I am not a big fan of audio books, because I find them hard to dip in and out of in the short bursts of time that I usually have. However, this strang...moreI am not a big fan of audio books, because I find them hard to dip in and out of in the short bursts of time that I usually have. However, this strange, compelling book was made even better by the experience of listening to Colin Firth narrate it quietly into my ear. Graham Greene is still a great favorite of mine. I think that The Quiet American probably falls into position as one of my top twenty novels of all time and I also love the screenplay that he wrote for one of my favorite movies, The Third Man. This plot is both stranger and a bit more surreal than either of those (which is really saying something) and grapples with the big questions of God and the meaning and nature of love. (I can see why it is considered one of Greene's Catholic novels.) Our narrator Bendrix, who seems strangely detached from the war raging around him (the book is set in London during and after the Blitz), is a difficult and jealous lover hellbent on destroying his own happiness with his obsessive anxiety and distrust. He picks fights with his lover, Sarah, her sadly likable husband, numerous imagined lovers, and then finally, in a futile showdown, with God himself (and, yes, this is a highly gendered male God). We hear some of Sarah's voice in the form of her diary, but ultimately most of the story is told by the bitter Bendrix as he wrestles with his demons. I had some questions about the strange turns the narrative takes in the end, (view spoiler)[particularly with the hint that Sarah may have been a modern day saint, (hide spoiler)] and found the male/female dynamics to be dated to the extreme, but overall, I quite enjoyed the simmering intensity of this novel.(less)
This novel reminded me of those ornamental, over-the-top architectural follies that you find perched in the gardens of old British manor houses. It is...moreThis novel reminded me of those ornamental, over-the-top architectural follies that you find perched in the gardens of old British manor houses. It is wildly excessive, completely frothy, and goofily amusing. It is a very quick read, but like other overly-rich confections I have gobbled down, I felt slightly nauseous before I reached the end. I am not entirely sure why others have given the novel rave reviews. It is not badly written; it is a fleeting, ominous ghost story in which nothing much actually happens, but which contains a great deal of atmosphere. Its tongue-in-cheek capturing of a certain kind of moody novel is slightly reminiscent of the wonderful Cold Comfort Farm, but it was not nearly as fun to read and I have no lingering memory of anything of substance now (only hours after finishing) except the singular haunting image of a little girl tracing a horse's outline against her bedroom wall in charcoal. That may actually be enough to recommend the novel.(less)
I am conflicted about this novel. Part of me so wanted to love it; part of me was put off, as I often am, by the author's clever tricks (view spoiler)...moreI am conflicted about this novel. Part of me so wanted to love it; part of me was put off, as I often am, by the author's clever tricks (view spoiler)[(which I now recognize sets me squarely on McEwan's blacklist of untidy woman readers, such as his poor doomed heroine who is punished by having her voice taken away from her) (hide spoiler)].
As always, McEwan's writing itself is fantastic--beautifully crafted sentences on every page and it is hard not to just ride that wave, enjoying the book for the writing alone. But, as I was reading along, it slowly dawned on me that I was being played. All that lovely writing for such a narrow, purely intellectual exercise. Forgive me if I sound too much like the main character Serena, who also preferred a character-driven plot, but I hated the shallow one-dimensional men in the novel, defined only by their lust and narcissism. I increasingly disliked Serena herself (view spoiler)[who was, of course, in the end, simply another mannequin, set in place only for her author(s) to manipulate (hide spoiler)].
And, eventually, I hated the twisty surprise ending that seemed too much like a hat trick cynically designed by the author to condescend to the conventional (read "woman") reader with her own sweet tooth, who of course must be only reading for that most treacly of expectations the, as Jeffrey Eugenides might say, marriage plot. And, for me, that ending finally popped the balloon of my barely suspended disbelief, which by that point had already lost too much helium and bobbed pathetically just slightly above the ground.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I am so very fond of Dave Eggers that it almost seems churlish to not give him four stars for this well-crafted novel. But, it just didn't grab me (th...moreI am so very fond of Dave Eggers that it almost seems churlish to not give him four stars for this well-crafted novel. But, it just didn't grab me (though I found a lot to like). Perhaps Eggers' may have set too high a bar with Zeitoun, which, though it was non-fiction, read like a thriller. But, Eggers is still a favorite and I will snatch up his next book as quickly as I bought this one (as soon as I saw it). He is an author that always keeps me interested and wondering what he will do next. (And he likes women and never throws his characters under the bus, unlike some of the other authors I have read lately.)(less)