…And they all read happily ever after in small-town Iowa
And my honest review is as cheerily warm and appreciative as the book itself
Anyone who knows my book reading habits knows I have a predilection for hefty, often existentially suffering lit-ficcy stuff.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t be utterly delighted by much more cheerful fare – as long as it has a bit of bite and tang along with the sweetness – and this has, oh it has, because of the well drawn, individual characters, some of whom are distinctly crotchety and odd-ball.
Sara Lindqvist is a shy, spinsterish Swedish woman who adores reading, and worked in a bookshop. She strikes up an epistolary friendship with an elderly woman from Iowa, Amy Harris, who is also a great lover of books, and lives in a small town, Broken Wheel, which is dying. Much of their letter writing exchange, which goes on for over 2 years, is about books, and they send these to each other. Amy is clearly the kind of person with a big heart, and a lot of wisdom and patience, who rather enjoys the small foibles of humankind, and nonetheless has visions of wider horizons.
John says I think about historic injustices too much. Maybe he’s right, but it’s just that it doesn’t feel historic to me. We never seem to be able to accept responsibility for them. First, we say that’s just how things are, then we shrug our shoulders and say that’s just how things were, that things are different now. No thanks to us, I want to reply, but no one ever seems to want to hear that
Eventually, Sara sets out for a 2 month holiday to visit Amy.
Unfortunately Amy happened to die whilst Sara was en route…………..
So, what IS this book about – small people with a fair share of problems, a lot of humanity, and the fairy tale of a person who is the glue who brings people together. Amy was that person for Broken Wheel, and Sara, to her surprise, discovers that she is some kind of combination of both fairy godmother AND Cinderella, and, indeed, that pretty well everyone can go to the ball!
Tipping a definite nod to the that true story of how bibliophiles engaged across the ocean – Helen Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend…., features both the letters between Sara and Amy, and the strange and magical account of what might happen when a passionate reader rides into town with her cavalry of books, and somehow magic happens
Rest assured, to those who dislike the genre, this is not ‘magical realism’, it is, however, realism made out of ‘in an ideal world’ rather than realism full of grit and despair.
Passionate readers will delight at the appearance of all sorts of books, from the very highest of brows, to the most populist of beach reads.
The last thing Sara had done was get hold of a new shelf, on which she placed every unreadable book she could find, alongside every Pulitzer Prize-winner, Nobel Prize recipient and nominee for the Booker Prize
First-time author Katarina Bivald had her book published in her native language (Swedish, of course) in 2013. And I can offer no higher praise to her translator Alice Menzies than to say I had to keep checking the title page in disbelief that this was a novel ‘in translation’ Beautifully done.
And Bivald, like her heroine, is also a bibliophile who is not quite sure whether she doesn’t prefer books to people……….though the evident generosity in her writing, and her viewpoint shows she rather loves both
Bivald’s lovely warmth, humour, whimsicality and heart in the creation of her small-town community reminded me, yes, of the Hanff book, yes. of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but also of Armistead Maupin’s wonderful community in his ‘Tales of The City’ novels. It’s not just the subject matter which brings up comparisons, its also the joyousness, the heart, the humour and the artistry
We have perhaps become too used to thinking of Scandinavian writers as being the source of noir crime fiction. If this book is an example of Scandi RomCom – bring it on!
Sara couldn’t help but wonder what life might be like if you couldn’t daydream about Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy (how had she decided on that name? One of literary history’s most inexplicable mysteries), because you yourself had created him.
If I were to be a little picky, I think the book might have been a tad tighter as we got towards the end we are inevitably getting towards, and Bivald could perhaps have stepped on the accelerator, as within the last few chapters we know the destination, and kind of want journey’s end, rather than to admire the view one last time, but this is a small observation. 4 ½ stars, easy (rounded up to 5)
And, unless you are lucky enough to be a NetGalleyer or some other recipient of ARCS, Patience, I’m afraid, is needed as publication is on June 18th, and I will flag a reminder as the date approacheth…