Another self-indulgent, self-congratulatory novel from the lucky-me, privileged set. Another of those books that really makes you wonder about people!Another self-indulgent, self-congratulatory novel from the lucky-me, privileged set. Another of those books that really makes you wonder about people! AND makes me question whether it makes any sense at al to continue with this specific bookclub, since at least 80 of its participants, as lovely as they otherwise are, make choices that puff up my reading nights with 'lit vomit'. I'd seen parts of the just as awful 'artsy' movie on cable ages ago, and couldn't stand it--now I can't stand the book. Ugh....more
One of the most awful books I've been forced to read in a long time. Can barely finish it because I'm spitting disgust. Only in the US would this womaOne of the most awful books I've been forced to read in a long time. Can barely finish it because I'm spitting disgust. Only in the US would this woman be allowed to continue this child-torture (who cares if this is 'Chinese parenting'!) and only in the US would she THEN write an entire awful book about it! Without shame! All one can say halfway through this dribble is: I give my mother pointers simply for not being a Chinese immigrant! ...more
This is total rubbish, but at least connected rubbish (meaning most of the sentences make sense) so I'm controlling myself from giving it only one staThis is total rubbish, but at least connected rubbish (meaning most of the sentences make sense) so I'm controlling myself from giving it only one star. It's such an annoying, pretentiously crappy book, though, that I might just come back and take away a star anyway! Seriously, sometimes I wonder about the people in a few of my bookclubs... Who would willingly choose to read this book?...more
I really wonder at the person in our bookclub who chose this book. And I wonder even more at all those readers on GR who gave it more than 2--more thaI really wonder at the person in our bookclub who chose this book. And I wonder even more at all those readers on GR who gave it more than 2--more than 3!--stars. Just goes to show: mediocrity is alive and well.
I try to be fair when I review and give stars for every book based on its context. I would not, therefore, rate this silly book badly simply because it's not a Jane Austen or Ernest Hemingway one!
Even so, I struggled from the first page, had to fight not to skip the historical chapters, which read like chick-lit posing as history, and almost bit my lips at the end.
I won't go into the story, but here are some of the (many, many) problems as I see them:
Characters are paper-thin and unbelievable, as if lifted right out of a corny (and not very good) 1930s or 50s British book for teen girls. Aunt Rose, the good twin (who always loses), bad twin (who’s gorgeous and always wins), the inscrutable but fatherly man-servant with the European name, even the setting, Virginia (which not once seemed a real place). It was all so cardboard like that I didn’t believe in the relationships between all these people for one instant. And the premise between the characters seemed incredible, too: I’ve a hard time believing that two orphan girls—twins!—living with an elderly eccentric aunt and even more eccentric butler/nanny, two girls so obviously alone in the world would really grow up to be so different to the point of hating each others’ guts. Unless the writing is strong enough to prove the motivations, I just don’t buy it. Even less believable, then, is the bad twin's sudden appearance mid-way through the book to save her sister: a sister whom, it turns out, she actually loves very much. Really? All too Sweet Valley High for the 21st C chick lit crowd.
Ah, the 21st C: it apparently doesn’t exist in this mediocre author’s head. Not once through all these adventures do we have any indication of, say, cell phones, i-Pads, computers, TV or the Internet—not even a good old-fashioned phones! When exactly is this ridiculous story supposed to be set, anyway? I’m pretty sure that even the most die-hard Italian mafia thug has an I-phone hiding somewhere! Don’t you know, it’s a lot easier to catch and kill your prey when you have the benefit of, say, a GPS?
Which brings me to another problem: dialogue. It’s so bad for most of the time that it presents a perfect illustration of why writing teachers everywhere, in all languages, tell us: “write what you know”! That’s a major problem here, you see. Anne Fortier has decidedly not written what she knows. She grew up in Denmark and only moved to Canada, and then the US, as a full-fledged adult. Now, I’ve been teaching ESL for years and I know perfectly well that Scandinavians—as opposed to, say, Italians: but we’ll get to that later—are some of the best English-as-Second-Language speakers on the planet. They learn it, and learn it well, from an early age (as opposed to, for eg, in Germany, where I live now), read a lot directly in English and have no problems assimilating it. However, the fact remains that English is still only their second language—and not at all the language of their thoughts, their feelings, how they see the world. Of course, once a writer emigrates to the US—a true melting pot—that in and of itself shouldn’t be a major handicap (see Nabokov, who switched from Russian to English and thus penned the great “Lolita”) when there’s real talent and perception. Again, think of Nabokov. In Fortier’s case, her written English would have been perfectly fine—above average for a cheap popular novel such as this, really—if she’d stuck to writing what she knows. If, for example, her heroine had been Danish.
Instead, she presents us with two 25-year-old post collegiate girls who not once sound like real American contemporaries. Her mistakes vary from Julie describing ‘bins’ everywhere (a ‘bin’ is the Brit term for a trashcan) which totally jolted my suspense of disbelief, to sister Janice crying out ‘Creepers’! Seriously! Has Fortier no 25 year old female friends she could have eavesdropped on? If she hasn’t, she has no business writing these characters, since she herself has never been a 25-year-old American girl and has not enough talent to pretend in these pages.
Then we get to Italy. Full disclosure: my paternal family is Italian and I know Italy—especially Sienna and the Tuscany area—very well indeed. I also know Italians very well. And I can safely say I’ve never met one who 1) talked the way the ‘Juliet’ Italian characters talk and 2) behaved like this. Alessandro, for once, is completely unbelievable. Even that whole backstory sketch—he fought in Iraq (talk about sniffing for points in Middle America!) and shared quarters with Americans, which is how he perfected his English, even this info isn’t enough to redeem his essential non-Italianness. He actually comes off more like a chick-lit hero in Brit novels. Unsurprising, really, considering that in reality Anne Fortier is married to a Brit and knows very few real Italians intimately.
Now we get to plot and story points. Here, there is so much awkwardness and so many holes that I’ve no energy to go through them all, one by one. Suffice it to say that—with a strong background in Shakespeare, in classic lit, in Italy and Italians—I couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm for the “Wow, did you know the REAL Rome and Juliet was set in Sienna, not Verona?”! I just couldn’t. All I kept thinking was: So what? The genius of Romeo and Juliet lies not in its history or geography or, even, in its star-crossed lovers—it is the genius of Shakespeare which is, in essence, the genius of his language and the ideas about love, life, death and humanity expressed therein. Everything else is pretty much inconsequential. Sure, Sienna is a fascinating city with a fascinating history—but this adds very little to the story of Romeo and Juliet. Even discovering that “Wow, did you know that there was an ORIGINAL Rome and Juliet” is simply not half as earth-shattering as the author would like it to be. Again: So what? In the context of the time—and the continent’s—history and society, why should this be that surprising? There were probably other fascinating star-crossed lovers, too, and so what? Rome and Juliet is what it is as a piece of literature because of Shakespeare, period.
So finally we get to the weakest and most idiotic aspect of this essentially teen-romance novel: I found it really hard to care for modern-day Julie’s quest. This is a girl presented to us as fickle and financially irresponsible because she’d always reckoned on inheriting her aunt’s fortune. And I’m supposed to feel empathy? Worse, after her ‘adventure’ what has she really learned? Well, she may not have found her fortune but she sure found Prince Charming—so who cares that she’s never created a career for herself or is deep in debt, right? In the end, this is a conservative, superficial chick-lit tale written as if for an even younger audience—those Twilight readers—with a supposedly metaphysical sheen (a centuries-old family feud! A curse on the family! A heroine who apparently dies only to be revived, Sleeping Beauty style, by the true descendant of Romeo!). Pleeease! ...more
Almost did not finish this boring, self-conscious and pretentious book. Another title I most certainly would never have chosen for myself and read onlAlmost did not finish this boring, self-conscious and pretentious book. Another title I most certainly would never have chosen for myself and read only as a bookclub selection, but the first paragraphs did intrigue me and at first I thought, this might not be too bad. In the early writing there is an underlying softness, a sort of very European melancholia which attracted me and did manage to raise it above the obviously ridiculous, melodramatic plotting and characterization--older, overly-intellectual hermit meets gorgeous, mysterious Latin woman on bridge! Maybe she'll kill herself? Maybe it's a sordid love affair! She actually follows him all the way to his school! Wow! For what reason?
The point is, from a narrative point of view all this mid-century absurdity--which is really impossible to defend in the 21st C--could have found its own inner logic insofar as the author would have given his protagonist's ridiculous encounter an actual point. Instead, we have the Portuguese woman simply vanish (she was, as we say in film, simply an "inciting incident") and the protagonist fall into a psychological stupor over a years-long dead manuscript written by some seemingly obscure Portuguese writer/philosopher/whatever. Teaching himself instant Portuguese. Traveling by train--now that IS romantic, I grant you!--thru Europe to Portugal just because of that... Etc. etc.