Monday, March 12, 2012

Clair de Lune by Jetta Carleton

Title: Clair de Lune
Author: Jetta Carleton

Genre: Fiction (Southern US / 1940s / Male-Female Friendships / Ozarks / WWII / College Life)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (3/6/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Looooooooooooooooooooooooved!
Did I finish?: In less than four hours
One-sentence summary: A young woman becomes a college teacher in 1940s Missouri where she befriends two of her students and learns some bitter lessons of her own.
Reading Challenges: A-to-Z Books

Do I like the cover?: I love it -- I think it's super pretty. I don't think it wholly fits the novel, though.

I'm reminded of...: Alan Bennett, Melanie Benjamin, Ellen Feldman

First line: Allen Liles is a fictional character.

Does... my copy have extensive tabbing and bookmarks of fantastic passages and quotes?: YES. The language is just so...it's pragmatic and pretty at the same time. Nothing fancy, but moving. Writing for language lovers!

Am... I kind of obsessed with Jetta Carelton now?: YES. I want to read The Moonflower Vine and learn more about her

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow -- a delightful, moving read!

Why did I get this book?: The cover and the 1904s setting.

Review: Bittersweet. That's the lingering taste of this book, rich and redolent, and when I finished, I kind of wanted to spend the rest of my Sunday in a Claire de Lune-stupor, rereading the lovely passages and wallowing in the satisfyingly sad/happy mood of the novel.

Hope, optimism, and innocence are themes of this book, along with passion, delight in literature, and the joy of finding kindred souls. Barbara Allen Liles -- called Allen -- becomes a teacher at a junior college in an unnamed town in southwestern Missouri. ("It is an orderly town, bred of the mines, nurtured by agriculture and some manufacture, a blend of Southern gentility and Western enterprise, firmly set in the conservatism of Middle America.", p3) A lonely young woman with aspirations of becoming a poet or novelist in Greenwich Village, Allen finds herself captivated, enamored of, and charmed by two of her students, George and Toby. Surrounded by the shadow of the war in Europe, Allen's constrained life as a teachers seems somewhat bearable with George and Toby in her life.

I really expected a basic love triangle with this story, but Carleton sets up something even more challenging to navigate through: male-female friendship and teacher-student relationships. In an era when women were held up to a different standard than men, Allen's actions are judged without interest or concern in her feelings or motivations. Her colleagues and acquaintances see and expect one thing from Allen, who has the mantle of 'teacher', and with that, some perception of power. It was fascinating, frustrating, and heartbreaking to read -- I so empathize and liked Allen -- and made even more nuanced by the fact that there isn't a clear and handy villain in all this.

I don't know if this is a historical novel; while set in 1941, I don't know when Carleton wrote this novel. It was recently discovered and published by Harper Perennial, and will include their P.S. section with interviews, 'insights', and more.

This is a skinny novel -- just about 300 pages -- and it can read fast or slow, depending on whether you have the patience to linger or (like me) rush through to the giddy, glorious, delicious end. I think fans of WWII novels will enjoy this not-quite-war novel, and anyone who enjoys a good heroine and ambiguous moral situations will find much to chew on in this book.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Clair de Lune to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 3/30.

24 comments:

  1. I tend to love morally ambiguous reads, and your excitement over this one has certainly turned my head! I haven't heard much about this book, but would love to check it out at some point. This was a really enticing and wonderful review. I enjoyed it a lot!

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    1. I almost feel like I haven't gushed enough about it -- I was really blown away. The mood, the writing, and the plot -- it's typical, and yet entirely unexpected. I don't know how to articulate it very well, but thanks for saying this was a good review -- I felt very flail-y and squee-y (unhelpfully).

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  2. LOVE books about male/female friendships. Sounds like a great read!

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    1. It was wonderful. I am so swoon-y in love with it!

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  3. I can't wait to read this book. Thanks for writing an engaging review!
    Beth

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    1. Aw, thanks, Beth! As I said to Zibilee above, I'm afraid I both didn't gush enough and I gushed too much in a vague, flail-y way. I just really was so surprised by how tight and sad and sweet this book was!

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  4. I am so glad you reviewed this because I was having a hard time getting a sense of its tone and characterization from everything else I'd read. I love books of the time, but I *don't* like cliches about the time, and it sounds like Carleton stays away from them. I really appreciate your take on the novel and now I am looking forward more than ever to reading it!

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    1. Cath -- this definitely doesn't feel cliched. It has a sort of modern sensibility to it, in that Allen understands she's being treated unfairly, but without feeling overly modern (or contemptuous). I'm not describing it well! The cover and blurb lead me to think this would be a straight up love triangle, and it was so not that -- really much more mundane (and so, for me, a more compelling story). If you pick it up, do let me know what you think!!

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  5. You had me with this part of your review: "Writing for language lovers!"

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  6. I always find books about college student teacher relationships interesting because the line is so blurry, unlike highschool or lower where it is plain creepy :) This book sounds awesome and I'm so glad you introduced me to it.

    -Kate the Book Buff
    Recent Post: Kate's Mailbox Adventure, or, How My Heart Was Stomped on by a Video Game

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    1. YES -- and Allen was the same age as these students, maybe a smidgen older -- so in that sense, it was creepy like she was preying on them. Still, her being their teacher is immensely relevant to the plot and was so good/sad/etc.

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    2. er, I meant, 'so in that sense, it WASN'T creepy like she was preying on them.'

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  7. Wonderful review! Your love and excitement for this story really shows. Now I'm sorry I passed on the opportunity to be on this tour. Engaging writing and captivating language are two of my favorite things when it comes to novels.

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  8. hooray for the give-away, and i really love your review style :) fun and super informative.

    ps. hi, from your newest follower!

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    1. Karen Marie: Thank you so much for following! I'm checking out your blog now -- I'm always keen to meet fellow readers. And thanks for the compliment -- I appreciate it! I have a badrillion open giveaways so I hope you paw through and see if there's anything else you'd like! ;)

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  9. Oooh, I'm in love already! This sounds awesome, and I love that you note there's no "handy villain." That's such a reading pet peeve -- having someone in the narrative designed expressly as a foil, someone without any redeeming qualities -- because it's just not realistic. How interesting that the book was "discovered" recently, too, and that you note it may not be historical fiction... because it could have been written in that era itself. Fascinating!

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    1. Meg -- I think you'd really dig this one -- it was such a delight. I was really surprised to find it more subtle than the cover or blurb lets on -- it really is about power, and dynamics between men/women, teachers/students, new teachers/old teachers, parents/children ... really well done, and everyone felt real and fleshed out -- their motivations made sense, even if I hated it!

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  10. Sounds good and I just love a book where you find a bunch of good quotes in

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  11. I think you had me at the quote about the town's description. How simply and yet utterly clearly she describes it! You have definitely piqued my interest in this one. Thanks!

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  12. I just moved this one up on my TBR list as I enjoyed Moonflower Vine by this author. Thanks for reviewing this one.

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  13. Darling audra you will love the moon flower vine. I cant wait to read this one. Love your reviews. Audra i am reading carol anshaws novel carry the one. You must must read it. It is the best novel i have read in a long time.

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    1. I just added Carry the One to my TBR -- it sounds intense but good -- and I'm so glad you're loving it because that just makes me even more eager for it! And thank you so much!!

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  14. I haven't read much about this book but your enthusiasm and love for the story has convinced me to get a copy and read it. I'm also really intrigued by Allen and her experience teaching and with George and Toby. This is a wonderful review, Audra and I'm thrilled about the giveaway!

    How are you so good at choosing all these wonderful books?!

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  15. Wow Audra, I haven't seen a rave review like this in a while - this book must be AMAZING! I'll definitely have to get my hands on a copy asap.

    Thanks for being on the tour.

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