Christina McKenna’s Picks
On the heels of the bestselling The Misremembered Man, Christina McKenna returns to the sleepy Ulster village of Tailorstown in her new novel, The Disenchanted Widow. Christina shares a list of the books sitting on her own nightstand, and they all sound like great reads!
As a recovering Catholic I need all the help I can get. This is a really delightful and thought-provoking collection of little parables on wisdom and spirituality. It takes about a minute to read each one, hence the title. I love how it’s able to open the heart and make me chuckle when I mindlessly get bogged down with the “small stuff.” Great, too, for those occasional bouts of insomnia. No more Lady MacBethian hand-wringing sessions in the early hours.
A novel that blew me away when I first came across it in a Mexican library 10 years ago. Every page of my copy is tattooed with notes to self. I’ve read all her novels, but keep going back to this one for the glorious sweep of the narrative: 100 years of US history told in a concatenation of mini biographies via the transferral of a green accordion through the decades.
All Ms. Proulx’s short-story collections, which I keep returning to again and again I love the lyricism and flow of her writing and how she can compress a character’s life into a single hilarious sentence. This from a short story, The Half-Skinned Deer, makes me laugh every time: “That bird didn’t fly and Mero ended up sixty years later as an octogenarian vegetarian widower pumping an Exercycle in the living room of a colonial house in Woolfoot, Massachusetts.”
A birthday gift from my best friend when it was first published in 1988. Larkin was a lonely misanthrope, a dusty bachelor librarian, but boy, could he write poems of real emotional depth and power! Latest Face is the saddest, most beautiful paean to unrequited love I’ve ever come across. It begins
… so effortless
Your great arrival at my eyes;
No one standing near could guess
Your beauty had no home till then;
Precious vagrant, recognize
My look, and do not turn again.
Nooooo, not “the blousy Mrs. Burton,” but Elizabeth Taylor the prim, postwar English novelist. Never got the kudos she deserved in her lifetime, but thankfully now enjoying a revival, due to the centenary of her birth. She was a fine observer of women’s lives, hilarious and unflinching in her descriptions. In Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, the alcoholic Mrs. Burton isn’t spared: “…she had removed her hair-net and filled the creases of her face with powder. Her face had really gone to pieces – with pouches and dewlaps and deep ravines, as if a landslide had happened.” Her examination of the anguish and despair of the lonely life is fearsome and exacting. The recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey checks herself into the hotel where she’ll see out her final days among a group of magnificently flawed and eccentric residents. The melancholy that grips her on first arriving in her room is perfectly nuanced. “The lift, far off, whined. Soon, she heard its gate clashed to, and there was a scattering of sound, of footsteps, of conversation, people coming nearer, turning from one corridor into another. Two polite voices at last went by her door. She was grateful for them.”
At the moment I’m savoring the wonderful Anita Brookner’s At the Hairdressers. There’s also a lovely backlog in waiting – The Infinities by John Banville, Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, Wicked Women’s Wit and Humor (from Elizabeth I to Ruby Wax) by Fidelis Morgan, and Immaculate Deception by Jim Gallagher.
Christina McKenna is a graduate of Belfast College of Art, where she gained an honors degree in fine art, and later a postgraduate degree in English from the University of Ulster. An accomplished painter and novelist, McKenna has exhibited her art internationally and in Ireland, and taught art and English for ten years. She is the author of the highly praised memoir My Mother Wore a Yellow Dress, as well as the nonfiction books The Dark Sacrament and Ireland’s Haunted Women, and a previous Tailorstown novel, The Misremembered Man. She currently lives in Northern Ireland with her husband, the author David M. Kiely, with whom she collaborates on occasion. Her latest novel, The Disenchanted Widow, is available here.
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