Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels: Sigh. I wanted to love this book, and for a while I thought I would. The first third of the book is devastating, full of gorgeous prose and powerful images. But it falls apart as the book goes on, disintegrating until I wondered whether Michaels had any plan at all, or even knew what she was trying to say. Unfortunately, I finished the book quite a while ago--about two weeks, I think!--I think I might have had more to say about it or been better able to analyze its problems if it were fresher in my mind. Regardless, I can say that it was frustrating to read a book that seemed to have so much potential but failed to live up to it.
Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer by Wesley Stace: I knew nothing about Wesley Stace before I heard him read alongside Roddy Doyle at the Free Library back in February, but I liked his reading enough that I decided to check out one of his books. This book is a take on a murder mystery, in a way: on the night before his first opera is to premiere, the composer Charles Jessold kills his wife, her lover, and himself. The first half of the book takes the form of a long narrative provided to the police by Leslie Shepherd, a music critic who is also Jessold's friend and librettist; the second half is also narrated by Shepherd, much later in his life, and fills in the many aspects of the case that Shepherd left out of his official account. I liked the first half better than the second, but that is at least as much to do with me as a reader as it with anything about Stace's plot or writing--I always prefer murky uncertainty and strange hints to anything that approaches clear resolution. While reading the first half, I was full of a hundred different hypotheses about what was really going on below the surface of Shepherd's statement to the police (Did he know much less than he thought he did? Or much more than he was letting on?), but the answer turned out to be something much different than I had expected. The resolution ended up being a little too clear for my taste, but the book was still highly enjoyable. I especially loved the historical setting, in the world of English classical music between the wars, and I thought that Stace really used that setting to add a lot of richness to the book.
Leaving China by James McMullan: Oh, lovely. This is a slim little memoir made up of short chapters, none longer than a page, and each illustrated by a watercolor painting on the facing page. In calm prose, McMullan tells the story of his peripatetic childhood during World War II. At times the events are quite dramatic, but the tone of the book remains serene and distant throughout. The watercolors are really lovely and add so much to the text.
Selected Stories by E.M. Forster: And now I am halfway through this volume that collects the short stories that were published by Forster during his lifetime (as opposed to those posthumously collected in The Life to Come, which I read early this year). So far, these stories are more in line with Forster's novels than those in The Life to Come. All of his familiar themes are present: experiences of the sublime, the necessity of authentic life and feeling, the constraining forces of propriety and society. Like all of Forster's writing on these topics, the stories seem to be deeply felt, but I think his novels give him time to explore his ideas with greater subtlety. I've read a few stories that I liked in the first half of this collection, but none that I've loved. We'll see what the second half brings.