Extraordinary. (view spoiler)[Yanagihara gives the reader every clue she needs, implicit and explicit, to draw the inevitable conclusion from the outs...moreExtraordinary. (view spoiler)[Yanagihara gives the reader every clue she needs, implicit and explicit, to draw the inevitable conclusion from the outset - yet the ending will, I bet, still hit you with a wallop. (hide spoiler)] This novel is remarkable in any number of ways - but in particular in the way it plays with the reader (at least, this reader) who can intellectually embrace the notion of moral relativism; yet for whom moral absolutism on some issues prevails.
The People in the Trees is a triumph of narrative voice and structure. The development and writing of the central character, Norton Perina, is positively masterful. The imagery--visceral, grotesque--perfectly chosen. A novel about even one of the huge, thorny themes raised (scientific method, human subjects research, colonialism, racism, sociopathy, sexual taboos, parenting, pedophilia, destruction of the environment, aging and death, and more) can be powerful; when these themes are wound together, dense as a jungle and as tightly as DNA, and laced within a story and with writing this precise and compelling, the result is transcendent.
So powerful and provocative; the questions it's raised and discomfort it's provoked will, I feel sure, linger.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This is a complex book, filled with complex emotions. "Nuanced" doesn't come close to describing its portrayal of fundamentalist Islamist fervour and...moreThis is a complex book, filled with complex emotions. "Nuanced" doesn't come close to describing its portrayal of fundamentalist Islamist fervour and the various forces and interpretations within Islam that in many ways define it, and also attempt to balance it [ultimately ineffectually? not sure], but in the end, must simply survive it.
The same nuance and complexity emerge with respect to the use of torture, the oppression of women, or just about any other issue raised in this novel of post-9/11 Pakistan / Afghanistan, seen through the eyes of a constellation of characters who must navigate, often blindly, (and both literally and figuratively), through the inherent conflicts of their own beliefs, relationships, and realities in the world around them.
A central conundrum - the prevailing dynamic - is the clash of religions and, more broadly, cultures which both cause the conflicts, and ultimately also provide the only tools to endure, if not resolve, them.
This book forced me to confront a lot of my own assumptions, emotions and attitudes - and I'm left holding these thoughts in each of my hands and different parts of my brain, irreconcilable. At the same time, as jo points out in her exceptional review, although there is much that is disquieting and even rage-inducing, there is also the intense beauty of the writing and imagery, and especially, the Mikal character's unswerving goodness and sense of justice.
This book is sometimes overwhelming, always challenging, and probably not for everyone. It is a test of tolerance and empathy, in many ways. The beauty of the writing, the power of the imagery, the essential force of goodness that drives (again, literally and figuratively) the action in the character of Mikal, is the reason I've given it five stars. (less)
Ok, it's not high art but it's good story-tellin'. A unique premise, with moments of great drama and a convincingly-built alternate universe. The penu...moreOk, it's not high art but it's good story-tellin'. A unique premise, with moments of great drama and a convincingly-built alternate universe. The penultimate scene is worth the whole read, if you ask me; although the final chapter is irrelevant and drags it back down into, until then carefully and successfully avoided, sloppy sentimentality.
I spent a long time trying to parse the weird jacket blurb "via @MargaretAtwood" and the seemingly damning-with-faint-praise accolade she bestows on Paull's "Keatsian adjectives" (wtf does that even mean?!); but MA's description of The Bees as a "gripping Cinderella/Arthurian tale" seems altogether more accurate; certainly more so than The Handmaid's Tale/Hunger Games reference that seems the most common descriptor.
It bears almost no similarity to The Handmaid's Tale except at the most superficial level; I can't comment on Hunger Games as I've not read. I did not read this at all as a dystopian novel; I didn't sniff even a whiff of a metaphor. There is no warning here, no big analogy (despite, that is, the always-present analogy of the stratification of bee society parallel to our own - the queen bee; the worker bees; the drones, etc.).
So ignore that whole comparison BS and just go with the Flow.* To me, it just is what it is: an exploration of a society with a complex structure and life cycle, with a religio-political overlay to enable the reader to make some sense of it, and the translation of a distinct biology into symbols and images that yes, anthropomorphized, but also brought the very strange and intriguing insect world to life.
Because, really, who doesn't love bees?
* my one capitulation to the gnawing lure of the easy-beesy pun. You'll only really get it if you've read the novel. You're welcome. (less)