Despite the title, there are actually very few pets alive or dead in this story, but it does make for a catchy title and a very striking cover design. The one pet that is a regular fixture in this story is a hamster. Not the same hamster mind you, but a number of different hamsters. The hamster, as a pet, in its little cage, being man-handled by children, adults and others, going round and round endlessly and vigorously on its little wheel, is of course a very metaphoric way of looking at the way everyday life goes - "Putting all your heart and skill into running round inside a spinning hamster wheel is fine for a while, if your're making money, but demoralising and exhausting when you're pushing flat out and getting nowhere." How many people spend their lives in exactly this type of situation? This is the central theme of the story. Beginning with the very idealistic, young and energetic Marcus and Doro way back in the 1960s who are looking for a new way to live a meaningful life. With a few others they create a commune in the vicinity of Doncaster, sharing everything, literally, until the commune self implodes some 20 plus years later. It is now 2008. Marcus and Doro have three children who want to have nothing at all to do with the politics or lifestyles of their childhoods. After all if you had spent much of your childhood eating lentils, doing chores and sharing you would want to escape too! Clara is about as far removed from the carefree existence of hippies by becoming a primary school teacher, trying to bring about order and stability to her lower decile students; Serge, a brilliant mathematician supposedly doing a Ph.D at Cambridge has been sucked into the money-go-round vortex of London's financial markets - naturally his parents do not know; and younger sister Oolie-Anna, who has Down's Syndrome,is desperate to claim her own independence and live in her own place on her own terms. Marcus and Doro have never got married. For some reason, one day they decide to get married. And this leads to each member of the family having to come to terms with certain things that happened in the past. Much of the novel focuses on Serge, as his carefully constructed facade gradually comes crashing down, along with the entire financial services industry. Clara's issues focus on keeping her students on the straight and narrow, and taking Oolie Anna's side in her bid for independence. In the middle of all this is Doro, her left wing fighting spirit just as bright as ever as she takes on the local council who wish to build over a much loved and cared for allotment area. This is an easy to read feel good story, a lovely commentary on money not being everything, and much like Justin Cartwright's "Other People's Money" actively ridicules and mocks the big city so-called money makers. Her characters are very, very human, as are the relationships between them. In fact I think this is her greatest strength. In the books of hers I have read, the plot is not always memorable, but the characters drawn with such fondness and care, do stick in the mind. Thoroughly enjoyable.
ALOFT by Chang-Rai Lee
SO MANY BOOKS AND SO LITTLE TIME by Sara Nelson
How luxurious and indulgent...to set yourself the challenge of reading 52 books a year and then write about it. What makes the journey? The selection and reading of the books; the challenges along the way that either slow down or prevent progress; or the writing about it all; or even what to do once the year is complete? Here we have a woman who could be described as dangerously obsessive and quite simply mad about reading. I have no idea at all how someone like this woman who, at the time of her undertaking this feat, was a senior editor at Glamour magazine, and a columnist for the New York Post, and other bits and pieces on the side. Plus she is married with a young child. Where on earth did she find time to fit all that in!!! At precisely half way through her memoir she has a bit of meltdown - not a surprise - and at another point in the book does mention that she is feeling somewhat isolated and distanced from the world around her. Day to day stuff such as what's on at the movies, the gossip and chit chat about popular TV programmes. She has nothing to contribute because she spends all her time reading, and I mean all her time!
I love reading, it is my favourite past time. I have over a hundred unread books quietly waiting for me to pick them up. I don't read for a living but I would like to. Even so, I would still need a break from time to time. The glaring thing that jumps out to me in this book is that this woman never has a break from reading or anything else for that matter! Her work, her family life, her reading - it seems she never stops, even waking in the night and reading till all hours. A little crazy, obsessive perhaps?
But anyway - the reading itself. She has very wide ranging tastes, interests and reasons for choosing books to read. She is very curious and open to all different types of books and authors. It would take too long to make mention of what she read and wrote about - part of the fun of this book is the surprise factor! Of the books she has read that I have too - not a great many - she thinks deeply and writes well. I can only assume she has done the same with the rest that I haven't read! I very much enjoyed her views and analysis of the love of reading and why people become so addicted to it - in other words I could relate.
Did she manage to read 52 books? According to her epilogue she read more, but that also seems to count those she dipped into or skimmed through. What is interesting and to which she alludes to regularly is that she didn't read what she intended to read, and found that the book was choosing her rather than her choosing the book. The books seem to mirror what is going on in her life at the time, and in her writing she is able to intertwine the two. It would appear she doesn't have as much control over her life as she would like, but she accepts the slightly chaotic existence she lives in and invites the reader in.
Despite her seriously high intellect, her high powered publishing career, the sheer busyness of her life, she seems to be a very down to earth, normal sort of woman trying to keep her career going, her child and husband happy, and like many of us, finding a spare half hour to sit down with a cuppa and a book. How can we not relate?
I enjoyed this very much. It is light, fun, interesting, insightful and stimulating. Each chapter is pretty much self contained so great for dipping in and out of. My list of 'To Read' has grown somewhat...sigh.