Monthly Archives: March 2018

‘The House We Grew Up In’ by Lisa Jewell

Ever seen a reality documentary (shock-umentary) about hoarding? The objective in producing such a ‘slice of life’ seems to be more about sensational shaming and humiliation, than about gaining empathy or information about fellow human experience. Hoarding is generally regarded as a serious mental illness (in the OCD family) and has mental, psychological, social, and physical consequences for many. The disorder deserves a more sympathetic treatment than the media often gives it.

This novel by Lisa Jewell is an attempt at that, trying to get at the core reasons for this disturbing dangerous behaviour and how it can affect families. Lorelei, the main character, is a vibrant mother who loves to gather her chicks for Easter and displays her children’s artwork on the walls of their cozy kitchen. While Lorelei knows how to love people, she doesn’t know how to care for them. The idyllic scene eventually gives way to tragedy and dysfunction. It reminded me of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, a true story of a severely dysfunctional family.

What makes a person become a hoarder? How do families deal with such a problem? What might cause them to dismiss or defend something that clearly is out of control? The author definitely creates a compelling family drama, interesting in its own right, while at the same time attempts to give insight into how an average family affected by hoarding might cope (or not cope) with it.

Lisa Jewell has recently come on my author radar and I will look forward to reading more of her books. This one was written 10 years ago, while a more recent one that I read not long ago, called I Found You, was more suspenseful– in the category of what we now call the domestic thriller.

‘Young Jane Young’ by Gabrielle Zevin

This is the latest novel by Gabrielle Zevin who also wrote The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Do not be fooled by the seemingly light tone in Zevin’s books; they are full of humour and easy to read but have depth. This one digs down into politics, truth telling, and female empowerment. It felt very current. At first glance it seems to be just a tabloid Monica Lewinsky story, but then it morphs into something a lot more. Yes, the affair was consensual, but there was such an imbalance of power in the relationship that it took all hope of recovery for the woman away–name recognition alone would hound her for the rest of her days…

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the relationship between the mothers and daughters and was cheering for the main character who is quirky and strong. Against the odds, she seeks to find a meaningful life after mistakes have been made.

One image from the novel stuck with me and caused me to reflect as I drove along a windswept beach in New Zealand. Trees were bent away from the sea, their very shape altered by the relentless buffeting winds, forming them into unique reinvented examples of strength and resilience. Here is the quote: “When you think about it, isn’t a person just a structure built in reaction to the landscape and the weather?” Yes. Beautiful.

‘The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World’ by Christina Crook

“My focus is less on setting limits than it is on creating the positive conditions in which technology becomes less compelling and different kinds of engagements thrive and flourish.”
Albert Borgmann

So we all know about FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but what about JOMO? Is it possible in today’s digital world to reach a point where we find enough balance and perspective to actually find joy in being less than 3 meters from our smartphones? especially for young people who have never known a world without one? How do we maintain a health relationship with technology for ourselves and our children? How do we teach our kids that technology is a privilege, not a right?

This is a thoughtful book that draws on collective wisdom about human development and interaction and uses that as the starting point. Even though communication has improved with technology, we are all too aware of how all-consuming our devices can be and how advertisers and software developers exploit us and want us to become hooked. It’s not that screens are inherently bad–they are an amazing tool.  It’s just that we may have lost our perspective in keeping them in their place. We need to control them, not be controlled by them.

The focus needs to be on humanity. If technology enhances our human connection, that is good. But if it replaces or hampers it, or alienates us from others, then we need to think again and perhaps take a step back. Crook actually starkly points out on a timeline how technological advances and cases of anxiety and depression have marched ahead together hand in hand over the years. Ironically instead of technology saving us time for other things, we seem lost in a maze of ‘never enough time’ and being anxious about it to boot!

The big push of our age is to consume. More information, more products, more communication. How then do we push back? To slow down, be present, and draw closer. The author does a great job of stressing the importance of face-to-face communication, physical activity, and hands-on creativity.  I was happy to find no preaching in this book, just a reasoned discussion of the issues and suggestions for a healthy balanced perspective. Finding balance is important in so many areas of our lives, this is an excellent contribution to that goal!

‘Bury Your Dead’ by Louise Penny (Inspector Gamache, Three Pines Mystery #6)

“Not everything buried is actually dead. For many, the past is alive.”

My plan was to read the Inspector Gamache crime series in order but I had to jump to #6 instead of #3 because of a book club assignment. I don’t think it really matters to read them out of order. The others will just feel like flashbacks when I get to them. I loved the Agatha Christie style living room assembly at the end, actually there are two in this novel running simultaneously. All of the suspects are gathered in one room together, one of them is the culprit and they are about to discover who it is. Cue the scary music.

As always it was fun to enjoy the benefits of a series–knowing the characters and the setting before you even start! Penny writes literary crime, this one also eloquently dealing with themes of tragic guilt, learning to live with your history, and finding a way to heal through the grief–to ‘bury your dead.’ Not sure if burying your dead emotionally is possible and perhaps even undesirable, but at any rate that is where the title comes from. This instalment is set in Quebec City as well as Three Pines, and the old city gave the novel a wonderful historically atmospheric feel. And there were some mouth watering descriptions of food–the Inspector likes his flaky croissants and bowl of coffee!  Fun fact: if you spend time in Quebec City and have read this book, you should take advantage of the Bury Your Dead Tour. Yes, there really is such a thing! Apparently it visits the places where the novel took place. My neighbour is going on the tour this week, and I am wondering how she finds it!

I loved Gamache’s four sentences that lead to wisdom:
I am sorry.   I was wrong.  I need help.  I don’t know.
Our world might be a better place if we all used these words more often.