As many of you know, I am a football fan as well as an academic, and so for me the academic year cycle starting from August/September till May/June is much more significant than the calendar year cycle. That said, I do appreciate the festive period and the subsequent run-in leading up to the New Year (not to mention the Chinese Lunar New Year which is another festive occasion for us), since it is usually full of joy and reminiscence as we look back on the year gone by and reflect on what has happened. I do not intend to do a full annual review in my first (English) blog of 2019, though there are a few things that are worthy of mention with regards to 2018, which has been a mixed year for me as there have been some good things as well as some bad ones.
I am thinking chiefly of the literary world, as two of my favourite authors of all time have sadly perished. I have already mentioned the death of the Chinese literary giant Jin Yong whose life and work have inspired me ever since I began reading as a child. Another such figure is Anita Shreve whose novels I read quite obsessively when I was a teenager. She, however, passed away last year, and learning of her death filled me with a strange admixture of emotions as I began to think back on all the literary experiences I had had reading her novels about love, compassion, betrayal, lust and obsession. Anita Shreve is perhaps best known for her novel The Pilot’s Wife, which won her critical acclaim and practically launched her already budding literary career. It tells the story of a recently widowed woman who, upon her husband’s death, discovers a few surprising things about him, namely the fact that he has another family other than her own and even has a son, something which they craved for but she never managed to give him. She then embarks on an investigative and exploratory journey as she delves into her deceased husband’s mysterious past as well as her own psyche. The first novel I read of Anita Shreve, however, was The Weight of Water, which recounts a double parallel of two women, one being the narrator and chief investigator in the present time of a centuries-old murder case in the Scandinavian islets and the other being the object of the investigation which is rumoured to have been a murder of passion, both living in intense jealousy, so much so that both end up murdering who they suspect is having an affair with their husbands. I then read Eden Close, Shreve’s debut novel, as I wanted to trace her literary origins, and this was sweet and lushful as it tells the story of this blind and mysterious beautiful woman, Eden Close, who has such a big effect on the main character, Andrew, that she lures him not only into love but also into investigating the accident which claimed her vision all those years ago when they were both children growing up in the same rural neighbourhood. I next embarked on Where or When, a dark novel about love, marriage and betrayal, as two teenage lovers who fell in love while in youth camp reunite as married adults and engage in a self-destructive affair. The next novel I read of Shreve is probably my favourite of hers, and it is Resistance. An American soldier called Ted is rescued from the ruins of his airplane in war-torn Belgium during WW2 by a group of anti-resistance fighters. As he is being cared for by the wife of a local resistance fighter, Claire Daussois, they fall in love, while, unbeknownst to them, Claire’s husband begins to break down psychologically. The American soldier is eventually traded in for compensation, and the resistance fighters including Claire are arrested by the Germans. As they are both in prison camp, they bump into each other by chance, though to his heartbreak Ted decides not to recognise Claire for fear of harming her, but Claire, carrying Ted’s child, does not understand as she looks at Ted’s face for one last time. Decades later, Claire catches up with Ted’s son who has come from America to pay respects to his father’s monument in Belgium. He also gets to meet his half-sister, who bears such a strong resemblance to his father that moves him tremendously. This is a most beautiful and poignant tale of love, betrayal and sacrifice, one which got me hooked on and I ended up reading it from first page to last in one-go while travelling on the plane back to school. There are many other novels by Shreve that are currently sitting on my shelf: Rescue, A Change in Altitude, Testimony, Light on Snow, All He Ever Wanted, Sea Glass, Fortune’s Rock, Strange Fits of Passion etc. I have also yet to catch up with her most recent ones published in the last ten years or so. The literary world has lost a shining star in Anita Shreve, whose work brightened my teenagehood in ways that had a profound impact on me till this very day. Such is the power of literature, and we may never realise the full extent of it. Thank you, Anita Shreve, and may you rest in peace.