A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
Maurice Swift is very handsome. So handsome that both men and women fall in love with him. He is also very ambitious. His two goals in life are to become a renowned writer and to become a parent, and he has no qualms about achieving both by devious means.
It is hard to write about this book without revealing spoilers, so I will avoid a summary and simply recommend it heartily. The story develops over several decades in the late twentieth century and is told sometimes by Maurice Swift and sometimes by people he has charmed and deceived.
I listened to the Audible version which is read by several different readers who are the voices for the protagonists in different sections of the book. They all presented the story brilliantly and in a variety of accents as the events take place in Germany, Yorkshire, London, New York, and various locations in Europe. It is so engaging that I found it hard to stop listening and in fact heard the whole book in just a few days.
You will not like Maurice Swift, but you will be fascinated by the ways in which his life and self-justifications develop over the decades. There is always an undercurrent of tension that his deceptions might be revealed, and that tension is compounded by more and more intrigue as time goes by.
What is always astounding is the degree to which he considers his behaviour reasonable and even virtuous since, in his mind, the end goals are noble ones, and the ends justify the means.
The Good House by Ann Leary
In Hildy Good’s mind, she has deserved a couple of drinks at the end of the day. She is a very successful realtor and has raised two fine daughters. In fact, she is an alcoholic who drinks a lot more than she will admit to.
Her daughters recognize the extent of her problem and have her stay at an addiction centre to dry out and rehabilitate. At first this is successful, and Hildy is able to admit that maybe she should cut back, but she never quits drinking. In fact, eventually, she drinks much too much.
As her life goes on in a small New England town, she increasingly does harm to people she loves and her lies and secrets increase. These are interwoven with the lives and gossip of the other people in the town until, one day, secrets collide.
In the Audible version that I listened to, Mary Beth Hurt is the narrator who provides the vocalization for Hildy. At first, I found the deep, gravelly voice disquieting but over time I began to appreciate it as very authentic for the personality she represents. When Hildy is sober, the voice is lighter and has clarity but when she has had a lot to drink, the voice is at times shrill and at other times raspy, and perfect for the character.
There is a lot to like about Hildy, even though she is in complete denial about her alcoholism and lacks self-awareness to a surprising degree. As things started to fall apart for her, I found myself rooting for her as she runs up against the many twists and turns in the story.
The author brings to life a number of very real characters that the reader can recognize, and she does an outstanding job of describing alcoholism through the eyes of the alcoholic. Although this may sound depressing, the book is more like a thriller with some amusing interludes. It is another great book.