20 August 2011

A Trio of Tidbits: Hundred Foot Journey, Rules of Civility, and The Very Thought of You

I polished off three very different novels this week, and while it's true that I didn't love all of them, they are all worth mentioning here.  And since it's my day off and I've got the time, and since most of my blog posts from the last couple of weeks have been Blog Hops and nothing more, it's high time for me to write a "real" post.

Isn't this book cover gorgeous?  The Hundred Foot Journey by Richard Morais is the story of a young Indian boy whose family emigrates first to England, then to France, after the matriarch dies in a riot in Mumbai. The boy has a knack in the kitchen and in fact grows up to be the first foreign-born chef in France to earn 3 Michelin stars.   I wanted to love it--the very promising blurbs and the starred reviews, not to mention the subject matter, made me think I would love it--but I did not.  There is some very good food writing and some of the story I enjoyed, but it lacked that figurative pinch of salt to bring out the rich flavors that I was hoping for. The narrator also tends to hold the reader at the same distance that he holds everybody else in his life.  Still, if you're a foodie or at all involved in the food industry, it's worth a look.  Incidentally, it's the third book I've read this year that qualifies for the South Asian Challenge.  NB: I received a complimentary finished paperback copy from the publisher, Scribner. 

This book, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, is one that has been garnering much attention over the last month when Viking published it.  It follows a young woman named Katey Kontent, whose life of modest means in late 1930s Manhattan is upended (not always for the better) when she meets and falls for socialite Tinker Grey and inhabits his sphere for a while. I expected to love it, but alas, I did not.  However, I did find much to admire in it, including Towles' prose style and his ability to capture something essential about his characters with a couple of throw-away sentences: "He gave the Virgil in perfect meter, iamb for iamb. Although, one suspected that Dicky's ability to quote classical verse stemmed less from a love of literature than from a rote education in prep school which time had the opportunity to erase."

We meet a few interesting characters along the way, but most of the time I kept reading because I was sure it was going to get better.  There was no single "a-ha" moment when the story markedly improved for me, but as with many titles I've read, by the time I got to the end there was that peculiar literary alchemy where the book in its entirety is transformed into something better than what I had experienced along the way. NB: I received an advance reading copy of this book many months ago from my sales rep, Karl, but it took me until this month to actually read it. 

I seem to be on somewhat of a kick this summer reading WWII fiction.  The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison (shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize) mostly follows the story of young Anna Sands, whose mother evacuates her from London in 1939 in order to escape the Blitz;  Anna fortuitously ends up at a large Yorkshire estate whose family has taken in dozens of children and set up a school for them.  The author does a great job of capturing the period mood of hope and determined cheeriness in the face of a dark future, particularly in the children. She also writes with a knack about the alienation and daily alliances that children make and break on the way to learning socialized behavior:
"She might run down a hill holding hands with Beth. But then Beth would turn and walk away, and Anna would watch her go and never know if Beth wanted to play with her anymore or not. Why was it Beth, not her, who held this choice? Every day she tiptoed across the terrain of other children's affections, clumsy with self-doubt.  She could not work out why she feared other children more than they feared her."
Of these three novels, this is the one with the most heart, the least detachment from the narrator, and thus it was the book I responded to most warmly.  NB: I received a finished paperback copy of this book from Washington Square Press. 


  1. I opt for the third and final choice.

    Thank you,


  2. I agree that The Very Thought of You is a cut above the average period novel. Although the period isn't a particular favorite of mine, I found the story and the writing engaging. Glad you too recommend it.


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