Monday, March 21, 2011

Beauty and Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

It takes a certain chutzpah to re-tell a story and sell it to the rest of us twice over. 
However I am exceptionally grateful that Robin Mckinley decided to do just that. 
 Beauty was Robin Mckinley's first re-telling of the lovely fairy story Beauty and the Beast, and is the more straight forward and traditional re-telling, although none the less enchanting for that. It is an exceptionally satisfying and comforting read and just what a fairy story aught to be (in yours truly's humble opinion!) The writing in Beauty is lush and beautiful, the characters are agreeable and the ending is deliciously happy. 
Twenty odd years later McKinley returned to the scene of the crime and wrote Rose Daughter which is a darker, more intricate and complex re-telling of the same story. 
While possibly not as satisfying (it diverges a little too much from the fairy story as I know and love it and there are a few too many loose ends) it is still exceptionally interesting, has some wonderful details and descriptions and is still an enchanting read in its own right. If it were not that I had read Beauty first, and found it perfect, my praise might be stronger yet. 
While each book on it's own is lively and vivid and Mckinley's strong and distinctive voice is always a joy, reading the two together makes for an even richer experience and I find it interesting to compare the two and see the result of twenty extra years. 
It is particularly lovely to see the blooming of Mckinley's love of roses in Rose Daughter. In an afterward McKinley explained that she wrote Rose Daughter after moving to England and acquiring a Rose Garden (also a husband, in one of my favourite romantic stories... sigh) 
I read Rose Daughter again recently as a.) I have been un-packing my books into our new house - happy sighs - and it was at hand and b.) we have been taming our own roses in our somewhat overgrown garden (this is a massive understatement) and I now more fully appreciate and understand Mckinley's loving pages of description of pruning and compost and the deep scratches a true rose afficiando wears with pride.  
My beloved and I spent an entire afternoon recently demolishing the vast tower of a dead and dying rose, discovering only at the end of our labour that the beast had actually swallowed and half-digested a poor plum tree. 
I now understand the satisfaction of Beauty in Rose Daughter as she tends to first her own cottage rose garden and later the Beast's green house full of neglected and dying roses. As I busily prune and plant, being scratched and torn in the process and discovering it to be somewhat addictive, the two stories keep me company - and such pleasant company!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Manhood for Amateurs

Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son is a memoir by the American author Michael Chabon told in a series of essays.  

My mum loved Chabon's novel for young people, Summerland, my dad loved Chabon's 'what if' detective novel 'The Yiddish Policeman's Club' (fascinating premise, well written, depressing as all get out) and I loved his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - Chabon is a brilliant and versatile writer. 

Getting the opportunity to delve into Chabon's mind and background, to see where the books came from was voyueristically thrilling (hey, I'm a stay at home mum, I live through other people) 
And... he didn't disappoint. His take on fatherhood, marriage, family was always considered, reflective, grabbing and beautifully written.
This is the kind of book that you can re-read and re-read and different things will strike and resonate with you at different times. At present I'm reflecting on his essay 'The Splendors of Crap' which is his ruminations on whether the junk tv of today allows enough scope for children's imagination and whether it leaves enough room for them to operate their own imaginative worlds. 
I'm feeling hopeful about 'The Amateur Family' in which Chabon writes with satisfaction that he has produced his own geek tribe to keep him company in his geekdom (being married to a geek and having my own geek tendencies I look forward to having my own geek tribe one day). 
I'm giggling over 'I feel Good about My Murse'. 
I'm having a 'he gets it, hey he really gets it' moment about his essay 'William and I' which is a piece about motherhood - in which he reflects that even though he's been a stay at home dad, he knows that if he drops the slack, his wife will be there to pick it up. At the last call the responsibility stays hers.
Hmm... can I resist.. no I can't... here's the last paragraph of that essay.

'The daily work you put into rearing your children is a kind of intimacy, tedious and invisible as mothering itself.   There is another kind of intimacy in the conversations you may have with your children as they grow older, in which you confess to failings, reveal anxieties, share your bouts of creative struggle, regret, frustration. There is intimacy in your quarrels, negotiations and running jokes. But above all, there is intimacy in your contact with their bodies, with their shit and piss, sweat and vomit, with their stubbled kneecaps and dimpled knuckles, with their hair against your lips as you kiss the tops of their heads, with the bones of their shoulders and with the horror of their breath in the morning as they pursue the ancient art of forgetting to brush. Lucky me that I should be permitted the luxury of choosing to find the intimacy inherent in this work that is thrust upon so many women. Lucky me.' (Chabon, 2009, pp18-19)

His lucky children. 

Chabon's thought into their being, into their growing, into the expansion of their minds, which is deliberated upon in many essays, is considered and beautiful.
And I've just realised why I like this memoir so much. 
I think this is the first memoir I've read that's written by a guy, which focuses on the stuff I want to read about.  
I read a biography of David Suzuki recently and felt all kinds of guilty as he was all about saving the world and I was all about 'that's all your going to say about meeting your second wife?' and 'Hello - your children here, give me the details. This is the interesting bit.' 
And (the shame) I started skimming all the stuff about saving the Amazon. 
This is a memoir as (in my admittedly very biased and probably hormonally and lactationaly influenced opinion) it should be written, with the concentration on the important bits - the family.