Summer Reading Challenge – August Part 3

The Colours of Summer: Read a book that features a yellow, green, or sandy cover

For this prompt I read The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende, another author that has been on my bookshelf for a very long time, since I was maybe fifteen, probably the longest time out of any of them. I remember receiving one of her books as a gift, although I cannot remember which one it was, but this one I bought more recently, an almost brand new charity bookshop find.

I was initially thinking of reading this for the ‘falling in or out of love’ prompt, but I’ve found something better for that one. I’m not sure if this would have been the perfect candidate for that anyway, since even though there is a lot of love in this book, the actual act of falling in love, or out of love, isn’t the main point of the story or of the characters. It’s an account of Alma Belasco’s life, from the age of five or so when she leaves Poland and is sent to her Aunt and Uncle in San Francisco to escape the Nazis, until her death many years later. She spends her last years in an eccentric nursing home where she hires Irina, a care worker there, to be her assistant and this begins a friendship between Alma and Irina, and between Irina and Alma’s grandson, and the fascinating mystery of Alma and the secret letters she receives regularly.

This was a beautiful story, and had many tragic elements in it, but many beautiful and strong characters that you couldn’t help but fall in love with yourself. I read somewhere that out of Allende’s works, this one is perhaps not the best, it feels rushed, apparently. But I had a great time reading the stories of each character, and I can only imagine what wonders her other books might be if this one is not-so-good.

Possibly I would have found the endless mysteriousness of both Alma and Irina a bit tiring if Allende’s writing hadn’t been so beautiful, and the structure of the book hadn’t been laid out as it had. I could imagine some people getting frustrated at the back and forth structure between Alma’s childhood, adult life, and life as an old woman, the relationship between Irina and Seth, and the breaks where we dove into the lives of the Japanese lover, Alma’s husband, her friend who turns up at the nursing home… That’s a lot of stories to tell. Her writing was very caring though, I felt deeply for all her characters, sympathised with them, and wanted them to succeed. I was curious about Alma, but in a way we knew where her story was headed, in the eccentric nursing home, so the dips and snippets of other lives, connected lives, and definitely interesting lives, were welcome.

Funny Bone: Read a humorous book

For this prompt I decided to read something a bit different. I am trying to be as varied as possible in all areas for this reading challenge, mostly because that’s what I like to do with my normal reading, and I felt like I was missing a play.

So I read this play, Fleabag, by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I had actually already read part of this when I visited the Women’s Library in Glasgow many many months ago. I got cut off halfway through because I had a train to catch, so I reserved it in the National Library of Scotland here in Edinburgh and spent an hour or so reading the whole thing through (it’s only 38 pages long, short even for a play).

As always when reading plays I try to slow my reading right down, create voices in my head, and imagine the movements and human pauses that might be seen if I was actually watching it on stage, it often reveals more about the story and the writing than just reading it like a novel but at the same time I love reading plays as opposed to seeing them on stage because that reveals more to me than trying to take it all in from a performance. I am definitely someone who learns and absorbs information from reading rather than watching or listening. If possible, I would always recommend seeing a play performed though, because you get to see the creativity of not only the writer but the actors, directors, stage designers, basically everyone involved in production and I love seeing the results of collaborations. Everyone’s so creative and wonderful I love it!

The introduction in Fleabag explains how the play came about: an exercise in writing with an aim to answer certain questions such as how do you get the audience to care about a character who has committed a terrible crime and how do you make an audience uncomfortable about the fact that they are laughing? I initially chose to read this because when I read it months ago I was really laughing at it and admiring the creativity of shocking laughter, or guilty laughter, the main voice in the play had suffered a tragedy and was grieving, but handling it using her absurd and blunt humour. My second time reading was much more melancholic, partly because I had read the majority of the funny parts already, and partly because the ending really does put it in perspective and makes everything very sad and even horrifying. I definitely didn’t see the revelations about the character beforehand, but then again this was one of the rare occasions where I didn’t read the introduction before the book, I waited until afterwards.

This play has been adapted by the BBC, which I haven’t watched, though I may try to in the future. (I’m torn between not really enjoying the BBC but wanting to learn more about the talent they pick up, because they are quite good at spotting talent).

Til next time!

Isla

Xx

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