This is the third in my series of posts wherein I get weird and write reviews for classic books in the form of letters to the characters. I’m re-readi
This is the third in my series of posts wherein I get weird and write reviews for classic books in the form of letters to the characters. I’m re-reading all of Jane Austen’s books in 2016, and it has so far been lovely, even with this one. May was Mansfield Park month, and I was looking forward to it, as it has been my least favorite Austen since I first read it, and thought that might make for an interesting reading experience. In fact, until now, it's the only one of her books I hadn't re-read. (Spoilers for a two hundred year old book to follow. Seriously, all the spoilers. Don’t read this if you haven’t read the book yet, which I do highly recommend the audio on, by the way. Juliet Stevenson is a great narrator.)
(Also, I finished this book in May and it is almost August. This review was not easy to write--this book is just not one that engages me.)
– – –
Dear Sir Thomas,
I think I'm supposed to like you, but I don't. You raised two largely useless children, and one that is sort of useful some of the time, but has an annoying propensity to mansplain things and fall for questionable women. You also treat your niece Fanny with indifference for most of her life. I know she doesn't make being her family easy (you could probably just look at her little face to see she's quietly judging you, and she probably doesn't make for a great conversationalist). But still, you don't pay attention to her until she's pretty. I don't know how else to interpret your actions.
And then you start playing favorites with her against your own children. I suppose it's nice that Fanny ends up with a father figure in her life, when her own is nothing special, but it makes you look like an ass. Raise frivolous, morally suspect children and then turn on them, that's what you do.
(When you yelled at Fanny and made her cry for refusing to marry a man she found unsuitable (and rightly so), I did hate you very much indeed. And I don't even like Fanny all that much! I just hate arrogant bullies.)
- - -
Dear Mr. Rushworth,
I think I'm supposed to find you ridiculous, but I just feel sorry for you. Nobody takes you seriously even before you marry Maria and she cheats on you with Mr. Foofy Pants I'm So Hot Right Now I Can't Even Contain Myself.
That's . . . all I got.
- - -
Mehhhh. You're okay. I'm really trying here, but Fanny likes you, and that's really your only identifying characteristic: being her only loved sibling.
- - -
But then you show up in the end, and I guess Fanny learns to love you, too, and you should be grateful for being taken out of that disgraceful uncivilized household and brought into a REAL household where you can learn to be a REAL person just like Fanny did. That is the lesson here.
- - -
Dear Mrs. Price,
I just feel like you don't care. You married for love, right? How did that work out for you? You're just basically like, TAKE MY CHILDREN, JUST TAKE 'EM, all the time. I don't get you, and I don't care to. I said Good Day.
- - -
- - -
Friends was after your time (and also you are fictional), but allow me to quote you a poem. It's called "The Empty Vase":
'Translucent beauty . . . My vessel so empty with nothing inside. Now that I've touched you, you seem emptier still.'
An asshole wrote this poem, but you should probably think it over real hard.
In your case the emptiness is mostly because you're morally bankrupt, but you know, it works so I'm going with it. Please feel bad about sullying such a pretty face.
- - -
Dear Lady Bertram,
I don't know, man. Maybe pay more attention to your actual children than your dog?
- - -
You have terrible taste in men, and you are a terrible sister.
- - -
You have terrible taste in men, you are a terrible sister, and you make bad choices that hurt people.
(I do feel bad, though, that you will be the one suffering the scandal, and not Henry Crawford. He'll probably charm the skirts off some other gullible heiress and be just fine in the end.)
- - -
The first time I read this book, I thought you were okay. Obviously a bit dim or shallow, to have misread Mary Crawford so completely, and not seen Fanny at all, but that's forgivable. This time through, though, I found you bothersome. You are soooo patronizing to Fanny, and so full of your own righteousness, I very much wanted to kick you in the pants. You think you are so much better than all your family members, including Fanny, but you're so busy being right, you can't even see your own faults. And this is never really rectified, to my satisfaction.
You shoulda groveled, son.
- - -
I don't know why, but I like you.
That's all. Go about your day.
- - -
I feel like you are the key to understanding this novel, which is tough because for much of it, you are an empty center the plot just rotates around. You are almost completely passive, and even as you're just sitting there watching events unfold, we get almost nothing of your feelings regarding what's happening. Like, that whole thing with the ha-ha, you just watched those fools cross boundaries with each other and you could see the disaster coming, but you did nothing but sit there and judge them. That's right, people think you're sweet and kind because you're quiet, but you're not kind or sweet, you are silent because you do not feel safe enough to speak your peace. In reality, you are a pretty, judgmental little squirrel, with almost no compassion for the plights of others. Inside, I feel like your brain is just an unending mantra of, "Well, their own fault, really." That, and chains of looping images of Edmund with hearts floating over his head.
This was the key for me:
"The remembrance of all her earliest pleasures, and of what she had suffered in being torn from them, came over her with renewed strength, and it seemed as if to be at home again would heal every pain that had since grown out of the separation. To be in the centre of such a circle, loved by so many, and more loved by all than she had ever been before; to feel affection without fear or restraint; to feel herself the equal of those who surrounded her; to be at peace from all mention of the Crawfords, safe from every look which could be fancied a reproach on their account. This was a prospect to be dwelt on with a fondness that could be but half acknowledged."
You don't desire compassion or generosity in companions, you desire to be their equals. You only remained silent as a child, and even as your cousins committed wrongdoings, because you felt you had no power or right to speak. But your desire for equality does not translate for others to be equal as well. You're just in it for you. By the end, you've got Edmund, you're the center of the family (Julia, Tom, and Maria, we do not speak of). You don't hate them or wish them ill, but you won't try to help them.
You didn't want anyone paying attention to you when you were younger, not because you were modest or shy, but because you were afraid they'd find out what you really thought.
I am perhaps misinterpreting your actions, but I find you and your book perplexing, and the ultimate point of the narrative you're enmeshed in eludes me.
I do wish you well in your new happy life as the Princess of Mansfield Park.
- - -
Dear Mrs. Norris,
I find it fitting that you were immortalized in the minds of young children (and anyone else who loves Harry Potter) as a vicious, nosy cat. Like you, feline Mrs. Norris is a bothersome thorn, but not worthy of hatred, just pity in the end.
These were my favorite books when I was a child. I enjoyed some more than others, but the ones I loved I REALLY LOVED. If I would have read them for tThese were my favorite books when I was a child. I enjoyed some more than others, but the ones I loved I REALLY LOVED. If I would have read them for the first time as an adult my views would probably be a bit different, but I didn't, so suck it and stuff....more
Up until the ending, I really did not understand why this book is widely considered to be the best (or at least the top five) of Christie’s books. TheUp until the ending, I really did not understand why this book is widely considered to be the best (or at least the top five) of Christie’s books. Then it happened, and I was like WHAT!?
Actually it was more like a double what, because not only was it a really daring ending, especially for being published in 1926, but I actually guessed the murderer! That has never happened to me before. I am THE WORST at guessing mystery endings. I am gullible and trusting and passive as a reader. Authors: take advantage of me shamelessly, and I will enjoy it. Make no mistake, it was entirely a guess. No deductions involved whatsoever. I merely thought of the thing I thought least likely and picked it. That it turned out to be true, and worked beautifully, is entirely accidental (on my part, not Agatha Christie’s–her part was brilliant).
I’m going to split the rest of this review up into spoiler and non-spoiler sections, because I just have to talk about the ending.
Spoiler Free Zone: Knowing the ending for me is coloring everything I have to say about the rest of the book, but there are some things I am free to say without spoiling you. Firstly, the premise. The titular Roger Ackroyd, fresh off the suicide of his fiance, is murdered mysteriously in a country estate. Hercule Poirot is living next door in retirement, and is brought in on the case by Mr. Ackroyd’s niece. The narrator, and Poirot’s assistant for the case, is Dr. James Sheppard. He lives with his spinster sister Caroline, whom I adore. She plays daft but is actually very sharp. And of course, there are an assortment of relatives and friends who all behave mysteriously enough to warrant suspicion, and Poirot does his Poirot thing of being small and cute and condescending all at the same time.
As a sidenote, I would highly recommend the audiobook for this one. Hugh Fraser does a wonderful job. His voice is like butter.
Spoilers Ahoy:(view spoiler)[Seriously don’t keep reading if you don’t want to know. At the end of the book, Poirot warns all the major suspects that he is going to tell them everything, and that it would be in their best interest to give up all their secrets before he does it for them. This includes our narrator, Dr. Sheppard, who turns out to have been helping conceal the main suspect in the investigation, and having given no evidence of it in his account even to us the readers. And there’s a reason for this, which is that the book we are reading is actually a document Sheppard constructed for the sole purpose of being read after the fact. He was convinced Poirot would be unable to solve the case, and like Poirot’s past assistants, he could publish the document to acclaim. Only Poirot does solve the case and Dr. Sheppard is found out. Dr. Sheppard is the murderer. There were subtle clues all throughout the book, more in what he as narrator doesn’t say than what he does. It was one of these instances that caused me to wonder, Hey, what if he was the murderer? And then I giggled a bunch, I’m sure. The book then becomes an artifact of the mystery itself. To get even more spoilery, Poirot allows Sheppard to finish up the book as a sort of confession, before Sheppard kills himself to save face. It was all very British. (hide spoiler)]
The ending retroactively made the rest of the book rise up several levels in my eyes, and I’d love an eventual re-read to see if I can pick up on all the clues.
I am decidedly against the way this book ends, and much prefer the alternate ending created for the 2005 radio version (which I'm sure made Adams rollI am decidedly against the way this book ends, and much prefer the alternate ending created for the 2005 radio version (which I'm sure made Adams roll around in his grave not a little, but I don't care). Also, I miss Fenchurch, and Random is a total shit....more
I really really really love this one. I think it's my favorite of all of them. Then again, I am a sucker for a good romance. And this one is good ANDI really really really love this one. I think it's my favorite of all of them. Then again, I am a sucker for a good romance. And this one is good AND kooky....more
This is the first time I've read this series in YEARS, and I've never bothered to think about them individually before (my copy is the Ultimate HitchhThis is the first time I've read this series in YEARS, and I've never bothered to think about them individually before (my copy is the Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide, which makes it easy to judge the whole series rather than its individual parts). Trying to do that on this read-through.
My brain is feeling very overwhelmed right now due to non-book-related things, so I'm not sure I'll do a full review, but I might have something to say later. Who knows. I'm not promising anything.
Anyway, this book was even funnier than I remember (probably because I'm an adult now and have a fully functioning brain)....more
Just realized I hadn't rated this. LOVED this as a kid. MIGHT have gone through a phase where I followed people around and wrote their personal shiz dJust realized I hadn't rated this. LOVED this as a kid. MIGHT have gone through a phase where I followed people around and wrote their personal shiz down in my notebook. MIGHT have gotten kicked in the stomach by my sister for it. Also, wasn't there a kid in this named Pinky Whitehead? Love it....more
I was doing so well with my review writing until I got to this book, just plodding along reading and reviewing, reading and reviewing. And then I gotI was doing so well with my review writing until I got to this book, just plodding along reading and reviewing, reading and reviewing. And then I got to this fucker. Not only did it traumatize me the whole time I was reading it, but just the thought of writing about it felt like re-living that trauma (and this isn’t even taking into consideration that the task of writing about this book even without the added pressure of traumatization would be a difficult task). So I am now way behind on my reviews. Thanks a lot, Walter M. Miller, except you can’t read this because you’re dead (but we’ll get back to that later).
A Canticle for Liebowitz is a classic of the sci-fi genre, although there’s barely any science fiction in it at all, excepting the unexplained presence of one character and a bit of spaceship flim-flammery near the end. Mostly, it’s a story about how humanity is doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again (and also a story about how part of making those mistakes is struggling against making them as well). Take the circular thematic nature and nuclear weapons of Battlestar Galactica + the social commentary of 1984 + monks and Catholicism and you’ll have a close approximation of A Canticle for Liebowitz. Actually — and I believe I said this in a status update or a tweet or something while I was reading — I think this book is better, or at least more relevant to us now today, than 1984 is.
Because did I mention about how it’s fucking terrifying?
The novel is structured essentially into three smaller novellas that intertwine with one another. The first begins in a post-apocalyptic, post-civilization wasteland, some seven hundred years after the world was annihilated by nuclear weapons and the surviving world’s citizens responded by blaming scientists and people of learning: burning books, spurning education, and lynching those related in the streets. The titular Leibowitz is revered by an order of Catholic monks deep in the desert as one of the few men to successfully attempt to preserve books and knowledge in the face of a world gone mad — for six hundred plus years they have been working to canonize him as a saint. Leibowitz himself was murdered in the streets, essentially turning him into a martyr, and now the monks in the Order of St. Leibowitz follow in his footsteps, working to preserve and further learning, and shed some light on places long kept in the dark.
The first section ends on a rather bleak note, setting the stage for parts two and three, which take place, respectively, right at the dawn of a new age of enlightenment, and at the second coming of the end of the world.
Miller’s novel takes place in a world almost completely devoid of hope, which is what made it such a devastating reading experience for me. He writes about fear and violence with a frightening accuracy, and the ending of the novel all but condemns humanity as a species, a pessimism which is only counterbalanced by the way his monks mix a love of learning with their faith in a higher power. I was raised Catholic so this especially hit home for me, seeing a world in which those who champion educational enlightenment and spirituality don’t necessarily have to be at each other’s throats. But even in the oasis of the Abbey of St. Leibowitz, its inhabitants cannot be protected from the blunders of the species they belong to.
I’m not sure this is a book I’ll be reading again, and if I do it won’t be for years and years, but it was a book I’m glad I read the once, even if it was written by a man who was so disillusioned by the world that he eventually killed himself rather than having to face it any longer. I think books like this are important in making us ask ourselves tough questions, but I’m also the kind of person who prefers to look at the world with a little bit more optimism, so this kind of story isn’t one I’d like to read often. Especially if the ending is going to give me nightmares for weeks. I mean, seriously, you guys? It’s pretty fucked up. Smart and really well done, but fucked up nonetheless, which is what is keeping me from giving what might otherwise be called a modern masterpiece five stars.
I will admit to y’all up front that I have no idea what I’m about to say in this review.
I don’t want this to become one of those roadblock reviews forI will admit to y’all up front that I have no idea what I’m about to say in this review.
I don’t want this to become one of those roadblock reviews for me. You know, the ones where you just can’t figure out what to say because the whole book just overwhelmed you, and you can’t even figure out your own reaction, let alone how to sum up the book for other people.
I have no idea what my reaction is, or how to sum it up for you people.
So here’s what I can say about this book, exactly as thoughts are ocurring to me at this veyr moment:
1. It’s very well-written. This isn’t a surprise. From my (limited) experience of his writing, it’s clear the dude was at the very least highly gifted, if not an outright genius.
2. It’s the kind of book that even though it’s pretty short (two hundred plus pages paperback), every page is working hard. There’s no fat. He’s sort of like Hemingway in his precision, but on lots of drugs instead of drunk. Or the opposite of Henry James.
3. It’s an alternate history, the central ‘what if’ being: What if the Axis powers had won WWII? What kind of events would have precipitated that conclusion, and what would have been the result? That aspect of the novel is very interesting, seeing how the two main powers, Japan and Germany, essentially split up the world.
4. The novel follows several characters around who participate in events that are seemingly unrelated to one another. The cast of characters is varied: a Japanese businessman, a white American man who’s made a name for himself peddling American ‘antiquities’ to Japanese people, a Jewish man hiding in plain sight, his ex-wife, and a mysterious Swedish man in town for ‘negotiations’.
5. There are some pretty unique details happening here. Several characters are obsessed with the I Ching. One character quits his job making handguns to make jewelry. There is lots of Japanese fetishization by some characters. The clash between the Japanese and the German people is very understated and kind of frightening.
6. A large portion of the novel is devoted to the characters reading a novel within a novel, that itself is an alternate history, posing the question, ‘What if the Allies had won the war?’ The most interesting part about that is spotting the differences between what the fictional book postulates, and what actually happened in our history.
8. Philip K. Dick was seriously obsessed with questioning reality, or authenticity, or both.
9. I can’t figure out exactly what this novel is really about for me yet. I definitely need to re-read it. That’s sort of frustrating, but also kind of exciting.
10. I will read more Philip K. Dick. (But not until next year.)
And I think that concludes my review. I have a lot more to say, I can just feel it. Unfortunately my thoughts are really incoherent at the moment, so I will refrain from expressing them here at this time. (They would probably look something like this if I tried: DFOISJDF sdhgdsjf383838 !!! dfadfjadfadsfj ___________________ aodifa;sdfkja;sdkfj UUUUUUUUUUUBOOOOOOOOOEWEEEHHHEEEEEE.)...more
Henry James has beautiful people inside of his head, if only his verbal diarrhea didn't get in the way. Dear Jesus, I wish he knew how to write a shorHenry James has beautiful people inside of his head, if only his verbal diarrhea didn't get in the way. Dear Jesus, I wish he knew how to write a short sentence....more