These are all four stars. Next week I’ll write about four duds -- books I didn’t like, but, for some inexplicable reason, I read all the way to the end anyway.
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
This is another charming novel by the author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which I loved) and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (which I liked very much.)
Frank's music shop is on a run-down London street that includes Father Anthony’s religious gift shop, a bakery and a tattoo parlor. Frank only sells vinyl records. He’s a big bear of a man and he has a special gift, a “knack.” He can match anybody with a vinyl record they are guaranteed to love.
One day, a mysterious woman with a German accent faints on the street just outside his shop. Frank takes her in, calls EMS. Later, he can’t get her out of his mind. When she returns to thank him, she confesses she doesn’t listen to music anymore. Of course this makes her even more mysterious and attractive to Frank.
He ends up giving her “music lessons.” Each lesson involves a recording and Frank's interpretation of the music, including the emotions generated when hearing it. He analyzes Barbour’s Adagio for Strings (my favorite! Please, somebody -- be sure to play this at my funeral!), the Halleluiah Chorus, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and some contemporary jazz.
Of course, Frank and this woman fall in love. They don’t declare their feelings to each other because each has a complicated backstory the reader isn’t aware of.
The rest of the novel is about their backstories. It’s charming. Unbelievable and far-fetched at the end, but charming and uplifting.
Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
This is about Ernest Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn, who was a war correspondent. McLain weaves a fictionalized story (but based on facts) of Martha’s background. She was already a published author when she met Ernest (in a bar, of course). He recognizes her because he already read her book.
He convinced her to join him while covering the Spanish Civil war. They become lovers, of course, even though he was still married to Pauline, his second wife. The rest of Martha’s story is played out in Key West; Cuba; Normandy right in the middle of the D Day invasion; and Sun Valley, Idaho.
Of course their marriage falls apart, but she is apparently remembered as one of the first female war reporters who actually witnessed combat and wrote about it in detail for Colliers magazine.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway has always has fascinated me, so after Love and Ruin, I picked up my battered paperback copy of A Moveable Feast. It was published in 1964, several years after Hemingway’s death. The 20 short essays take place in Paris during the 1920s, when Hemingway lived there with his first wife, Hadley.
He started writing it in 1957 and in the preface, hints that it might be considered fiction. He and Hadley were living in Paris; they were poor; they had a child named Bumby. Hemingway hung around with ex-pats Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda; Sylvia Beach (of Shakespeare & Co.); Gertrude Stein; Ezra Pound; Ford Madox Ford; and other artists and writers. He writes irreverently about every single one of them.
There was lots of heavy drinking, mostly by Hemingway and Fitzgerald. He often describes his drinks, his wines, his hangovers, the food they ate, etc. in great detail. (It's only a minor drawback.)
Most of the essays reveal some aspect of his life in Paris. Hemingway may have lacked discipline when it came to alcohol and women, but he was super diligent about his craft -- writing. He wrote every single day for several hours, even when suffering from head-pounding hangovers. Thank goodness.
This is the third time I’ve read this book: first, in 1964 when it was published; again in 2011; and now because I just finished The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and wanted to read more about Hemingway. It's getting rather messy-looking with pages falling out and a torn cover, but I'll keep it. Maybe I'll read it again in a few years.
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
On a whim, Willa Drake agrees to fly from her home in Phoenix, AZ, to Baltimore, MD. Denise, the ex-girlfriend of one of her sons, Sean, was shot in the leg and needs help recuperating. Denise has a 9-year-old daughter, Cheryl.
Willa has never met Denise or Cheryl and is not close to her son Sean, but is apparently rather bored with her privileged life in Phoenix. She’s married to her second husband Peter, a successful semi-retired businessman. But Willa doesn’t feel needed or necessary. She’s rather shy, a people-pleaser, a person who tries to avoid making waves and who diligently works to smooth out other people’s rough edges.
Several chapters go into details of her childhood. Her mother was mentally ill, probably bipolar, and often exploded with anger and walked out on the family for days or weeks.
Willa is semi-estranged from her younger sister and her two sons. Willa and Peter pack up and move in with Denise. Willa takes charge of the household and Denise's rehabilitation and also bonds with Cheryl and their dog, Airplane.
I love how Anne Tyler writes. She really sticks to one of the rules of good writing: Show, don’t tell. She shows. She never tells. She wouldn't write: He grew angry. She would write: He stood up; his face got red and blotchy; he made a fist; he raised his voice and yelled . . .
I was a bit disappointed in the predictable last 50 pages or so, but on the whole, I loved this novel. Anne Tyler, you’ve done it again!