The antidote to bleakness – comfort books.

October 23, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

As mentioned in my previous billet B Is For Bleak: the bleak fest continues in Oktober, I tried to mitigate the effect of bleak reads and plays with comfort books.

The first one was The Stationery Shop by Ogawa Ito. (2016. translated by Myriam Dartois-Ako).

I had already read another of her novels, The Restaurant of Love Regained and I knew I’d be reading something soft and uplifting.

In The Stationery Shop, Hatoko is 25, she’s back in her native town of Kamakura to take over the family business after her grandmother passed away. Hatoko inherited a stationary shop and has to replace her grandmother as a public letter-writer.

We follow her as she settles into her new life, meets people in the neighborhood, connects with clients and learns about her past. I knew nothing bad would happen and that Hatoko’s life would improve as she made peace with her past and built her future. It didn’t disappoint on that part.

However, The Stationery Shop has the same backbone as The Restaurant of Love Regained and the parallels are striking. A young woman comes back to her hometown or village. She’s lonely. She has unsolved issues with the woman who raised her, mother or grandmother. She starts or runs a business based on Japanese traditions. She knows a craft deeply embedded in Japanese customs, cuisine for one, calligraphy for the other. She connects to her Japanese roots through this craft, one that is turned towards others and aims at making her customers happy with a meal or with the right letter for an event or to a dear one. While she applies her craft as a balm to her customers’ souls, she finds her inner peace. It bothered me to find out that the two books had the same structure.

Ogawa Ito gives a lot of details about Japanese calligraphy. To be honest, I don’t know enough about Japan and its tradition to catch on all the calligraphy explanations and details about the writing, the quill, the choice of paper, of stamps…I missed a layer of knowledge and all these details bored me, which is even worse than getting emotional over a bleak play. So, the comfort book wasn’t that comforting, I thought it was a bit slow and dull. A bit goodie-two-shoes too, you know, a novel aimed at spreading love and good feelings.

The next time I turned to a different kind of comfort read, crime fiction set in Montana, with The Grey Ghosts Murders by Keith McCafferty. (2013. Translated by Janique Jouin-de Laurens)

I’d already read the first volume of the series, The Royal Wulff Murders and had enjoyed it. I expected entertainment and a reprieve from emotional books.

It’s crime fiction, so, of course, there are terrible deaths and corrupt politicians like everywhere else, and it doesn’t qualify as a fluffy feel-good novel but the context is positively endearing.

No stiff in dirty back alleys like in a Connelly novel. No, you’re in the wild part of Montana. The police and the medical examiner have to hike to go to the body, only to discover that bears messed up with the evidences and that their pepper spray is damned handy when they get too close to a mamma bear and her cubs while on the job.

The main character, Sean Callahan shares his time between working as a fishing guide, painting Montana landscapes for tourists and playing amateur sleuth. Beside the murders, a group of fishermen who purchased a cabin together for their fishing holidays, ask him to investigate a theft: two of their antique fishing flies were stolen from their display cases. They were mounted by famous fishermen who invented these flies, a breakthrough in fly-fishing techniques. It’s as serious as stealing Dumbledore’s wand and yet, it’s funny to think that somewhere, there’s a parallel world where fishermen collect antique flies.

Sean helps with the murders investigation and researches thoroughly the person who had the idea to steal antique fishing flies.

Sean is quirky character, with a tender heart and he falls in love too easily, with the wrong women. He has a touchy relationship with Martha, the sheriff. He has decided to settle in Montana for good and we understand why, with all the attaching second characters in the book.

This comfort read totally worked because, to me, it’s exotic and took me far away from the previous book. It did the job and I’ll get the third volume on the shelf for future comfort read. It’s like having a Louise Penny on the ready.

That was before I read Sandrine Collette. After that one, I needed a solid pick-me-up and decided to take the safest option with guaranteed HEA.

I read Beauty and the Beast, the 1740 original tale by Madame de Villeneuve. The story was consistent with the children version I’d read before. The Disney movie and the film by Cocteau are based on a later version of the story, written by Madame Leprince de Beaumont.

Compared to this well-known version, the original has an additional part in which Madame de Villeneuve describes the war between the fairies and explains how the prince fell under a magic spell and why Beauty ended up with her father’s family. Interesting and relaxing.

Now my reading has come back to its usual mix of easy, challenging and entertaining books, like Richard Russo, Michael Connelly and Balzac.

What kind of books do you turn to after a challenging or emotional read?

  1. October 23, 2021 at 7:57 pm

    Some interesting choices, Emma. As is probably obvious from my blog, I always turn to Golden Age crime for comfort or escapis, – always works for me!

    Like

    • October 24, 2021 at 6:05 pm

      I’ve noticed that and Golden Age crime books are a good way to clear one’s mind. I’ve picked some from your blog or Ali’s.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. October 24, 2021 at 12:39 am

    Hmm, comfort reads – sometimes I reread books I love, John Le Carré’s George Smiley books for example, or crime fiction. Also some nonfiction books work well for me at those times.

    I’d probably like the calligraphy details more than you did in that first book, but would also find the goodie-two-shoes aspect annoying.

    Like

    • October 24, 2021 at 6:03 pm

      I never think about re-reading a book I loved when I need something easy or something I know I’ll enjoy but that’s an excellent idea.
      Crime fiction books have a way to embark you on a story and help you move to something else.

      Like

  3. October 24, 2021 at 1:54 am

    I like humour when I need a break from challenging books, but I like it subtle and clever:)

    Like

  4. October 24, 2021 at 11:01 am

    The Keith McCafferty series sounds good – you sold me on it when you likened it to a Louise Penny who is my comfort reads author.

    Like

    • October 24, 2021 at 5:58 pm

      It’s a good series, there are at least 8 volumes.
      There are also the 3 books by William G. Tapply with his heroe Stoney Calhoun. (set in Maine)
      You get attached to the recurring characters.

      Like

  5. October 24, 2021 at 7:59 pm

    I’m lucky that I don’t mind bleak books to much, but perhaps that’s because I haven’t had a run of “bleak luck” like the one you’ve had recently. Nonetheless, I suppose I would turn to classics (English ones) if I wanted to do something really relaxing, especially during the winter holidays.
    I didn’t know there were two “Madame de” behind La belle et la bête!

    Like

    • October 25, 2021 at 9:21 pm

      I like them too but not too many in a row. It wasn’t on purpose, things happened that way.

      I could have picked an English classic too but not Wuthering Heights or Frankenstein. 🙂 Jane Austen, yes.

      I’d never heard of Madame de Villeneuve, I should look and see if she’s written something else.

      Like

  6. Vishy
    October 25, 2021 at 10:33 am

    Wonderful books you’ve read, Emma! I want to read Ito Ogawa’s book. I loved her book ‘The Restaurant of Love Regained’. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 😊

    Like

    • October 25, 2021 at 9:26 pm

      Thanks Vishy! Unfortunately, I don’t think that The Stationary Shop is available in English. Several of her books are available in French but that almost the only Western language available.
      How some books make it into one language and not the other is always a mystery to me.

      Like

      • Vishy
        November 1, 2021 at 1:33 pm

        Oh, sad to know that. Hope they translate it into English, because it sounds really wonderful. I have the impression that more books get translated into French and German than into English. One of my friends is a writer who writes in Arabic. All her books are available in French and in German, but only one of her books is available in English. I keep pestering her when her books are going to get translated into English 😊

        Like

        • November 1, 2021 at 4:25 pm

          It’s probably true.
          Who is the writer you mention. I’ll check her out.

          Like

          • Vishy
            November 2, 2021 at 1:42 pm

            Her name is Mansoura Ez Eldin. Her first book ‘Maryam’s Maze’ was translated into many languages including English. It is a beautiful, surrealist novel set in Cairo. Her subsequent novels have all been translated into French and German and other European languages. Hope you like her books if you decide to read them. Happy reading!

            Like

            • November 2, 2021 at 9:52 pm

              Thanks! I’ll look her up.

              Like

              • Vishy
                November 4, 2021 at 5:14 pm

                Hope you enjoy reading her books, Emma. Will look forward to your thoughts whenever you get to them. Happy reading 😊

                Liked by 1 person

  7. October 25, 2021 at 11:54 am

    Like Kaggsy. I turn to vintage crime for comfort reads. Despite its shortcomings, I’m quite tempted by the Ogawa, it sounds soothing.

    Like

    • October 25, 2021 at 9:17 pm

      The Ogawa is soothing and I recommend it even if it didn’t completely work for me.
      Golden Age crime is great. I’ve read a lot of Patricia Wentworth at one point.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. October 25, 2021 at 6:27 pm

    Isn’t it strange how certain kinds of mystery stories, even when they’re about murder and lethal crimes, get categorized differently (e.g. in the stack to counter bleak stories). For me, I think it’s because they have solutions, well, usually anyway. All of these covers are striking; they would make me pick up the books to leaf through, at least.

    Like

    • October 25, 2021 at 9:14 pm

      You’re right: we like these crime fiction books (like the Golden Age ones mentioned by Karen) because we know that the mystery will be solved. It’s a sure ending and that’s relaxing.
      The covers are great, it’s the publishers’ line.
      One, Piquier is specialized in Asian literature, Gallmeister is mostly about American lit and Folio 2€ often uses paintings or photos.

      Like

  9. jenniferbeworr
    October 26, 2021 at 7:49 am

    All of these titles are new to me. The idea of a book set in Montana entitled Les Morts de Bear Creek with such a protagonist as Sean Callahan, very appealing. Thank you.

    Like

    • October 30, 2021 at 2:55 pm

      That’s the pleasure of blogging, letting other readers know about books they’d never heard of.
      Let me know if you rrad the Keith McCafferty.

      Like

  10. October 29, 2021 at 3:02 am

    I think half the audiobooks I listen to are ‘comfort’. They certainly aren’t literature! – Jack Reacher, Eve Dallas, Stephanie Plum. At home, if I just want something I can buzz through it will be Georgette Heyer or SF. Austen? I re-read her pretty often, sort of a semi-comfort read.
    (Note: stationary = not moving, stationery = paper etc)

    Like

    • November 1, 2021 at 9:33 pm

      I imagine that it’s difficult to read challenging books when you’re driving. These comfort books or easy books are part of the reading pleasure.

      PS : Thanks for the stationary/stationery comment, I’ve made de corrections.

      Like

  1. October 26, 2021 at 11:34 am

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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