“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” Martin Luther King
Small Great Things is vintage Picoult–suspense, empathy, and humour used to great effect. Picoult doesn’t stray much from her usual formula. She typically examines an issue from all angles with the use of multiple character voices, creating tension around a conflict, moral dilemmas, and possible outcomes. Why change a highly effective strategy if it results in an engaging novel? Even though I find some of her writing a bit cliché she does her research well and I have found all of her novels to be ‘page-turners-plus’, evoking reflection and good discussion as well as being a compelling read. Her books are perfect for book clubs. It is obvious that she is very passionate about this particular topic which has resulted in a very good story and a very important conversation about race, prejudice, privilege, and justice.
The novel deals with racism, white supremacy, and hate crimes in the United States. Because of the prevailing political climate in the US surrounding the last election, this is a timely topic indeed and feels very close to current events. The story begins when a white couple have their first baby in hospital and refuse the care of a black neonatal nurse. A tragedy ensues, setting off a legal battle full of courtroom drama.
Picoult gives voice to three people who round out the story: the black nurse, the white supremacist, and the defence lawyer. Picoult humbly points out that no matter how non-racist some white people may feel they are, racism is still rampant in North American society. She digs deep to discover and reveal painful truths such as how much easier it is for bad white people to hide behind the colour of their skin, than for good people of colour to be regarded as good.
(Neapolitan Quartet, Book 2) This is the second in the Neapolitan series, a rich and intimate portrait of a female friendship in a poor neighbourhood in Naples. The novel opens with Lina (Lila) now Signora Carracci, a married woman albeit to a man she doesn’t love and doesn’t respect. Her new life is explored largely through the eyes of and in the context of her relationship with her friend Elena (Lenu).
The story carries on seamlessly from My Brilliant Friend, again drawing the reader into that time and place in small town Italy. For the women in these novels, life is a conundrum of attachment and detachment and there are very few likeable characters in these books at all, especially among the men. Though the author’s unusual voice is emotionally compelling, it is difficult to continue to enjoy reading about so much strife and unhappiness. It’s really such an odd reading experience, with major twists and turns that feel understated, and long mental meanderings about things that we wouldn’t give a second thought to. I may take a break before reading number three. I have heard from others that the third book is very slow and begins to annoy, but if you have read it and think differently, please leave a comment and let me know.
Keep an eye on this Canadian author, especially if you live in Toronto. His hugely successful novel Fifteen Dogs was such a pleasure to read and this one I liked even better! Fifteen Dogs, winner of the 2015 Giller Prize, recently made it onto the Canada Reads shortlist and one of the dogs in that story, a black poodle named Majnoun, makes a guest appearance in this book. And the setting is so recognizably Toronto: Liberty Village, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Parkdale, Rosedale, Queen St., King St. and various condos by the lakeshore, and more.
Inspired by Treasure Island, the premise of The Hidden Keys caught my attention immediately. A highly accomplished but strangely honourable thief, makes a promise to an aging heroin addict that he will help her solve a mysterious inheritance puzzle left by her wealthy father. Willow believes her Dad set the treasure hunt before he died, but her siblings do not. So Willow needs Tancred, her friend the thief, to steal the objects needed to gather the pieces and solve the puzzle. Of course the quest gets complicated, both by Tancred’s very good friend who is a police detective, and some thugs who are threatening to get in the way or worse, make off with the treasure. The novel kept my interest and is well paced, but also has a reflective side, raising questions about what it means to be faithful and good and whether money can ever really bring happiness. The book is a strange combination of elegant writing and funny adventure. Only in Canada, will you find a crime/mystery novel with a hugely polite and thoughtful thief at the centre of the story!!