I am already being very flaky about how strictly I follow the rules of the 20 books of summer. I’ve added in two books not on my list (Train Dreams and Exit West). And I said I was going to read In the Wet by Nevil Shute, but I opted for his Pastoral instead.
Pastoral is romance set during WWII. At first I found the writing, especially the dialogue, stilted in that old movie way and it turned me off. But slowly I warmed to the story itself.
Both the main characters, Gervase and Peter, serve in the British military. She is a WAAF section officer and he is the highly capable captain of a bomber running raids with his devoted crew over targets on the continent. Some of the best parts of the book are the fighting episodes when Robert and his flight crew get into trouble and barely make it home. I’m not a huge war novel fan or plane buff, but I was completely engaged.
Because of the tone of the writing, I was worried at first that the romance in Pastoral would take on a stereotypical flavor of ‘when men are men and women are women.’ To be sure, Peter and Gervase’s courtship is not highly original or mold breaking. But Gervase knows her own mind and Peter is not a cad, and this fact keeps the book from lurching over into pulp. I also spent a lot of time marveling that Gervase and Peter are supposedly only 21 and 22 years old, holding jobs of great responsibility with maturity. I guess this wasn’t unusual at the time? I can’t image today’s 20-somethings being as mature as these two characters.
I have five more Shute paperbacks, all PAN imprints (not the cover image I am using at left), oldies, that I picked up at a used shop. Shute may not write high literature, but he’s a good storyteller and I look forward to reading more.
Book #4 was Penelope Lively’s Cleopatra’s Sister. This was a weak book for me. I picked it up because it starts with a chapter about how Howard Beamish finds a fossil ammonite as a child and that sets him on a path to become a paleontologist. I liked the idea of a paleontologist protagonist. His love interest is Lucy, a journalist. We also learn about how her childhood shapes her and her choice of careers. The first half of the book switches between chapters devoted to Howard and Lucy and how they become who they are before they meet, and how those choices lead fatefully to how and where they meet.
The problem for me was that the rather interesting Howard and Lucy chapters alternated awkwardly with chapters devoted to the history and geopolitical development of a fictional north African country called Callimbia. Once all three of these fictional people and places get their backgrounds synced up to the same point, then the action begins — halfway through the book.
The structure of the novel didn’t work for me at all. Also, I don’t really understand Lively’s decision to create an entirely make-believe country. It was awkward and rather cheesy. Still, I was engrossed through the second half, so a half marks for Lively.
This puts me at four down, FIFTEEN to go for 19 books of summer + the rest of Middlemarch.