The title poem is spectacular. Worth the price of admission and I'm glad to have bought the book based on the tumblr-hype just to support a young poetThe title poem is spectacular. Worth the price of admission and I'm glad to have bought the book based on the tumblr-hype just to support a young poet. I hope Clementine von Radics continues to develop and I will look forward to reading her in about 10-15 years (god willin' and the creeks don't rise)....more
I'm going to four-star this even though it's landing for me somewhere between a three and four, primarily because what I enjoyed does not quite make uI'm going to four-star this even though it's landing for me somewhere between a three and four, primarily because what I enjoyed does not quite make up for what I didn't enjoy or understand.
I realize this is a flimsy premise upon which to base a rating, but the end times are here and I'm not much inclined to worry about the little things, y'know?
So here's a quasi-review filled with unsupported statements that will sound more definitive than I intend, and questions that I throw out there for others to do with as they will.
'Coz end times.
What I Liked
The impressionistic writing, full of snatches of conversation and thoughts, disconnected, referential to pop culture or previous parts of the novel which one may or may not get. The brunch section was particularly kaleidoscopic, and I thought a marvel of structure and language and characterization.
The sense of place and its influence and constraints - physical, cultural, socio-political.
Related, the trajectory of the characters, each of of them, in terms of where they came from and where they are going. The sense that there are escapees and others, those who don't or can't or won't escape. And that the grass is not necessarily greener on either side (see Keisha/Natalie and her sister, as one example).
The broader theme of identity and how it's shaped (by place, race, class, culture, socio-economics, education, etc.) but also chosen but also arbitrary and also fluid. This tension - between self-identity and the struggle to define or transcend a definition imposed on one - seems central to every character, although it plays out differently for each. It especially shows up for characters vis-a-vis their parents - Natalie, Leah, Felix - and their spouses/girl-boyfriends.
Without too much more thought on this, I wonder if self exists in this novel in no way except in relation to others, and the common milieu they share?
Related to this, I thought the character of Natalie - whose central goal is self-definition (she actually changes her name, that's how much she wants to be someone else - but who?), and who seems a hollow shell of a person in so many ways, someone who lacks a self of any real substance - was fascinating and compelling, however also ...
What I Didn't Like (&/or Didn't Understand)
disappointing. Natalie's arc is confounding to me in terms of what Smith is trying to say about and with this character. Given that her section is the longest, and her character the most intimately shown and known, this is kind of a fatal flaw for me in the novel.
The last couple of chapters, stylistically and linguistically rich, are ultimately empty of meaning for me. (view spoiler)[Natalie's breakdown (is that what it is?) seems abrupt, though not unexpected. Her foray into the threesomes seems out of character in so many ways that it *must* be meaningful, but then - how? I suspect some kind of literary trick going on here, her peripatetic final disposition existing to convey some symbolic, deeper meaning that I just don't get. (hide spoiler)]
Similarly, I wish there had been stronger links between each section. Leah seems to exist as counter-point to Natalie, but her story - which started the novel and was engaging in and of itself - peters out, and is never revisited. Leah's husband Michel - a shadowy background figure - seems important in the beginning, but doesn't end up so. And Felix's section is sandwiched in the middle of the two central female characters, with references to him before and after, but ultimately these references didn't add up to anything coherent (although his story is so dramatic and poignant). Again - he is point and/or counterpoint to what, exactly?
As much as I loved the impressionistic writing throughout, which early on gave the writing such energy, I started to disengage from it as the novel went on. I guess Smith gives her readers a lot of respect, and trusts that they will be able to follow along with her bouncing ball - even if it skips every second or third bounce - to put the clues together into a sensible whole.
For me, though, it required too much faith. It was impossible to keep up with the unvarying, staccato rhythm with so many obscure details and dangling threads, so chunks of the novel just passed into background noise for me like the snatches of song lyrics heard on a car radio as it drives by (which happens frequently in NW). It ended up isolating me, instead of drawing me in; the experimentation - especially pronounced in the third section with its chapter snippets - changed the rhythm yet again, but also grew wearying.
By the end - the very end - the novel fizzled out entirely. I was hoping for some kind of coming together of theme, character, plot. Maybe it was there and I missed it. Maybe it wasn't there at all. Maybe whether it was there or not is beside the point. You tell me.
My first immersive experience in a complete book of poetry in a loooooooong time. Very powerful with many moments of amazingly beautiful language andMy first immersive experience in a complete book of poetry in a loooooooong time. Very powerful with many moments of amazingly beautiful language and images (all the more so because describing sometimes very ugly scenes of racism and violence); some (deceptively) simple, and others much more complex and layered, elusive and impenetrable - but no less enjoyable for it. Recurring themes and images that made the journey from poem to poem, and from section to section, tell a larger story. ...more
I felt like I was reading this slowly - although clearly not, as I finished in two-three days or so. And even tho' I was processing throughout and aftI felt like I was reading this slowly - although clearly not, as I finished in two-three days or so. And even tho' I was processing throughout and after each section, I still feel that I need another five reads to get all of what Bechdel is saying here.
Still. It's a tour de force which I'm sure I just read in one of the excellent reviews; either jo's; simon's; or moira's (and I'm sure there are many more).
It's rich, complex, brave, stunning in its scope and depth. Multi-layered, dense and difficult - especially if you are new, as I am, to the psychoanalytic constructs explored and used as entry points and illustrations of Bechdel's experiences and relationships to her self, her mother, her work, her lovers, her analysis. etc etc.
And so, I got maybe 20% of it. But even that is enough to recognize how brilliant it is - and I am still amazed not least by the way this form (graphic novel) can say SO MUCH, as much as my beloved novels, as much as To The Lighthouse which is another layer of the story; another theme, and which I can now re-read and maybe, hopefully understand better and embrace.
Despite my own somewhat fraught experience with Woolf, that should be read as pretty high praise: Bechdel and Woolf. Working at the same level to explore uncover share expand people's understanding of [women's] lived emotional, psychic experiences. Laying themselves bare to do so.
And you [I] just need to be a little bit courageous to accept the gift they are offering. ...more
Shatteringly and heart-wrenchingly good. Three things I don't generally read (or don't read enough of maybe?): graphic novels, memoirs, lesbian fictioShatteringly and heart-wrenchingly good. Three things I don't generally read (or don't read enough of maybe?): graphic novels, memoirs, lesbian fiction. All three of these walls come tumbling down in this. The depth of feeling and thought, the honesty, is extraordinary, and to have it conveyed in graphic novel form is a little--no, a lot--mind-blowing. (In addition to the clarity and beauty of her writing, Bechdel is a *fantastic* graphic artist). (Perhaps) more thoughts to come after Are You My Mother....more
Excellent. I'm in the minority on this one vis-à-vis Waters' Fingersmith, because I like The Paying Guests so much better for reasons that have to doExcellent. I'm in the minority on this one vis-à-vis Waters' Fingersmith, because I like The Paying Guests so much better for reasons that have to do with how well the lesbian theme was integrated with the other themes in the novel - class and gender relationships, the great cultural shift that led to women's emancipation in post-WWI England (and elsewhere) and the main plot twist of Part 2.
I thought Frances exquisitely rendered. I thought her relationship with her mother (a hold-out Victorian) absolutely brilliant - so subtle, so fraught, so nuanced. I thought the graphic scenes of a) sex and b) violence also, equally, exquisite not just for the surface detail, but also for the psychological underpinnings.
It's kind of amazing what Waters has done here: she's created this fast-moving plot while imbuing every scene with rich detail; despite weighing in at a hefty 576 pages, it never bogs down. And the broad strokes with which she plots are matched by the greatest level of subtlety in the human relationships, with characters whose inner workings and complex thought processes, shifting loyalties, fickle attractions, retractions, hesitations and vacillations, feel so very human. At the same time, Waters never veers too far away from her big themes and the cultural milieu, she just chooses to explore them through the individuals who are living, loving, dying; working or unable to work; coping with their downfalls, disappointments and grief as best they can.
The twists and turns (view spoiler)[in the inquest and courtroom drama (hide spoiler)]at the end *could* have felt repetitive and even clichéd, but Waters has absolute control over what she foreshadows and the suspense she is building - while juggling, again, the big themes of class and integrity; loyalty and morality(view spoiler)[, balancing them with similar twists and turns in Frances' and Lilian's feelings toward one another (hide spoiler)].
If I have one beef, it's with the ending. A little too open for me, especially after what felt like a rolling series of conclusions. I don't know where these characters go from here - maybe the fact that I truly want to find out is enough.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more