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)
Just a few notes here before this book evaporates into the ether on me; which is not an indictment of its quality (more, my own poor literary memory....moreJust a few notes here before this book evaporates into the ether on me; which is not an indictment of its quality (more, my own poor literary memory. Hence the need for these notes.) Also, there are not enough reviews, nor readers, for this novel. It really deserves a wider audience.
David Bergen, a Canadian writer, won the Giller for this in 2005 and another of his - The Age of Hope - was a finalist in Canada Reads 2013. I had never read him before.
The Time In Between focuses on a U.S. veteran who returns to Vietnam to exorcise the demons that have plagued him since his time there 30 years before, and who is followed there by two of his three now-adult children. The novel chronicles a family's experience of trauma and vicarious trauma, and their attempts to revisit the past, physically and in memory, as a means to recover from it.
That, in itself, is enough to keep one reading, but Bergen does a couple of other things that are truly extraordinary and which *almost* push this into five-star territory for me.
First, he writes with a concision that has been likened to Raymond Carver (whom I've not read) but that I would call Hemingway-esque. There is a deceptive simplicity to his sentences; on the surface, they are sparse and plain, but they reflect exquisite, minutely-observed, and perfectly-chosen details - as simple and stark, but as high-impact, as a fly in one's soup.
The thinness of an ankle emerging from a too-short pant leg. A glimpse of a woman asleep in a storefront seen by a cyclist. A mangy dog, limping in an alleyway.
There are actually three soldiers whose stories are woven together here: Charles, the father and U.S. veteran; a North Vietnamese soldier, who is a character in a book Charles is reading (that book based on a real one, The Sorrow of War); and an artist named Hoang Vu, whom Charles and later his daughter Ada meet and who was also a survivor of (and soldier in) the war.
Each of these stories and characters have commonalities and are interlinked. There are also Charles' son, Jon, and his daughter, Ada, plus a host of other minor characters, all of whom are essential to the plot.
Everything counts in this novel. There's not a line, not a character, not a detail that doesn't matter.
There is something about the complexity of story (stories) and the starkness of the language in which they are told that sets up a vibrating thrum, low level but intense, that lasts and propels this thing forward to its several, inevitable conclusions.
Some more things: stories are critical. Telling one's story can both save and destroy one, but regardless of how painful or what the story does, the telling is necessary.
There is a motif around safety: characters repeatedly say they feel safe, or will keep something safe. The motif resonates both with its opposite, threat and destruction; and with the idea of secrecy - secret acts, betrayals, and shame.
There are horrible scenes of brutality against animals. Anyone reading this who knows me knows that violence towards animals used gratuitously, for manipulation or for mere shock value, will cause me to abandon a book and judge it harshly indeed. As hard as these scenes were for me to read, they are important here. They create an atmosphere and illustrate a general level of violence against human beings that is almost worse for not being described.
Finally, I read a lot of war lit, and am specifically interested in the war in Vietnam and that time in U.S. history. I would consider myself fairly well-read in the literature that has emerged from it.
This book comes at that war from a slightly different angle: while it is concerned with the direct experiences of those who lived it, these are re-told as reminiscences or told indirectly by a generation many years removed from the events. Despite that, or perhaps because of it - and although none of the details shocked or surprised me - the story of the war and its effects retain an immediacy, a sledge-hammer present-tense. As traumatic memories do.
It reminded me what a bloody awful war this was (as they all are, I suppose; although Vietnam feels worse somehow), and how far-ranging its impact continues to be.
As such, The Time In Between is an important work to include in fiction about the Vietnam war. It reminds us what an incredibly brutal, soul-destroying impact that war had on those who lived it, and on those who have been living with it in the time between then and now.
Gorgeous slice of life on the Nebraska prairie. Sometimes you just need something like this, y'know? Where it is about characters' essential humanity;...moreGorgeous slice of life on the Nebraska prairie. Sometimes you just need something like this, y'know? Where it is about characters' essential humanity; where story comes from the slow unfolding of time and place, and from the people living then and there: lives of richness and depth, but no overwrought drama, no complex plotting, no dark suspense. Simple, sweet and lovely. (less)
This novel is such an accomplishment. Emily Brontë, you ROCK.
I say this, even though page for page, my heart and soul belong with Charlotte – specific...moreThis novel is such an accomplishment. Emily Brontë, you ROCK.
I say this, even though page for page, my heart and soul belong with Charlotte – specifically, Jane Eyre and Villette. They are more of a match for me and who I am.
Yet I admire and am astounded by Emily’s talent. That admiration comes from now knowing the broader context of her life (thank you, Juliet Barker and your masterful The Brontës). I certainly didn’t feel it the first time through WH, when I dismissed the achievement because of the over-the-top plotting and characterization. It just seemed so far-fetched way back when; just not my thing.
Yet on re-reading, I was unable to distance myself from the characters, as extreme as they are. I don’t see them, now, as unrealistic - in fact, they are all too real. I felt a powerful revulsion for them and especially, for the child abuse. Meaning, I felt both repulsed by their bad behaviour and also sympathetic for the abuse they experienced that made that behaviour all the more likely, and all the more tragic.
I literally had spasms of anger course through me towards the end. On many occasions, I contemplated whether to stop reading - I found it so painful.
There's a nature/nurture theme here that I don't think Emily got quite right. She did not differentiate well enough the different scenarios and their effects on character. Basically, all the nasty pieces of work were nasty in the same ways, despite various combinations of inborn temperament and parenting/environment.
But even to tackle it (a woman who had about three years of formal schooling and had travelled just barely more than the younger Cathy had by age 13) is such an impressive feat.
And even if you peel away that (unnecessary?) thematic layer, the drama of the story and characters stand. The miracle of a woman like Emily Brontë creating this thing that is 100% a product of her own imagination stands.
As she herself says, through her housekeeper/storyteller (and how clever is THAT!):
“I certainly esteem myself a steady, reasonable kind of body … not exactly from living among the hills, and seeing one set of faces, and one series of actions, from year's end to year's end: but I have undergone sharp discipline which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more than you would fancy …”.
Virginia Woolf, in A Room Of Ones Own, questioned why the Brontës – and Eliot and Austen, too – wrote novels. Why the novel? She saw Emily, had she lived or lived in different times, as a dramatic playwright: as potentially transcendent as Shakespeare.
So do I.
I am still beyond pissed at Charlotte for destroying Emily’s second novel after her death. I love you, Charlotte; it’s your behaviour I dislike. And (or so), I haven’t yet read her forward to the second edition of WH published after Emily’s death, included in my Oxford World Classics copy, along with a selection of Emily’s poems and some reasonably competent end notes.
Barker’s assumption is that Charlotte ultimately deemed Emily’s second novel inappropriate for what novels should be – which, Charlotte believed, was what would be marketable and what would preserve and protect the integrity and reputation of the sisters. (see comment #2 below for more fulsome explanation)
But Emily didn’t give a fig about what the neighbours – or the public at large – thought.
She had access to the richest, most colourful, most interesting, most stimulating world close at hand, not within or close by the four walls of the Haworth Parsonage, but within her own imagination. Nothing else was relevant to her.
She didn’t need the society of others (but for her siblings and her beloved dog, Keeper); she didn’t need instruction or exposure to ideas beyond the large library she had at hand; she didn't need the stimulation or activities available in a city, because she had wild nature all around her. And most of all, she had an ever-expanding world within her own brain, with none of the limits imposed by mid-19th century Yorkshire or what anyone thought of her or her writing.
Wuthering Heights is a matured version of the juvenilia – specifically, the Gondal world where Emily’s imagination, her life and her soul, lived. Enter it with her: whether you like that world or not; whether you are drawn to it or want to revisit it; whether you respond to its characters or its themes is irrelevant, she will make you feel it.
Wuthering Heights is Emily’s brain on a page. She didn’t create a world and send it out to the reader through the mundane conduit of publication, as much as she opened a door to her soul and invited the reader in.
That said, she did write and publish it, pouring out her thoughts – strange and dark and disconnected (but not really) from the outside world; an alternate universe, but a universal and lasting legacy in a novel – her only one – and one that remains in print and among the very best of a century of best novels.
Coming back to Alice Munro - she speaks to me in an entirely new way, now. Stories of adult daughters and mothers and sickness and grief; infidelities...moreComing back to Alice Munro - she speaks to me in an entirely new way, now. Stories of adult daughters and mothers and sickness and grief; infidelities and eccentricities; stories of aging - the "sardonic droop of defeat" (Differently, p. 218). Stories of women's friendships. Stories of how life happens to people, and what they become when it does. All perfectly realized, quiet and wise, perfectly told and told completely. Captured into a form over which Munro exerts complete control, making it all look so easy. Stunning.
I have a jumble-tumble of disconnected thoughts on this, that I hope other readers will jump in on the comments to help explore. I think jo is going t...moreI have a jumble-tumble of disconnected thoughts on this, that I hope other readers will jump in on the comments to help explore. I think jo is going to kick us off. :-)
Amazing first novel by a truly original writer who's fast becoming a favourite. It's possible I liked this one even better than his later, and better...moreAmazing first novel by a truly original writer who's fast becoming a favourite. It's possible I liked this one even better than his later, and better known, Cloud Atlas. Although the style he hones by CA is still a bit rough around the edges here, that roughness actually works in the novel's favour as structure and style did not threaten at any point to overwhelm substance/content.
Mitchell's virtuosity employing different genres per story-chapter is less delineated here than in CA, but that again works in Ghostwritten's favour, I think, by uniting the story-chapters through more than just symbolism or discrete events. (although these nuggets are still sprinkled throughout for the reader to find like easter eggs - with as much delight).
Perhaps because its various storylines are more contemporaneous (anchored by the real-life Tokyo subway gas attack), and less speculative-fictiony than CA, Ghostwritten feels more human and even humane, and the characters are easier to identify with.
There is also the truly extraordinary way he describes place - from Hong Kong, to Tokyo, to Mongolia, to London, to Petersburg, to a remote Irish island (the novel really does span the globe); these descriptions alone are worth sticking with Mitchell on the journey, which goes to some truly dark and lonely places both geographical and psychological.
Among the themes he explores, the spirituality-meets-technology one, and the search for / construction of meaning in a random universe, weave their way like DNA strands through the work, culminating in an elegant and breathless ending that neatly ties up most of the plot threads. Earlier inconsistencies are resolved and while some suspension of disbelief is required, the whole thing feels not just logically plausible - with the sense of foreboding doom that implies - but it also never loses the sense of human drama and angst, the poignant search for connection, place and purpose that each character embodies being shared, ultimately, between the reader (at least, this reader) and the novel.
Mesmerizing, engrossing, very beautiful, very sad.(less)
At the risk of writing a gushing, kneejerk non-review in the immediate flush of finishing, I think ... I think ... this is the one.
You can have your l...moreAt the risk of writing a gushing, kneejerk non-review in the immediate flush of finishing, I think ... I think ... this is the one.
You can have your lighthouses and your dalloways - they are (indisputably?) more literary, more artful (I write that; I don't know if it's true). And for all the blurb writers' condescending labelling of this one as more accessible - gasp! - I will accept that there is just simply something I don't get about those others - get in my heart, that is. Get at a visceral level.
I like them a lot. I will re-read them - particularly To The Lighthouse, which needed more of my attention than I gave it at the time.
But this one. Filled to the brim with whimsy and poetry. Cheeky and satirical. Funny, funny, funny. So light-hearted and filled with joy and self-deprecation, but no less intelligent for it. Structurally extraordinary - think of it: Dalloway tried to pack all of life into one day; this turns that on its head and says - the writer can't ever get life on the page without having lived life, lives ... two thousand and fifty-two of them! Four hundred years' worth!
As it comes roaring to a close and into the present, it almost made my heart burst, it did.
This is the one that makes me wish I knew her. This is the one that makes me mourn her loss. (less)
I'm so angry with this book I could spit. I can't even rate it, I'm so angry with it. I certainly would never recommend it (even though I think everyon...moreI'm so angry with this book I could spit. I can't even rate it, I'm so angry with it. I certainly would never recommend it (even though I think everyone should read it). It is an important book to read. I'm glad I read it even though it was the most horrific, awful, despairing, bleak, pessimistic, horrific, sad thing I've read since...ever. Glad is not the right word; not at all the right word. All those other words are right. 5=amazing? 1=did not like it? Yes. Both. You can't like this; how can anyone LIKE this? It's like poverty porn: it ended up numbing me, angering me, leaving me feeling as exploited as the children crying in the sand. I feel myself blaming the author for showing me these things, in the way that he has. It's not that I don't know they exist. It's not like he's shaming me (as an individual, as a colonizer, as a slave trader, as an INGO worker, as a person living in a democracy, as a person who consumes more than my share of oil, of food, of land, of air, as...). He's not shaming me for my ignorance, or blaming me for my involvement. Although all of that simmers below the surface here. There is plenty of shame and blame to go around, but that is not Akpan's thing. Where one feels oneself - as a reader - feeling them and placing them is important. Especially when you feel yourself blaming the victims. Yeah. Sit with that a while. .... .... .... .... .... I don't know that others will react with the shame/blame response. Maybe not. This incredible tangle of emotions, the complexity of the shifting, illogical world within the stories, the convoluted politics, religion and social structures - the real world where these children and women and men live and die horribly, horribly, horribly - is perhaps best exemplified and explored in Luxurious Hearses. I feel myself coming out of a swirl of emotions as I start to apply the logic of literary analysis here. And I don't want to do that right now, so. Let me just say: what Akpan is doing, how he is doing it is as important as the stories he is telling, which are true stories. Fictionalized, obviously, but true. Choosing to tell these stories through children's eyes is perhaps the most cold-blooded authorial choice I think I've ever witnessed. Each story is unrelenting in its despair, its hopelessness. There are not enough synonyms for devastating to describe each story's ending. This book brutalizes and traumatizes its readers as a way of demonstrating the brutality and trauma its characters have experienced (are experiencing). For every reviewer who quibbles with the difficulty of the dialect, or the unevenness of the story length, or Oprah, I invite you to think about why that kind of analysis was comforting to you; why is your focus there? Where would your focus be if it wasn't there? That is what I am thinking about. I am thinking about why. and how. And I am feeling as helpless and hopeless in response to a piece of literature as it is possible to feel. And that is absolutely breathtaking in what it says about this book of short stories. And that is why I am rating it 5 stars. And that is why you should read it - but only if you feel you can. (less)
Lovely. A welcome counterpoint to the more politically-charged First Nations' novels I've been reading so much of lately. Sad, but not angry. Reminded...moreLovely. A welcome counterpoint to the more politically-charged First Nations' novels I've been reading so much of lately. Sad, but not angry. Reminded me of Cather's Death Comes For The Archbishop--similarly episodic, lyrical and atmospheric. A gorgeous read and a very sympathetic priest whose relationship with the Kwakiutl tribe on the coast of BC, (view spoiler)[dying out slowly as he is, (hide spoiler)] whom he lives with, learns about, and loves, could have been a cliché but avoids it by being among the first such portrayal in contemporary literature, and also just being so plainly but well written. Highly recommended. (less)
Four stars for now as a place-holder, as that was my rating for the other two (for some strange reason). The trilogy overall, though, is an absolute f...moreFour stars for now as a place-holder, as that was my rating for the other two (for some strange reason). The trilogy overall, though, is an absolute five. A stunning vision; exceptional execution; provocative themes about greed and ethics, environmental degradation, out-of-control technology ... and maybe a shred of optimism for humanity, such as it is or will be [I'm hoping that someone is working on the Crakers in a lab somewhere]. An upvote for resilience and hope, at least in the short term.
I know most people thought the previous two, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood - the latter in particular - stronger, but I don't know: this one grabbed me and really packed an emotional punch. I think, perhaps, it was the innocence-versus-corruption theme throughout that captured my heart. Also, the drive for story-telling and mythmaking, reinforced thematically and structurally: the critical importance that telling our stories, documenting them, passing them on being all we have to (re)create meaning and provide comfort in a world that is otherwise dark and empty. "People need such stories, Pilar said once, because however dark, a darkness with voices in it is better than a silent void."
Maybe being the last in the trilogy, MaddAddam also gets high marks for the resolution: a strange mix of resigned sadness, more like grief, and hope. (view spoiler)[She gives us a second generation. She gives us not the end of the story, but its next chapter. She brings back deer and frogs and bees. She shows us inter-species conflict resolution. She kills the bad guys - but not without due process. She gives the Crakers written language - not just oral story-telling. She gives us the white pebble alternative future to the black pebble alternative future that she's also given us. (hide spoiler)]
The idea that we are oil-barrelling blindly down a road towards this--and that it is too late to stop or swerve--is absolutely fundamental here, as in the earlier two. The details are so specific and so current (fracking in Calgary and pipelines in the Arctic, e.g.) we cannot fail to recognize them. Atwood's postscript emphasizing that everything she describes is part of today's technology or at the least theoretically possible is chilling. And she doesn't need to tell us that - the sense of familiarity and of the inevitable, looming plausibility of it all is visceral.
Atwood leaves us here at the end of this trilogy with enough ambiguity and open-endedness that some interpretation is required; enough to prevent our complacency, perhaps. There may be no hope that we can prevent our fall, but overall, the pigoons and the Crakers and the stories being passed on is maybe enough for our regeneration.
Thank you. Good night. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This novel gets the early nod for the 2013 EccentricMuse Skippy Dies Award (a novel starring adolescent males that I’m completely surprised I enjoyed...moreThis novel gets the early nod for the 2013 EccentricMuse Skippy Dies Award (a novel starring adolescent males that I’m completely surprised I enjoyed as much as I did).
Coady balances gritty realism with literary flourish to carve a portrait of a young man who grows up to become something other than everyone thought he would; and one who excavates his past in a series of emails spurred on by reading a former friend's novel in which he plays either a major or a minor role (it's not clear which; it doesn't matter).
In telling Gord Rankin Jr.'s story ("Rank" - a hockey-scholarship-earning/bouncer/enforcer who seems fated for a life of "innate criminality"), Coady creates a beautifully nuanced portrait of an adolescent boy who's endured traumas and been pigeon-holed by, among other things, his size - his sheer physical presence, or maybe just his presence itself - into a life he doesn't fit but doesn't seem able to escape. But she does a whole lot of other things, too, including painting an introspective, mid-life musing on identity - the shaping of it; the truth of self-fulfilling prophecies and the falsehood of fate; the early patterns and events that seem to lead inevitably in one direction and then, just as inevitably, veer off in another.
It's a novel about tragic, random events that seem like omens - at least, to 20-year-old Rank; conclusions that seem foregone but aren't, as it takes a series of unanswered emails and and additional 20 years to reveal to him. It's a novel about how stories can seem to be our own, how stories are important, but how stories never tell the whole story. It's a novel of deep feeling, of friendships and how fragile they are - like a human heart, Rank! - of adolescent boys inside of grown-up bodies, and how fragile they are.