Somewhere in the process of my December reading it occurs to me that three very different and unlikely books share a series of similar elements.
Don’t you just love it when that happens, when you think… rum, again?? And it all begins to feel like a kind of reading serendipity is happening.
It begins with The Book of Eve, by Constance Beresford-Howe. Written in 1973… it remains the classic, in my opinion, running away story. Woman fed up with boorish husband, chooses instead to live in a damp bare bones Montreal basement apartment, with a feral cat outside a window that’s impossible to open and a slightly mad, slightly inspiring Hungarian living upstairs. Hard to see as uplifting but of course it is. She is free, not of life’s yins and yangs, but free of those yins and yangs where the source is boorishness and which grate as intolerable because they are the yins and yangs of a life that is not of her choosing. Makes such a difference. The upstairs Hungarian is the well-intentioned budinski. There is rum (or is it whiskey?), also sherry. There is scavenging in order to survive, there is rain and redecorating with scavenged objets that indeed become a kind of art representing this new life. There is the confusion of what I have done? and there are answers.
— The book to read if you, too, have dreams of living in a damp basement apartment with not a lick of money other than what you can pawn your scavenged bits for. Or if you merely admire simplicity and living one’s truth.
Next up, One Woman’s Island, by Susan Toy, which surely calls to me as an antidote to all that damp draftiness (see above). The story takes place in the Caribbean on the island of Bequia, which is an almost character itself in the way Toy offers not only island customs and sounds, fragrance, colour, but the lilt of language, the tinkle of ice in a rum-filled glass. She also gives us a peek at the ex-pat experience in all its happy hour island vibe and the sense of finding like-minded souls, but also the sometimes sense of claustrophobia, lack of meaningful ways to spend one’s time, and the major adjustment to another culture. The story is about a woman who leaves Canada after the death of her husband and heads to Bequia where she rents a house for six months, intending to simply relax. Turns out relaxation is limited given the dinner and drinks invitations from ex-pats, the occasions of possible murder, various other dangers and intrigues, and her own well-intentioned budinski tendencies toward a neighbouring family. Toy has a dry sense of humour that infuses the narrative voice with a conversational tone and makes for an easy, enjoyable, and compelling read. Also, Toy’s respect for the island comes through in the way she weaves references to serious issues such as literacy, island politics, traditions, and warns of the need for ex-pats (and tourists) to understand that life for the locals, while appearing to mainlanders as possibly needing improvement, is a life the islanders love. Budinskis butt out.
— The book to read if you want a sweet slice of winter armchair travel. (Also, Toy, who actually does live part of the year on Bequia, and is a bit of a foodie, infuses much cooking and eating throughout the book and thoughtfully includes recipes for items enjoyed by the characters at the end of each chapter. I will try several.)
Finally, Lynn Coady’s Watching You Without Me, The budinski connection is huge here. His name is Trevor and he’s employed to take Karen’s intellectually handicapped sister Kelli for walks twice a week. Karen has been living in Toronto for many years but comes home to Nova Scotia after the death of her mother, in order to look after Kelli and make arrangements for her future. Trevor, the personal support worker, has an excellent relationship with Kelli, who clearly adores him and vice versa. He is helpful re info on the home care system and long term care residences, all of which Karen is grateful for. Until. Without giving too much away, let’s just say Karen learns she should have followed her own instincts, and this is where the escape element comes in. Although I won’t say in which direction said escaping occurs. I will say that rum features large throughout.
— The book to read if you’re a caregiver. A manual of both what to do and not do.