I am generally a bitter-ender. It doesn't matter how bad a book is: I will finish. So to wave the white flag within the first 50 pages is a pretty bigI am generally a bitter-ender. It doesn't matter how bad a book is: I will finish. So to wave the white flag within the first 50 pages is a pretty big deal. I am beginning to wonder if the Booker prize committee just hands over the top award to whatever is the most over-written, confusing, experimental, abstract, tragic book they read. ...more
I just...I just couldn't. I tried, I really did. I read the first quarter and when that dragged and dragged and dragged I turned to the audio book. AnI just...I just couldn't. I tried, I really did. I read the first quarter and when that dragged and dragged and dragged I turned to the audio book. And still! I couldn't! I kept listening to other books - any other book - and then try to claw my way back to listening to this for another chapter or two before I couldn't take it anymore.
The thing is, I should love this book. Historical fiction? YES. Clever, complex, puppetmaster anti-hero? OF COURSE. Political intrigue? SIGN ME UP.
And yet. AND YET. The writing style in this is teeth-grinding. I never know what is going on or when it is or who is there. It is painful to get through.
So I gave up. I actually gave up. I have finished more horrible books than I care to count and yet this is the one who made me raise the white flag....more
Bah, I say! BAH. Why do I keep reading Peter Carey’s books? I don’t particularly like them. This is the second I’ve read in about the space of a monthBah, I say! BAH. Why do I keep reading Peter Carey’s books? I don’t particularly like them. This is the second I’ve read in about the space of a month (Parrot and Olivier in America being the first) and I’ve got another lined up (True History of the Kelly Gang). Why? Am I masochist? I have long since killed and buried in a deep pit the belief that the Booker Prize committee is capable of knowing a good book when it reads it (YES, THIS IS YOUR FAULT The Inheritance of Loss and The Gathering!). So it’s not like I really thought that the stamp of the Booker prize guaranteed that this would be any good. In fact, I am beginning to believe that it is in fact the stamp of that loftily boring category known as Literature (I will say that I started my Booker reading with The Blind Assassin and Life of Pi, both of which I loved, but I am beginning to think they are exceptions and not the rule). The Booker, by the way, loves Carey. He is one of its pets (two of his books are winners and more have been nominated).
Carey has a habit of thinking up very intriguing plots which in theory revolve around the dynamic of some compelling protagonists. And then he mucks it all up with his writing. Plots that should be interesting turn out to be meandering and tediously slow. Characters that sound dynamic are oddly unlikeable and dull. And then there are five hundred billion bit players that Carey seems to think I should be interested in. I am not.
And this one includes, of all things, a TWIST. I will say I didn’t see it coming. But not only did I not really care, because I didn’t give a twit about a single character, but it also made the entire thing feel POINTLESS. I waited 400 pages for what? For this?!? I had to endure not one, but TWO incomprehensibly long and detailed explanations of a protagonist’s childhood and this is what I get for it?! Maybe I would think it was clever if I wasn’t so goddamned annoyed by it all.
This book takes over 50 pages to get past Oscar’s childhood. This could’ve taken us one chapter. Another 50 pages or so to get through Lucinda’s childhood. Then some 100 pages explaining how they both got into gambling. Oscar and Lucinda didn’t meet for nearly 200 pages. The Glass Church element didn’t come in until after page 300. And in between all this are random chapters about random characters. Sometimes it would take several dozen pages before the importance of any of these seemingly random chapters would become apparent. Again, could be clever if it didn’t piss me off by wasting my time. Example: in the middle of, I think, an explanation of Oscar’s life there is a chapter about a little girl waving a palm leaf which causes a horse to buck and the rider to die. What the hell?!? Who is this girl? Who is this rider? WHY DOES IT MATTER?!? Spoiler (not really): the rider was Lucinda’s dad. The girl is still some random extra. Yeah, I guess that’s clever, Carey, and I’m sure prize committees eat that up. But I. Don’t. Care. Stop wasting your time on fancy literary tricks and give me the meat and potatoes of solid characters and a riveting plot. I do kind of think that the randoms are used to hide the ball of the TWIST. There are so many random characters with their own chapters that when one of these randoms is suddenly essential to the finale, you aren’t suspicious that some seemingly unimportant character is given their own chapters for no immediately apparent reason.
Also, is this supposed to be a romance? It is, isn’t it? I didn’t feel anything. It doesn’t help that I didn’t particularly like either of them and even together they were still limp noodles. Where’s the spark, Carey? One’s a gambling pastor and the other is an unconventional heiress. How are they so dull?!?
I have a feeling that the movie is different (the leads are certainly older) and, I hope, better. ...more
Though I loved the previous Booker Prize winners I've read (Blind Assassin, Life of Pi) I knew I would encounter one I wouldn't like eventually. HereThough I loved the previous Booker Prize winners I've read (Blind Assassin, Life of Pi) I knew I would encounter one I wouldn't like eventually. Here it is: proof that the stamp of approval by the Booker committee is no guarantee it's a good (or even halfway decent) book.
This is basically everything that's wrong with modern fiction in a short 259 pages (large accusation, I know!). It's boring, meandering and pointless and seems so enamored with its own "cleverness" and "deep" musings on grief/memory/love/life that it decides it doesn't need things such as a plot, good characterization and all those other niceties that most books have to depend on. This is the kind of book that I read in high school and thought "THIS is modern fiction? Save it for a book club, I'm sticking with young adult. It might not be deep but at least it's INTERESTING." Of course, I later found out that not all modern fiction is like The Gathering and it can be both deep and quite enjoyable.
If it wasn't so short and I didn't have such an obsessive need to finish books I start, I'd have given up before the half way point. As it was, I skimmed most of the second half, as I was too annoyed and frustrated with the book to give it the courtesy of reading it properly.
UPDATE: I just learned that this book has been given a place on 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, proving once again that there is no justice in this world, especially the literary world....more
Ian McEwan comes with a lot of baggage for me. First off, my brother, who's literary opinion I highly respect, thinks he's pretentious and overrated.Ian McEwan comes with a lot of baggage for me. First off, my brother, who's literary opinion I highly respect, thinks he's pretentious and overrated. Second, 1001 Books To Read and book critics seem to consider him the Second Coming, which makes me suspicious and wary.
That said, this wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. As a book it's okay: a bit meandering and rambling and, yes, pretentious. As a character study, it's fascinating.
The story centers around four of the dead-from-the-first-page Molly's lovers. One is her husband, who wanted her all to himself despite the fact she felt no compunction to be faithful. One is her current affair, an uber-conservative politician with a scandalous secret. And then there are the ex-lovers: Clive, the self-involved composer, and Vernon, the bland newspaper editor.
Molly is a wash for me. I'm not sure if the reader is supposed to like her or not. The narrators, of course, are obsessed with her. But even with the unreliable narrator veneration of the dead Molly, I hated her. She seemed to care primarily about herself and her own desires. And all her lovers are pieces of work, so it’s not like she even has good taste in men! Molly, as the central force holding these characters together, fails, because I can't understand why everyone loved her so much (she was great in bed?).
Clive and Vernon, the main narrators and as unreliable as they come (and I love me some unreliable narrators!), are completely unlikable but fascinating.
Clive is the composer who seems to have mostly inherited his wealth. He’s in love with his own talent and obsessed with the orchestra he’s been commissioned to write for the Millenium (as in, the year 2000, way back when!). He seems like the typical self-obssessed, laissez-faire artiste. He’s great (well, awful, but awesomely twisted) because he chooses writing his stupid symphony over saving a woman from being attacked (because art is eternal?) and then can’t even be bothered to go to the police with his information. He can't see what's wrong with behavior and has the nerve to be offended when Vernon calls him out on it.
Vernon, the newspaper editor, is equally messed up. He’s whiny and slow-witted and yet arrogant (a theme in this book!) and self-justifying. He thinks he’s a great friend when even Clive finally figures out that he’s actually a selfish user; when he talks to Clive he wants to talk about himself and zones out when Clive starts talking. He wants to ruin a politician partly to save Britain from an uber-conservative government (the only justification he’s willing to admit) but also I think because he wants to be hailed as a brilliant editor and punish one of Molly’s other lovers.
Clive and Vernon are villains. This is kind of hidden, because they're the narrators and no one who gets a name in this book comes off well (the sneaky underling, the hard-hearted politician, the scheming husband, etc.). But they are Bad People who consider themselves Good People. Which is how most Bad People are. Almost no one's a mustache-twirling villain who cackles about how he's doing it for the evulz. People who do bad things either convince themselves that what they did wasn't that bad, it's not their problem (Clive) or that the end justifies the means (Vernon).
And then that ending! It was crazy! I loved it! I mean, I don't think two characters can be more petty and fucked up than that. ...more
When book reviewers and award committees act like a novel is The Second Coming, it makes it all the worse when it is barely passable. Perhaps the mostWhen book reviewers and award committees act like a novel is The Second Coming, it makes it all the worse when it is barely passable. Perhaps the most telling blurb, the one that should've warned me, was the one that read "If God is in the details, Ms. Desai has written a holy book." Because heavy on the detail is exactly what this book is. I for one, think the devil is in the details and he likes to use them to make books slow and meandering.
Desai can write some beautiful sentences, but that's about the best of what she does. This book has I Want to Shock Complacent, Staid Westerners written all over it, which is pretty much book critic/committee bait. Don't get me wrong, the points that Desai is trying to make are important. It just needs a subtler touch, or at least one that can produce a good story out of it.
Because the story is...not really there. And the characters are pretty much crap. When I don't give a damn if every single one of them goes up in flames then there is something wrong. Especially the Judge character who I particularly WANTED to go up in flames (abused his wife in just about every possible way and never really felt bad about it...in fact, I don't think he ever cared for a single human being as much as he cared about his dog. And I think Desai was trying to say that this is a large part to be blamed on colonialism, etc., but I think it's because he is a horrible, horrible person and would have been just as horrible without the British helping to frick his life/India up).
When I closed this book, I was surprised to find myself whispering "I hate you" to it. Partly it was because I was sleep deprived and stayed up late finishing the last 100 pages of this damn book in my little free time because I had started it two weeks ago and just wanted to get it over with. But partly because this book is such a waste. It could've been great, it should've been great, the critics told me it was great. I WANT to read about the plight of illegal immigrants in the States, I WANT to read about the legacy of colonialism, I WANT to read poetic writing, I WANT to read about India, I WANT to read about characters that might not be likeable, but are real and psychologically complex. But I also want to enjoy the book. And I didn't, I really, really didn't.
I would also like to note the obvious contempt that Desai has for Indian-Americans/Indians who live abroad and don't have close ties to India (not a single likeable one; mostly they were just there to be strawmen)....more
If you don't like villainous protagonists, you won't like this. I may be a little screwed up because I love villainous protagonists. I would never wanIf you don't like villainous protagonists, you won't like this. I may be a little screwed up because I love villainous protagonists. I would never want to know them in real life, of course, but in fiction they are just so much more fun.
The villain-and-hero-all-in-one is Balram, a poor boy from backwater India who gets hired as a chauffeur in New Delhi. He is also the titular white tiger, a once-in-a-generation being who stands out from the rest (probably because he is very elastic with his morals).
Balram's narration is cheeky, irreverent and gleefully self-serving. His ambition trumps his loyalty every time. His family (especially his manipulative granny) keep trying to control him and thinking it will work. People, you can't control someone with family loyalty when they don't have any. He mostly feels contempt for the majority of the Indian population--he's an entrepreneur (willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead) while everyone else are like crabs in a bucket, pulling each other down so no one can get out.
While the journey in this one is mostly about Balram, it's also, I think, about Ashok, the rich Indian Balram chauffeurs around. While Balram's journey is the classic American pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps tale (with the little known choke-out-those-who-hinder-you-with-those-bootstraps addition), Ashok's is the equally classic Fall of the Good Man (I think he even makes it into Tragic Hero territory). Ashok has spent years in America and initially comes home horrified by the corruption in India. His self-image of himself is one of an enlightened, kind, generous, modern good guy. Unfortunately, unlike Balram, he is loyal to his family. (Interesting that family loyalty screws over Ashok, while Balram, who is free from such norms, succeeds precisely because he has no family loyalty). It's unclear why he feels so compelled to support his family come what may, but I suspect Daddy Issues are involved. Sadly for Ashok, his family are a bunch of corrupt no-gooders. Hey, they had to make all that wealth somehow. And so Ashok whores himself out for his family and is trapped more than anything, by his own cowardice. No matter what happens, he refuses to get out. So he ends up doing all sorts of horrible things (bribing officials is just the tip of the iceberg) and it is clear that he will never get out. He is turning into a bad guy not because of any inherent wrongness but because of his own weakness and cowardice, which trumps his morals. He is not an active bad guy, he is a passive one, which when the hard choices have to be made, is often just as bad. Ashok fascinates me and repels me. Ashok is a villain because he is a good man who is weak. And Balram is a hero because he is a bad man who is strong (well, and the narrator). It's a headtrip.
There were also overtones of Parrot and Olivier in America going on. Mostly because the servant (Parrot/Balram) is obviously smarter/more ruthless/more cunning than his master (Olivier/Ashok) and also deeply resents his master, who thinks that everything is peachy and obviously doesn’t understand the servant class at all.
Fascinating book. After a long string of disappointments, finally Booker finds a book we can both agree is excellent....more
**spoiler alert** First off, this book was a compulsive read. Even though there were times where the narrative of Old Iris slowed things down a bit, f**spoiler alert** First off, this book was a compulsive read. Even though there were times where the narrative of Old Iris slowed things down a bit, for the most part I couldn't put it down. When I had about 100 pages left and knew I needed to go to bed, I looked at the clock, saw it was past midnight, said "screw it, I'll just be tired tomorrow" and kept going because I HAD to finish. It's that kind of book.
It's also a tragedy. You know from the beginning, with the sister's car delibertely going off the road, that it's a tragedy. But when you get to the end and you fully understand the bleakness of Iris' life, then you see how much of a tragedy it is. She's never had a friend. Never. The person she was closest to, her sister, becomes distant from her, dies young, and Iris never manages to stand up for her until after she's already dead. And then when history repeats itself and the person she's supposed to protect again gets taken away from her and harmed (her daughter, Aimee, who under Winifred's care turns into an angry drunk) she again does nothing. And then again with her granddaughter. I think Iris did only one brave thing in her life, which was leave her husband and publish the Blind Assassin, which freed her and ruined Richard's life.
You also realize at the end how little you understand anyone except Iris. Richard and his sister Winifred are cardboard villains. Laura is never really understandable by anybody and becomes more obscure as Iris understands her less. And Alex Thomas is probably the least understandable of anybody. He comes off as a bit of a jerk and I don't know how he got both sisters to fall in love with him when he lacks a personality. Probably because he was the only man to give them attention (and not in a creepy way like Richard). However, because this is very much Iris' story, I take the lack of development of everyone else as a syndrome of the unreliable narrator. She doesn't truly understand anybody else, so the reader doesn't either.
Lastly, the story-within-a-story-within-a-story, the sci-fi Blind Assassin. It was entertaining. It was a nice parallel with the main storyline. I figured out the "twist" pretty early on, mostly because I knew Atwood was too smart to make everything be what it seemed so I knew there HAD to be a twist and it's easy to see if you look. The story was good, classic sci fi pulp. But the conceit that you KNOW it's just a story means I treated it like that. While reading a book you keep the illusion that it's real, that these characters are real to you, the reader, while you are engrossed in the book. You're happy for them, sad for them, angry about what they do. But the sci fi Blind Assassin, I didn't get attached. It's just a story, like some ghost story around the campfire. Mostly, I felt at times that it slowed things down. I didn't care what happened to the assassin and sacrifical virgin when I wanted to know what happened in Iris' life story, what sent her sister off that bridge.
So, overall, well worth the read. Perfect for book groups--so much to discuss! The reason I gave it four stars instead of five, despite the fact that I was engrossed in the story, is that when the end came I was left with a feeling of incompleteness, with the fact that Iris' life was so...hollow...that I felt something was missing....more