On Chesil Beach is a hard novel to describe in simple terms... or rather simplification of this kind of story misses the point: there is much going on...moreOn Chesil Beach is a hard novel to describe in simple terms... or rather simplification of this kind of story misses the point: there is much going on in this short novel to admire. You can admire how McEwan contrasts the emotional strength and sexual awkwardness of two newlyweds, and their living both beyond and under the coming culture of easy gratification. You can admire the soft ending that is wrenching and re-readable and possibly the truest point on the compass here. Or you can find all the truths here for yourself: how sex and marriage interrelate, how external pressures drive private conformity, how little we understand or how intolerant we are of definitions of love that seem narrowing, unconventional, or simply a challenge greater than we can meet. On Chesil Beach is a sad but wonderful novel of quiet, reverberating honesty that - unlike so many stories that feign this level of far-reaching sincerity - everyone should read.(less)
For reasons I don’t understand, finishing Persuasion took me about a month longer than it should have, and I’m still not sure I wouldn’t be better ser...moreFor reasons I don’t understand, finishing Persuasion took me about a month longer than it should have, and I’m still not sure I wouldn’t be better served now by flipping to the front of the novel and starting again. Perhaps I was simply done in by being overly familiar with Pride and Prejudice and came from that story somehow unprepared for Persuasion’s richer, more complicated, and more honest story of a love long denied. That passion survives time and distance is true enough, but the truth to appreciate is the love “more tender, more tried, ... more justified in acting” once it has seen separation (and perhaps also the eager sway that so easily moves a new love) to an end. There is a story between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth about creating from stifled passion a trust in the future, a truth that encompasses history; it is suggested in faith and may not need expression in detail, but it would be a story to cherish – as familiar as we all are with the failures that set two people apart at start.(less)
Less ambitious authors would be content to dedicate their novel to the immediate premise of The Child in Time: the loss of a family's innocence and it...moreLess ambitious authors would be content to dedicate their novel to the immediate premise of The Child in Time: the loss of a family's innocence and its hopes for recovery after the theft of a child. McEwan works here as he does in later, more widely known novels, with layered presentations of theme and a greater effort to explore the loss of childhood to those stolen into adulthood, and how parents are often stolen from their own lives by childbirth. The decision to have a child becomes significant, and there are suggestions, more optimistic here, of the later novel, On Chesil Beach, where the consequences of action (or inactivity) on later life are explored.
McEwan writes beautifully of the awe in which children hold their parents, and of adults' recognition of individuality within their children.
If you read this expecting a book of loss and recovery, I think you may miss the point: that life is ultimately defined by action over regret; and that there is no real recovery from loss every moment stolen. The novel is as touching in portraying its adult relationships as it is those between parent and child. A beautiful, complicated book that seeks to broaden its scope beyond the modern thirst for lives full of simply characterized regrets.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of Sarah Waters' slow paced (occasionally excruciatingly so) ghost novel, "The Little Stranger," is how subtle and c...moreOne of the more enjoyable aspects of Sarah Waters' slow paced (occasionally excruciatingly so) ghost novel, "The Little Stranger," is how subtle and contemplative its frights are, rather than being necessarily immediate or shocking. The ending is cleverly done – and softly done – so much so that to hint at it might ruin the question Waters finally poses; a frustrating notion since the slower tone and pace of the novel, combined with readers' preexisting expectations for what makes a good "ghost story," may be off-putting to some.
Moments come in "The Little Stranger" when the reader wonders when the novel will resemble the shock dramas he might see in a film. Considering its ending, however (despite a somewhat overused setting for the concept of confession as revelation), that same reader will likely want to revisit the novel after they've finished – to string together pieces of the ghost story, the lives of the Ayres family and friends, and the importance of a key conversation between two non-family characters. The result is a book whose final questions are as philosophical as they are, um, spiritual. It doesn't seem right to say more, but given patience and a faith in Sarah Waters' already proven abilities, "The Little Stranger" is a very rewarding, if not the most frightening, tale of spirit and soul, obsession and haunting, curse and cause. (less)
Fighting off boredom, poverty, and unemployment at the end of the first World War, two young friends, Tommy Beresford and Prudence Cowley -- we're tol...moreFighting off boredom, poverty, and unemployment at the end of the first World War, two young friends, Tommy Beresford and Prudence Cowley -- we're told "their united ages would certainly not have totaled forty-five" -- decide over a lunch of tea and cheap biscuits to hang a shingle as the Young Adventurers, LTD. From that point on, the two are entangled in an enjoyably comic, suspenseful search for a surviving passenger from the doomed ocean liner, Lusitania. The whole adventure is, of course, more dangerous than the two initially realize, but the characters never falter, or lose their unflappable charm.
A great, and fun, introduction to Agatha Christie (that I enjoyed reading a second time) ready for perhaps a new generation of readers.(less)
An apocalyptic novel, an environmental warning, Flood is not a feel good fiction. It is not really a feel anything fiction, because its cast is probab...moreAn apocalyptic novel, an environmental warning, Flood is not a feel good fiction. It is not really a feel anything fiction, because its cast is probably the best educated, most startlingly unconcerned, group you could ever hope to have watching the world sink under the gush of all this additional water it seems to have found. The five or six men and women central to the novel have survived a strange few years, separated from the world we know as hostages. Upon their return, and at the beginning of that world's collapse, they maintain the separation, however intentionally, and decide that with nothing better to do, they may as well take notes.
Scenes can break away from social ramifications or from contemplation about the emotional impact of living through such events abruptly, sometimes with as easy of a contrivance as an ellipsis. The hostage group, as we come to know them -- or know their observations on climatological change, anyway -- soldier on, decade after decade, on a rapidly flooding planet. They seem more interested in the event than in their own lives -- certainly more than in our lives -- and the relationships that come about because of the Flood are always a distant second in immediacy.
Maybe the hostages have adopted distancing as a coping mechanism. Maybe that same mechanism has helped them to survive on an unfriendly Earth. But I get the feeling that their resolve is a strange evolution of those who would suggest that through any crisis, one must simply Get Over It, and, say, get back to teaching children to discern longitude from the stars. Useful, yes, but not really heartening. It's as if everything you knew about British stolidity was hyper-bred and released on a gigantic, jiggly, earth-shaped petri dish. It is a cold world that Flood creates, which doesn't make it a bad novel. It's more a book for those who want the science of the apocalypse without any of the human drama. Also, the ending is a pretty good set up for the sequel, Ark.(less)
The first half of a two-part story, and the third of novels set around a future-based academic time-travel department at Oxford, Blackout is my second...moreThe first half of a two-part story, and the third of novels set around a future-based academic time-travel department at Oxford, Blackout is my second favorite of the bunch behind the incomparable Doomsday Book. Where Blackout frustrates is in its pacing, with a heady amount of over-talking and thoughts broken off mid-sentence. These tricks heighten the suspense, but in a way that can be frustrating and bothersome rather than enjoyably prolonging the mystery. The Oxford characters also vary between believable shock and ridiculous over-thinking, again in a manner that seems to draw out the story in a way the plot doesn't need. But the story does give readers an incredible sense of what England survived during the Second World War: the sacrifices made by everyday citizens seem incredulous to a selfish and outright spoiled American mindset, and imagining any kind of similar response happening today -- department stores holding bomb sales, the conscription of civilian vessels at Dunkirk -- is impossible. 9/11 has changed America irreparably and, in ways we don't stop to question, we have surrendered something invaluable about ourselves and collective self-worth to the process. As enjoyable as it is on the surface, Blackout's publication has something to remind us about how a nation can unify around a central purpose and not, notable here, eat itself alive.(less)
Reminiscent to me, strangely, of Ian McEwan’s “On Chesil Beach,” John Banville’s “The Sea” meditates on memory and death, and the unexpectedly circula...moreReminiscent to me, strangely, of Ian McEwan’s “On Chesil Beach,” John Banville’s “The Sea” meditates on memory and death, and the unexpectedly circular connections, the meaningful bringing back, we seek to embed a purpose in our time on earth. The books ponders, and encourages pondering, as art critic Max layers his lost wife, his ever present mortality, and the ache of simultaneous discovery and loss that defined his childhood, like transparencies, until the effort to distinguish one event from another becomes a process of surgery rather than selectively setting each moment aside. This fluidity seems the titular Sea – the inability to separate those most important moments, in reality or remembrance, from the flow of all we experience and know, and from the wonder of our self-discovery and self-recognition, even as those defining moments reveal us to be less than we believed. We are shifted by this force in ways we cannot make sense of, and, by giving over to memory, lost within our ever-present understanding of all that we are and all that we are denied. (less)
"Little Bee" is beautifully written, filled with lines and imagery to dogear and revisit. Two very powerful female leads -- Nigerian immigrant Little...more"Little Bee" is beautifully written, filled with lines and imagery to dogear and revisit. Two very powerful female leads -- Nigerian immigrant Little Bee and English professional Sarah Summers -- carry the novel, as their lives overlap amid a kind of violence that is hard for sheltered Westerners to imagine, in moments whose depth is obvious, but whose repercussions neither is able to predict. As Little Bee aptly puts it, "Horror in your country is something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it."
An excellent counterpoint to the current anti-immigration fervor, that will sadly escape (or intellectually outpace) the audience that needs to read it most.
FYI, I first heard about this book from a former colleague, who also introduced me to this site. She is someone with reviews and recommendations to follow.(less)
For what it is, The Glamour Chase is fairly entertaining. The beginning started surprisingly strongly, with some nice depth added to Rory's backstory...moreFor what it is, The Glamour Chase is fairly entertaining. The beginning started surprisingly strongly, with some nice depth added to Rory's backstory -- which was undermined, sadly, in the bi-polar way in which he was praised then belittled, then praised again by those around him. The second half felt muddied, to me, and what was missing from this novel that the television show captures, I felt, is how well The Doctor engages those around him. In this novel that dialogue seemed perfunctory, though that may have been an attempt to capture Matt Smith's brilliant characterizations. There were a few lines that I had a hard time imagining the characters speaking, and far too many contemporary references to brand names and popular culture that pulled me out of the story each time they cropped up. The Glamour Chase is a good, brief escape overall, but less satisfying for having glimpsed some genuinely intriguing interactions buried beneath the tropes. (less)
Jane Austen's six novels have become so commonplace that people have begun to add elements like sea monsters and porn just to keep that ball(room) rol...moreJane Austen's six novels have become so commonplace that people have begun to add elements like sea monsters and porn just to keep that ball(room) rolling. Which is sad because fans of Austen would probably love moving on to the even more tragic and fatally misunderstood emotional outbursts found in Thomas Hardy's novels, Jane's thematic and spiritual progeny. Far from the Madding Crowd is a genuinely great book that mixes the authentic dialogue of rural England with brilliant insights on the human condition at large, and on love, relationships, and marriage, in particular. The book is slow to set its scene, but once it has, readers will find a love quadrangle rife with parties who mesmerize and exasperate alongside the best of Ms. Austen's creations. Who knew wiping away a bit of chalk could be such a understated declaration of love? A very good book, and this B&N ebook edition is very well edited and annotated.(less)
An almost perfect modern spy novel, filled with a keen understanding of the contemporary environment of Putin's Russia and the United States' self-gen...moreAn almost perfect modern spy novel, filled with a keen understanding of the contemporary environment of Putin's Russia and the United States' self-generated dependance on privatized intelligence companies. The plot is masterful in tying strong characters to its global events, and Anna Resnikov is an excellent embodiment of the modern agent and one who satisfies the need for readers to see heroes driven by goals more human than global. Dryden's novel makes the spy novel relevant to an age that has all but forgotten the Cold War, and gives espionage an urgency that had felt lost in the information age.(less)
In drawing circles to connect narrator Alex Cleave (see: Eclipse: A Novel), to his boyhood self, to his boyhood love, to his daughter, to a film starl...moreIn drawing circles to connect narrator Alex Cleave (see: Eclipse: A Novel), to his boyhood self, to his boyhood love, to his daughter, to a film starlet, and to scholar Axel Vandel (See:Shroud), John Banville has created another beautiful novel on memory, identity, reflection, power, youth, and love (or sex), as a response to grief. Banville's powerful lines are delivered gently, as if to bloom inside the reader once they've passed his eyes, and I often thought this novel to be a lighter parallel to the brilliant novel, An Adultery. Ancient Light is a an amazing book filled with the truth of experience as expressed through an expert hand.(less)