31 December 2013

Library Limelights 45

Daniel Easterman. Maroc. London UK: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.
Another case where the title (~Morocco~) and other geographic allusions sucked me in. Into a very dramatic tale unfolding in two different time periods. The characters of the Second World War story in North Africa drive the plot, hold our attention. The present-day characters, Englishman Nicholas and Justine the French-Moroccan, are strangely lifeless. Not only is chemistry lacking between them, it's difficult to fathom what they see in each other's rather blank personalities and wooden dialogue ― an unconvincing romance, yet central to uncovering a sixty-year-old mystery. Will the mystery explain why Nick's ex-wife killed herself (or did she?) and the murders that follow?

Easterman knows his Morocco and its multi-layered history. The best parts of the story are relayed through a diary and pertinent letters. The poorer parts are a lack of credibility in motivation or method of some behaviour and actions. Nick scarcely seems fazed by the family murders. In the beginning, why didn't he go to Morocco himself? How credible is a Muslim policeman succumbing to a colourful cocktail? Why did Marcel risk his life for virtual strangers? And yet the author has well portrayed the attitudes and flavours of colonialism. Upon considering my mixed reaction, I will likely try another Easterman novel out of curiosity ...

The supremely oblivious Béatrice sends a letter home to France:
We live in the New Town, of course, and everyone we know socially is a fellow colon. The Moroccans only venture into this area as servants, then go back to their hovels in the medina, or Old Fès. They are really quite simple people, and you have to treat them firmly or you won't get a day's work out of them.
I've ventured a short way into the Arab city, to see the little stalls where they sell all manner of goods. It's terribly colourful, but it stinks to high heaven, and I really don't understand how some Frenchmen can choose to live there. I suppose it's a very bohemian thing to do, but I don't share their enthusiasm for the Moors and their culture, and I can't see myself putting up with so much deprivation just in order to participate in their barbaric way of life.
The wretched calls to prayer five times a day, then at the end of Ramadan tens of thousands of innocent sheep slaughtered, a massive spillage of blood in every street and back yard, and the noise of weddings travelling on the night, ... [on and on she goes complaining] (56)
Justine reflects on Muslim men:
Her whole life since the age of twelve or so had been spent warding off the unwelcome attentions of Moroccan men. Like Arabs everywhere, they had problems with sex. Marriage was generally late, but single women were simply unavailable to most men. They lived in a world where most women were still heavily veiled, but every day on the streets they saw Western women in various states of semi-undress, joking and laughing with men who were not close relations. They watched Hollywood films (suitably cut) in which beautiful women picked and chose their male partners, and went to bed with men to whom they weren't married.
... Moroccan men believed that foreign women were freely available, so they made their clumsy approaches, their fumblings in the street, their staring, only to be told what they could do with themselves. A man who approached a Moroccan girl the way they did foreigners would have been beaten up or worse. (259)

Lionel Shriver. Big Brother. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2013.
From the acclaimed author of We Need to Talk About Kevin: Shriver's characters and prose are as sharp as expected, making a fictionalized account of dieting somewhat of a page-turner. The understated but actual theme is family relationships, and siblings in particular. Not recognizing her adored brother Edison at the airport, our narrator Pandora and her household spend half the book tiptoeing around the elephant in the room. Observing and/or sharing the eventual mission are a husband, a best friend, two step-children, a half-sister, and a semi-celebrity father trailing ghosts of his television soap opera. Relationships tend to shift and recreate themselves as commitment takes on new meanings.

The occasional disquisition on food or weight or the diet industry or health in general in Pandora's mind sometimes teeters on an unwelcome pedantic moment. We are faced with how food and eating literally shapes our lives. One wonders if it's credible that Edison can cook gourmet meals for others without the desire to cave and snack. That said, Shriver is always worth reading. Her final revelation may catch you totally off guard.

Edison's career:
It had seemed lucky at the time, but his getting the big breaks when he was twenty or so wasn't lucky at all. When things go swimmingly at that age you think it's just the beginning, because you've been instantly recognized as one of the Chosen People. I was increasingly antagonistic to this designation, not only for Edison, but for myself and my kids. No, nothing was wrong with feeling valuable in some way, if deservedly so. But Edison had always regarded himself as exceptional in a manner that was indolent and presumptuous. His character would have profited in his twenties from, say, working on the assembly line of an air conditioner plant. (214)
Pandora loses it with Edison:
"You've gotten what you wanted. Little sister, on call, slipper-fetching, unencumbered by any of the inconvenient relationships that grown-ups have. Now we can be brother and sister, living together happily ever after, the sort people whisper about and wonder if there isn't something strange going on. Just exactly how I wanted my life to turn out. But what does my life matter, if big brother has finally lost some weight." (308)

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