Saturday, April 2, 2016

Forty Rooms - Olga Grushin

I heard about this book on the NYT Review of books podcast.  The story of a woman's life is told as a series of experiences in different rooms in her life, from the nursery where she is a small child to the foyer of her home in old age.  The heroine is not given a first name; we know her only as Mrs. Caldwell.  Her life begins in Russia as a child with a vivid imagination.  She loves words and early in her life composes poetry to capture the world around her and the one she imagines.  But her dreams are thwarted by the expectations of the life of a female - relationships, marriage, children, and a home. Throughout the story she faces choices and her decisions leave her wondering if she should have chosen differently.

I liked the style of the book and the writing was lyrical. Each chapter is titled with the name of a room and a phrase hinting of the content.  There is a dreamy, reflective quality to the writing that is reinforced by the conversations she has throughout her life with her imagined friends and her thoughts.  Some examples:

"For this, I know at last, is why I am here: to experience deeply, my senses a heartbeat away from exploding, then take everything I am feeling - the insignificance of being human, the enormity of being human...and use the best words I have to convey it all...and make it bright, make it personal, make it forever."
"Now, as always, you have a choice. must remember this: Whenever you come to a fork in the road always choose the harder path, otherwise the path of least resistance will be chosen for you."
For what, after all, is the difference between a memory and a fantasy?  Are not both a succession of imprecisely rendered images further obscured by imprecisely chosen words and animated only by the wistful effort of one's imagination?  And who is to say that a vividly imagined moment of happiness is not, in the end, more enriching to the spirit than a hazy semi-recollection of some pallid pastime?" 
I was left unsettled in the end, wondering if I have made the best choices in my life, if I've chosen the harder path.  I think that's a sign of a good story, it makes me think.

Published:  2016  Read: April 2016  Genre: Fiction

ISBN:9 781101982334


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