The Man Who Smiled

The Man Who Smiled, by Henning Mankell, has Detective Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander recovering on the coast of Finland. He spent much of the last few months depressed about shooting a man during a police investigation. So depressed that he wasn;t able to help a friend who asked him to look into his father’s death. When this friend turns up murdered a few weeks later, Wallander cannot help but investigate. This tragedy brings Wallander back to what he does best.

This novel really shows the dark, brooding side of Wallander that we catch glimpses of in other novels. He cannot take no for an answer and pushed hard to uncover facts other colleagues have missed.

Great read.

Read September 2016.

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The Light Between Oceans

M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans tells what can happen when decisions that are made in isolation are brought into the light of society. Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia after years of fighting abroad and becomes the lighthouse keeper on Janus Island. The island is far off the coast and Tom is only visited every 3 months by Ralph and Bluey to deliver any mail and provisions. While in this isolated, although beautiful, environment, Tom begins a romance with a young woman he had met when he first arrived to takeover the lighthouse, Isabel.

Their written romance soon becomes physical and Isabel marries Tom and moves to Janus Rock. There she unfortunately has 2 horrifying miscarriages. Shortly after a miscarriage a boat washes up on shore with a dead man and a crying baby. Isabel quickly sees this as a gift from God and keeps the baby as her own. From this moment, both Tom and Isabel have to sacrifice part of their rationality and ethics to maintain the facade that they build. While I never question the love they have for their “daughter”, I have a hard time with the blame and rationalization that happens.

This was a divisive book for my book club, with several woman understanding how the pain and isolation that Isabel went through made her behavior understandable. While others, myself included, could not understand how Isabel could keep up her mothering while hearing about the heartache it caused. Many of the characters in the story also encountered the same dilemma. Maybe that should have made this an interesting read, but I can’t say that I enjoyed the book while I was in the middle of it. Isabel’s behavior bothered me too much and I couldn’t believe that anyone would allow this story to happen.

Read September 2014

The Homesman

The Homesman educated me about some of the hardships specific to women who settled the American Mid-West in the 1850’s. The land was cruel; the loneliness brutal. Families settled on land far from one another with very little community support established. As much as Glendon Swarthout captured how they tried to look out for one another as best they could, for the most part, each family were on their own.

The story centers on a small group of families where the woman of the household has gone mad. Each story that accompanies the madness is so sad and personal, but the hard reality is that the women cannot stay on their farms with no one to care for them and the men needing to care for the land. They need to be sent back east to families or possible sanitariums to care for them. While many of the women suffered things that women elsewhere in the world have suffered, the madness is intensified by their isolation and desperate circumstances.

Mary Bee Cuddy is an independent woman who owns and tends her own settlement. Due to one of the women’s unsympathetic husband, Mary Bee ends up being the one who collects the women with the intent of heading back east alone. After coming across a stranger in dire circumstances, she ends up partnering up with him, a claim jumper named George Briggs, who is only out for the money that is promised him.

Swarthout’s detail of what life was like on the American Mid-West is well researched and full of personal stories. I don’t doubt any of what he says, and it amazes me that America somehow spread beyond this period of time and this land. Its interesting that Swarthout also included that there was importance placed on keeping the women’s stories from reaching any women westward bound, lest they turn around and head back east.

This was an interesting and nice read. I would recommend to anyone who’s interested in learning about how women lived in the American Mid-West during the great American expansion west.

Read August 2014