19th century: iris, a plantation owner's wife is sent away to an asylum to "cure" her of her madness. as soon as she's there, she already plans h3.5/5
19th century: iris, a plantation owner's wife is sent away to an asylum to "cure" her of her madness. as soon as she's there, she already plans her escape. she meets a boy who becomes a friend. a man who becomes the object of her affections. a docter who is obsessed.
a terrific premise if you ask me. but a premise that did not quite live up to its potential. memorable nonetheless. just not a book you would ever think to read again. ever.
the book's narrative is split into several different views: that of iris, ambrose, dr. cowell, the doctor's son wendell and occasionally some other minor characters.
the issue i had with blue asylum is that the reader is always, always kept at arm's length from completely connecting with any of the characters. although i was moved at a few scenes (alright, dammit! emotionally drained!), the author's writing lacked in ... arggh, i do not even want to go there, so the short version: it was too detached, too dry, too everything, even though a great many things happened and most of them tragic.
now, on reflecton, it reminded me a bit of the orchardist, the lost garden and atonement. all of them brutally ugly stories as only life itself could have written them (minus the moments of relief. there are zero in them).
fair warning: ambrose will destroy you with his war-stories and ptsd hallucinations!
this must be some kind of art, as i do not understand how so many horrible things can happen to the characters and all i felt after finishing this book is relief, resignation and a quiet sadness. (view spoiler)[ and i really wanted to mention in this spoiler-tag how ridiculous i found the part of the wendell boy who masturbates constantly (constantly! in every of his pov's *weary*) --that is until he loses his hand and he rejoices in that fact, and praises it a fricking miracle) (hide spoiler)]
I have been touched three times in my life. Intentionally touched. Firstly by my mother, although I don’t remember much affection when I was small2.5
I have been touched three times in my life. Intentionally touched. Firstly by my mother, although I don’t remember much affection when I was small and certainly none after I was sent away to school. The second instance was at boarding school. It involved a fellow student. I was fourteen years old. The third time of purposeful physical contact was with Mr. Gregory, under the makeshift bomb shelter of the dining-room table at Mrs. Royce’s London boarding house.
One’s first experience of love is either love received or love denied, and against that experience all our future desires and expectations are measured.
My mother touched me on the head. She said, “At least you have beautiful hair.” She rubbed my chest with liniment. My mother held my hand one year when I was afraid of the bull in the back field, and wouldn’t hold it the following year, even though I was still afraid. She wiped the crumbs from my lips. “Learn to cover your mouth,” she said. Once she brushed the rain from my forehead. She spanked me. She pulled my arm too hard trying to make me keep up with her. She slapped my hand away from the cakes at tea. She dressed me. She undressed me. She soaped me in the bath, rubbed my scalp fiercely when washing it, clipped my toenails impatiently with rusty scissors. The last time I saw her, when she was small and sick and dying in the hospital, she held my head in her bony, shaky hands and said, “At least you are useful.” (ch5 -- beginning)
Ever since Jane made that remark at dinner about the Land Girls being akin to potatoes, this is how I have thought of them. I can’t be bothered to learn their real names, but I have given each of them the name of a potato. (ch10)
Before, when I’d read the book, I liked the character of Mrs. Ramsay, but now, hearing Jane read it from behind the door, I find her pessimistic self-centredness very unsympathetic. Her great gift is that she responds to life, lives in the moment. She is spontaneous and enthusiastic, gets swept up with what is happening. Most of the other characters aren’t capable of this and so they are drawn to her. But she often connects to people emotionally by feeling sorry for them. I don’t approve of this at all because I am always suspecting people of this in relation to me.(ch29)
I have debated about the filling in of my particular space on the curtain. There I am, a vertical rectangle next to the Lumper’s piece of music. The black of the drapes seems so funereal that, at first, I think I should use the space to do some sort of memorial to my mother, or to London. But although I did love both my mother and the city I lived in, I no longer suffer any illusions that I was loved much in return. So I fill my space with what has responded positively to my love. Flowers. I fill the space with flowers. I pin them onto the fabric and make a garden. And because I don’t want to be limited only to flowers that will dry well, I change what is pinned to the curtain almost daily.(ch30)...more
i wouldn’t say the film improved upon the book, but rather, it revealed the limits of my own imagination, which is what good adaption can do. th2.75/5
i wouldn’t say the film improved upon the book, but rather, it revealed the limits of my own imagination, which is what good adaption can do. the film imagined the abject poverty of the ozarks with more dignity and respect than i could. characters i thought of as monsters in the book came through with such humanity on screen—their restraint told you so much about who they were and their strict code of conduct. the mythic overtones i gathered from the book —-ree dolly as a modern-day antigone—were fully captured in granik and rossellini’s treatment. [ article ]
it was a relief and, ultimately, a pleasure to discover that the film avoids all of the inherent pitfalls of its premise. though it is driven by the poverty and insularity of ree's world, winter's bone neither romanticizes that world, nor does it make it exotic. it achieves this by locking us thoroughly into ree's point of view--to which end jennifer lawrence's unflinching performance is an integral component without which the film would have failed completely.
ree spends the film tramping up and down hills and through forests as she tries to determine where her father is and why the local criminal element wants to stop her asking questions about him, and an important subplot involves her teaching her younger brother and sister important survival skills--how to hunt, clean their kill, and prepare food from it--but winter's bone is subtle enough, and ree, who takes the world she shows us for granted, is a powerful enough presence at its center, that the film never feels like a guided tour. as she draws closer to the criminals who know where her father is, ree is repeatedly confronted with the attitude that she has done something wrong by working with the law and going outside the community, even though that community is happy to see her and her siblings thrown out of their home. what's interesting about winter's bone is that ree herself doesn't dispute the notion that what she's done is wrong, but rather insists that her obligations to her brother and sister take precedence over her obligation to remain stone-faced in the face of threats from law enforcement. the film, in the end, isn't one about a rebel or an outsider, but about a girl who plays by the rules and uses them to her advantage, even when those rules are designed to keep her down and seem cruel and restrictive to the audience. the arc of the film is ree's acceptance--as the abandonment of both her parents becomes more obvious, and as her dreams of escaping to the army grow more distant--that she will likely never leave her home, and this is depicted as neither a tragedy nor a triumph, more an acceptance of the fact that though ree could have a better life, she is well-suited, through breeding and upbringing, to the one she has, and can even be happy in it, at least for a time. [ asking the wrong questions / abigail nussbaum] [ unfortunate metaphors ]...more
just this week -- i was riding the bus on my way to school. and as i was sitting there and pondering about life (aren't i the intellectual?), i noticejust this week -- i was riding the bus on my way to school. and as i was sitting there and pondering about life (aren't i the intellectual?), i noticed this guy who was sitting in the row in front of me, who was doing something with his hands. he couldn't seem to stop his nervous gestures. so i looked. (of course i looked.)
dude was scratching on practically every exposed skin surface on his body. he generously liberated his ears from earwax. picked his nose as if there was no tomorrow. rubbed his eyes till they were red. ran his fingers through his hair, yanking some in the process. a minute ticked away. ten minutes. a solid hour passed. he did not stop. and i tried desperately not to see anything out of the corner of my eyes.
so, this is what nothingis feels like to me. you can't help but stare, no matter how disturbing. try as you might to distance yourself from things that make you uncomfortable, but they are still happening. ...more
A first contact story set in the royal courts of 17th century Europe, a meditation on the meaning of human and animal nature, and a chilly and refresh A first contact story set in the royal courts of 17th century Europe, a meditation on the meaning of human and animal nature, and a chilly and refreshingly unromantic love story, In Great Waters combines fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction and grounds them all in two prickly, defensive, quite literally cold-blooded protagonists, Henry and Anne, a human-mermaid hybrid with designs on the English throne and the princess he means to unseat. Along the way it discusses morality, religion, and the storytelling impulse, giving us a decidedly inhuman perspective on these three quintessentially human activities and weighing their benefits and drawbacks. This is a rich--and richly told--novel that gives no quarter to sentimentality or romanticism, and is all the better for it. 
Said premise is that merpeople, here called deepsmen, exist, following the ocean currents in nomadic tribes, vulnerable to human contraptions like fishing nets, but also capable of ripping apart most sailing vessels. In the 9th century, an alliance was struck between deepsmen and the city of Venice. A human-deepsman half-breed named Angelica secured the city's naval superiority by directing her tribe's attacks on the foreign fleets besieging it, married the Venetian Doge, and dispersed her children and grandchildren among the royal courts of Europe. For a seafaring nation, a ruler with deepsman blood, who could secure the protection of their local tribe and direct them to attack the fleet of their nation's enemies, quickly became a necessity. Whitfield constructs a world in which royalty is less a social or political construct than it is a function of biology, with characters often referring to the physiological attributes of hybrids, such as their vertebrate legs (actually bifurcated tails) as the attributes of royalty. This simultaneously strengthens and weakens the position of the royal families, who on the one hand can't be ousted by power-hungry but fully human nobles, but on the other hand are vulnerable to attacks from any sailor's bastard (a word which in Whitfield's novel is applied exclusively to non-royal half-breeds), or from hybrids deliberately created by those same nobles. The conception or concealment of bastards is thus outlawed and punishable by death--a sentence which is also applied to the hybrids--but as the decades and centuries pass the royal houses of Europe become more and more interbred, until a healthy, sane, and fertile royal is the exception rather than the rule, and by the time the novel opens (an exact date is never given, but the setting feels 16th-17th century) are so weak as to be ripe for the picking.
Into this world come our two protagonists, Henry and Anne. Henry is a bastard, raised for the first five years of his life underwater with his mother's tribe, then abandoned on the English shore when he--weaker and slower than full-blooded deepsmen--becomes too troublesome for his mother to protect and care for. He's found by a scholar named Allard, who brings him to the attention of Lord Claybrook, a high ranking courtier who has his eye on the English throne. Anne is the youngest princess of the failing English royal house. Her grandfather Edward, the current king, is old, and though her father William is healthy, the heir presumptive is his brother Philip, a physically and mentally handicapped dead end. William tries to secure his line's survival by marrying the Romanian princess Erzebet, but their union produces only daughters--Anne and her older sister Mary--and though Mary is entirely healthy and mostly human in her appearance, Anne is a genetic throwback whose face is phosphorescent (later revealed to be an attribute of deep-dwelling deepsmen tribes), and in the atmosphere of panic created by Philip's birth, is soon rumored to be retarded herself. When William dies, both the court and England's relations with its deepsman tribes are left in Erzebet's hands, and when she dies under mysterious circumstances the responsibility for the latter devolves to Anne and Mary, then only in their early teens, while their grandfather searches desperately for acceptable husbands for them who will ensure England's stability and the continuation of the royal line.
The first two thirds of In Great Waters are spent following the childhood and very quick maturation of its two protagonists in two parallel plot strands. Like a lot of authors who throw children into settings rife with politics and intrigue, Whitfield makes both of her protagonists much too savvy, observant, and intelligent to be believable, but she rather cleverly draws attention to this fact, and explains it by making it a component of Henry and Anne's inhuman ancestry. Henry, we're told in the novel's very first sentence, "could remember the moment of his birth," and from that moment until he's abandoned on land it's clear that deepsmen development is much faster than the human kind, that Henry is expected to learn how to fend for himself and function in the tribe much faster than a human would. It's also made clear that this accelerated development also expresses itself in a chilliness in both Henry and Anne's natures--they are both, quite literally, cold fish, regarding others less with fuzzy mammalian attachment than in coldly utilitarian terms. Anne's sister Mary is her rival for Erzebet's attentions, and even at four years old Anne calculates whether to accept Mary's friendly overtures or work against her, while five year old Henry plays games of dominance and control with Allard. (Mary, meanwhile, is a great deal more affectionate but also less ruthless and politically savvy than Anne, and it's one of the novel's few missed opportunities that it does relatively little with her, and doesn't fully mine the differences between the sisters nor explore the suggested correlation between Mary's more pronounced humanity and her more human appearance.)
What's most interesting about In Great Waters is how it stresses that, despite my comments above, the tension between compassion and unsentimental pragmatism doesn't parallel the division between human and deepsman, that though the humans profess to love their fellow man and desire mercy and forgiveness, Anne's civilized background embodies that tension just as much as Henry's savage one. Deepsmen society, as seen through Henry's eyes at the beginning of the novel, more strongly recalls an animal pride than a human tribe. Deepsmen have no crafts, agriculture, or animal husbandry, and very nearly no history, art, or culture. Tribes are run by a strict rule of the survival of the fittest, and the protocols for establishing their hierarchy are clearly modeled on the natural world--males fight in single combat over females or leadership, and excess young men are often driven out of the tribe. Henry's expulsion from the tribe is an example of these protocols in action, and once on land he continues to act them out, challenging Allard and the other humans he encounters to fights in order to prove his dominance, and reacting with puzzlement when it's assumed that he feels a son's love and attachment to Allard and his wife. At the same time, Henry recoils in disgust from the political machinations Claybrook sets in motion in order to put him on the throne. He's more than willing to kill King Edward in single combat, but doesn't understand why an army must be assembled, and perhaps killed, to resolve what should be a simple test of strength, or why another bastard child, discovered several years after Henry is, must be put to a cruel, torturous death even though it is too weak to fight. The death of the bastard child is the crux of the novel for Henry, but it is also so for Anne. Raised in the bosom of civilization, her life proscribed by ritual and tradition, her time spent studying languages and rhetoric (while Henry adamantly refuses to learn how to write or speak a second language), Anne nevertheless finds herself struggling with the same questions as Henry when faced with the child's execution. "Should we be merciful to our enemies?" She asks Erzebet, and finds no good answer.
If there is a complaint to be leveled against In Great Waters, it's that sufficient sparks fail to fly when Henry and Anne finally meet, and that the last third of the novel, in which they join forces in order to secure England's future, is a bit of a letdown. The two clash marvelously against one another in their first few encounters, matching wit for wit and unflappable calm for unflappable calm, but once the obvious alliance is made (for some reason, the idea of marrying Henry to Mary or Anne never occurs to Claybrook) the novel goes a little slack. One almost suspects that Whitfield was undone by her desire to undermine the romantic expectations that her setup creates--if the bulk of your novel follows the parallel and equally unhappy stories of two chilly, pragmatic young people of opposite genders, it almost seems required for their meeting to result in a searing romance--and though I can understand that desire (and indeed, given how poorly handled the romance in Benighted was, applaud it), I think that Whitfield couldn't quite come up with a suitably exciting substitute for it. Romantic or not, the final meeting and partnering up of Henry and Anne should have been explosive. Instead they become slightly nicer and more accommodating towards one another, for no reason other than the same political instincts that have driven them throughout the novel, which now tell them to appease each other.
Still, there is much to enjoy in those chapters of In Great Waters in which Henry and Anne play off each other. The two see the world in such completely opposed terms that their interactions are almost dizzying. Anne is devout, and derives much of her morality--which ultimately drives her to save Henry from the stake--from her Christian faith. When Henry learns about Christianity, however, he is appalled: "The landsmen weren't just strange. They were stupid, bone-deep stupid. They were mad." The same resistance to the Christ story and its inherent irrationality is also what makes it clear to Henry that the story of Angelica's miraculous emergence from the sea just as the people of Venice needed her most is a political fabrication, and unlike humans he lacks both the ability and the desire to overlay reality with narrative.
It struck Henry, listening to Westlake tell his stories, that the nastiness of the landsmen's possessions, the straight lines and enclosing roofs and binding clothing, could be explained by this. They didn't notice them. They looked at clothes and thought of ceremonies; they looked at buildings and thought of their owners. Always the ideas, and never the things themselves. They couldn't feel what was up against their skin; the world, thriving and struggling and vitally, irrefutably real.
What's best about In Great Waters is how fully in layers these two worldviews--Henry's materialism, Anne's spirituality; the savage, animalistic mindset that sees no purpose in intangibles, in language that is anything more than utilitarian, in social constructs that extend beyond the tribe and beyond the moment, versus the human tendency to create complex, pie-in-the-sky structures, which gives us history and art and culture and science, but also cruelty and war and needless slaughter--until there's no choosing between them. By the end of the novel all that's left is to accept, as Henry and Anne do, that they are fundamentally of two different species and will never truly understand one another, and yet it's precisely out of that alienness that they manage to find room for the compassion that has eluded them for so much of their lives, each rejecting just enough of the ideas they've grown up with while still remaining true to themselves. At several points during my reading it occurred to me that In Great Waters, with its emphasis on court politics and its period setting, might appeal more to readers of historical fiction than to genre fans, but it's this ending and the light it casts on the events of the novel that shows how perfectly suited it is to the latter group--it is a pitch-perfect, and utterly persuasive, description of the meeting and coming to terms of humans and aliens. 
kate is an appealing but not overly-idealized heroine, and a smattering of eastern european and roma (gypsy) folklore and tradition gives the book sh kate is an appealing but not overly-idealized heroine, and a smattering of eastern european and roma (gypsy) folklore and tradition gives the book shape. mostly, though, it’s about human nature: suspicion, desperation, family loyalty, mob mentality. to an adult reader, it’s a mite predictable, but not in particularly frustrating way; it didn’t feel like kate was being daft by not putting things together, it just felt like the reader had a longer view of the situation. kate had immediate concerns to distract her; the reader is looking for the big picture. the only significant flaw is the ending; it feels a bit too neat, and there are enough sudden changes to make the reader feel a bit jerked-around. still, it’s a beautiful, gripping novel. [ thebooleyhouse ] ...more
an ayn rand book (..) means it also comes with all the objectivist baggage: an over-wrought style of writing, a general hatred for humanity, simp1.5/5
an ayn rand book (..) means it also comes with all the objectivist baggage: an over-wrought style of writing, a general hatred for humanity, simplistic philosophy, a deep love for nothing except the writer's own ego. [ marvin ]
in 1963, a sixteen-year-old high school student named bruce mcallister sent a four-question mimeographed survey to 150 well-known authors of literary, commercial, and science fiction. did they consciously plant symbols in their work? he asked. who noticed symbols appearing from their subconscious, and who saw them arrive in their text, unbidden, created in the minds of their readers? when this happened, did the authors mind? [ article ]
surveys in facsimile: jack kerouac, ayn rand, ralph ellison, ray bradbury, john updike, saul bellow, norman mailer.