Thursday, March 29, 2012

Genre Reading Group recap - magical realism

The Genre Reading Group met last night to discuss fiction in the genre of magical realism. One of the first orders of business was to try and define what magical realism really is. I've read many different variations on a theme with this literary term and the definition I like the most of the ones I've read is one I found on a website called The Modern World (

"The term magic realism, originally applied in the 1920's to a school of painters, is used to describe the prose fiction of Jorge Luis Borges in Argentina, as well as the work of writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Colombia, Gunter Grass in Germany, and John Fowles in England. These writers interweave, in an ever-shifting pattern, a sharply etched realism in representing ordinary events and descriptive details together with fantastic and dreamlike elements, as well as with materials drived from myth and fairy tales."

"These novels violate, in various ways, standard novelistic expectations by drastic -- and sometimes highly effective -- experiments with subject matter, form, style, temporal sequence, and fusions of the everyday, the fantastic, the mythical, and the nightmarish, in renderings that blur traditional distinctions between what is serious or trivial, horrible or ludicrous, tragic or comic."

That is one of the broadest, most comprehensive definitions I've ever read of what really is a broad and complex genre. Is there anything you would add to this definition or anything in it with which you do not agree?

The books we talked about, while numbering only a few, nevertheless ran the gamut spoken of in the definition above, from serious to trivial, horrible to ludicrous, tragic to comic.

The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg
A Chicago Tribune Favorite Book of 2007
The internationally acclaimed bestselling author of Smilla's Sense of Snow returns with this "engrossing, beautifully written tale of suspense . . . captivating" (The Miami Herald).
Kaspar Krone is a world-renowned circus clown, and a man in some deep trouble. Drowning in gambling debt and wanted for tax evasion, Krone is drafted into the service of a mysterious order of nuns who promise him reprieve in return for his help safeguarding a group of children with mystical abilities--abilities that Krone also shares. When one of the children goes missing, Krone sets off to find the young girl and bring her back, making a shocking series of discoveries along the way. The Quiet Girl is an exuberant philosophical thriller that is "every bit as adventuresome and ambitious as Smilla's Sense of Snow, even more so" (Cleveland Plain Dealer).

Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert
Gabriel Blackstone is an unscrupulous hacker and unrepentant "remote viewer" who can't resist his ex-lover's request to look into her stepson's disappearance. His investigation leads him to a rambling Victorian home that bewitches him-as do its beautiful, enigmatic owners, the Monk sisters. The pair are solar witches, obsessed with alchemy and the Art of Memory, a practice invented by the ancient Greeks.

With his uneasy suspicion that one of the sisters is a killer, Gabriel sets out to determine which. But the more entangled in the case he becomes, the more deeply he is drawn into the sisters' entrancing world-losing hold of reality even as he falls into mortal danger...

Chocolat by Joanne Harris
In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne's uncanny perception of its buyer's private discontents and a clever, caring cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parish no longer cares, as it abandons itself to temptation, happiness, and a dramatic face-off between Easter solemnity and the pagan gaiety of a chocolate festival. Chocolat's every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere. It's a must for anyone who craves an escapist read, and is a bewitching gift for any holiday.

Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin
In the heart of New York City, hidden in the back room of an old Laundromat, are nine rare and valuable plants. Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire tells the story of this legendary garden, and the distance one woman must travel—from the cold, harsh streets of Manhattan to the lush jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula—to claim what is hers.

Lila Nova lives alone in a plain, white box of an apartment. Recovering from a heartbreaking divorce, Lila’s life is like her home: simple, new, and empty. But when she meets a handsome plant-seller named David Exley, an entire world opens up before her eyes. Late one night Lila stumbles across a strange Laundromat and sees ferns so highly-prized that a tiny cutting can fetch thousands of dollars. She learns about flowers with medicinal properties to rival anything found in drugstores. And she hears the legend of nine mystical plants that bring fame, fortune, immortality, and passion.

The owner of the Laundromat, Armand, presents Lila with a test: if she can make the cutting from a fire fern grow roots, he will show her the secret of his locked room. But Lila is too trusting, and with one terrible mistake she ruins her chance to see Armand’s plants. The only way to win it back is to travel, on her own, to the Yucatan.

Deep in the rain forests of Mexico, Lila enters a world of shamans and spirit animals, snake charmers, and sexy, heart-stopping Huichols. Alone in the jungle, Lila is forced to learn more than she ever wanted to know about nature—and about herself. An exhilarating journey of love and self-discovery, Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire brings together mystery, adventure, and heat, in every sense of the word.

GENERAL DISCUSSION - It's often odd to discover just what may spark a thread of conversation in our group. Tonight, it was plants. One member mentioned having attended a night-blooming Cereus party. When I googled that, there were no end of results including the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the Tampa Bay Times, and innumberable personal blogs and Youtube videos.

Also, the topic of quests came up briefly. Magical realism fiction frequently involves some sort of quest for the protagonist as well as for other characters. When I call to mind some of the magical realism books I've read, they did indeed inlcude major quests on the part of the protagonists. Have you encountered this pattern in any of the magical realism books you've read?

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, April 17th at 6:30pm. We will be discussing etiquette and I have a selection of books on display at the Reference desk on the second floor, so grab a book and make plans to join us! Also, it will soon be time again to vote on the next six months of genres so if you have any topics (for fiction OR nonfiction) that you'd like to see on a ballot, let me know at 205-445-1117 or

Happy reading,