Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Rabbi's Cat 2 by Joann Sfar

Graphic novel, 144 pages
Hardcover 2008

Translated from the French

Only the second graphic novel I've ever read, they are not my cup of tea it seems. The first was The Rabbi's Cat, which is charming, funny, and beautifully illustrated by France's top graphics artist, and a very good story. This one is the second book with the same characters. About a rabbi and his daughter in Algeria, pre World War II; the rabbi's cat can speak, it even argues Torah, and points out incongruities in people's behaviour. There are two stories here really, one about an old man and his mangy pet lion and a delightful con they have going, which is fun to read.

The second part is about racism but I didn't like it when the arguing got loud and even somewhat physical (perhaps an attempt on the author's part to prove his point?) despite everyone being of the same religion. And the author gratuitously threw in the "f" word-once, it spoiled the tone for me. I'm glad that I wasn't reading it with a child on my lap. This is a book for adults. There's no faulting the artistry or original story but I am clearly the wrong person to enjoy or to judge graphic novels.
Reviewed by Sandra at Fresh Ink Books

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

Fiction, 133 pages
Hardcover 1988 (UK)

The idea of a mother not loving her own child seems almost taboo as a subject for a novel. Such feelings just aren't possible, or at least they're not natural or normal, are they? That's the general consensus. I wanted to read The Fifth Child because someone said it put them in mind of Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin which I also read and reviewed. They are both about having a child who is difficult to love. Let's be honest, even their mothers find them impossible to love. They do try, very hard, over a period of long years, but ultimately admit their true feelings. Both books are well written and I thought at first they were quite different stories. Kevin, in Shriver's book is a teenager who's killed fellow students in a school shooting before the story even begins. Ben, the fifth child to a couple who planned a large family and celebrated each child's arrival, is odd and frightening and difficult to control from the day he's born. We follow his beleagured mother and family from birth through to his teen years.

Then I realized that the only difference in the stories is whether they are related to us before disaster strikes, as in the case of Ben, or afterward, as with Kevin's killing spree. Each book hits tender spots and like most tragedies are not the easiest to read. But I think they both need to be read. The questions raised need to be faced-by everyone. Should these children be drugged? Is psychiatry or behaviour therapy enough? Should they be "put away" in cases where they cannot be controlled? Then there's the issue of blame. People seem to need to point fingers when things go wrong. Are the parents, especially the mothers, ultimately responsible for the monstrous behaviour of their children? I'm glad I read these books. I learned things, empathy being the very least of these. I highly recommended We Need to Talk About Kevin. I recommend The Fifth Child as well.

I have also read and reviewed the sequel Ben, In the World by Doris Lessing.
Reviewed by Sandra at Fresh Ink Books