Monday, 21 June 2021

Foregone by Russel Banks

About the Book 

Title: Foregone

Author: Russell Banks

Publisher: No Exit Press (June, 2021)

Summary (taken from the back cover): At the center of Foregone is famed Canadian American leftist documentary filmmaker Leonard Fife, one of sixty thousand draft evaders and deserters who fled to Canada to avoid serving in Vietnam. Fife, now in his late seventies, is dying of cancer in Montreal and has agreed to a final interview in which he is determined to bare all his secrets at last, to demythologize his mythologized life. The interview is filmed by his acolyte and ex-star student, Malcolm MacLeod, in the presence of Fife's wife and alongside Malcolm's producer, cinematographer, and sound technician, all of whom have long admired Fife but who must now absorb the meaning of his astonishing, dark confession.

Imaginatively structured around Fife's secret memories and alternating between the experiences of the characters who are filming his confession, the novel challenges our assumptions and understanding about a significant lost chapter in American history and the nature of memory itself. Russell Banks gives us a daring and resonant work about the scope of one man's mysterious life, revealed through the fragments of his recovered past.

The book launch for FOREGONE is happening tonight, Monday 22nd June @7.30pm. 
It's free to attend and here's the link to sign up! 

What I Think

In Foregone Leonard Fife drifts between two close third person present tense narratives to tell the story of his life and the secrets held within it. By using this technique, and omitting speech marks, Banks has effectively blurred the lines between past and present, speech and thought, creating a world that teeters, purposefully, on the brink of confusion.

'Only liars know what they have said.'

Truth, or the aversion of truth, is at the heart of this story. Fife chooses to be filmed, because 'in private he can't keep himself from lying to [his wife, Emma] and what he says in private is 'both true and false and neither.' Through Fife, Banks has created a deep and interesting exploration of who we are, how much of ourselves we reveal to others and the roles we play, willingly or not, conscious or not, with the different people in our lives and ultimately, the need to be known, and loved, for who we truly are. 

'Once you cross the border, you're starting your life over. There's no turning back.'

In some ways, the border between America and Canada, which plays a pivotal role in who Leonard Fife becomes, is the least important. There are many other borders crossed in 'Foregone', which precede this one and are equally momentous in how they shape his life and character.  

'There's no such thing as the end of childhood.'

Fife's focus during his interview narrative with Malcolm is centred around his experiences as a young man, from his late teens up to his late twenties. As readers, we only gain snippets of his childhood, but, as is the case in reality, we can feel how much it has shaped Fife and continues to permeate his life, his decisions, his feelings and his essence of what it means to be a person capable of giving and receiving love. 

Foregone is a fascinating and in-depth read of a character's ability to construct and deconstruct his life along with his need to be accepted, known and loved for who he truly is. 

About the Author

RUSSELL BANKS has published ten novels, six short story collections, and four poetry collections. His novels Cloudsplitter and Continental Drift were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Two of Banks's novels have been adapted for feature-length films, The Sweet Hereafter (winner of the Grand Prix and International Critics Prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival) and Affliction (which earned a 'Best Supporting Actor' Oscar for James Coburn). Banks has won numerous awards for his work, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, O. Henry and Best American Short Story Award, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 

One of America's most prestigious fiction writers, Russell Banks was president of the International Parliament of Writers and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and letters. 

Saturday, 22 May 2021

An Act of Love by Carol Drinkwater

About the Book 

Title: An Act of Love 

Author: Carol Drinkwater

Publisher: Penguin (2021)

Summary (taken from the back cover): France, 1943.

Forced to flee war ravaged Poland, Sara and her parents are offered refuge in a beautiful but dilapidated house in the French Alps. It seems the perfect hideaway, despite haunting traces of the previous occupants who left in haste.

But shadows soon fall over Sara's blissful summer, and her blossoming romance with local villager Alain. As the Nazis close in, the family is forced to make a harrowing choice that could drive them apart forever, while Sara's own bid for freedom risks several lives . . . 

Will her family make it through the summer together? 

And can she hold onto the love she has found with Alain?

By turns poignant and atmospheric, this is the compelling new novel from Sunday Times bestselling author Carol Drinkwater about the power of first love and courage in our darkest hours.

What I Think

Why do we read? Why do you read? The reason I read is because I want to be swept up in the lives of characters I've grown to love and root for; I want to be taken to a place that I may never be able to see with my own eyes, but through the eyes of the characters, feel I've been to; and I want to learn something that I didn't even know I wanted to learn. This is why, for me, An Act of Love was the perfect book.  

Sara is a wonderful character and along with the fear that she lived with on a day-to-day basis, she was also 'just' a teenage girl learning about herself and her place in the world. It would be easy to make her perfect, but what I think Drinkwater has done perfectly, is make Sara flawed. There were times I was frustrated with her and the things she did or didn't do, said or didn't say, felt or didn't feel, but then I remembered that these are the best characters; the ones who don't act the way they should, but act the only way they can. 

An Act of Love is set in La Ville-V├ęsubie, a small village high in the French Alps. Not only is place extremely important in this novel due to its historical background, but it plays an important role in the development of Sara's character. As she learns more about her surroundings - the plants and trees, animals and waterholes - we feel her embedding in her makeshift home.   

Through Drinkwater's adept storytelling of Sara, I have learned about the unique history of the Alpes-Maritimes department in WWII. Years ago I read Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay about the rounding up of Jews in Paris in 1942. That is a story that has always stayed with me and I know An Act of Love will be joining it. 

Beautiful, eye-opening and compelling, An Act of Love is a book not to be missed. 

About the Author

Anglo-Irish actress Carol Drinkwater is perhaps still most familiar to audiences for her award-winning portrayal of Helen Herriot in the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small. A popular and acclaimed author and film-maker as well, Carol has published nineteen books for both the adult and young adult markets. She is currently at work on her twentieth title.

When she purchased a rundown property overlooking the Bay of Cannes in France, she discovered on the grounds sixty-eight, 400-year-old olive trees. Once the land was reclaimed and the olives pressed, Carol along with her French husband, Michel, became the producers of top-quality olive oil. Her series of memoirs, love stories, recounting her experiences on her farm (The Olive Farm, The Olive Season, The Olive Harvest and Return to the Olive Farm) have become international bestsellers. Carol's fascination with the olive tree extended to a seventeenth-month, solo Mediterranean journey in search of the tree's mythical secrets. The resulting travel books, The Olive Route and The Olive Tree, have inspired a five-part documentary films series entitled The Olive Route.

Carol has also been invited to work with UNESCO to help fund an Olive Heritage Trail around the Mediterranean with the dual goals of creating peace in the region and honouring the ancient heritage of the olive tree.

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