52 weeks – 4 November, 2012

Book

Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant. Patchett, author of the award-winning Bel Canto (Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction) is always a rewarding read. She creates unusual but entirely believable characters and leads us through the events of their lives in a way that is neither predictable in its plot twists nor clichéed in its language.

At the beginning of the first chapter, Sabine is widowed. For the rest of the book, we learn how she ended up married to Parsifal and how she deals with the aftermath of his death — when she becomes a magician’s assistant without the magician.

With Ann Patchett, you quickly learn to take nothing for granted. Her characters are quirky individuals and any assumption you might make has to be revisited. And she masters the worlds she writes about. In The Magician’s Assistant, she has a way of showing both sides of an illusion:

Sabine made the cards fly on the Fetters’ kitchen table. She showed off shamelessly for Kitty, who lowered herself slowly into the next chair. The cards shot up, twisted, and arched. She swept them to the left and then right, rocked them back and forth, like notes held long on an accordion. She showed their faces, hid them, changed them. Each of the fifty-two was a separate object, a singular soul. That was how you had to think about them. Not one deck but fifty-two cards.

When she wanted them, they came back to her, a cozy stack. She pushed them with the tips of her fingers across the table to Kitty. “Cut?”

Food

A Lemon White Chocolate birthday cake created and served for me by good friends. It was beautifully presented with candles of a deep coral/sunset colour and a matching calla lily. And it tasted heavenly.

A proper accompaniment to such a birthday cake is a classic champagne cocktail. Place a sugar cube in each flute; pour in a few drops of angostura bitters. Add a tablespoon of cognac and top up with bubbly.

I had some of the cake for breakfast the following day, with some tart berries and several cups of good dark coffee. This was a different experience but equally delicious.

TV SERIES

Watched the first two seasons of Engrenages (“gears” or “cogs” in English), a French police series. It is marketed as Spiral for English-speaking audiences.

Spiral is dark in mood and lighting and European in its sensibilities. Police and criminals are not as clearly differentiated as they would be in a North American-made series. There is a sort of Gallic-shrug cynicism about the attitudes of the prosecutor and the judge. Captain Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust) is more driven by a sense of doing what’s right but even so she and her team often stray across the line in order to try to close a case.

The action is fast and constant, crimes are brutal, and the plots are complex. I often lose some of the details. It’s not surprising, as you tend to half follow the actors’ French, read and mentally criticize the quality of the subtitles, and try to keep the cast of characters straight. But it’s very enjoyable as a change from comparable British or American series.

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