The Story: Rosemary starts her stories in the middle. In this one, we learn immediately that she has a mother and a father, and that at one time she also had a brother and a sister. But now both her brother and sister are gone. She tells us the middle of her story, and then flashes back to the beginning.
The Review: This was such an interesting and gripping story. Rosemary is a charming narrator. She has quirky little asides. For example, after describing a character in a way that makes you really like him, she tells us, "Don't get attached. He's not part of this story." And she refuses to tell us her father's jokes, because then we'll judge him and that's her job.
Because the story is told out of chronological order, Rosemary is able to build how she feels about her family before creating them as real characters/real people. It's a very effective move, because our feelings as the readers reflect hers. And this is a family drama, so it is the craziness of family, the power of love, and the connection that never goes away.
I highly recommend it.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Disclaimer: The picture on the cover is a terrible illustration for the book. It makes it look like a cheap romance, which it is not.
The Story: Set in Naples, Italy, this novel starts with the childhood of Elena and Lila. It follows their friendship as they grow from young girls to 16/17 years old. (Their story resumes and continues in 3 more novels). Their friendship grows and changes as they both deal with the challenges of growing up, of their families, and the violent society of Napoli.
The Review: One of the things that we discussed at book club was how this book portrays female friendship. The friendship between Elena and Lila is the entire focus, and as Elena narrates she explains her feelings for Lila and tries to understand their world together. Part of our discussion is how rare books of female friends are. Always at some point the focus of the book shifts to something else (usually romance). So the premise of the book is really interesting and needed.
This book is translated from Italian and it feels Italian. I mean that first in the descriptions of Napoli. It's very easy to get transported. But I also mean in the pace. This is a slow, leisurely book. There is no rush or hurry to get to the next thing, it is not a book that drives you forward. It is like sitting down to dinner with an Italian family and you spend an hour on each course, because that's what it deserves.
If you are comfortable being immersed in a slow novel, I recommend it. And if you are comfortable starting a series that will suck you in with twists at the end of each novel so you have to keep reading, I recommend it.
Where Did You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
The Story: Bernadette lives in Seattle, hates Seattle people, is agoraphobic and a little less than stable. She gets herself and her family (husband and daughter Bee) into a tangled mess and then disappears. Bee works to discover the truth of what happened to her mother.
The Review: This was so charming. It is cute and funny and quirky. I really enjoyed the characters and how this was told. I love the ideas behind the things that Bernadette created. And I was totally caught up in the unfolding mystery of what happened to Bernadette.
I recommend it.