A tough read this one, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s long and you are going to wish you were nearer the end than the beginning on many occasiA tough read this one, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s long and you are going to wish you were nearer the end than the beginning on many occasions. This is because it’s often tedious. There’s no real story that cohesively holds the whole thing together that is really of much interest.
It’s the life of Anna Wulf, a novelist. She spent some time in South Africa during WW2, was for many years a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and has published a novel which hasn’t done too badly. Although each of these in itself has the potential to be an engaging read, Lessing is too much of a realist for that. Instead you are bound and gagged and placed on the fringe of endless conversations Lessing uses to portray communism, attitudes towards women, sexuality, male-female relationships and so on which culminate (although that’s far too strong a word) in something that may be a nervous breakdown (again, too strong a phrase).
On top of this, having watered down potentially engaging topics through banality, Lessing has also decided to record each of these topics in different coloured notebooks and present extracts from each in series. As if that didn’t create enough dissonance, you also have a narrative that runs independent of these and which, if I’m honest, I can’t honestly remember anything about.
When you finally make it to the eponymous golden notebook, you have a grain of hope left that this might actually be a turning point, a pinnacle that has made the arduous climb worth it. It’s a false summit; all that is gold does not glister.
I get why this was an important novel, how novel the structure was and how important the topics were for the time. It scores highly simply because of these qualities. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed reading it or that I’d recommend it. I didn’t, and I wouldn’t....more
I kind of like history and so, when I started to dip into this in a bookshop, I thought it would be right up my street. In the end, I was glad to getI kind of like history and so, when I started to dip into this in a bookshop, I thought it would be right up my street. In the end, I was glad to get to the end of it. Mortimer can write, but there’s a little too much detail in this to actually keep my attention right the way through.
This basically starts off like a Rough Guide to Medieval England. This in itself is a great idea. I think if Mortimer had stuck to this, he might have written a better book. Instead, it starts very quickly to morph into a pretty standard description of various aspects of Medieval English life.
This has its own interest of course. There’s a ton about Medieval England which is fascinating. There’s also a lot which is, obviously, going to be mundane and Mortimer doesn’t really know what to leave in and what to leave out. As comprehensive as it is, there are
times when your attention is going to wonder and you’ll start counting pages to see how much further you’ve got to go until you get to something that you find interesting. There are only so many descriptions of doublets I care to read, for example, but you can talk about the Black Death all day as far as I’m concerned.
My wife and I read this to each other before going to sleep over the period of a year and a half. The text is 300 pages of densely printed script. Had we perhaps read it the normal way, maybe it wouldn’t have dragged at times. On the other hand, if I do have to read about doublets, bite sized portions are preferable!
If you’re into history, this will interest you and is worth a read. Just don’t expect it to be interesting on every page....more
Absolutely pointless and not worth anyone’s time, this is a novel by a man entirely self-absorbed. It says nothing about any particular era, has no chAbsolutely pointless and not worth anyone’s time, this is a novel by a man entirely self-absorbed. It says nothing about any particular era, has no characters more three dimensional than a sheet of paper and has no plot to speak of. It wanders aimlessly across the planet sometime around the beginning of the 20th century and contains nothing memorable short of some rather gruesome and vacuous sex scenes.
He doesn’t even include a single chapter to give his poor readers a break as they struggle against the interminable tide of prose for over 1,000 pages.
"Smilla doesn’t so much come across as an underdog in a portrait of contemporary social injustice as she does a kind of Nordic Lara Croft."
I don’t ver"Smilla doesn’t so much come across as an underdog in a portrait of contemporary social injustice as she does a kind of Nordic Lara Croft."
I don’t very often tread the streets of Copenhagen having only spent 48 hours there before. I’ve spent about 48 hours less than that in Greenland. So, Peter Høeg’s social rant against the treatment of Greenlanders by Denmark (heavily disguised as a thriller) was very interesting.
This was a good thing because the thriller that he buried it all up in didn’t really do it for me. I found that contrived, nonsensical and full of the obvious kinds of coincidences a writer who can’t really do thrillers has to rely on (c.f. Dan Brown). Oh, and he can’t write an ending either.
What you need to do with this novel is peel back the layers of Arctic insulation, chuck aside the crampons and ice picks, forget you’re on an ice-breaker somewhere in the North Atlantic and realise that you are being offered a tantalising glimpse into the underbelly of Danish history. You won’t see trailers for this history on TV like you do Danish bacon or Lurpak. Denmark is not advertising its colonial legacy any more widely than any other nation you care to name. That Høeg is doing so is, as I say, a good thing.
Smilla is, as far too many Danes are, half Greenlandic and half Danish. Yet, it is her mother’s half wherein her true identity lies. When her vast and intimate knowledge of snow conditions leads her to interpret something fishy at the scene of a so-called suicide, she charts a path that eventually leads her back to her homeland.
What exactly she finds there is anyone’s guess because Høeg seems to become obsessed with Artic tech and microbiology at the same pace as you lose the plot. But it’s the journey that matters more than the destination here with occasional insights into how Greenlanders are treated in Denmark, the social impact of colonialisation on Greenland and the whitewashing of Danish-Arctic history.
It’s just a shame that Høeg didn’t think that this was enough in itself. A novel with this focus would have been an extremely important one for Denmark. As it is, Smilla doesn’t so much come across as an underdog in a portrait of contemporary social injustice as she does a kind of Nordic Lara Croft. I could have done without the subterfuge, but I do know many who wouldn’t have swallowed that pill without a spoonful of suspense. So be it.
So, this is one of those novels for which an understanding of the historical context is essential for a full appreciation of its significance. The eraSo, this is one of those novels for which an understanding of the historical context is essential for a full appreciation of its significance. The era is the early 1850s and Russia stands on the brink of the Crimean War as it manoeuvres to take advantage of weakening Ottoman Empire. Also standing to gain are those who dream of independence from Ottoman oppression.
One such is the hero of On the Eve, Insarov, a Bulgarian who, though in Russia, makes forays back to his homeland and is part of a network of nationalists chomping at the bit to be let loose on the retreating Turks. But while Insarov is the hero, he’s not the main focus of the story.
Meet Elena, fending off less than suitable suitors while her life slips slowly by. Her world is transfixed after her introduction to Insarov and thus begins a love story which is ignorant of the boundaries of class, politics, familial or national allegiance.
While there’s a straightforward and somewhat moving love story here, I found it hard not to read more significance into it. Does Elena represent Russia who should stand up for Bulgaria against her evil but weakening conqueror? Is the fate of Insarov a sign that the coming storm would do nothing to free Bulgaria for anything for more than another 100 years? Is the ending itself symbolic of the mystery we all face when gazing into the future of ourselves and our nations?
This is the story of a young woman who, somewhat naively, leaves home to make a life for herself in Chicago. Unlike most novels of this sort, where thThis is the story of a young woman who, somewhat naively, leaves home to make a life for herself in Chicago. Unlike most novels of this sort, where the author quite predictably causes everything to fall apart at some point to teach similarly tempted other youngsters to tow the social line and stay at home, no such thing happens. At least, not to her.
Instead, Carrie finds herself befriended by men who obviously want her for her physical charms. That they should seems as natural as anything to innocent Carrie and she has no moral issues with providing their needs. She eventually marries (kind of) under circumstances that aren’t entirely clear to her for quite some time. In the end, she overcomes the difficulties that her new husband succumbs to and makes a life for herself which he can’t quite cope with. I’ll leave you to discover the rest.
Dreiser was obviously a glass-half-full kind of guy. Micawber-like, something positive is always around the corner. I think this is what makes this novel different from the others I’ve already mentioned. Morally, elders and betters (and most Brits) would feel somewhat self-satisfied to discover that Chicago was the fire that Carrie had landed in having left her native frying pan.
But Dreiser is not going to pander to such readers. Instead, he shows a woman who lands on her feet through a series of incidents which take place fortuitously to Carrie’s ultimate benefit. The fact that Carrie does almost nothing to deserve this benefit herself prevents the novel from becoming part of the feminist manifesto.
Dreiser’s moral point seems to be that the way life treats us isn’t actually as a result of our own morality. Nowadays, this is pretty much mainstream, but at the time, this would have been quite shocking and would have flown in the face of much that society took for granted. As such, it’s an important novel, but much of the impact of the novel will be lost on a modern audience....more
"The "land of the free" is no longer "the home of the brave.""
It took me a long while to read this.
It wasn't that it was a boring read. far from it. B"The "land of the free" is no longer "the home of the brave.""
It took me a long while to read this.
It wasn't that it was a boring read. far from it. But it was a disturbing read, and the fact that each chapter follows virtually the same pattern made it that much harder to read. You knew from the start how each chapter would end, though you desperately hoped it wouldn't.
Dee Brown's book should be required reading for every US citizen and on the book list for anyone considering US citizenship. It tells the true story of what the US was built on. Far from what is often claimed, the country was not built on the Christian principles of freedom but rather on what every other country, including my own, was built on: oppression and greed. It isn't this that troubles me. I'm not that naive. What troubles me is how this flies in the face of the many claims I hear that the founding of the US differs from other nations. It belies claims that the US is uniquely placed in the modern world to be the arbiter of global justice.
The catalogue of crimes against humanity detailed by Brown is chilling, but I was shocked most by where the guilt for these crimes lies. I had originally thought that the native Americans were oppressed and wiped out by settlers, miners, ranchers and mercenaries - the everyday man in the wild west street. Although these people may well have pulled the trigger on more occasions that most, I was stunned by how often the proud and truly great people of that continent were betrayed by the US government and military. Promise after promise was broken. Lies were deliberately told for national gain at their expense from presidents down. It is a shameful story of the greed which fashioned the US into the nation it is today.
The worst thing about it all is that over 35 years since Brown's book was published, that the average US citizen knows little of how their country was really founded. The west was not won at all, it was stolen outright. It is a humbling indictment of what some claim is the greatest nation the world has ever seen. If this is the greatest nation the world can come up with, we have truly seen that humanity is rotten to the core. The "land of the free" is no longer "the home of the brave."
Powerful and at times gripping, this is not what I’ve come to expect from novels from Latin/South American authors. In fact, this is the very first ofPowerful and at times gripping, this is not what I’ve come to expect from novels from Latin/South American authors. In fact, this is the very first of the many I’ve read that I enjoyed and would recommend.
Based on the actual life of the Dominican dictator Trujillo, the novel centres around his assassination. One one side you have the build up, the background, the character formation, the development of the plot and, after the epicentre, the hiding, the clampdown, the reassessment of a nation’s identity, a twist and a resolution of sorts.
I’ve not read Vargas Llosa before, and I’m glad to find that there are others of his on the 1001 list. His writing is powerful and ingenious; the style he adopts for Goat cleverly blurs the lines between a character’s present and their recollection. In places it’s very fluid, and I enjoyed just going with it.
The characters are strongly defined and none more so than the portrait of Trujillo we see here. He is introduced to us as he awakens from nightmares, we see him rule with an iron rod, but we also see him terrified at the trauma of a bladder problem and horrified at hints of his sexual inadequacy.
Others we see only one side of. Johnny Abbes, the head of the secret police, is despicable throughout. The “Constitutional Sot” is opaque and politically deft, and Urania is a locked box, emotionally numb and filled with hatred. None of the main characters is forgettable.
In all, it left me insight into not only some of the history of Latin America in the mid-twentieth century, but more evidence of how messed up we are. And with so much of that lacking in the news these days, novels like these are great to get into when you feel like your faith in humanity is in any danger of being restored....more
Not the most memorable novel I’ll ever read. Apart from pneumatic trousers (a chindogu candidate if ever there was one), little remains a couple of moNot the most memorable novel I’ll ever read. Apart from pneumatic trousers (a chindogu candidate if ever there was one), little remains a couple of months on as I write this review.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve read so, so many other novels that attempt to spoof the era after WW1 that it just kind of got lost in the haze. Why is it that so very many writers have to describe that era using witty, ascerbic satire rather than writing about it in any way seriously? Was that stance itself actually a tribute to the age?
Gumbril, who the book opens with and mostly focusses on, is probably the most memorable of the caricatures, and his pursuit of the “Complete Man” fantasy was at times amusing and wry.
But, although it was a good novel, it was only mildly amusing and not a patch on Decline and Fall, for example. Despite being written after his opening Crome Yellow, I prefer the earlier work although I can’t really put my finger on why....more
Massively influential in French literature at least, this story of unrequited love is a eulogy to virtue whose message should be more widely known outMassively influential in French literature at least, this story of unrequited love is a eulogy to virtue whose message should be more widely known outside its native land.
Wikipedia will give you a decent plot summary and overview of its significance. For me, the novel was somewhat hard to access because of the original style it was written in. It was a case where knowing the plot and what would take place in advance actually helped me follow the events in the novel as they unfolded. Without that, I might have emerged none the wiser.
What’s very apparent though is the refusal of the eponymous Princess to compromise her morals. Not only does she refuse the advances of the Duke de Nemours by committing adultery while married, once her husband had died, she refused to be unfaithful to his memory. This despite not being able to love her husband as he loved her.
Yes, the Princess is to be admired for this. But only to a certain degree. After all, she marries a man that she knows she does not love without questioning whether this is in fact the right thing to do. Although the Prince does bag his prize in terms of a life with the woman he is besotted with, she never gives him her heart and we return to this misery more than once in the narrative. This not only makes the Prince unhappy, it also fuels his jealousy of the Duke.
I’m sure women had little choice about who they married in those days. I’m not sure to what extent women have the choice even now about who they love. From what I’ve read and experienced, a woman seems unable to choose to love and be devoted to a man. I may be wrong, and if you think so, please comment and let me know why the Princess does not choose to love and be devoted to the man she has married. For me, that’s as cruel as adultery ever has been....more
Not the best novel I’ve ever read. I can’t really think why this should be on the 1001 list except that it was introduced from the second edition onwaNot the best novel I’ve ever read. I can’t really think why this should be on the 1001 list except that it was introduced from the second edition onwards to counterbalance the white-male-author predominance of the first list.
There’s nothing here that the world of fiction hasn’t seen before. V. S. Naipaul’s whole career was built on writing that explores the confusion of identity that comes from cultural displacement. He got the Nobel Prize. I don’t think Jhumpa will be shortlisted anytime soon.
For me, this was one in a series of five random reviews that see biography passed off as lightly veiled fiction. Jhumpa is, like her protagonist Gogol, the victim of parental emigration and mistaken identity by culturally short-sighted school teachers. She too was carted backwards and forward to Kolkata to see relatives she barely knew but which her parents insisted were her ‘real’ family. And it was also her who struggled to break free of these childhood tethers to establish her independent USAnian identity.
While I suppose it’s natural for writers to draw on their own life experiences both for inspiration for characters and plot as well as for the passion that drives them to want to communicate something, it certainly saves the hard work of trying to understand anyone else’s situation.
And reading more about the novel and particularly the film that was made of it, I can’t help wondering if this is simply a vehicle for self-indulgence. After all, Jhumpa not only made sure that the kitchen cabinets in the Gangulis’ kitchen were the same colour as her own family’s, something that would mean nothing to anyone but the Lahiris, but she also couldn’t resist her and other family members taking cameo roles. Hmm…
So, is this an important novel? Well, it’s readable, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was a little late in the day for a novel that focussed on issues of migration. Published in 2004, the world is a far more connected and culturally heterogenous place than it was, say, in 1976 when I was taken overseas by my parents. I’ve already referenced Naipaul’s work (Enigma of Arrival (1987) in particular), and, without much thought, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) or Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North (1966) also come to mind.
I’ve got a feeling that this one won’t be anywhere near memorable than those for me. It seemed like an an okay novel which was readable enough but, for me, there’s something about it that makes it fall short of being important. Maybe time will prove me wrong, but for now, I just wasn’t that taken with it....more
Nope. This didn’t quite do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, Durrell can write beautiful prose, and I honestly thought that this would completely entrancNope. This didn’t quite do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, Durrell can write beautiful prose, and I honestly thought that this would completely entrance me and that the novel would be spellbinding when I started it. But it rambled, and I don’t just mean any semblance of a plot, I mean the characters, the narrator, even the blinking city of Alexandria rambled. It was a haze from start to finish populated with characters who can’t speak except in melodramatic pronouncements of their impending doom in the chasm of their latest love triangle.
Interwar Alexandria must surely have been a fascinating place. But this is no Midaq Alley. Durrell can’t help himself avoid the kind of esoteric prose that must surely have been evoked by his being enamoured with an orientalist view of Egyptian life during that period.
The almost dreamlike quality of the prose was one thing I found quite frustrating about the novel. Nothing seems real. The characters can’t seem to utter one phrase of normal life conversation. Take these quotes from the eponymous heroine for example:
Do you not believe that love consists wholly of paradoxes?
When I first met Nessim and knew that I was falling in love with him, I tried to save us both.
Our love has become like some fearful misquotation in a popular saying.
What on earth is all this supposed to mean? No wonder this woman has problems with relationships; she can’t even communicate clearly.
On top of this, every relationship is charged with levels of tension that would be impossible to maintain in reality. And people pop in and out of bed with each other like there’s either no tomorrow or at least no sex tomorrow.
In the end I gave up caring and couldn’t wait for it to end. I didn’t care about Justine or how mesmerising she was supposed to be. I couldn’t care about the narrator or his various lovers. It all just became a bit too vacuous and detached from any semblance of reality. It certainly didn’t give me any desire at all to continue reading the other three books of the tetralogy.
Lawrence was heavily influenced by Henry Miller. I wish he’d had a more concrete influence; at least you know where you are with Miller!...more