**spoiler alert** I think this book is a worthwhile read. It's depiction of the class system, elitist snobbery and hypocrisy, and gender roles was eye...more**spoiler alert** I think this book is a worthwhile read. It's depiction of the class system, elitist snobbery and hypocrisy, and gender roles was eye-opening. It made me more appreciative of the fact that I do not have to live in such a stilted world where social roles are rigidly enforced and any deviation can mean ruin.
However, those who are interested in more exciting and suspenseful reads à la Dan Brown may find this book slow and tedious. The interesting enough plot is often dragged down by long philosophical tangents. While I expected to read a book about a woman's fall from grace, in the end I realized that the plot was more a vehicle to put a spotlight on Russian life and philosophy than the highlight of the book. Indeed, I did not realize that the title character of the book is not the sole focus. At least half of the book is devoted to the storyline of another character and his family. If you don't want to get mired in the niceties of 19th century Russia, this book may bore you.
The biggest disappointment for me was the ending. I waited expectantly for the infamous suicide, and once it came, the rest of the book dragged on. The end of the book, once again, returned to philosophy in its focus of how to live a good (defined as Christian) life. Unfortunately, this seemed sudden and trite and a little preachy, as though Tolstoy didn't want the reader to miss the moral of the story. Unfortunately, it does not carry the same force as, say, Voltaire's imperative to "cultivate your garden."(less)
This book is wildly funny. It is more like a series of short stories than a novel, with each chapter being a separate story. I found that the entertai...moreThis book is wildly funny. It is more like a series of short stories than a novel, with each chapter being a separate story. I found that the entertainment value varied from story to story. Some chapters I could not help but laughing out loud at but others I had to push myself through. Overall, it is a very entertaining book. (less)
This book annoyed me. The characters were underdeveloped. Vermeer was opaque, and the main character was dull and not fleshed out. I hated her passivi...moreThis book annoyed me. The characters were underdeveloped. Vermeer was opaque, and the main character was dull and not fleshed out. I hated her passivity. I do not have to love the main character to love the book, but I do need to be able to understand her or him and identify with her or him or I will chafe at being placed in their shoes.
The book was slow overall. The entire book just seemed like more of the same-- dull passive girl interacts with temperamental artist. I remember the point that I became disgusted with the book (I read it a decade ago.)-- her advances rejected by Vermeer, the main character lets some guy she doesn't feel particularly attracted to take her in the back alley. Not only does the author not explain why the girl is having sex with someone she does not particularly like (and at a time when sex outside of marriage is frowned upon and having an illegitimate child could ruin her already precarious social circumstances, a little insight into her thought process would have been nice), the author described it as something that happened to her instead of something she chose to do. I don't even remember how the book ended, but I'm sure the girl did something incomprehensible that the author gave no reason for.
I enjoyed the writing style and the historical setting, which is why the book is 2 stars instead of one. These are the only things that got me through the book. (less)
The book started off well enough, but took a horrid downturn on page 72. This is where the main character leaps from surmising that the girl she is he...moreThe book started off well enough, but took a horrid downturn on page 72. This is where the main character leaps from surmising that the girl she is helping suffers from some sort of personality disorder to dispassionately concluding she is possessed by the devil. This would be fine if Wheatley brought the reader with her, but the suspicion seems laughable because it comes out of nowhere. Plus, it would have been more entertaining if he followed the Ann Radcliffe school of suspense and kept the mystery going longer.
After that, I decided to keep plowing through, but what followed was undisguised propagandistic drivel. The main character casually explains that the Devil exists (and strangely seems overly familiar with his plans and thought processes), that Satanic cults are flourishing and use yoga and sex to control people, and that Communism is an evil tool meant to deliver the world into the hands of Satan. We also learn that girls' schools can be places of sin where sexual experimentation among the girls can provide an ingress for the devil's possessory powers. So in a mere couple of pages we learn that non-exclusive, non-hetero, non-binary, non-missionary sex is the devil's work and disfavored political theory is the equivalent of sin.
And if you can hold your lunch down through that fun little chapter, you get treated to a social darwinist diatribe in the next chapter about the horrors of government taxation, a dialogue which has no apparent purpose except to display Wheatley's political views. If one if going to incorporate their own biases into their writings, at least do it subtly and not through the characters lecturing the reader. What should have been a fun read has suddenly become a poorly written polemic.(less)