I really, really, really wanted this to be a four-star review, but it's been two days, and I am still hung up on the first fifty pages of this book, aI really, really, really wanted this to be a four-star review, but it's been two days, and I am still hung up on the first fifty pages of this book, and I can't do it. Kaling is sharp and funny and is so close - so close - to general awesomeness, but I found the entire first section dealing with body image and dieting and fat to be entirely off-putting.
Yes, there's living in the distortions of Hollywood, yes, there's exaggeration for comic effect, but reading about someone describe herself as ridiculously huge but not fat enough to, you know, really own her fatness and be jolly about it, well. That may resonate with some people, but it falls wildly, wildly flat (which I initially typoed as 'fat') with me. It's both alienating and pity-inducing at the same time, neither of which are emotions that inspire laughter. She handles body image and unrealistic size expectations beautifully in the later essay on the photo shoot where they only brought size zero dresses, but it's just very hard for me to read the earlier essays about What It's Like To Be Large from a size eight. Even when it's supposed to be funny. Also, "I have no hobbies but dieting" breaks my fucking heart.
Skip the chubby section. Delight in the rest. ...more
**spoiler alert** Picked this up after seeing the 2010 movie. A marvelous book on its own, but I especially enjoyed seeing the interplay between the m**spoiler alert** Picked this up after seeing the 2010 movie. A marvelous book on its own, but I especially enjoyed seeing the interplay between the movie and the book, how and why certain choices were made. Each had things I thought were done better than the other (HELEN MIRREN I LOVE YOU), but both are well worth the time. Pinkie as a character, in either version, sticks with you a long, long time.
In some ways, I think Graham Greene's writing was both a strength and weakness of the novel. He reveals flaws in sharp, brutal ways, with language that hurts sometimes it's so right, but he's always right there in the characters' heads. The sharpness and the omniscient narrator takes away from the delicate ambiguity and shift in all the characters you see in the movie, particularly with Pinkie and Rose. Also, the movie pulls away the film of condescension that Greene drips over all the characters, the sense of moral superiority in the narrative voice over everyone. Also also, there's a lot less of the BREASTS. BREASTS. IDA HAS BIG, BOUNCY BREASTS. going on in the movie. (No slight meant to Mme. Mirren.) The book is a lot more explicit about Catholic Moral Issues and Sex: People Are Weird About It In All Sorts Of Ways
And, whooooooo, the ending. SPOILERS FOR BOTH BOOK AND MOVIE ENDINGS FOLLOW.
I originally picked up the book, I'll be honest, to see how Greene did the ending: if he had Rose saved from her own devastation by a screwed-up recording. I thought that ending - Rose knocked up, separated from her family, but still clinging to and supported by the fantasy that Pinkie loved her (Pinkie made a recording of his voice in which he details how much he loathes her, but the record skips so that it sounds like a declaration of love) - was complicated and itchily, awfully compelling, and I figured it might be a direct translation from the book, maybe, and I was interested to see how Greene wrote that out. (And, oh, the visceral groans from the movie audience when Rose stood up and was visibly pregnant and then again when the record player was revealed. That's good movie-making, to produce such a gut reaction.)
I remain surprised/delighted/creepily horrified by what the book's ending actually is: we don't know if Rose is pregnant, Ida is smarmily pleased with herself for doing the right thing, even if it's much less clear that doing the right thing objectively is the right thing for Rose subjectively, and we never actually hear the recording of Pinkie telling her how much he hates her. We're just left hanging, knowing that Rose is on her way to go listen to it. True, there's no real way that the book version of the recording could be misinterpreted like the movie, but the lack of it playing out onpage, as it were, is even more creepy and awful. There's a sense of inheld-breath that will never be let out, and it's remarkably effective.
In some ways, I think the ending of the book is stronger, more ambiguous than the movie, even as I think the movie gave a more direct portrayal of nuance in the characters. The movie wraps up everything in an awful little bow, but there's still some sense of moral right and wrong that is successfully answered. The book is still sneering at its characters, right to the very last word, but it's that sense of indrawn breath and uncomfortable lack of answers that I think makes it stronger.
Well, actually, I think each ending works appropriately for the different mediums. That groan, that sense of AUGH that the movie induces is very fitting for the story as it's told out through peoples' faces, for the nuance and shifting motives and ambiguity of understanding. The ambiguity of overall morality, the leaving-you-hanging-even-as-you-know-what-happens-next aspect of the book fits so much better with the novel that's been as much about Greene's words and Dealing With Issues as it's been about the characters. So, hey, kudos to both. (And to Helen Mirren.) ...more
Huge swathes of charming, with one egregious, icky icky caveat. I do love me a good epistolary novel, and this one is splendidly done, with a light toHuge swathes of charming, with one egregious, icky icky caveat. I do love me a good epistolary novel, and this one is splendidly done, with a light touch on what the narrator says and what the author wants to happen. I find Sallie a slightly less dense narrator than Judy (heroine of the prequel Daddy Long Legs), whose greatest charm and irritation is her cheerful, persistent earnestness. Sallie is always a bit more self-aware, even when she's the silly socialite being badgered into working, and I appreciate that. No surprises here; everything unfolds exactly as you think it will, but it's a neatly crafted little story.
What I especially like about both this novel and its prequel are their sneaky, steadfast feminism. The first book is all about women's education in the early 1900s; this one is all about women's work. Yes, yes, product of their time, all about women in "appropriate" roles as writer and mother-to-113-babies-as-orphanage-director, but it's still there. The ideas are still being raised. Women's independence and capability of learning and managing and doing are never in question.
The caveat is the creepy, awful, pervasive eugenics stuff throughout the novel. Because, of course, Our Narrator and her eventual Love Interest flirt back and forth, in a very geeky sort of way, over science books. I am charmed by the flirtation-via-book; I'm repulsed by the subject matter. Because simple children are the product of simple parents, and bad children are the product of alcoholic parents, and all madness is hereditary, and wouldn't it be better if Those Sorts Of People just died? Ugh. ...more
Loretta Chase just writes a damn fine romance. Or, well, I say that because she so often writes a romance with more going on than just the two peopleLoretta Chase just writes a damn fine romance. Or, well, I say that because she so often writes a romance with more going on than just the two people falling in love, and the "more going on" is so often very, very interesting. I was more invested in the heroine's impeccable eye for fashion and the establishment of the dress shop than I was in her hooking up with the hero, even as they still sparked off each other most suitably. I do so very much enjoy the non-traditional aspects of her romances (business sense! a beloved child from a first marriage who is simultaneously adorable and a pain in the ass! dramatic! passport-obtaining! action! manipulation of the press!). Chase clearly does her research and shows it off, though in ways that generally flow neatly with the story. It's a nice midway between the perfect teeth of Romancelandia and the open sewers of Actual History....more
Oh, man. How did I miss the poorly-disguised political ranting when I read this in seventh grade? Heinlein has, like, a fleet of axes to grind. And soOh, man. How did I miss the poorly-disguised political ranting when I read this in seventh grade? Heinlein has, like, a fleet of axes to grind. And some horses to beat. And some soapboxes to stack to the sky.
If you can navigate around the creepy paternalistic politics and dehumanization of women and the valorization of a particular brand of masculinity above all else (which you need, like, a supercomputer GPS to dodge), I grudgingly admit that this is a ripping good yarn. I can see why my dad loves this book (which, you know, says a lot about both my dad and the book). It's easy to get swept up in the momentum of the piece, and I always was a sucker for a good training story. Throw in a lot of stuff about teams and struggle and bonding and whatnot, and I kind of enjoy it, when I'm not rolling my eyes at the mockery of namby-pamby twentieth century society filled with people who weren't spanked enough as children. Or whipped as adults.
The most shocking thing of all is how rereading this book gave me a newfound appreciation for the movie. I, like most of the rest of humanity, found the movie nigh-on unwatchable (except for Doogie Howser as the quasi-Nazi psyops guy, which I recognized as hilarious even on first watching). However, in retrospect, I appreciate so many of the changes they made. The military! It's co-ed! And girls get to do things! Not just give men a reason to die! And the entire thing is essentially a piss-take of the hypermilitarized culture that the book venerates! I think it might actually be funny. ...more
Oh, awkward, uncomfortable people are awkward and uncomfortable! Still, kudos to Rattigan for still making me want to know what happens next to awkwarOh, awkward, uncomfortable people are awkward and uncomfortable! Still, kudos to Rattigan for still making me want to know what happens next to awkward, uncomfortable people. ...more
The most delightful thing about this book is the sheer glee the author seems to be taking in rolling around in his Holmesy geekery. That enthusiasm isThe most delightful thing about this book is the sheer glee the author seems to be taking in rolling around in his Holmesy geekery. That enthusiasm is enough to pull me through the slightly dull bits when he's recapping history just because he can, only loosely tied to the story he's crafted for Holmes.
Definitely quasi-academic and not really curl-up-on-a-rainy-day sort of reading, but more than amusing enough to hold my attention in the fits and spurts I gave it. ...more