This read was for the 2011 French Female Writers Throughout the Ages reading challenge, 21st century novel.
There were quite a few books I wanted to reThis read was for the 2011 French Female Writers Throughout the Ages reading challenge, 21st century novel.
There were quite a few books I wanted to read in the 21st century category. I picked this one for several reasons, one of which being that having studied African-American literature and especially African-American women writers, I thought it might be interesting to have a look at what black women were doing in France. Second of all, the author was involved in some sort of scandal (at least that's what the press called it) for having spoken her mind on Sarkozy's election. Not exactly being a fan of the man himself, I couldn't help but sympathize. Also, it didn't hurt that it'd won the Goncourt in 2009.
Marie NDiaye is a woman of color struggling with her black inheritance (if there is such a thing). The lady was born in Pithiviers which is not too far from where I used to live in France and believe me, there's NOTHING exotic about Pithiviers. Her Senegalese father returned to his native country when she was a year old and since then, she's only seen him three times. In fact, Trois Femmes Puissantes is the only novel of hers in which she mentions Africa. Was I being prejudiced when I picked this book for the reasons mentioned above? Most certainly, and I clearly wasn't the only one (not that it makes it okay in any way, mind you!) as Marie NDiaye has often had to explain her strange situation in the face of her black inheritance and has even come up with the phrase "truncated mixity" which is quite interesting: Marie NDiaye doesn't feel that she can be referred to as African or even as mixed as there was no one to pass on any "African" knowledge or culture to her as she was growing up. It's an interesting perspective that probably deserves to be debated but I guess what it basically mean is: "I may be a black woman but my books are not all going to take place in Africa, I want to be free of your expectations in that regard, free to write what I feel like writing, Africa or no Africa"... which is fair enough and really something most black women writers could relate to, truncated inheritance or not.
At any rate, Africa or no Africa, I really enjoyed reading Trois Femmes Puissantes and I'm surprised that even winning a prestigious European literary prize doesn't mean that foreign fiction will be translated into English quickly. When I see foreign publishers struggling to match US or UK publications for fear that their readers will have gone to read the English edition instead of waiting for the translation, I'm always amazed and a bit sad to see that English speaking editors clearly do not have the same concerns.
But back to the book... Marie NDiaye's prose is quite distinctive. Having only read this one title, it's hard to know if it's her usual style or just a one-time experiment for TFP. I'm quite tempted by the former explanation possibility though. Her sentences are long, very long sometimes (I had to adapt my read-as-I-walk pace!). In fact, they're not so much sentences as stanzas at times. It nicely complements the touches of magical realism spread throughout the narrative and also highlight the poetic metaphors and recurring images that travel from one section of the novel to the next (as you might have guessed there are three sections to this book). These images sometimes echo the meaning they had in the previous section, but more often than not their meaning changes subtly. I'm especially thinking about the use of that of the bird which can translate into vengeance or a harbinger of death.
TFP revolves around three main characters: Norah who's come back to Senegal following her father's request, Fanta who's left Senegal years ago and now lives a mediocre life in France with her alienated husband, and Khady, the most touching of all three, who's forced into exile by her in-laws following the death of her husband.
All three stories reveal each woman's inner strength by showing that despite past and present circumstances, they are not altered at their core. They know who they are and what they are capable of and no father, brother, husband, child or other can change this. They give, take, love, are betrayed, break down and fall, die but deep down inside they retain their humanity.
While I had clear preference for Norah's storyline (I would really have wanted to read more of it), the book's overall strength resides in its diversity. These three stories are told in very different ways. While there are strong touches of magical realism in Norah's story and she's very concerned with other people's behavior and intentions, their perception of herself and also the past, Fanta's character is solely described through the eyes of her husband Rudy, and Khady is the most self-aware and self-sufficient character of them all although her story is quite a tragic one.
I really enjoyed reading this novel and would recommend it to anyone looking for something original, something touching and poetic but also strong and determined....more
This read was for the 2011 French Female Writers Throughout the Ages reading challenge, 17th century novel.
It's always with great pleasure that I takeThis read was for the 2011 French Female Writers Throughout the Ages reading challenge, 17th century novel.
It's always with great pleasure that I take these reading journeys in the past and meet these women writers that were then perceived as eccentric, mad and severely lacking virtue when all they were trying to do was live with the freedom that was only bestowed upon men.
It reminded me of my work on the fascinatingly enigmatic Margaret Cavendish and of how much I admire these women and the way they fought against the establishment no matter the cost. I certainly envy them their strength and how they were fearless in the face of alienation.
Marie-Catherine de Villedieu, born Marie-Catherine Desjardins (1640-1683), was a professional writer, one of the first French female writers to claim so. She wrote novels, plays and letters and was a pioneer in more than one aspect as Mémoires was the first fictional autobiography of its kind.
Villedieu is a pen name taken from a lover who promised to marry her before withdrawing his promise. Although, their relationship later resumed, no marriage ever took place. In fact, the young man ended up marrying someone else before dying in battle. Marie-Catherine took his name after his death. While this was quite a bold decision, what is even more surprising is that the young man's family accepted that she did so based on the multiple promises the young man had made when he was alive.
Madame de Villedieu as she is now referred to, was not notably beautiful but she seems to have benefited from a lot of freedom from a very young age. This probably encouraged her fiery temper. She was lucky enough to have a lot of connections with the world of literature and arts and became quite famous for a poem entitled Jouissance (which can be translated as "climax" or "orgasm") when she was just 18. The poem was destined to the lover who never married her and the existence of the poem was not so shocking as the fact that it had been written by a woman. As it was often the case, it seems that her bad reputation had more to do with her free spirit and her liberty of speech than anything else.
Mémoires was published between 1671 and 1674 anonymously. I'm not quite sure why given her reputation and the fact that the book contains nothing particularly scandalous, Madame de Villedieu bothered with trying to hide the fact that she had written it. The book's success was immediate and durable though it was eventually forgotten. Like so many women writers, Madame de Villedieu greatly influenced the evolution of the novel but as she didn't follow the regular norm of conduct, her legacy was unfortunately set aside.
As previously mentioned, Mémoires is a fictional autobiography, a "roman-mémoires", the first of its kind in French literature (as far as I'm aware of anyway... which should probably not count for much...). Mémoires can be easily dated as Madame de Villedieu quotes battles, cultural and many historical events. A lot of historical figures and famous people of the time also make appearances in her tales. Yet, I wouldn't regard Mémoires as a piece of historical fiction per say. It's more an account of what life was at the time: clandestine weddings, cross-dressing, life in convents, duals and trials.As far as I know, this mix of history and fiction is quite unusual for the times. Even more unusual is the idea of a memoir for an ordinary woman and not someone famous, well at least not famous for the right reasons.
Mémoires is by no means meant to be serious but entertaining and light. The main protagonist, Henriette-Sylvie de Molière, is writing her story to a female noble person she addresses as "Your Highness". From the first sentence, it appears that Henriette-Sylvie's name has been wrongly associated with certain scandals and that she is attempting to clear her name, explaining the "innocent mistakes" of her youth. Nevertheless, the aim is to please and entertain and Henriette-Sylvie has a lot of stories to tell and she is not at all as innocent as she could be... and the wonderful thing is that she makes no apologies for it, despite the novel's initial aim.
It all begins with Henriette-Sylvie's birth which is shrouded in mystery: birth on a beach, a mother's disappearance, childhood among farmers and here comes in a duke who sees something different in this child and knows she's destined for more than this. The duke places her with wealthy friends of his who have children of their own. Henriette-Sylvie grows up to be a young woman of breathtaking beauty. The one she then believes to be her father attempts to rape her when she is thirteen during a hunt. Henriette-Sylvie accidentally shots him trying to defend herself. She is then rescued by her "mother"'s lover who also falls in love with her and that is only the beginning of her adventures...
Henriette-Sylvie is not afraid of enjoying life and its multiple pleasures. Her tale is in drastic opposition to the literary inheritance of the classical age. And yet, I'm not quite sure why Madame de Villedieu chose anonymity to write this. It's been said that those who knew her and her story could easily recognize her style and aspects of her life. Mémoires is not an autobiography (well, only a fictional one) but some elements and places frequently visited do echo ones from Madame de Villedieu's life. Henriette-Sylvie is meant to be a sort of role model for women who have been accused of not being virtuous enough for their times. Though one must admit that it is hard to believe that Henriette-Sylvie is completely innocent; she does put herself in the strangest situations, and yes, she does admit to having had lovers. If there really needs to be something scandalous about the whole novel, it's probably it's total lack of guilt, but even that is drowned by the humorous aspect. Though the novel is meant to be a clarification, Henriette-Sylvie does not make any apologies for her behavior as she often depicts what courtship and what takes place around and after passion.
I really enjoyed reading this. I'm sure I didn't get all of the humor, not knowing enough of the times' lifestyle and famous figures, but I got enough to make it worth while. And so, even if you're reading this novel on a superficial level and don't really care in what ways it relates to the life of the person who wrote it, you'll enjoy it. But if you read it bearing in mind the reputation of Madame de Villedieu's, you'll enjoy it even more. Highly recommended for entertainment but also for the historical and feminist perspectives....more
In Black Milk, Elif Shafak tells her readers about her postpartum depression following the birth of her first child. I think it to be a very sensitiveIn Black Milk, Elif Shafak tells her readers about her postpartum depression following the birth of her first child. I think it to be a very sensitive subject to approach. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to open up and tell your insecurities about being a mother to the rest of the world. Especially, when most of the world still assumes that if you are a woman, you will be a mother at some point. That is after all what you were made for, weren't you? Whoever said "one is not born a woman, one becomes one" really didn't what they were was talking about!
But Black Milk is not just an intimate account of the author's experience before, during and after her pregnancy, it's also a wonderful insight into the lives of female writers throughout the ages and how, each in their own way, tried to resolve this dilemma posed by motherhood. In Black Milk, you will read about the lives and works of Sylvia Plath, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Ayn Rand, Anais Rand, Doris Lessing, Lou Andreas Salomé, Rebecca West, Audre Lorde, Sandra Cisneros, George Eliot, Toshiko Tamura, Yuko Tsushima, Carson McCullers, to quote but a few. In that aspect, I found the book to be a great introduction to feminist criticism and literature. I've compiled quite a list of female writers that I need to get to. Elif Shafak interweaves her personal experience with that of these writers of the past and present to try and comprehend the notions of womanhood, motherhood and how they can be balanced with the life of a writer. I'm no writer, but I know these questions hit home and so, her approach has more to do with personal space and the need to continuously grow as a human being, than simply the activity of writing.
All mothers will at least agree on this, having a child changes everything, for better or for worse. And so, at some point in your life, are you supposed to simply stop being you to become a mother, entirely dedicated to childrearing? Can you ever get back what you lost (I'm aware that motherhood is not without its rewards, but come on, you have to at least sometimes reflect nostalgically on the moments when you could sleep late and step out of the house on a whim with nothing but your purse). How do you balance the needs of a little one, entirely dependent on you, with your own needs? And does the fact that I'm worrying about this means that I will be a bad mother? These are questions I've been asking myself for quite some time and even more so now that most of my friends are getting married and having children of their own and I don't feel ready for that. And it's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one!
I was amazed at the extent to which I could relate to Elif Shafak's experience. It's true that, at first glance, apart from being born in the same city 14 years apart and having traveled quite a bit from an early age, our lives don't have much in common. And yet, I could completely relate. I've always been one who enjoyed solitude and never get bored when I'm left to my own devices. I think it's a good thing my parents had a second child after me, otherwise I fear I might have felt even more alien than I do now! I'm too often caught up in my own little world and never seem to be on the same page as everyone else. One has to be very precise and specific when addressing me, if there's any ambiguity, consequences may be tragic. For that reason, I'm really bad at getting jokes. When everyone will understand Meaning A and see that there's also a Meaning B which makes the joke a joke, I will find a Meaning C without having understood A or B. Yes, it's that bad.
Dating and living with someone that's very practical, down-to-earth and logical in everything that he does (my complete opposite) has been very enlightening in that respect. And it's the source of daily miscommunication and misunderstandings that while most of the time are funny, can also offend or hurt people when I don't really mean to. In brief, I am socially retarded! How can I ever possibly be a good mother?! I sincerely fear for the child. And to get back to Black Milk, it's something Elif Shafak asked herself and part of the reason behind her postpartum depression was because she didn't feel that she would be up to the task. She feared that she would lose herself, her writing, her career, her intellect and not even manage to be a good mother in return.
One thing that bewilders me in our society is how when you are young, people encourage you to complete long studies, during which you read in vast quantities, discuss, debate and write about a variety of issues, only to find a job that is mostly admin and repetitive (as most jobs are) and expect you to be happy about i!. I stayed in university for seven years and while I wasn't quite sure why I was there the first three, my master's degree changed everything. It gave me a chance to formulate questions about identity, race and gender that I had carried with me for years but didn't have the tools to express. I know a lot of people remember their university years as parties and getting pissed, I did do that, but it also felt like my brain was buzzing, like I was being intellectually challenged on a daily basis, because I had the time and luxury to think. Let's face it, when you come home from work, you're not going to sit down and read philosophy (well at least my brain can't process much at the end of the day!). You merely switch on your TV and let others do the thinking for you.
It's sad to realize at 25 that your best days are behind you and that you will never have that freedom of thought back. It's simply not compatible with society as it is. I've been thinking that working part-time is probably more suited to my personal needs, but besides the financial impossibility of that, there's also the pressure that I need to have a career and that working part-time will leave me an assistant ten years from now! Imagine, adding a child into the mix! When will I find the time to read, blog, think and live inside my little bubble? (But then, ten years ago if you'd told me that I would be in a stable relationship and sharing a flat with roommates, I wouldn't have believed you!)
If Elif Shafak seems to have resolved these issues, I've yet to. It's fascinating to see the author's fragmented selves argue and lash at one another and finally come to some sort of a peaceful understanding, at least for a little while. I know this is a bit of a weird review, it's a very subjective and personal reaction to this book, but that's what it triggered in me. It does not read like non-fiction at all. It's both a powerful and emotional account of a woman's journey into motherhood and a writer's historical analysis of the lives of female writers of the past. I can't recommend it enough. ...more
The Darkness, Crystal Connor's debut novel, is an interesting blend of dark fantasy bordering on horror, science fiction and urban fantasy that comple The Darkness, Crystal Connor's debut novel, is an interesting blend of dark fantasy bordering on horror, science fiction and urban fantasy that completely does away with traditional genre categories. In fact, it does away with a lot of other elements traditionally found in speculative fiction and literature in general, such as the portrayal of motherhood, womanhood and characters of color. Like a lot of debut novels, there are quite a few things to praise here, but also a few to nitpick.
The opening chapters are among the best I've read in a while, as Connor is quick to set up an uneasy atmosphere that successfully grabs hold of her readers from the very start. You'll get chills down your spine by the time you read these words "I used to call you mother". And you'll want to know who this child is and what could possibly have happened for him to hold such hatred towards the one who rescued him. And here's the double-edged sword, because Connor will tell you this story.
She takes you back to the days when The Child was but a child, albeit with extraordinary abilities he couldn't always control, sometimes to dreadful consequences. The novel's pace slows down then, though I'd be hard pressed to ever call it slow, because Connor smartly alternates between past and present narratives. But the novel does start to lose some of its initial steam as we get to know more about Adam and identify with Artemisia's feelings for him. We know he's dangerous, and yet, he seems to be such a cute little baby that it's hard to re-conciliate the initial perception we had of him as a dangerous stalker, lurking and simply waiting for the right moment to strike, and this little child acting like any child, manipulating his environment to obtain what he wants. Again, this was a necessary step in the narrative, the reader's understanding of the past and Artemisia's feelings towards her child, otherwise the ending wouldn't have that much of an impact. But while building up for the ending, it also slowly unravels the atmosphere of gloom and unease that made the opening pages so gripping. And I never seemed to be able to reconnect with it later on. It felt like the fog had lifted and I could see the background tricks. I do realize this is a probably me being picky as I haven't read any other reviews that hinted at this and truth is, I don't think there was any way around it; except perhaps starting the novel at another point? But truly, I can understand that it was too tempting for both author and editor to have the novel start then and loose steam later on, rather than the other way around. Anyway, the character of Adam annoyed me as we got to know him. I struggled to see him as the psychopathic murderer the author wanted us to see, all I could see was an annoying little brat with special powers going through a teenage crisis.
I did however greatly enjoyed the characters of Artemisia and Inanna, both embodied different types of womanhood and motherhood (one could argue that where one is science and rationality, the other is magic and emotions, but it's a bit more complicated than this simplistic dichotomy), but both are strong, ambitious women who will stop at nothing to get what they want and they don't look for excuses or pretend to be sorry about it. I think the novel's greatest asset resides in the opposition of these two characters. Had the novel only included one and not the other, and had opposed Artemisia/Inanna to what I'll refer to as the traditional mother character, Artemisia/Inanna would have inevitably been set up as the dark side, the evil one, the ambitious black woman with an agenda. In The Darkness, because they share these traits, one is not set up as good and the other as evil. Both obey their own laws whether these happen to fit the laws of man or not, both love Adam and want to be a good mother to him, and so neither is good or evil. Without spoiling the ending, if the reader manages to rid himself of his traditional perception of motherhood and what it implies, and simply puts together the pieces scattered throughout the novel, the decision taken at the end of the novel makes perfect sense. That's all I can say and keep this review spoiler-free.
The Darkness is a short novel, with a gripping opening and a shocking ending. And while I do have queries about some of the middle parts, it must be recognized that it's a far from being your usual urban fantasy novel, especially when it comes to the portrayal of women of color and motherhood. Also know that a sequel is in the making, Artificial Light. ...more
Though I've had What I Loved on my shelf for over five years now, The Summer Without Men is actually the first book I've read by Siri Hustvedt and conThough I've had What I Loved on my shelf for over five years now, The Summer Without Men is actually the first book I've read by Siri Hustvedt and considering the extent to which I was blown away, I can easily affirm that it won't be the last!
This short tale is part literary criticism and part feminist manifesto, but very little of it is actually a novel in the traditional definition of the genre. There is a story, a main character, a set of secondary characters more or less developed, there is an intrigue, though admittedly, not much goes on in terms of action. This is definitely a cerebral novel if such a thing exists. It's a bowl of fresh air, one that I will gladly re-read in a few years time and take notes next time.
Though this is not the first time this has happened, I am always amazed when an author manages to make his readers identify with a character who is miles away from them. Mia Fredricksen and I have a very little in common and yet, I understood and felt all that she was going through and took pleasure in following her progression throughout this summer without men. A pleasure owed to the author's talent.
There are so many parts I wish I'd bookmarked so that I could quote here to give you a feel of this peculiar novel. Here's one:
"It is not that there is no difference between men and women; it is how much difference that difference makes, and how we choose to frame it. Every era has had its science of difference and sameness, its biology, its ideology, and its ideological biology, which brings us, at last, back to the naughty girls, their escapades, and the instruments of darkness. We have several contemporary instruments of darkness to choose from, all reductive, all easy. Shall we explain it through the very special, although dubious otherness of the female brain or through genes evolved from those "cave women gathering food near the home" thousands of years ago or through the dangerous hormonal surges of puberty or through nefarious social learning that channels aggressive, angry impulses in girls underground?"
As you can see, the novel's intrigue serves as an overall reflection on women, their position and perception in society. Here, Mia's poetry teenage students have pulled a nasty little prank on one of the class' members. These are questions that I often ask myself, to what extent are our action our truly our own or socially-constructed?
The book is not out yet but there are already a few mixed reviews online, proof that every reading experience is different and resonates in a specific way with its reader. For me, this pushed all the right buttons....more
If you read the back cover, it might lead you into thinking that this is your traditional epic fantasy with wizards, dragonsCercle d'Atuan August 2010
If you read the back cover, it might lead you into thinking that this is your traditional epic fantasy with wizards, dragons and knights ready to give up their lives for the greater good. Well, there is a bit of that, but it's also anything *but* that. To put it bluntly, you'll be bored to no ends if all you're looking for are epic battles and complex political intrigues. Despite the fact that I didn't really know what to expect from this novel (this is my first experience of Barbara Hambly), I was a bit thrown off before understanding what Dragonsbane was truly about. Hambly's style is abstract and elliptic and that alone requires a bit getting used, but once you do, you realize just how well it actually serves the novel. As previously mentioned, if you're looking for epic battles, might want to look somewhere else; there is a battle with a dragon at some point, but the reader is not privy to its details and well the novel's other battles are of a magical nature and you won't really know what's going on until they're over. What this story has that lacks in a great many fantasy novels is the spot on characterization of its main characters: the witch Jenny, the dragon slayer John and the dragon Morkeleb. Together, they form a nice little triangle that makes for some priceless dialogs and situations. The novel is clearly driven by these three and not so much by its main plot. To be quite honest, the other characters are not as strongly developed as Jenny, John and Morky ;-) and that is probably one of the novel's main flaws. When you realize the wonders Hambly's done with these three, you know she could've done a lot better with the others. I can get over the wonky plot, the dragging parts (though it's only 200 pages long), the hardly credible villain because they are not what the novel is about. It's about choices and more specifically Jenny's (but John and Morkeleb are also faced with delicate situations) and how in the end, there is no single right choice because choosing always implies giving up on something else. This bitter sweet truth is at the heart of Dragonsbane and in that regard, it is beautifully executed. I can see how and why some of my fellow Atuanians were quite taken with this novel. And despite my reserves, I can recognize that it has a great many qualities. The thing is, it did not sweep me off my feet. First off, the introduction of Jenny's character annoyed me a great deal and pushed all the wrong buttons. Jenny's her own woman, living alone despite being the mother of two young boys who live with their father, she's a talented enough witch, not without physical charms, who can take care of herself in hostile territory as proven in the first chapter when she saves a young nobleman whose head is filled with heroic tales of dragon slayers. I couldn't help but roll my eyes at that first scene, thinking that it read like your classic fanfiction with Jenny posing as Mary Sue. Did the author really have to make Jenny the complete opposite of the docile housewife without any nuances? Let me reassure you, nuances come later on and Jenny becomes a likeable enough character fairly quickly after this. Still, this did not leave me in a positive set of mind. Add to that the fact that I struggled with Hambly's abstract descriptions all throughout the first chapters, being forced to re-read certain parts because I simply did not understand what was going on the first time around! With regard to Jenny's introduction, I guess it would have bothered me a lot less had I paid attention to the fact that the novel was published twenty-five years ago. Gender roles and perception have changed a lot in twenty-five years and while I would not claim that men and women are now equal, your contemporary fantasy writer does not need to spell out so bluntly that his/her female character can take care of herself, because we all assume that she can (and if she can't, I'm not reading your book!). Or am I just being naive again? Anyway, this was a nice change from your traditional epic fantasy with a strong focus on its main characters and not much going on plot wise. Not for all, but recommended to those looking for something else in the fantasy genre....more
I wish this book had been written back while I was in university writing my master's dissertation. It really would have added to the discussion on ideI wish this book had been written back while I was in university writing my master's dissertation. It really would have added to the discussion on identity issues with regards to gender, race and sexuality, and would have fit perfectly alongside Octavia E. Butler's Wild Seed and Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads (which were the two books around which I constructed my study). N.K. Jemisin's debut novel really made me want to go back to university and pursue a thesis. This book is so rich, complex, beautifully written, at times fast-paced, at others introspective and touching, sexy. The world-building is excellent and the characters exquisitely rendered. This is exactly the book I wanted to read! It pushed all the right buttons.
I've always had a soft spot for books (genre or otherwise) that dealt with questions of identity, probably because these are the questions I struggle with on daily basis. And I do mean identity in a very general sense: sexual and/or racial representation, fragmented identity based on context, notions of minority and majority, normalcy, dominating and dominated. All these are very flexible notions depending on history (personal or History), context, interactions, etc. And this is what I enjoyed above all in THTK, everything is flexible, ever-changing and the character which most embodies this is Nahadoth, God of all that is extreme, dark and passionate. His apparance constantly changes to please and seduce all those around him. It's a fascinating concept really.
There is also much to say on the main character. Yeine (pronounced "YAY-neh") is one of a kind and is really up to the task of carrying this remarkable, multi-layered narration. The reader aches and easily relates to her as we discover her struggling between her upbringing (she was raised in a matriarchal society, I wish we'd learned more about that in the book, it is sooo cool!), her royal inheritance and a little something else which I won't go into lest I spoil you all of this wonderful plot twist. Little more than a pawn in the eyes of most of her royal peers, she will manage to turn things around and make with all that she is, bring all the pieces together but not into some nicely homogeneous whole.
It's a truly brilliant book and so much needs to be said about it. I am, of course, eagerly awaiting book 2, The Broken Kingdoms, which comes out this November. In the meantime, I can already tell you that THTK easily ranks among my favorite reads of 2010 (and my favorite reads period). I look forward to re-reading it in French when it comes out in Calmann-Lévy's wonderful and really underrated Interstices series.
I can't recommend this book enough, it grabbed me and didn't let me go until long after I'd finished and set it down....more
I rarely ever read historical novels and I'm not quite sure why. Those I've read, I remember enjoying, but it's just not a genre I naturally turn to wI rarely ever read historical novels and I'm not quite sure why. Those I've read, I remember enjoying, but it's just not a genre I naturally turn to when looking for something to read.
I would never have picked this one up if I hadn't been asked to read it at work. Also, on a completely unrelated note, this is the first book I've read on my iphone thanks to the Stanza app and I must say that reading on the iphone felt as comfortable as reading on paper.
I'll shamelessly admit having never read The Scarlet Letter. Sure, I've studied bits and pieces of it in class, but my most vivid memory of the book's content is the movie with Demi Moore. Well, it all comes down to the fact that we were studying Poe at the same time and well really, the latter took up most of my study time as you can imagine...
At the end of The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne tells his readers that the main character, Hester Prynne, leaves America with her young daughter Pearl, only to come back years later, alone. Paula Reed's novel fills in the blank left by the Scarlet Letter and recounts what became of Hester and Pearl as they journeyed back to England (then, under Oliver Cromwell) and reunite with old acquaintances of Hester's.
You really don't have to have read Hawthorne's novel to get into this book as the author makes a wonderful job at recounting here and there events of Hawthorne’s novel, as well as including certain elements when they provide for a greater understanding of the character’s motivations.
If the premise didn’t really strike me as particularly interesting, I was quickly grabbed by the author's rich and flowing style. It's a real pleasure to read.
Also, this is a story about women and how they fare in a world ruled by puritan men who see their female counterparts as little more than elaborate pieces of furniture capable of providing them with an heir... The mothers, daughters, sisters and friends in this story do what they can to bend the rules and work within the system to help and comfort one another... and really, some situations are not without resemblance to situations faced by some contemporary women.
My only complaint would be that, although the characters are well fleshed out, you never really feel worried or anxious regarding what may become of them. Unfortunate events do take place but Hester and Pearl are never irrevocably threatened by them. The reader simply knows that all will turn out fine for both of them and that's not just because you know all along that Hester will go back to America.
Still, this makes for a solid and wonderfully written story centred on women, which raises some interesting points about social conventions and religion. I would recommend it to all those who enjoy historical novels and 17th century England. Again, whether or not you’ve read or enjoyed The Scarlet Letter is of little consequence here.
I knew I wanted to read this gay retelling of the Cinderella even before I saw the gorgeous cover of the hardcover (that of paperback, while still nicI knew I wanted to read this gay retelling of the Cinderella even before I saw the gorgeous cover of the hardcover (that of paperback, while still nice, is definitely more YA targeted) and even before I knew the agency I currently work for represented this author (by the way, in case the premise of the book doesn't let on, this author is very much aware of issues of race and gender in the genre and here blog is fascinating). I really hope this book will be sold in France because it's wonderfully written and is a nice twist on well-known story.
Ash's story differs from Cinderella's (the Disney version is the only one I'm familiar with) in subtle but key ways. Ash is not content with being passive and waiting for things to happen. She takes matters into her own hands and when she makes mistakes, she tries to fix things herself.
Both the writing and the setting are enchanting. Like Ash, I also felt like losing myself in the Wood and encountering the fairy creatures that live there. Lo's world, though medieval in essence, does not condemn homosexuality which might have been an unnecessary hurdle in Ash and Kaisa's relationship.
I did feel that, at times, things were bit too easy and would have enjoyed further explanations on certain of the novel events but perhaps, because they also feature in the original fairy tale, the author did not feel the need to dwell on them more than she did. Still, it's a short novel and I would have liked to see certain things more developed, for instance, the relationship between Kaisa and Ash but also, that between Ash and Sidhean. Love felts a bit too much like love at first sight when you know that first sight can only carry you so far. That's my main complaint, I would have liked to see more of the relationships between Ash and the other characters of the novel and not just her love interests.
Again, I wished teens would read more novels like Ash and less Twilight. This is story has all the elements that make for a great novel: a diverse cast of characters, excellent prose, a twist on traditional tropes and a gorgeous cover too (can't get over that cover!).
This is a wonderful and delightful YA read, part feminist retelling, part just plain fun. This is what Sherlock Holmes stories might have been if theThis is a wonderful and delightful YA read, part feminist retelling, part just plain fun. This is what Sherlock Holmes stories might have been if the main character had been a fourteen year old girl who has trouble submitting to any kind of authority, especially that imposed by men.
I just wished there were more teenage girls reading this series than there are reading the Twilight series. Somehow, I'm sure this would make the world a better place if they identified with Enola Holmes instead of Bella Swan but enough of that.
Readers familiar with Nancy Springer know that this is not the first time this author has decided to revisit a given myth and give it a more modern and feminist angle. Robin Hood and Arthurian legends have already been dealt with by this author. It's not all that she's done of course, but I believe it takes a lot of gut and talent to pull off any kind of retelling successfully. And this first book in the Enola Holmes series was successfully executed indeed! I'm already eager to devour the others in the series (book 6 is coming out next year).
I don't want to give too much away; simply know that Enola Holmes is the younger teenage sister of the great Sherlock. She barely knows her older brother having lived isolated with her mother for most of her life. Her mother's disapearance drastically changes that and instead of being allowed to participate in the search for her mother, Enola is to be sent to a boarding school in order to learn how to become a "proper lady".
But, Enola aspires to financial independance, a life of adventure, freedom and well, general "inproperness" as far as her time's social conventions are concerned.
This is a light read you will rush through in a matter of hours it's so good!...more
A very rich and highly original narrative both in terms of world-building and themes. This is middle grade fiction at its best. I was especially amazzA very rich and highly original narrative both in terms of world-building and themes. This is middle grade fiction at its best. I was especially amazzed at how the author mixed technology with nature. So imaginative! if you were as impressed as I were with this world, I recommend Nnedi Okorafor's short story published in Clarkesworld magazine: "From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7". The short story is not YA but it give you another perspective on this wonderfully enchanting world the author's created.
I'll definitely be reading more of this author and not only because of work this time!...more