It’s not just the characters that descend to their lowest level in this book. It’s also the medical profession, governmental welfare programs, and Mobil Oil where Gavin works scraping rust off pipes. However, Laguna never lets the characters – not even the most peripheral – slip into stereotypes. The Eye of the Sheep is a tender and delicate novel, rich with sympathy and understanding, even when it becomes almost unbearably dark.
This is a lovely, easy to read, and powerful book. The simplicity of its narrative belies a far deeper and more complex underlying truth, and this new Faber & Faber edition draws attention to how fresh and relevant the book remains to a modern audience.
O’Connor portrays Emily sensitively and sympathetically. Writers will identify with her need for peace and solitude, co-existing with a yearning for understanding and closeness. Emily’s girlhood friend, Susan Gilbert, who married her brother, Austen, was her closest friend.
The theme of Makkai’s collection seems to be the surprising, unusual, surrealistic, and supernatural. It is probably no accident that she starts the collection with a fable, since fables are by definition about the unusual and supernatural. The pogrom/war/ethnic cleansing stories involve startling occurrences, and so do the stories set in contemporary America.
“Night Drive” by Rubem Fonseca of Brazil is a Stephen Kingish story that shows the Mr. Hyde side of a seemingly benign Dr. Jekyll. Another story that I admire, “The Snake” by Eric Rugara of Kenya, is, on the surface, a picture of family cooperation to band together promptly to rid their home of a snake. It may also be a metaphor for the power of united action against any creeping threat. With eighty-six stories to choose from it is easy for a reader to find something s/he likes in this collection.
The book feels earnest. It pulls the reader along. From the beginning Jacob’s transformation/journey is about the role of artist as seer and priest in the world. Ideas of reincarnation, Identity, and the Self or Cosmic spirit all come together in an attempt to sing of life and time.
However, if you let go of preconceptions about what a novel should be and how it’s meant to function, and read the work, instead, as a literary exploration of the unseen, beyond the world of logic and progression, then the work becomes much more powerful, yielding a transcendence that moves beyond the flow of ordered progression. The work moves in pulses; in moments of magic that become “elixirs, life renewed in the laboratory of Arcadia” or humanity’s highest self.
The eight stories in Mireille Silcoff’s collection, Chez l’arabe have a common theme, the shock and confusion we feel when faced with a nasty twist of fate. The central character of “Champ de Mars” is very human in her belief that the terrible pain she suffered over her child’s death “would absolve her from future hardship…she’d absorbed the blow, remained upright. Surely, for this, some kind of immunity?” Alas, life seldom works out that way, though some of Silcoff’s fictional characters fare better than others.
Though the book reads quickly, it’s denser than it feels. As a reader, I felt it was necessary to slow down my reading so I could notice all the descriptive detail and the power in each word in The Life of Houses, allowing the story to unfold at its own rhythm and get fully under the skin. This is an utterly beautiful and somewhat sad story that grows in power with re-reading as it strikes at the heart of human relationships, families, self-perception, and how we make meaning in our lives.
The Book of Strange New Things is like no other book I’ve read. It’s exquisite, sad, uplifting and doomed all at the same time. I wish that the ending was different, and know, somehow, that nothing else that would do. This is a book that will remain with me, working its way under my skin like the Oasan atmosphere.