I first came across the author Magnus Mills when a lot of people were evangalising his novel - The Restraint of Beasts. Although I’ve still to add tha...moreI first came across the author Magnus Mills when a lot of people were evangalising his novel - The Restraint of Beasts. Although I’ve still to add that title to my collection, I had the opportunity to pick up Three to See the King, so I could at least get a taste of Mills as a writer. I’m glad I did because Three to See the King is a nice little story and one that will stay wholly memorable with me for years to come.
Three to See the King is a fable told in first-person perspective. It’s about a man (the narrator) who lives alone in a little tin house, on a barren, sand-covered desolate landscape. He has neighbours who also live in tin houses but each lives some miles apart, and they rarely see one another. The man’s life begins to change when a partially known woman Mary Petrie comes to live with him. His strict routine changes and he begins to settle into a life of cohabiting and companionship. At this time he also begins customising his tin house a little more, and interacting to a greater effort with his neighbours. Soon his neighbours begin evangelising about another neighbour, one that lives further out to the east - the enigmatic Michael Hawkins, a man who seems both charismatic and ambitious. As time passes the neighbours show a desire to move closer to Michael, and try to urge the unnamed narrator, and his lady-friend to do the same.
I really liked this story. It’s simple in its prose but deep in its meaning. I read this as one of my titles for this year’s 24 Read-a-Thon and found it really readable. As it’s a fable it’s a little strange in parts and from the start you question the story because in many ways it defies logic - Why on earth is the man living on his own in such a desolate place? How did he get there? How does he sustain himself? The fact is none of these questions matter. What does matter are the moralistic lessons that the story teaches you; lessons that aren’t fully learned until the end, but it’s well worth sticking with the story, although you shouldn’t find that too difficult a job.
I Like how Mills writes. He writes simply; to the point, with no sense of pretentious narrative. His description of setting and character is well handled, and reading Three to See the King is akin to listening to a traditional story-teller narrating a traditional story. I’m sure Mills’ award-winning Restraint of Beasts will usually be perceived as the better novel but this novel, on its own merit, is an accomplished title and should not be missed.
Favourite Quote: “In the morning I overslept. When finally I awoke the first thing I heard was Simon clumping around on the roof. Mary Petrie had risen before me and stood tending the stove. ‘How come you’re up so early?” I asked. ‘I thought I’d make the pair of you some coffee.’ ‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘What’s he doing up there?’ ‘He’s seeing if there’s anywhere to put a flagpole.’ ‘I don’t want a flagpole!’ ‘He seems to think you do.’ ‘Well, I don’t!’ I got up and went outside just as Simon came clambering down.
Favourite Scene: The narrator’s closest neighbour Simon Painter decides to move his house and the narrator, mad at his neighbours increasing infatuation with Michael Hawkins, decides not to help Simon move but rather to take over a basket of provisions every day for Simon and the two neighbours that are helping him move. It’s a scene I realy like; not least because it’s compassionate and neighbourly.
What this novel has taught me about writing: Don’t just write to entertain. Be moralistic, put in a few ‘life lessons’ and give the reader something more to take away with them(less)
Cannery Row is the third Steinbeck novel I’ve read in succession, and for me it stands out as the finest; quite simply I’ve never been more captivated...moreCannery Row is the third Steinbeck novel I’ve read in succession, and for me it stands out as the finest; quite simply I’ve never been more captivated by a fictional place, or its characters, than I have been whilst reading this novel.
Cannery Row centres on life upon a small strip of largely dilapidated land situated next to a sardine cannery in Monterey Bay. It’s the 1930s, the time of the Great Depression, and the story follows the daily interactions between the mainly down-trodden residents. These residents (all of whom symbolically represent various class structures in society) are primarily comprised of: Lee Chong, the Chinese grocer, Mac and 'the boys' who reside in a ‘refurbished’ storage hut loving christened the Palace Flop-house, Doc who runs the marine laboratory, and Dora, the owner of the Bear Flag restaurant, which in actuality is a house of ill-repute.
Given Mr. Steinbeck’s incredible talent for creating remarkable characters, and settings (something which I’ve discovered in ALL of the his books that I’ve read), I’m not surprised I’m so enamoured with Cannery Row, there’s just something so magical about each and every one of them. This is the first novel I’ve finished where the characters, and the place, have carried on living in my head; out of nowhere I suddenly begin wondering how Doc’s getting on in his laboratory, or whether Mac and the boys have managed to get up on their luck, if Mr. Chong is still in his sentinel position in his shop, behind the cigar counter, or if Dora’s place is busy or not.
I have to say though, that I found no real story behind Cannery Row. As I found with other Steinbeck novels, the onus of the story is all about the characters and how they interact with one another, rather than any hugely engaging plot. The lack of plot should not put anyone off reading Cannery Row though. What story there is, is perfectly constructed to both engage the reader, and to provide the ‘props’ and setting for a level of sublime character interaction. In that respect, the story can be viewed as a work of absolute genius, and in my mind it is.
Another thing that Cannery Row demonstrated beautifully to me, is how talented Mr. Steinbeck is at making something stunning out of the ordinary, especially when describing surrounding scenery. His description of an empty weed-covered lot, makes it sound as though he describing the Garden of Eden, and of particular magnificence is his description of what he calls ‘pearl time’, the time of day when night ends but the sun has not yet begun rising. It is during this ‘magical time’ that ‘weeds are a brilliant green’, ‘the corrugated iron of the canneries glows with the pearly lucence’ and the cats ‘drip over the fences and slither like syrup over the ground’. Magnificent!!
I think you know by now then, that I LOVE Cannery Row and as such I wholeheartedly encourage you to read it, if you haven’t done so already. I’ve mentioned that the place and the characters have gone on ‘living in my head’, and if that isn’t testament to the power of this novel, then I don’t know what is.(less)
As part of my *Steinbeck Special* (which in turn is part of my 50 Novels in One Year reading challenge) I’ve finished reading Of Mice and Men and desp...moreAs part of my *Steinbeck Special* (which in turn is part of my 50 Novels in One Year reading challenge) I’ve finished reading Of Mice and Men and despite its short length, I’ve got to say it’s a monumental piece of literature, with a story as powerful as anything I have, or am probably ever likely to read.
The story centres around George Milton and Lennie Small, two migrant workers who are scouring the Californian countryside in search of work. Again, as was other Steinbeck novels, I have been mesmerised by Mr. Steinbeck’s profound ability to create characters that are wholly ‘stick in the head’ memorable. Lennie, despite being a bit of a ‘man mountain’ and a ‘hell of a good worker’ suffers from a high level of mental disability. His only motivation seem to be that one day he’s going to own a farm with George, solely so he can care for a load of rabbits. Lennie loves to pet soft cuddly things, but as you’ll find out if you read Of Mice and Men, this passion ends up being quite detrimental to him at times.
George acts as a kind of mentor or carer for Lennie. It’s obvious he has a real affection for Lennie (and he apparently made a promise to Lennie’s aunt that he would care for him after she passed away), but one has to wonder to what extent George may be exploiting Lennie’s strength and ability to work. George like to proclaim to potential employers, the fact that Lennie can do the work of many hands, and this seems to be a good ‘bargaining chip’, provided Lennie can keep his mouth shut at the ‘interview stage’ for securing work.
George and Lennie may be the primary ‘players’ in Of Mice and Men but Mr. Steinbeck has also created a whole host of characters that are equally interesting. It would be giving way too much of the plot if I went into detail so suffice it to say that characters such as Candy, Slim, Crooks and Curly will remain unforgettable to the reader of this novel.
The story, although powerful is, as I’ve found with a number of Mr. Steinbeck’s books, fairly linear and not hugely plot-driven. I often see the plot and settings of Mr. Steinbeck’s novels to be more a stage for his characters rather than anything else, but that’s no bad thing, given that his characters are so well put together. However what Mr. Steinbeck does do well throughout this novel is to infuse suggestions of an ulterior motive for George and Lennie’s nomadic wanderings (it isn’t just to find work), which becomes clear near the end of the story.
Of Mice and Men is proclaimed by many as being one of the greatest works ever written, and after reading it I can see why. For anyone wishing an introduction into the novels of Steinbeck, this title is ideal. It’s short enough to complete in one or two days, and while the characters in Of Mice and Men are profoundly realised there are only a handful of them, and each is presented in an uncomplicated and straightforward way. I’m sure there aren’t too many people who haven’t read Of Mice and Men sometime in their life, but if you’re one of them then I highly recommend picking this book up. I know you’ll enjoy it.(less)
Quite simply Water for Elephants is an exceptional read and one that any reader should not miss out on. Briefly the novel is about a circus struggling...moreQuite simply Water for Elephants is an exceptional read and one that any reader should not miss out on. Briefly the novel is about a circus struggling to survive the Depression-era years in America, or more specifically circus life from the perspective of an ad hoc ‘veterinarian’ - Jacob Jankowski, who jumped on the Benzini Brothers circus train by chance, one evening.
The action in Water for Elephants is fast-paced; more than sufficient to keep the reader glued to the pages. ‘Pit stops’ to the action comes in the form of the story reverting back to the nursing home of the present-day, where Jacob is finding his aged infirmity almost intolerable. These respites back to present-day are brief though, and inevitably the narrative shoots back quickly to Jacob’s circus days where the action regains its breakneck speed.
Gruen has really done her ‘homework’ while researching for this novel. She’s created a circus world that’s wholly believable; one that you feel right in the midst of (especially when she intersperses the chapters with contemporary circus photos). Gruen tells us in the ‘author’s note’ at the back of the novel that she had researched extensively for Water for Elephants and it shows! So much so that you can almost smell the menagerie, and the sawdust of the circus ring.
What really makes Water for Elephants special for me though (aside from the great storyline) is the characters. Gruen has done a remarkable job of creating some truly colourful and memorable people in the pages of her novel. Uncle Al (the circus boss) and August (the animal trainer) are characters you’re going to love to hate. Marlena, Kinko the Clown aka Walter, and Camel are character’s you’re just going to love. You’re going to love the chief protagonist Jacob Jankowski too. Personally I found him more endearing in his role as the ‘present day’ Nonagenarian, but his struggle to fit into circus life, gain acceptance from his peers and deal with the urges of his love interest, make him a hugely engaging character.
In summing up I’d say that that Water for Elephants is one of these rare novels that will both thrill you and shock you at the same time. I really want to tell you everything about the story because it’s so good, but also I don’t want to tell you anything, because it will spoil the thrilling ‘ride’ you’re going to find yourself on when you read this novel. Sufficed to say that the story grips and twists almost ceaselessly on its way towards a quite thrilling climax. Miss this at your own peril!
Note: I should probably point out that the novel does contain some sexual content which could be considered for the more mature audience, so I probably wouldn’t recommend this to anyone under 15. On the other hand I may just be being a little prudish, so perhaps you may want to check out the mature content yourself before passing the book on to any juniors (chap 3. pp.44-47, chap 8 p.97 and chap 10 pp.133-135 contain the ‘offending’ material). (less)
The Pearl is a Steinbeck title that's a little different to say the least. This is a parable rewrite by Steinbeck, based on an old Mexican folktale, s...moreThe Pearl is a Steinbeck title that's a little different to say the least. This is a parable rewrite by Steinbeck, based on an old Mexican folktale, so unlike his others novels, Steinbeck is somewhat bound by an existing plot and characters(?). As such he has little freedom to evolve his characters or plot to the same extent he does in other novels, and it shows.
The story itself is centred on a poor Mexican fisherman Kino, who discovers a pearl - ‘The Pearl of the World’, and it looks as though all of his problems, mainly financial, are now over. However the discovery is set to doom Kino and his family, as paranoia and the evil of others conspire against his good fortune, and shatter his good intentions.
The highlight of The Pearl is definitely Steinbeck’s treatment of the paranoia which is growing in Kino. He illustrates this to great effect, showing Kino becoming more and more suspicious of other people’s motives, and he further emphasises the sense of foreboding through the use of a kind of ‘wandering evil’, the ‘song’ of which Kino often seems to be perceptive to.
All in all The Pearl isn’t a bad novella. It’s quite enjoyable, but not to the same depth of many of Steinbeck’s other works. It’s short so I would recommend it to other people to read, if only to take from it the lesson that wealth doesn’t always bring happiness.
Originally I had planned to read this novella as my only introduction to John Steinbeck. I'm glad I expanded into other Steinbeck works as I don't believe The Pearl, as good as it is, gives a true representation of Steinbeck's skill.(less)
Briefly, Danny, the chief protagonist in this novel, returns from the war to Tortilla Flat (a paisano district that sits upon a hillside above Montere...moreBriefly, Danny, the chief protagonist in this novel, returns from the war to Tortilla Flat (a paisano district that sits upon a hillside above Monterey), to find he has inherited two houses. What then follows is a comedic tale that fundamentally can be summed up in 5 words - wine, friendship, food, women and err..wine again :o)
This is the first John Steinbeck novel I've had the pleasure of reading, and quite simply it has left an indelible mark on me. What captivates me in the first instance is the remarkable talent Mr. Steinbeck shows in the quality of his prose. He demonstrates an incredible talent for expressing himself literarily, and in the most poetic way. I could provide endless examples but as an illustration, instead of penning something simple such as "the Pirate used his wheelbarrow to help Danny", Mr. Steinbeck eloquently scribes it as "then borrowing the Pirate's wheelbarrow and the Pirate to push it, Danny..", which, like the most of the sentences in Tortilla Flat, read like silk.
If the quality of Mr. Steinbeck's prose forms one half of the success of Tortilla Flat, then the sublime depth of his characterisation fills the other half. Mr. Steinbeck succeeds at magnificently bringing his characters to life. Every one is profoundly realised, with each possessing their own idiosyncratic yet appealing qualities. It is a difficult choice to make but the most endearing character for me is "The Pirate', the man `whose head had not grown up with the rest of his body'. Conscientious, hard-working, a man of simple pleasure (a pleasure that consists of him either showing affection for his dogs, or working towards winning the approval of his friends), the Pirate epitomizes how a humble, honest and largely pious life should be lived, which superbly juxtaposes the lifestyles of the other friends in the group (well, with the exception of Big Joe Portagee :o)) which are as far from pious as one could get.
This is not to say that Danny and his friends never show good intentions at heart. Mr. Steinbeck is masterful at setting his characters on a path of good intention, only for them to either falter, or to manipulate circumstance to meet their own needs. This happens a lot, and more often than not, wine plays a role as either the primary motive or betrayer.
I truly loved reading Tortilla Flat. It is a delightful story, with magnificent characters, and I would consider it to be a work of absolute genius. I never thought it could be possible to be completely captivated by an author on the strength of reading one book, but I can state without fear of contradiction that Mr. John Steinbeck, thanks to Tortilla Flat, has found a rare place in my heart. I look forward to discovering the rest of his collection.(less)