Good afternoon. It's New Year's Eve here, but the absence of snow or even cold means it could be any autumn day, thanks to what we've done to the planet.
It's just struck me that this holiday, my media intake has narrowed to newspapers, a quick look through my bloglist, and books. I've watched one television programme (Dr Who: pretty good), listened to no Radio 4, and no music radio (no point, my hearing hasn't yet recovered). Instead, I've been reading for hours on end, and it feels wonderful.
Today's books is Curtis Sittenfeld's American Wife. I'd never heard of it (or her) before - it was just one of those books which caught my eye in a bookshop - the kind of thing that can't happen online. My tastes run from 'classics' (though I hate the term) to modern poetry, through science fiction and all points between, but it's a long time since I tackled a 'Great American Novel' other than Delillo and Auster. American Wife sounds like a saga or one of those muted tales of smalltown emotion (nothing wrong with that), but it's much more: it's an imaginative take on Laura Bush's life (no, come back, it's good). Sittenfeld is clearly intrigued by the reserved yet interesting public persona of the former First Lady, a woman who seemed too intelligent to end up with Bush and his 'policies', and yet was fully on board - or so it seems, for this novel suggests that Mrs President had her doubts.
From this jumping-off point, the author explores - with reference to what's known of Laura's life - the complex events and cultural pressures which led to this ordinary midwesterner ending up with Bush. Sittenfeld's too intelligent to make it a polemic: instead, 'Alice' is a rounded, complicated character who is symptomatic of her background, a woman dragged along by history thanks to her more human, localised choices.
It's not a biography of Laura Bush - too much is imagined and beyond the realms of speculation (I'd be surprised if Laura Bush did have a teenage abortion, though her words are placed in Alice's mouth at key moments) - instead it's an exploration of a culture, of American womanhood, of class, politics, power and place. Most of all, it's about loss: of love, of freedom, of opportunity, of self-expression and of ideals. Yes, it lacks the hard-edged selfishness inherent in Bush-republicanism, but as an imaginative exercise, it's utterly gripping.
HSBC: Stop destroying Rainforests
1 day ago