Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Swann

(Please join the T(ea) is for Tuesday party hosted by Bleubeard and Elizabeth).


Swann is a 1987 mystery novel by Carol Shields. I've read several of her books and always enjoy them. I read The Stone Diaries before I started blogging, because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. More recently I've read Unless and Larry's Party. I'll continue picking up her books as I come across them. I'm never disappointed by her.

You can read an excerpt from Swann at the author's website.

from the back of the book:
To her neighbors, Mary Swann was a simple, hardworking farm wife; her delicate poems are discovered only after she is brutally murdered. The strange, evocative verses attract the attention of an earnestly self-absorbed feminist scholar, a pompous literary biographer, a virginal small-town librarian, and a curmudgeonly retired newspaper editor. But as interest increases, all traces of Swann's existence -her notebook, the first draft of her work, even her photograph- mysteriously vanish.

In solving the puzzle of Swann's disappearing legacy, Carol Shields explores the larger mysteries of the nature of art, as well as the powerful forces that motivate us all.
Tea shows up a few times in this book. For one woman it's a comfort measure:
Oh, she loves her Friday nights. During the week she's too tired to read, and it's all she can do to keep her attention on the television. But Friday nights: a pot of tea by her bedside, the satin binding of the blanket at her chin, the clean cotton-and-Fortrel-blend sheets moving across her legs, her book propped up in front of her.
...
Rose's bedside clock says 2:00 A.M. The hour and the grey chill of the room augment the airlessness that enters her throat. Just one more chapter, she promises herself, but she can't stop. Through a crack in her curtains she can see the moon, shaved down to a chip. The tea in her cup has been cold for hours, but she sips a little anyway...
In other places it's used as a distraction, as in "May I get you some tea?" as a way to change an uncomfortable subject. It's interesting to think about how tea and coffee rituals can provide solitary comfort and how they can serve as a social tool. It doesn't just taste good; it's useful! Now I feel all justified and righteous!

The book provides an almost snarky look at academe. The researchers know what they want to find and find it, ignoring all evidence that doesn't support their view. The people being interviewed who knew the poet being researched either provide deliberately one-sided views of the subject or they make up stuff trying to please the researchers.

I loved this book. You can just imagine this actually happening. Biographies just aren't as trustworthy if you question the author's agenda. And posthumous works? Well, I've always been a bit suspicious of works published posthumously.

favorite quotes:
Habit is the flywheel of society, conserving and preserving and dishing up tidy, edible slices of the cosmos. And there's much to be said for a steady diet. Those newspaper advice-givers who urge you to put a little vinegar in your life are toying, believe me, with your sanity.
.....
Guilt has the power to extract merciless sacrifices.
.....
Clever men create themselves, but clever women, it seems to me, are created by their mothers. Women can never quite escape their mothers' cosmic pull, not their lip-biting expectations or their faulty love. We want to please our mothers, emulate them, disgrace them, oblige them, outrage them, and bury ourselves in the mysteries and consolations of their presence.
.....
...women carry with them the full freight of their mothers' words. It's the one part of us that can never be erased or revised.
.....
...a life lived, as the saying goes, in the avoidance of biography.
.....
...perhaps men have a tendency to overlook what is perfectly obvious to women.
.....
The hold most married people have on each other tends to dwindle fairly quickly, but occasionally accident and temperament, so strangely mingled, keep it buoyant.
Publishers Weekly opens its review with this:
Viking has wisely decided not to publish this fascinating novel as a mystery, as it was designated in Canada, where it earned excellent reviews. While two (rather bland) mysteries animate the plot, the book's considerable impact is as a combination of psychological novel and satirical comedy of manners that wittily dissects the pretensions of academia.
Kirkus Reviews says, "... this novel is the triumphant introduction of a mature artist to American readers."

26 comments:

  1. Interesting read here...the "Clever men create themselves, but clever women, it seems to me, are created by their mothers." quote sure rings true!
    I always notice in watching British shows how a cup of tea is always offered whether it be a detective visiting or getting upsetting news...tea is a way of life there definitely!
    If I drank tea (or coffee) as late as Rose did I would never close my eyes...
    my cut off for caffeine is oneish at the latest ;-)
    Happy T Day
    oxo

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    1. I'm lucky caffeine doesn't interfere with my sleep lol.

      I think it's interesting on the British mysteries that people invite the detectives in to begin with, much less offer them tea. I'd be standing at the door asking if they have a warrant.

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  2. you certainly do read interesting books but I pretty much stay with travel essays and non fiction. Great and varied selection of quotes too. Thanks for sharing and happy T day!

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    1. I haven't read any travel narratives in ages, but I used to read them all the time and had shelves of them. Fascinating!

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  3. The quotes alone make me interested in this book...brilliant! pretty cool art on the cover of the book, too. happy T day!

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    1. I thought the cover art was interesting, too. Happy T Tuesday!

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  4. Love to read, and will look for her books, this one sounds very interesting.
    Caffeine doesn't bother me either, and like you I'd be standing at the door asking the same thing!

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    1. Her books are worth looking for, I think. Yes, "Ask for a warrant," that's my motto.

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  5. Ah yes, a cup of tea can solve anything, but I am with Patty....after 1 or 2pm it's decaf tea (which doesn't taste like tea at all so I hardly ever drink it) for me!

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    1. I'm with you on decaf tea. What is it _really_, I'd like to know ;)

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  6. What a wonderful review! I did read The Stone Diaries a long time ago but for some reason didn't follow up and read anything else by the author. You can bet I'll be reading this one.

    T Tuesday is so much fun, learn something from all the posts.

    Darla

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    1. I do love T Tuesdays. I learn at least 1 completely new thing every time! :)

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  7. I was caught up in the relevance of this book review. I've also noticed how British shows often segway into tea. I've seen a few Korean dramas use tea in a similar way. It seems we in America are far more suspicious, and don't offer our "visitors" a warm cup, whether the recipient drinks it or not. As for me, I've found it's (offering coffee, in my case) a great way to ease tension when when a conversation needs a bit of attitude adjustment. And I agree, its a great way to change the subject, too.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading the quotes and your thoughts on this book and tea in general during T this Tuesday.

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    1. Suspicious of police anyway. I can't imaging anyone here finding police at the door and saying, "Yes, of course, Officer, come right in. Tea?" But I wonder if it actually happens in real life in England.

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  8. I forgot to mention, my surprise lilies (or naked ladies as some call them) are beginning to come up. It's the first time I've seen the bulbs before the lily popped out of the stem. So I guess it was a good thing I went grocery shopping this morning when I should have been visiting my T friends.

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    1. Mother had surprise lilies, but I never did. I lose track of when they bloom, so they're always a surprise to me lol

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  9. Love books, I make sure I read every night even if its only 1 page, reading make me sleep which is great.
    Bridget #1

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    1. I always read some at night, too. Nice end to the day.

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  10. Great review on this book. I especially love the references to tea and the quote about men overlooking what is obvious to women! That made me chuckle!
    Hugs
    xx

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    1. Glad you got a kick out of it :) Happy T Tuesday!

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  11. Sounds interesting and a bit humorous. I love watching British series and period pieces and movies. They are always having tea--LOL! ;) Happy T-Day! :)

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    1. Yes, tea is always served :)

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  12. I love a good read and nice beverage. I'll have to go look them up in the library.

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    1. I hope your library has some by her and that you enjoy them.

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  13. I like a good mystery so I may see if I can find that at our local library.

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    1. It's not a typical mystery, but I hope you like it. Happy T Tuesday :)

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