When you’re laid up with a broken ankle, you spend a lot of time on the sofa reading.
Recently, I have spent some real quality time in horizontal mode reading the memoir H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. Sharply observed and deeply affecting, her elegant writing, unflinching honesty and depth of empathy captivated me throughout. She has a gift for metaphor that is astonishing.
MacDonald, a falconer, naturalist and wordsmith, shape-shifts into the soul of the eponymous goshawk, the wild bird of prey she has endeavored to train, as a means of reconnecting with life after the sudden death of her beloved father.
The book is structured so that the story alternates, chapter by chapter, between MacDonald’s own memoir and that of author T.H. White. White’s memoir, The Goshawk (published in 1951), with its emotional complexity and tragic undertone, acts as both a ballast and guide for MacDonald as she teeters on the fulcrum of grief. This is an extraordinary book that left me spellbound.
It’s not often am I lucky enough to read 2 books back to back that I cannot put down.
I have also finished reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Beautifully written and structured in an alternating style similar to MacDonald’s (chapter by short chapter), a style I’ve come to appreciate because I do most of my reading on the iPhone. I hate to pause in my reading before I’ve reached a good stopping point.
I found Doerr’s novel absolutely riveting. He is also a gifted, elegant writer and, in my opinion, very deserving of the Pulitzer Prize bestowed upon him in 2015. Set prior to and during WWII, the plotting is as intricate and dense as a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle on a rainy afternoon. I mean that in the best possible way.
The novel tells the story of a blind French girl paralleled with that of an orphaned German boy drafted (unwillingly) into the Third Reich’s army as a radio engineer. Very well researched, Doerr weaves his details into the novel seamlessly, deepening the reader’s experience. His writing caused me to care deeply about the characters and their respective fates.
One small thing I have to mention, however. I have encountered the same thing in other novels (most recently, in We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas).
Doerr’s novel essentially has an “epilogue” — which disguises itself as the “final chapter.” After sailing through the novel, the last chapter left me with a nagging feeling of disappointment.
Epilogues work well in non-fiction and are often necessary (for example, to provide relevant information that comes to light after publication). In a novel, though, an epilogue never works. It’s merely a jump ahead in time that unfailingly reads like a cop out.
In my opinion, it’s always better to end the book. Your reader will appreciate it.
When you read Doerr’s novel (and I hope you do, because it is excellent), my suggestion is to stop reading after you finish penultimate Chapter 177, dated 1974, titled “Frederick.” I believe this is the perfect place to end this novel.
Try not to read: “Part Thirteen,” “Chapter 178,” which wraps up Doerr’s novel as the epilogue in disguise (the title is: “2014”). At least, try not to read it right away. Allow yourself to bask for a while in the satisfied, wistful feeling bestowed on you by “Chapter 177.”
Epilogues are favorited by Hollywood filmmakers (rewatch Robert Altman’s brilliant satire on Hollywood, a film titled The Player, which drives this point home perfectly by making fun of Hollywood endings, specifically, the scene in the gas chamber with Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts).
Until then…Happy Reading!