Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Kettle of Fish


There are a few cover images that I am a sucker for. One of them is a kettle. Not a Ma or Pa Kettle but a boil the water kettle. I will always, always examine a book with a kettle on the cover. There was always a kettle on my Mother's stove and I love the shape of them. I guess that's the appeal.  Plus I drink a lot of tea too if that counts.

Hence my chum, my picking up Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen by author Kate Taylor. Once again the power of the kettle (thank you mighty kettle) didn't let me down. This is also a first novel which is another favorite catagory for me. Madame Proust is a marvelous, thoughtful novel. This is the story of 3 women, 3 different time periods and the power of love and memory.

The Madame Proust of the title is the real Madame Proust. Marie, in Paris from Montreal, is working on a life of Proust but when she arrives at the Bibliotèque Nationale the files containing the uncatalogued diaries of Madame are all she's allowed to see. They are described disdainfully by the head librarian as "the natterings of a housewife". Marie begins the translation and is immediately absorbed in Jean Proust's writings. Jean's worries about her frail son and the management of her household are interesting but it is her writings on the headlines of the day and experiences as a Jewish woman in a Catholic family that bewitch Marie.

Interwoven into Madame's story are Marie's and Sophie's. Marie is burying herself in work in response to a bad love affair with Sophie's son, Max. Sophie is the child of French Jews who died in the Holocaust. She was sent to Canada as a child and adopted. Despite the love of her adoptive family, Sophie is unable to stop worrying and as adult is unable bond with her husband and son.

What binds the experiences of these woman into a novel and not a series of short stories is superior writting. Their need to protect what they love and yet not be able to get close to what they love is moving. The marriage of all the histories and the characters makes this a very successful first novel. That and how very readable it is. Taylor is able to fade in and out of these 3 lives as easily as clouds cover and uncover sunlight.


P.S. Confession time. The edition of Madame that I picked up is the one with the kettle, but the current edition is kettle-less and much less attractive, but pick it up anyway, ok?

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