Sunday, August 14, 2011

Due Preparations for the Plague

Due Preparations for the Plague by Janette Turner Hospital
Norton & Company, 2003
Hardcover, 401 pages
ISBN-13: 9780393057645
very highly recommended

From the author of the critically acclaimed novels Oyster and The Last Magician comes a psychological suspense tale that crystallizes our deepest hopes and fears for the twenty-first century. Lowell, a single father, is haunted by the memory of a hijacked Paris -- New York flight on which his mother was killed when he was a teenager. A stranger, Samantha, has recently begun harassing him with phone calls about information from declassified documents. She is obsessed with learning the whole truth about Air France 64. "I was on that flight. I was six years old. I have a right," she says. "What can be worse than not knowing?" It is the death of Lowell's father, and his legacy of a blue sports bag crammed with documents and videotapes, that finally convinces Lowell to join Samantha's search for a shadowy figure called Salamander, a man she believes was a sinister key figure in the tragedy. Janette Turner Hospital's electrifying new novel is a tightly woven web of familial and national histories, of sexual and political passions, and of individual and national complicities in the age of terrorism. In this murky world of endless aliases and surveillance, who can be trusted? When does the quest for truth become a dangerous obsession? When does the assembling of facts tip into paranoia? And what difference can the truth make? Hospital probes with astonishing acuity the worlds of espionage and intelligence gathering, and the painful meaning of survival.
My Thoughts:
Due Preparations for the Plague by Janette Turner Hospital focuses on characters that all have one thing in common: they all have some connection to a plane that was hijacked by terrorists thirteen years earlier. When he was sixteen, Lowell's mother was on the flight and killed during the hijacking. Lowell's life is still tormented by her death. Samantha is a survivor. She was a six year old child and allowed off the plane. She is searching declassified documents connected with the hijacking and trying to discover the identity of a shadowy agent called Salamander. Additionally, it seems that all those connected with the hijacking are dying mysterious deaths. After Lowell's father dies and leaves him a bag filled with documents and tapes about the hijacking, he and Samantha team up.
This is a psychological thriller that deals with terrorism and espionage. It will play on your emotions as it tells a tale of deceit and deception and how one man's duplicity affects the lives of many. The story switches narrators and points-of-view, drawing out surprising connections between the people involved and offering the reader more insight into the whole terrifying event.
Certainly recent events give Due Preparations for the Plague a poignancy and timelessness that bodes well for the lasting impact it has on the reader. It could be a real story. The paranoia running rampant through the characters could be a legitimate feeling that they should be paying attention to. Today we know there are terrorists, unethical political maneuvers, humans used as collateral, and chemical warfare. 

Due Preparations for the Plague also deals with the psychological destruction of personal loss and death. As the overleaf quote, from Daniel Defoe's Due Preparations For the Plague says: "I have often asked myself what I mean by preparations for the plague... and I think that preparations for the plague are preparations for death. But what is it to make preparations for death? or what preparations are proper to be made for death?"  Exactly what preparations can you make for your own death that are truly beneficial and not simply reactions to the obvious? What risks must be taken? What must we be willing to leave behind?

Due Preparations For the Plague is a beautifully written literary novel with sharp characterizations. Every little detail is also well researched and woven seamlessly into the plot. The different narrators are fully formed and developed characters; each of them has a distinct and individual voice. While this is a political thriller that requires some effort and concentration to read, in the end you will feel your time was well spent. "To state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise." Albert Camus, The Plague
Very Highly Recommended 

Brightness falls from the air, and so do the words, which rush him. opening

But it is after a death, Lowell knows, that riddles and slow torments begin. pg. 8

Lowell thinks that his losses may have become simple at last. He thinks they may have become simple and respectable and therefore manageable. He thinks he will be able to speak of them almost lightly. My mother died in that airline disaster of '87 when I was sixteen years old, he will be able to say, and the effect on my father was devastating. Our lives were never the same. pg. 13

He feels the pain of his like a razor blade in his heart. He is never sure which might inflict greater damage: not spending enough time with his children, or spending time with them. pg. 15

"He claimed all he ever really wanted to be was a classics professor."
"Sometimes I believed that," Lowell says. "But mostly I didn't. What made him take the direction he finally did, I've never understood."
"They needed linguists," she says. "In intelligence. That's what he told me. Especially ones with scientific training as well. An old friend from his prep school recruited him, he said." pg. 21-22

One month after the funeral, Lowell receives a letter of sorts and certain documents in his father's handwriting. Dr. Reuben delivers the package, and the circumstances are strange. pg. 27

"I don't know precisely. A journal, I believe. And some papers, possibly classified ones. And some videotapes - I don't know of what - but the tapes are of crucial importance. Crucial, your father said..." pg. 31

Some days, when she watches children playing in the park, she can feel the ground giving way. You have no idea, she wants to tell the children. The swings, the sandbox: they are all illusions. You have no idea how unreliable things are, or how suddenly the sky can turn to fire. pg. 50

"But this is the mystery, she thinks: how do we ready ourselves for what might happen tomorrow?
What possible preparations can be made? pg. 401

1 comment:

avisannschild said...

Just discovered your blog (via TLC Book Tours) and spotted this review. I read this book several years ago and loved it, but I don't remember it very well at all. I'm tempted to reread it. I recommend all her previous books as well, except Oyster, which I didn't really like. She's one of my favourite writers!