The Arsonist by Sue Miller

A funny thing happened on the way to the iPad.

I had downloaded Sue Rimingtons “Close Call” from my local library.  It had been sitting there for a couple of days and I was looking forward to it.  So I tapped the icon to open it and had a moment of confusion.  Something was wrong.  I closed the book then re-opened it with the same result.  The header said I was to read the book of my choice but the content was different.  And so it was page after page.  Somehow the wrong book had downloaded with the right header.  See what I mean.

sue miller - the arsonist

It was out of library hours so I couldn’t do anything about the mistake so I started to read this unsolicited book and got a pleasant surprise.  The Arsonist by Sue Miller turned out to be a well told and interesting story.

There is a well blended mixture of aid workers in Africa, life in a small country American community, retirement, Alzheimer’s, an arsonist at work, producing a small town newspaper, the divisions which occur in a town over local issues, and of course, a love story to tie all threads together.

I found it quite seamless as it moved from setting to setting with different combinations of characters.  There was never any confusion as to the people being written about and that to me is one of the most important skills that an author can have.  To use as few words as possible when introducing a character but words so well chosen that you immediately have a mental image of the person

In one of the threads the character who is showing signs of Alzheimer’s Disease is very believable, gradually showing more signs of the progression of the illness.  The author mentions Philip Larkins’ poem “The Old Fools”.  I found it interesting how she just casually wove the name into the story.  I wonder if it was her way of saying, Hey Reader, it’s time you learnt a bit more about this subject.  It wasn’t until I had finished the book that  I decided to check this out .found a whole Bibliography of Alzheimer’s in Poetry.

Larkin begins …..

What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
And you keep on pissing yourself, and can't remember
Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose,
They could alter things back to when they danced all night,
Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
Or do they fancy there's really been no change,
And they've always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming
Watching the light move? If they don't (and they can't), it's strange;
			Why aren't they screaming?

Some writers think that Larkin is showing compassion.  I fail to see it.  I find him incredibly cruel.  When our children are growing we take great pride in every little step that takes them closer to adulthood.  We are patient with them (well most of the time) and respect the fact that they are going through a learning experience.. And  I hope most of us show respect and compassion to those who are going through what might be thought of as a rather disorganized reverse procedure,  where both mind and body  start losing the physical and mental skills learned so long ago.

I say Well Done, Sue Miller.  I haven’t read  any of your books before but I would definitely like to read more.  Meanwhile the Library is still trying to work out what happened to my book of choice.

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Looking Forward, Looking Back

Looking forward, looking back
I’ve come a long way down the track
Got a long way left to go   ———-with regard to reading——-

These are the first lines of a song by the father of Australian country music, Slim Dusty.   I haven’t been enjoying my reading the last couple of weeks – I can look back on some good reads and looking forward I have a most promising list, but that couple of weeks in between has been a bit dismal.

First it was Ghostwritten by David Mitchell.  After worshipping at the feet of this author all through Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green I suddenly found he had feet of clay. I just couldn’t find any interest in Ghostwritten.  It is a forerunner of Cloud Atlas in that it is broken into several sections, each in a different place with a different character but with links between the various episodes.  Perhaps it was me but a lot of the time I just couldn’t understand what was going on.  Much too subtle for me or perhaps a lack of understanding of Asian culture. That woman up the mountain talking to her tree – is it part of her culture or is she  a bit confused in the  mind to put it politely.  But I did find  some interest in her  storyline which showed the effect of the different waves of rulers in China

And what was going on in Mongolia?  There seemed to be a spirit moving in and out of different people which left me totally confused as to who was who.  I felt I was kept in the dark too much with background information which was too vague for me to wrap the characters up in nice little bundles.  I didn’t have this trouble with Cloud Atlas .

I read a couple of library books  and I can’t even remember what they were about.  And there was Stella Rimington, the MI5 director,  and her spy novel The Geneva Trap.  She is a good story teller and it fitted in well after reading Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth. Both are spy related stories dealing with the British intelligence Service.

But now I am book-happy again.  I have given in at last and am using my iPad in bed at night. It’s much less of a strain on my eyes. I’m re-reading Elizabeth Gaskells’s Wives and Daughters.  Such an easy read.  And then my main daytime  read at the moment – I don;t know  why hadn’t I come across this before – is a slim volume by  Simon Winchester – The Surgeon of Crowthorne. This tells the story of the men behind the herculean task of putting together the  first Oxford English Dictionary. Brilliant minds, murder, insanity and friendship in a well researched true story.

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This is to be followed by Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, a 900+ page tome.  This was recommended by my librarian and tells of cracking WWII codes and moves into the storage of computer data in our digital age. The two eras alternate in the story with the descendants of the characters in the war era dealing with the technology of the present. I must admit I  can never resist anything cryptic.

Have you noticed though how I have given up my independence and now am a meek and mild little hanger-on, always reading what other people have talked/written about..  I think I might qualify as stalker-in-chief of the book blogs, the freeloader, the groupie, as that is where I find the inspiration of  so much of my reading these days

And just because ……Imagewith regrets that I don’t know the source of this.