Showing 161 - 170 of 257 annotations contributed by Duffin, Jacalyn

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Canadian narrator, Marie, is in a Paris archive, reading and translating excerpts from the diary of the Jewish mother of Marcel Proust. The entries cover the period from 1890 to 1905. Mme. Proust and her physician husband make excuses for their son's lax behavior, and they worry over his chronic asthma, his social agenda, his apparent lack of interest in women, and his risky future as a writer. Like the entire country, the Proust family divides over the anti-Semitic Dreyfus affair. Later, Mme. Proust writes of her own illness with cancer.

Nearly half a century later, young Sophie Bensimon is sent to safety in Canada from France by her Jewish parents who were never heard from again. In reaction to this loss, Sophie walls herself from emotional expression. Her childless, adoptive parents, the Plots, have difficulty understanding her return to France to search for evidence of her birth parents' demise. She too must cope with archives, papers, and bureaucracy, but she discovers some details of their fate at Auschwitz. She marries a doctor, keeps a kosher kitchen, and worries over every minor event in the life of her son, Max.

As Marie struggles against a pressing deadline to research and translate without reinterpretation, she is aware that her choices will inevitably skew her findings. With this work, she imposes herself, her tastes and her needs on another woman's past. And she remembers her passionate love for Max whose genuine fondness for her finds no sexual expression because he, like Marcel Proust, prefers men.

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Floating Bridge

Munro, Alice

Last Updated: May-17-2006
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This story takes place on a drive home to the country from a medical appointment in town. Jinny has cancer and is on chemotherapy; she feels unwell and wears an uncomfortable hat because she has lost her hair. Her visit to the doctor ends with disconcerting news, but her husband, Neal, seems uninterested. In a supposed effort to be cheerful, he plays up to Helen, the young woman whom they are taking home to help while Jinny is ill. She senses that Neal will have a life and loves beyond her existence.

In the van, Neal becomes obsessed with teasing Helen about a forgotten pair of shoes; over her objections, he insists on picking them up from friends. Neither the girl nor Jinny are eager to visit this place, which turns out to be a bleak trailer-home surrounded by unfriendly dogs and occupied by a garrulous, obese couple that invite them to visit. Jinny just wants to go home and stays in the van, but Neal ignores her wishes and goes inside for a beer, which extends into a meal.

The teenage son, Ricky, returns to find Jinny waiting. More sympathetic than anyone else has been that day, he offers to drive her home. She surprises herself by leaving with Ricky at the wheel of Neal's van and by not caring what the others might think. He chooses a back-road that passes over a floating bridge. They stop. The dusk turns to dark and the stars emerge over dark water; exquisite beauty in a simple spot.

Jinny suddenly realizes that she has been without her hat all the while. The lad then kisses the much older woman. He admits it is the first time he has kissed a married woman; she tells him it will not likely be the last, and, soberly, he agrees. The tiny adventure of betrayal--an innocent form of sexual retaliation against her husband--brings a sense of hilarity, self-worth, and well being "for the time given."

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Paris Requiem

Appignanesi, Lisa

Last Updated: May-17-2006
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

James Norton travels from Boston to Paris at his domineering mother's urging to bring home his fragile sister, Ellie, and their journalist brother, Rafael. He discovers Rafael devastated by the death of his Jewish lover, Olympe. Suicide, accident, or murder? Ellie is confined to a wheelchair owing to an unexplained paralysis. James is drawn into finding solutions to both problems and his investigations lead him to seedy brothels, the bureau of a hypnotist, the morgue of aspiring neurologists, and the wards of la Salpetrière, the famous neuropsychiatric hospital for women. The autopsy reveals that Olympe had been pregnant and the questions about her death multiply. The exoneration and return to France of Dreyfus plays as a backdrop.

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Hero

Carson, Anne

Last Updated: Apr-24-2006
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A woman begins the morning by assessing her mother's mood through her reaction to breakfast toast. They are off to visit her father who has dementia and no memory of his past as a war hero, or of his present as husband and parent. Yet a fleeting smile suggests that, on some level, unbeknownst to him and inaccessible to them, remain shreds of the same person.

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The Beekeeper's Pupil

George, Sara

Last Updated: Dec-01-2005
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The son of a poor widow, François Burnens is overwhelmed with his good fortune when he is hired to assist the gentleman-scientist, François Huber. Blind since the age of 19, Huber studies bees, helped by his wife in his observations at their Geneva home. Now expecting their second child, the couple realizes that she must concentrate on the family. Through Burnens's diary, from 1785 to 1794, the young man grows as a scientist, a writer, and a human being. Charles Bonnet and other scientists visit in person or in citation.

The domestic drama of the home plays against a backdrop of the menacing turbulence in nearby France. Burnens' admiration, respect and pity for Huber keeps him in the modestly-paid employ for nine long years. But his fascination with an artistically talented young woman shows him that his situation as a valued servant must come to an end.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

In 1950 London, lower middle-class (but upper middle- aged) Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) devotes herself to family and "helping" others. With empathic cheeriness, she visits shut-ins, provides tea for the bedridden, feeds lonely men, and "brings on their bleeding" for girls in trouble. She also tends her cantankerous, ailing mother, who has never revealed the identity of Vera’s father.

The men in Vera’s life are bruised and confused by end of the war. Exuding affection, she cooks, irons, sews, and listens to their litanies of loss and derring-do. Her son, Sid, is an extroverted clothing salesman and her dowdy daughter, Ethel (Alex Kelly), is a pathologically shy factory-worker; neither seems adequate for the task of living alone. But Vera and her husband, Stan (Phil Davis), are happy in each other, their offspring, and their modest existence.

Only the friend, Nellie, knows of the help for young girls. She extracts a secret two-guinea fee for advising the girl, but Vera receives not a penny. Over the years, the two women have solved problems for mothers with too many children, mothers with no man, and mothers who were raped. They also safely abort insouciant party girls who are blas?about men, sex, and consequences.

But a young girl falls seriously ill following an abortion and is sent to hospital. Under pressure from police, the girl’s mother divulges Vera’s name. The police barge in to arrest her just as the Drake family celebrates Ethel’s engagement to one of the lonely men, Reg (Eddie Marsan).

The criminal charges come as a complete surprise to the family. Sid seethes with anger and disbelief, but Stan’s implicit faith in his wife brings him and the others to support her through the long trial. The judge hands her a stiff thirty-month sentence intended "as a deterrent." But in prison, Vera meets two other abortionists who tell her that she is lucky: both are serving much longer, second sentences, because their "girls" had died.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

In four lengthy chapters, the biographies of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert are carefully presented. Special attention is given to health, both physical and psychological, throughout life and at its end. Autopsy information is included. In particular, the author emphasizes the impact of illness on the composers' relationships with family members and doctors, and on their musical composition.

Evidence is derived from a wealth of primary sources, often with long citations from letters, poetry, musical scores, prescriptions, diaries, the remarkable "chat books" of Beethoven. Neumayr also takes on the host of other medical biographers who have preceded him in trying to retrospectively 'diagnose' these immortal dead.

Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Vienna emerges as a remarkable city of musical innovation and clinical medicine. The composers' encounters with each other link these biographies. Similarly, many patrons, be they aristocrats or physicians, appear in more than one chapter, such as the Esterhazy family and Dr Anton Mesmer.

The disease concepts of the era, prevalent infections, and preferred therapies are treated with respect. Rigid public health rules in Vienna concerning burial practices meant that ceremonies could not take place in cemeteries and may explain why some unusual information is available and why other seemingly simple facts are lost.

Biographical information about the treating physicians is also given, together with a bibliography of secondary sources, and an index of specific works of music cited.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

A stern, old doctor (Victor Sjostrom) is preparing to travel by car to Lund to receive an honorary degree. He has a disquieting dream in which he perceives his own death as the frightening, lonely end to a hollow existence. In the morning, his gruff demeanor is considerably altered by the intimations of mortality. His daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin), who has inexplicably been visiting, decides to accompany him to Lund. En route they encounter a trio of mirthful teenagers, a bickering married couple, and grateful patients. They also visit the doctor's mother.

The dream and the journey unleash a recurring flood of memories of youthful summers at the family home among the wild strawberries and of his unrequited love for a beautiful cousin. He learns that his daughter-in-law is pregnant, but his only son is about to repeat his mistakes by rejecting an emotional bond with his wife and his future child in the empty pursuit of professional achievement. The pregnancy is the reason she left her husband to visit his father. At the end, the doctor establishes a small but real rapport with his son and achieves a degree of understanding about his own life.

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Summary:

What will the members of an isolated community do to attract a doctor? What won't they do? Ste-Marie-la-Mauderne is a microscopic fishing village on the rocky north shore of Quebec, just where it meets Labrador.

The fishery is declining, people are leaving, and the welfare payments, doled out by the pretty postmistress, Eve (Lucie Laurier), are humiliating. Ste Marie wants to diversify. All it needs to attract a plastic-bottle factory is a bribe of $50,000 and a doctor. They get a lucky break when a Montreal cop, who hails from Ste-Marie-la-Mauderne, stops the speeding plastic surgeon, Dr. Christopher Lewis (David Boutin), on his way home from a cricket match.

Now, the village has one month to convince the worldly young man that he wants to stay forever. The mayor, Germain (Raymond Bouchard), and several friends set out to make Dr. Lewis feel as welcome as possible. They embark on a collective effort to teach the francophone fishers how to play cricket. They flood the clinic with bogus ailments, they take Lewis fishing, they charm him with five dollar bills left nightly by a garden gnome, they force themselves to listen to incomprehensible jazz, and they bug the doctor's telephone to ascertain his tastes and commitments, broadcasting the intimate details of his faltering relationship with sultry Brigitte back in Montreal.

Eventually, Dr Lewis splits up with Brigitte, because she has been "dishonest" and he chooses to stay in Ste Marie because they are "genuine." The crisis arises near the end, when the townspeople realize that in order to keep Dr. Lewis for any time at all, they must own up to the charade of deception and offer to let him go.

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The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Three stories are intertwined in this complex novel; in the end, they become one. In a series of flashbacks, the elderly Iris Chase Griffen writes of her long life. At the outset, newspaper clippings present three tragic deaths from 1945 to 1975: sister, husband, and daughter.

Iris's pretty, younger sister, Laura, died at age 25 when she drove her car off a bridge. Two years later, Iris published Laura's novel, Blind Assassin, to critical acclaim, projecting the author to posthumous fame. Only weeks later, Iris was widowed when her husband drowned. Then many years later, Iris's daughter, Aimée, breaks her neck and dies from the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse. Iris also loses care of her only grandchild, four-year old Sabrina. Iris looks back on the circumstances before and after these deaths.

Growing up in small-town Ontario without a mother, Iris was expected to look after Laura. But the younger girl's guileless intensity inspired exasperation and jealousy, as well as affection. In the 1930s, the sisters managed to hide a young radical, Alex Thomas, in the family attic before he escaped to Spain; they both fell in love. But at age nineteen, Iris is forced to enter a joyless marriage to wealthy Richard Griffen out of obedience to her father who hoped that the union would save his factory. It did not.

Laura is bossed by the politically ambitious Richard and his domineering sister, Winifred. Defiance and maternity allow Iris to carve out her own space within the confines of the social situation. But she is increasingly estranged from the romantic, inscrutable Laura who is eventually sent to an "asylum" where she has an abortion. Upon her release, the sisters reconnect, only to hurt each other with painful revelations (unrevealed here to avoid spoiling the effect for readers; some will have guessed them in advance).

The other two of the three stories stem from Laura's acclaimed novel "Blind Assassin," parts of which are interspersed. On one level, it relates the passionate affair of a refined woman (very like the author) and a political fugitive (very like Alex) who meet in his sordid hiding places. On another level, it is an Ali Baba-esque fairy tale, invented by the lovers, about a cruel society in which child-labor, ritualistic rape, and human sacrifice are routine. The killers are children who have been blinded by their enforced work knotting beautiful rugs.

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