Sunday, July 29, 2007

What a kindness

It seems that the library knew that I'd be coming down from my Harry rush and so supplied me with a literary cushion--a fantastic novel.

I finished Peter Ho Davies' new novel The Welsh Girl on Thursday at about 5 am (bad thunderstorm, bad insomnia, but excellent book to keep me company!)

The novel is beautifully written, really exquisite prose, and the author has that ability to end chapters with the perfect sentence; you know the sentence that makes you take in a little breath and hold it while you relish the language, before you dive into the next chapter. The funny thing is that this ability reminds me of Charles Baxter, who used to live in Ann Arbor and teach at U-M, which is what Peter Ho Davies currently does. Maybe U-M's creative writing program likes to hire people with this (all too rare) writing ability?

The novel focuses on three disparate characters--a German POW, the "Welsh girl" of the title, and a half-Jewish, German refuge who is now a part of the British military intelligence and who debriefs captured Germans. The interesting thing is that there are actually very few chapters where the characters encounter each other, though that doesn't stop them from thinking about each other. The internal lives of each of these three characters are so vivid and full and unique that it is actually startling when they do interact. To go from internal to external, from meditative to the snap of direct encounter, could be really messy and discordant, but Davies makes it seem effortless.

There are all sorts of lovely thematic resonances in the book too: what it means to surrender, what is courage and what is cowardice, the longing to escape, how to define the concept of "home" and the comforts and the confinements of the familiar. Each of these themes is picked up and expressed differently by the three characters so that the reader gets to roll each theme around, like a faceted ball, seeing a glint of insight here, and then a different flash as the ball is passed to the next character.

I'm going to return the book to the library, you know, just to help with some other reader's potential Harry crash, but I certainly won't forget this book. Of the books I've read this year, this book is now front and center in the purchase list for holiday gifts.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Hi, Kate,

I appreciate your taste in books-- I see many of my favorites on your recommended list!

I'm desperate for some good reading right now, and I'm wondering if you could help me narrow down your list.

If I love Carol Shields and Alice McDermott, whom else might I love?

If 1-2 titles pop into your mind (don't give it any more effort than that!), let me know!

Signed,

Desperate in Grand Rapids
(Amy Scheer)
amy@gregscheer.com