Abomination!

I have always believed kindness should be applauded. On Mother’s Day morning I was at my local grocery store, and the employees were handing one red rose to each mom as she was leaving. Now I am a mother. I come from a long line of mothers. My mom, for instance, was a MILF, which (I believe) means Mother I’d Like to Forget. The point is – I was really looking forward to getting my red rose.

And just as kindness should be applauded, pure evil should be demolished. That little high school hussy didn’t give me a rose. She saw me walking to the exit, and she went off to talk with her friend – probably to buy drugs.

So I had two choices. I could follow her and politely ask for my well-deserved rose. Or I could go home and stew. Maybe even let it ruin my Mother’s Day. Complain about it to strangers. I knew my decision would reveal a lot about me as a mother.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

An Ishiguro Thing

A Pale View of Hills was first published in 1982. It’s Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel, and it’s noteworthy because it contains the elements that made him an eventual winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. As with his more accomplished novels, The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go, and Klara and the Sun, not much happens in A Pale View of Hills. Not much of importance is said. But Mr. Ishiguro is fascinating because the things that aren’t said and the things that don’t happen are the things that matter. They leave the reader unsettled – asking uncomfortable questions.

The novel opens in the English countryside in the late 1970s where Etsuko is trying to cope with her first-born daughter’s recent suicide. A visit by her younger daughter, Niki, and the memories of her deceased daughter, Keiko, draw Etsuko back to her life in Japan a few years after the second world war ended. At the time Etsuko was pregnant with Keiko and living in Nagasaki, which is just emerging from the death and destruction caused by the atomic bomb. Society is experiencing a huge upheaval as the Americans “introduce” democracy to a country buried under rubble. As Etsuko’s father-in-law, who represents Japan’s traditional order, puts it: “now instead there’s all this talk of democracy. You hear it whenever people want to be selfish, whenever they want to forget obligations.”

The younger generation does not long for the old ways that led them into a disastrous war. “[S]uch things are in the past now, and there is little to be gained in going over them here.” They would rather think of the future. But the past, much like the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Keiko’s suicide, refuses to be ignored.

While in Japan, Etsuko is constantly looking forward. She hopes to be a loving mother, because being a mother is what “makes life truly worthwhile.” Back in England, Niki disagrees. “I can’t think of anything I’d like less.” With Keiko’s suicide always hovering just within sight, motherhood is not a comforting prospect. “The horror of that image has never diminished, but it has long ceased to be a morbid matter; as with a wound on one’s own body, it is possible to develop an intimacy with the most disturbing of things.” That’s unsettling. But is it a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing? Well played, Mr. Ishiguro, well played.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor

Introducing Shakespeare’s Wife

The title of Maggie O’Farrell’s book, Hamnet, informs you the story is about Hamnet Shakespeare. The hanging descriptor below the title disagrees. It says this is A Novel of the Plague. Both are disgusting lies.

OK – perhaps that’s an over-reaction. Ms. O’Farrell’s story does mention Hamnet and the plague frequently, but this is Anne Hathaway’s story, even though in the novel she is referred to as Agnes – the name her father called her. And as with Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies where the women are the most intriguing characters (with the exceptions of King Lear and Hamlet), Agnes is the star.

Agnes is a healer. She specializes in herbs and natural remedies. Her uncommon knowledge and skills are welcome and worrisome. To the Stratford villagers, it is known that Agnes is “fierce and savage, that she puts curses on people, that she can cure anything but also cause anything.” Shakespeare’s mother describes Agnes as “[t]his creature, this woman, this elf, this, sorceress, this forest sprite”. So she’s a feminist.

To Shakespeare, she is “peerless”. But she is not to be trifled with. She is “[s]omeone who knows everything about you, before you even know it yourself. Someone who can just look at you and divine your deepest secrets, just with a glance.”

Hamnet is a slow burn. It is set mostly in a sleepy and suffocating (for Shakespeare) Stratford. At times the story drags, but the themes of motherhood and grief are vital. They drive the story to a touching and satisfying conclusion.

So much mythology surrounds Shakespeare, but little is actually known about him. Much less is known about his family. This gives a talented novelist like Ms. O’Farrell an advantage. She can create these characters, make them real, and no one can quibble with her. Wisely, she never mentions Shakespeare’s name. That would only distract the reader with the myth. And this story isn’t about him anyway.

Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor