The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness - Arundhati RoyA sweeping saga of India, mostly in contemporary times (1984-2014). Part of the book is set in Delhi but much takes place in Kashmir (topical given today’s political events). Ms. Roy’s writing is exceptional; impeccable detail means that the reader can feel the sensations of noise, heat, pollution and misery, violence and ethnic cleansing. Her vivid writing captures the chaotic complexity of India. And the main characters are women.

The Home for Unwanted Girls – Joanne Goodman

The Home for Unwanted Girls - Joanne GoodmanOne of the things we learned from Heather O’Neill’s very fine The Lonely Hearts Hotel was that Quebec orphanages were tough places. Goodman’s novel reinforces that reality, beginning in 1950. Even worse, the Duplessis Quebec government transferred illegitimate orphans to mental institutions in order to obtain more federal money for institutions. So this is an angst-filled story over 20 years, the mother who was forced to give up her illegitimate daughter and the daughter’s experience in horrible institutions, so be warned.

Grief Cottage – Gail Godwin

Grief Cottage - Gail GodwinSometimes a book can provide a perfect reading experience, a confluence of literary merit and also the receptivity of the reader. Godwin’s book was a perfect read for me. Marcus, an 11 year-old boy, has to live with his Great Aunt after the accidental death of his mother. His Great Aunt is a stranger, a painter who lives on a beach in South Carolina. Given the circumstances and his inherent inclinations, Marcus is wildly self-absorbed and introspective despite his young age. His journey through the summer, largely left to his own devices, is remarkable, both compelling and profound. This is a great read, see also Godwin’s previous book Flora.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid

I’m Thinking of Ending Things - Iain ReidThis is a remarkable first novel that starts as a relationship story, a woman and a man having conversations. There are some early small instances of things that seem “off”, and the second half descends into a flat out sinister story leading to terror and fear. When you reach the end of the book, you appreciate that the title is very clever (what is ending?). This is an excellent albeit disturbing story; highly recommended.

A Matter of Malice – Thomas King

A Matter of Malice - Thomas KingThumps DreadfulWater (wonderful name) is a Cherokee ex-cop trying to live a quiet life in a small town in Montana. Thomas King is a very fine writer (The Back of the Turtle, An Inconvenient Indian) so the writing is much better than the average murder mystery. King captures the world-weary aspect of DreadfulWater, how a mind can wander and then snap back into focus. Now I am going to read the first three books in this series.

Big Island,Small – Maureen St. Clair

Big Island,Small - Maureen St. ClairThis is a relationship story of two women with shared Canadian (Big Island) and Caribbean (Little Island, Grenada) backgrounds. The relationship is complex and complicated; there are some cases of persistent poor choices even though the person is conscious of this reality. Secrets and personal history are revealed slowly. This is excellent writing which deservedly won an award for social justice literature.

Woman at 1000 Degrees – Hallgrimur Helgason

Hallgrimur HelgasonOne of my goals is to read Icelandic literature and this is an epic story, deathbed recollections by an 80 year-old woman who has had a remarkable life. She is a unique individual: sardonic and above all, a survivor. Her existence as a young girl in WWII is harrowing and disturbing. The storyline is non-linear, like the ramblings of an old woman. This books gives some significant insight into the Icelandic psyche, an isolated under-populated island, plus varied experiences in places like Argentina.