wet nurse many years before; the drunkard former Confederate soldier turned Klansman; a husband and wife who are also former slaves who set out to establish a new life far away. Lots of possibilities for a riveting story without focus on the passive, insipid, not-very-rebellious Rebel Wife.
I'm pretty sure Saving Sophie by Ronald H. Balson was written in hopes of a movie deal. A conventional thriller, it involves a widower-lawyer whose daughter is kidnapped by some pretty stereotypical baddies, in this case orchestrated by the girl's Palestinian grandfather. If the book was written today, the bad guys would be Syrian, in the 80s, Russian, in the 40s, Nazis... You have read this book even if you haven't read this book. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it.
And speaking of years past, Spadework by Timothy Findley reminded how long ago the 90s really were. The Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal nonsense is played out in the background of this character drama. People really did paint her as the villain of that piece. It now seems like such a (thankfully) dated perspective, and it kept pulling me out of the main story.
The main story, though, I enjoyed a lot. It is set in Stratford, Ontario and features The Stratford Festival as a backdrop with little cameos of a few theatrical titans (William Hutt, for example, rest in peace) and, of course, the famous swans. The story revolves around relationships, fidelity and ambition. So you see how the Clinton bits fit.
I found this novel to be less challenging and more easily torn through than what I usually expect from Timothy Findley. I mean, Not Wanted on the Voyage absolutely enraged me as I read it though I could not put it down. Headhunter baffled me on first read and enchanted me on second. Spadework is much more meh than either of those. Why yes, that is a technical term. But still, better than a lot of what I read (she says honestly) so no complaints.
So, having ploughed through descriptions of my April books, I'm not sure why I was so daunted to begin. I'll try to get May done on schedule. If I'm not too busy with The General Prologue.