12.22.2007

what i'm reading: roddy doyle, michael pollan

I tore through Roddy Doyle's Paula Spencer. It's wonderful.

If you've read Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, I highly recommend this follow-up. If you haven't but are interested, I'd start with the first book and wait a bit before reading the second.

Woman Who Walked is narrated by 40-year-old Paula Spencer, who is taking stock of her life, and thinking especially about her marriage to a violent man. Paula's husband was an abuser, and there's no doubt about his monstrous behaviour, but Paula has made some terrible choices and is sorting out her own responsibility for her situation. In Paula Spencer, the husband is out of the picture, and Paula must stand or fall on her own.

If Woman Who Walked is about domestic violence, Paula Spencer is about addiction. Paula is an alcoholic, and there are other addicts in her family. The story deals with the ongoing struggle to stay clean, about what we can do to help someone we love with an addiction, and the frustrating limits of those efforts. It's about love, and guilt, and learning to live with the past.

Paula Spencer is a marvel of concision. It's written almost entirely in dialogue or internal monologue, very sparse. Doyle's novels that are set in contemporary Dublin are all like that. (His historical fiction is more dense and descriptive.) But the simplicity is deceptive; Doyle says so much with so little.

Many of the characters in Paula Spencer illustrate issues involving addiction and relationships, yet they are all real people, no one is a wooden billboard for an idea. Let me tell you, that is not easy to achieve. I envy this man's talent!

* * * *

On deck are three nonfiction books: Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Gina Kolata's Rethinking Thin and War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges.

I'm starting with Michael Pollan. I've read extended excerpts and adaptations from Omnivore's Dilemma, and some magazine articles that later became part of this book. Pollan's groundbreaking expose of the corn industry - which also turned out to be an expose of factory farming - is one of the most memorable features I've ever read, so I am greatly looking forward to this book.

3 comments:

impudent strumpet said...

"groundbreaking expose of the corn industry"

I've never heard anyone use that phrase before in my life.

L-girl said...

"groundbreaking expose of the corn industry"

I've never heard anyone use that phrase before in my life.


There's no other way to say it. It figures into a host of modern blights: e coli in the food chain, obesity and resultant health issues, corporate welfare and animal abuse, to name a few.

James said...

There's no other way to say it. It figures into a host of modern blights: e coli in the food chain, obesity and resultant health issues, corporate welfare and animal abuse, to name a few.

Bush's enthusiasm for corn ethanol, which, at best, barely returns more energy than that consumed to produce it, is thanks to them as well. Cellulosic ethanol is much more promising -- it's made from plant waste material, which is plentiful, and has a much higher energy density -- but research into it is starving because Bush is diverting funds to the corn-based industry.