Playing Catch-Up: Elena Ferrante, Pamela Paul, Joey Comeau, and Jesse Ruddock

The Days of Abandonment

In my attempt to avoid the Neapolitan Quartet, I have now read two of Elena Ferrante’s novellas. (Last year I read The Lost Daughter.) I thought both were excellent books, but I might have to give the edge to The Days of Abandonment. Although both books ask questions about what it means to be a woman and a mother, The Lost Daughter focuses more on that front while The Days of Abandonment delves into the scary territory of being left alone unexpectedly by your partner; alone with your shock, anger, grief, and alone with your children and everything that needs to continue to get done despite the fact that you are falling apart. At times, it was physically painful to read this book, but oh so good.

The urgency I felt was different, the urgency was to understand. Why had he so casually thrown away fifteen years of feelings, emotions, love? He had taken for himself time, time, all the time of my life, only to toss it out with the carelessness of a whim. What an unjust, one-sided decision. To blow away the past as if it were a nasty insect that has landed on your hand. My past, not only his, ended up in the trash.

Visit Word by Word, JacquiWine’s Journal,  and HeavenAli for more thorough reviews of The Days of Abandonment.

 

My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul

“Bob” is Pamela Paul’s book of books. And My Life with Bob is an account of her life told through the lens of the books she was reading; the books that helped to shape her life. Or maybe her life was shaped by the books she read? Each chapter of the book corresponds to a different phase of her life; each phase being defined or represented by one or more books. Before reading this, I didn’t know anything about the author, but I found this completely enjoyable. She’s not afraid to talk about herself and her life with a sense of humour; the good, the bad and the ugly.

Although my life experiences are very different from Pamela Paul’s there are many ways in which she thinks about life and books that feel familiar to me.

My sort wants the book in its entirety. We need to touch it, to examine the weight of its paper and the way text is laid out on the page. People like me open the books and inhale the binding, favoring the scents of certain glues over others, breathing them in like incense even as the chemicals poison our brains. We consume them.

We want an unreasonable number of books and we don’t like to throw them away. Some of us develop an almost hoardish fear around letting go of a book, even after it’s been read and reread.

Obviously, I want the books I intend to read, but I also want the ones that I don’t intend to read but think someone else I know might. Some books i may want to check back in on occasionally and I worry when they can’t be found. Some books I need to have around “just in case.”

There’s always room for more books, even though I’ve barely dented the piles I already have.

This is every reader’s catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven’t read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing.

It’s about experiencing something I would otherwise never have the chance of experiencing.

Reading may be solitary, but in the aggregate books unite us.

Rebecca at BookishBeck has declared this her “new favorite bibliomemoir”.

 

Overqualified by Joey Comeau

This book is made up of a series of cover letters. But not just ordinary cover letters, because that would be boring. And useless. Because aren’t cover letters just made up of a bunch of embellishments that you know the employer wants to hear? Well, not Joey’s cover letters… he’s decided to tell the truth. He writes about his childhood, his brother, impolite jokes, and sexual fantasies. His letters are often related, at least indirectly, to the job or company he is applying to. And in a way, by reading them all in a row, they tell a little of story about Joey’s life.

I feel weird writing this, I guess, but what if we die and nobody remembers those parts of us? What if all that’s left is the censored version?

This book is hard to describe. You just have to read it for yourself. It will only take about an hour. He has a new book coming out that I’m looking forward to called Malagash – set in Malagash, Nova Scotia.

Review in the Quill & Quire : “There is much frustration in these letters – born of capitalism’s absurdities and of personal calamities – but there is also humour, compassion, and joy.”

 

Shot-Blue by Jesse Ruddock

I had no idea what to expect from this book, but found the description of a mother and son living up North, doing what they must to survive, appealing. Shot-Blue is not a plot-filled page-turner, but has a slow, dreamy feel to it, with poetic prose.

Tristan put his head against his mother’s arm. She was asleep, so he tried to fall asleep too. He wanted to sit beside her where she was sitting. He would walk beside her if she were walking. He would wade out if she were in the water. He curled against her like a stray animal.

In only 215 pages, Ruddock creates complex characters that are felt rather than understood. Sad, lonely, even desperate, they all feel as though they need more love/friends/human connections in their lives.

At only 11 years old, Tristan finds himself alone in the isolated north, having to count on people he doesn’t know very well. He keeps to himself and rarely speaks. When befriended by a girl a few years later, he wants nothing to do with her at first, until she gives up on him, leaving him unexpectedly longing for her company.

It was about surviving time, being together and not alone.

The appeal in this story for me was not knowing what was going to happen to Tristan after his mother is gone. The cast of characters and their interactions (or lack of) kept the story interesting. But I felt like the end left me hanging a little too much.

Favourite lines:

It had a front door the colour of forget-me-nots, those timid flowers that spread like loneliness and took over everything…

She liked the sound of their ten thousand leaves in autumn shushing the sky. [Birch trees]

Review at The Globe and Mail – “It’s hardly a coincidence that notions of drowning run through the novel, the idea that people may be forever trapped in their own unfathomable depths, forever in darkness to the people around them.”

Review at The Rusty Toque – “Jesse Ruddock’s powerful debut, Shot-Blue, is at once charged with lyrical energy and grounded in a complex, human understanding of trauma, desire and loss.“\

Review at the Quill & Quire – “Shot-Blue is very serious, self-aware, and literary. It never seems to land anywhere in particular, preferring to float slowly and poetically along. The author is talented, with a penchant for paradox and a yen for examining the backward logic that guides our daily anxieties.

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45 thoughts on “Playing Catch-Up: Elena Ferrante, Pamela Paul, Joey Comeau, and Jesse Ruddock

    • Naomi says:

      I have been so tempted by the Neapolitan Quartet, but never feel ready to start reading a series of 4 books. So I thought if I read her novellas, I would at least get a sense of her greatness, right?

  1. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    Days of Abandonment was an incredible read, I read it last summer and was reminded of it more recently when I read Domenico Starnone’s Ties, another novella by Europa Editions, which I recommend reading as a pair to Elena Ferrante’s, because it takes a similar premise, only it’s written predominantly from the man’s perspective.

    Thanks for linking to my review!

    • Naomi says:

      Oh, yes, thank you for reminding me about Ties – I remember you encouraging me to read The Days of Abandonment when I expressed an interest in the other. 🙂

  2. James says:

    The quoted passage from “My Life with Bob” was spot-on for describing the emotions of bibliophiles towards books. Any books. Good catch-up post, Naomi!

  3. A Life in Books says:

    Inevitably, the one that’s caught my eye here and gone straight on the list is My Life with Bob. I’d also echo Claire’s recommendation of Ties, particularly as I know you’re interested in novels that look at marriage. It has a few explosive opening chapters from the wife’s point of view.

    • Naomi says:

      I think if you’re a book lover you can’t go wrong with My Life with Bob!
      I remember your review of Ties, and am happy to be reminded of it. I’ve put it on the list to consider for Literary Wives, but would like to read it whether or not the group decides on it!

  4. JacquiWine says:

    So glad to hear that you were impressed by The Days of Abandonment. It’s such a visceral experience, isn’t it? As you say, a painful to book to read at times, but a vital one. And thank you for linking to my review – that’s very kind of you.

    • Naomi says:

      I’ve managed to avoid it so far… but on the other hand, I also picked up the first book at a book sale somewhere along the way. Maybe once I’ve collected them all, I’ll be ready!
      I remember Eva (The Paperback Princess) wondering the same thing after the first book, but then liked the second one a lot better.

  5. didibooksenglish says:

    Hmmm… Ferrante. That’s all I’m going to say. Read My Brilliant Friend with my book club and I must admit there weren’t very many of us who were impressed as much as all the people that have been raving about it. I felt it was ok. I’v promised myself to try and pick up book 2 before the end of the year. If that doesn’t float my boat I’ll be quitting that series.

    • Naomi says:

      I haven’t read the quartet, but I definitely recommend the novellas! I’ll be interested to hear what you think about The Lost Daughter – it’s a brave book, in a way.

  6. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    I’ve GOT to get my hands on My Life With Bob before the year ends!

    I’ve read the first three of the Neapolitan Quartet and inexplicably haven’t yet read the last one! I really enjoyed them and I guess I just don’t want them to be over! But I need to read it before I forget all about the other ones.

    • Naomi says:

      Going by how much I liked her novellas, I imagine that I’ll get to the quartet, too, someday. I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying them!

      My Life with Bob is a fun read for any book lover!

  7. Deepika Ramesh says:

    This is a wonderful post, Naomi! Thank you. I have been avoiding Neapolitan Quartet. Now that you have recommended ‘The Days of Abandonment’, I really want to try it. I am adequately intrigued by ‘My Life With Bob’ and ‘Shot-Blue’. I love books on books and I love books with poetic prose. I am surely going for them. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I’m glad you were able to find some books on here that appeal to you. If you decide you love Ferrante’s style, you’ll know you have her quartet to look forward to!

  8. Elena says:

    I had no idea Ferrante had other works pubished apart from the Elena and Lila series, so I’m now very curious to read them. I have to admit I was a bit weary of all the success of the books, but they are 100% worth the buzz. I miss both of them like I miss my friends doing her PhDs in America! (Just don’t tell them).

    • Naomi says:

      Good to know the Neapolitan books are worth the buzz! I am slowly trying to collect them all, so I’ll be ready for a big read through – like they’re all one book!

  9. Grab the Lapels says:

    I thought that Bob book was literally a list of what this woman has read throughout her whole life, but it sounds more like it’s about the relationship to book in addition to what she’s read. Which, based on my misconception of the Bob, makes me surprised that I am interested in reading the resume book, which sounds like it’s just a list of resumes! 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      It really is just a bunch of cover letters! But put together, they tell a kind of story. If you’re looking for something experimental, it’s a good choice!
      And My Life with Bob is more like a memoir, using books as reference points along the way… if that makes sense.

  10. Katie Wilkins (@DoingDewey) says:

    I’d heard of My Life with Bob and while I’m always interested in books about books, I’m definitely more interested after reading your review. I don’t think I’d heard of Unqualified, but it sounds like a fascinating and quirky read. Very interesting!

    • Naomi says:

      If you tend to like books about books, then I don’t think you can go wrong with My Life with Bob. Even without the books, her life is interesting to read about. Not too out of the ordinary, but interesting anyway.

  11. susan says:

    I enjoy Pamela Paul’s podcast every week of the NYT book review. It’s quite fun to listen to so I’d probably like her book as well. Is there a reason you are avoiding Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet? I haven’t read them yet but I wonder if they are a bit slow? cheers.

    • Naomi says:

      The only reason I’m avoiding them is because there are 4 of them, and if I read one I know I’ll want to read the rest, and I have so many other books to read! I avoid most series for the same reason, but this one has been harder to resist. 🙂
      I haven’t listened to her podcast – I bet it’s good!

  12. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    I’m trying hard to resist the Neapolitan Quartet as well, for the same reason you do. But my mom just flew through all four of them, and it will be hard to resist her pressing me to give them a try. I think from your list, I would pick Shot-Blue.

    • Naomi says:

      Well, if she ‘flew through them’, maybe they wouldn’t take long. 😉 I also have a hard time resisting my mother’s recommendations… it gives me someone to talk about the book with… someone in real life!

  13. BuriedInPrint says:

    I’ve only read the first of Ferrante’s quartet; I’m interested in the others, but not burning to chase them either. The next time one falls in my lap is good enough. Although the interview with another Italian writer on The New York Times Book Review podcast (normally hosted by Pamela Paul, but that segment was not) piqued my interest freshly (Not saying with whom, as it is connected to the idea of “who Ferrante really is”.) Overqualified I love: so funny at times, but also mshotanages to feel very true. My expectations of My Life with Bob were pretty high, but I did enjoy it. Shot-Blue sounds disturbing: interesting but disorienting. What a great combo overall!

    • Naomi says:

      I never knew what he was going to write about next (or to who) in Overqualified, which was really fun.
      I also had high expectations of My Life With Bob, but enjoyed it anyway – so I know exactly what you mean.
      Disorienting is a good word for Shot-Blue. And only disturbing in the sense that you wonder what’s going to become of all these people. Especially the boy.

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