By Carole Reedy
“Can anything be sadder than a work left unfinished? Yes, a work undone.”
— Poet Christina Rossetti
Upon finishing my top-ten list of best books of 2022, a nagging sense of incompleteness remained with me. Happily, I’m remedying it this month by augmenting my Top Ten Reads of 2022 (published in the December 2022 issue of The Eye) to include the following six unforgettable novels.
Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver
Unlike many readers, I’m not an automatic fan of Kingsolver’s books, but this treasure from 2022 – a modern version of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield – has been given the praise it richly deserves by a majority of critics and reviewers. Yes, it is as good as her novel The Poisonwood Bible (1998), to answer the frequently asked question.
Here, however, the venue is changed from Dickens’ dark, sooty, deprived 19th-century England to the heart of Appalachia in southwest Virginia. We follow a young boy through an adventurous though drudging life, without the guidance of responsible adults, in a depressed land and state of hopelessness.
The opioid crisis features prominently in this tale set in the late 20th century. Kingsolver keeps us on our toes until the very satisfying end.
Two by Ottessa Mosfegh: Death in Her Hands, Eileen
After reading the popular My Year of Rest and Relaxation, I craved more of the same descriptive writing that allows us to enter the interior world of Moshfegh’s women characters.
Death in Her Hands (2020) could be described as a mystery, though the plot and solution come more directly from the mind of the elderly main character than the action. This character, in the manner we’ve come to expect from Moshfegh, drifts from thought to thought until a solution is revealed.
The novel Eileen (2016) involves yet another anomalous character. Moshfegh can be tedious, but in the end, this is what gives life and meaning to her characters.
The Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
This book from 2005 is one you’ll want to take your time with. Read a chapter a day and then re-read the supple passages.
The location is Europe, and the time is the 1930s. Follow the author over mountains and through valleys from Holland to Constantinople. Let your mind roam as you savor each word. Although this book is described as a travel memoir, it’s also an interior life explored as we observe an 18-year-old developing into a man.
The title comes from “Twelfth Night,” a poem by Louis MacNeice.
Mouth to Mouth, by Antoine Wilson
Words that came to me upon finishing this delightful read: sharp, clever, winding, hip. The mystery overtones give the novel a compelling, often surprising, story and plot.
I won’t spoil a word of it by attempting a summary, but know that the book has been compared to works by Patricia Highsmith and that it was one of Barack Obama’s favorites of 2022.
The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
You might wonder why this 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel appears on my list 25 years after publication. In 1998, I had just moved to Mexico and everything was fresh, foreign, and invigorating, so much so that my reading habits shifted from novels based on the English/Anglo experience to those exploring Hispanic/Indio culture. As a result, I never read The Hours.
Recently the Met opera debuted a new work based on this 1998 bestseller. Before attending the event, I felt compelled to read the book and also see the 2002 movie, starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianna Moore.
The story of three women revolves around the life of writer Virginia Woolf, who lived from 1882 until her death from suicide in 1941. Streep in the film depicts another of the women who is referred to as Mrs. Dalloway by her friend Richard, who is dying of AIDS. Kidman won an Oscar for her role as Virginia Wolff and Julianna Moore also has a significant role in this marvelous intertwining of lives.
Both the novel and film are complete in plot and character development and satisfying throughout, evoking strong emotions.
Sadly, the opera version didn’t capture the jarring passion of the novel or the film. The music seemed unable to convey and sustain the life frustrations of the characters, although the three sopranos – Renee Fleming, Joyce Di Donato, and Kelli O’Hara – are among the best of our time. In addition, my friends and I found it difficult to listen for more than three hours to an opera sung mostly in the soprano range. We were actually thrilled when the tenor entered the scenario.
The opera itself was the idea of Renee Fleming, who brought it to the composer Kevin Puts. The production itself was brilliant in its juxtaposition of the three women’s stories as they alternated and shared the stage.
I do think this is the first time I have read a book, seen the movie, and experienced the opera all in the space of one week!
Next month: Onward to reading selections for 2023.