Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review - A Severed Wasp by Madeleine L'Engle


Madeleine L’Engle was best known for her young adult fantasy classics such as A Wrinkle in Time. However, she also wrote adult novels such as the book A Severed Wasp, the sequel to the book The Small Rain. World-renowned pianist Madame Katherine Vigneras has returned to New York from Europe with hopes for a quiet retirement filled with playing daily on her piano. However, she is asked by her friend and former Episcopalian bishop Felix Bodeway to perform a charity concert and soon her life is up in a whirlwind once more. Through the planning of the concert, Katherine makes new friends with not only Felix’s small network of people but also the tenants in her home on 10th Street. Yet, all is not well for the Madame, for she is now the target of obscene phone calls, vandalism and flared up jealousies from both her past and her present. Although she is a woman of strength and much character, she is also haunted by her past, of her times spent under Nazi rule while living in Europe and the atrocities she and her husband, Julian, faced. This is the world of Katherine Vigneras told in an expert fashion my L’Engle.
This was my time ever reading L’Engle and to be quite honest, I was not sure if I was going to like it or not. I purchased the book at a library book sale and was later pleased to know that I had a First Edition for only $2.00. For almost a year, I passed by the book many times as it sat on my bookshelf while I always read another book. Finally, I chose it and opened to the first page with less than enthusiastic expectations. How wrong I was, for I found myself reading the book with great and rare abandon and even taking many breaks at work just so I could sneak a couple of pages in. L’Engle writes with such simple charm that shows off her powerful voice. She wrote the characters without fluff and quite believable, making me wonder if perhaps some of them wee patterned from people she knew in her own life. Katherine, the main character, is somewhat withdrawn, aloof, professional without being too elitist, and genuinely has a passion for music. Since I did not read The Small Rain, I was thankful in that the book did make enough references to Katherine’s past with regards to its influence on her present as well as what kind of person she was and still is.
One subject matter that weighed heavily throughout this book was guilt. It seemed as though most, if not all of the characters, suffered from some form of guilt. Everyone had secrets to hide and yet they came to Katherine to confess for they knew she would listen. Everyone’s guilty past and how they handled it gave strength to their own character, for it only added to their realistic tendencies and their relationships with each other. Even the children in the book had guilt over secrets in their life and yet they acted more like adults because of said guilt.
Another subject matter that played a part in the book was sex. Sex between married people, sex between lovers never to meet again, sex between people of the same sex and even imagined sexual fantasies of a dark and sinister nature created lines of familiarity between the characters in the book. In my own opinion, sex and love are two different matters; however, the two were quite joined at the hip in the book and yet it seemed so natural. Sex and guilt, such driving factors in humans and yet if we did not have them, would we no longer be called human? Do those two ideas give us the clear separation from animals? Or, perhaps, does it mean something darker than what we can admit not only to ourselves but also to each other? Many questions with answers left up to everyone who reads the book.
Regardless of my posed philosophical questions and thoughts, A Severed Wasp was quite a joy to read and an even greater joy to review. I am looking forward to going backwards to read The Small Rain to make my knowledge of Katherine Vigneras and her world complete.

1 comment:

larryatchleyjr said...

Great review! I had read her more famous YA books when I was a child, but I did not know L'Engle had written anything like this. It sounds very dark and interesting. Thanks for sharing this, I will look for this book the next time I visit a bookstore.