This was a four-star book until Cora returned to Wichita from New York, which was about halfway through. After that, the story got boring and a little...moreThis was a four-star book until Cora returned to Wichita from New York, which was about halfway through. After that, the story got boring and a little hard to believe.
As for the narration, Elizabeth McGovern's strange affectation was distracting, but even worse was her Midwestern accent.
In spring 1849, a band of Comanches raids a white family's house, killing the mother and daughter and kidnapping the two sons.
In August 1915, a family...moreIn spring 1849, a band of Comanches raids a white family's house, killing the mother and daughter and kidnapping the two sons.
In August 1915, a family of Mexican cattlemen is slaughtered by white men, leaving only one survivor, hidden in a closet.
In March 2012, a woman lies dying on the floor of her mansion, incredibly wealthy, but alone and unloved.
So begins this epic saga of a novel, spanning over one and a half centuries and five generations of violence, greed, hate, and love. It is as much a recounting of Texas' bloody history as it is the history of the McCulloughs and the Garcias. The Indians take from the whites, who take from the Mexicans, who take from the whites, who took from the Indians, who took from the Mexicans, who took from the Indians, who took from other Indians. Land and horses are bought with the blood of entire clans.
I was riveted to this story, especially to the section that takes place among the Comanches. Meyer certainly did his research. It isn't without its flaws: Eli and the Comanches use modern slang in one sentence and phrases like "aired my paunch" and "in a rutting mood" in the next; Jeannie's story is boring until the final chapters; Peter's story is repetitive. But these stories of three generations of McCulloughs (and how their lives intersect with the Garcias) were so brilliantly layered that the flaws seem minor. I loved how something hinted at in 1917 by Peter would be explained in the 1970s by Jeannie, or something explained by Eli in the 1860s would be referenced by one of his progeny many decades later.
I listened to this on audio, and there were four different narrators. Eli and Peter were portrayed beautifully. Kate Mulgrew bugs me and she played Jeannie, which might be part of the reason I was bored by her story. The fourth is a surprise I will not spoil here.
I'm a little torn on how to review this book. There were parts I loved, parts I hated, and parts that were just average. I guess that's why I gave it...moreI'm a little torn on how to review this book. There were parts I loved, parts I hated, and parts that were just average. I guess that's why I gave it three stars. That's right in the middle. But it took me ten months to get through this, and that's the longest it's taken me to read a book in recent memory. At first, I read it deliberately slowly. Then, in the middle, I wasn't interested enough to keep it going. By the end, I just couldn't wait to be done with it that I didn't much care what happened.
1. The Prose. The prose started out so gorgeous and lyrical that I just wanted to savor every word, to read it slowly and linger in it the way one lingers in a warm bath. I'm a big fan of first paragraphs, because I think they can set the tone for the whole book. Fail to grab my attention on the first page, and you'll have to work a lot harder for the rest of the book to win me over. The first paragraph of this book is gorgeous:
If you were a spirit, and could fly and alight as you wished, and time did not bind you, and patience and love were all you knew, then you might rise to enter an open window high above the park, in the New York of almost a lifetime ago, early in November of 1947.
Sometimes, though, a first paragraph is a little like a gorgeous man. All pretty and sexy at first sight, but once you go a little deeper, you find that the pretty face is all there is there. As the book went on, there were other moments of lyricism and poetry (Manhattan and its vassal boroughs tirelessly generated images. Even smoke and steam rose beautifully, slowly unfurling in the play of wind and light like a silent song to redeem the memory of forgotten souls), but mostly it just seemed to be trying way too hard to be deep:
Now, on the shadowed slope of a dune that was the last wall of land to face the sea, on silken cold sand, they sat together, thinking that the way they felt would last forever. Far out on the water, a distant sail glided silently, true to the spread of the wind and heading into the horizon. Tranquil, remote, and, above all, silent, it moved toward a great open space. "If that's death," Harry said, "then I look forward to it, I confess that when I see a sail shining in white, moving in the distance toward the shadows as if from this world to the next, I want to follow."
2. The almost too-perfect love between Catherine and Harry. It's love at first sight, and it's so consuming and total that in a more passionate book, it would be exciting. In this slow-paced, overly wordy tome, it comes across cheesy:
He was in love with every part of her body, every stray hair, every plane or curve as much as he loved each individual part of every word she spoke or sang, and he was sorry for the years he had spent in the grip of lesser enthusiasms.
Or And yet her fingers never existed in relation to each other except beautifully... The thing that made me roll my eyes the most was the oft-repeated line about Harry seeing her blouse flutter with the beat of her heart. I don't think anyone's heart so strong or clothes so flimsy that the cloth would actually move from the sheer force of the heart beating beneath the ribcage.
And then what's the point in writing a story about a high society woman who falls in love with a Jew if (view spoiler)[you're just going to conveniently have her find out that her grandmother was Jewish (hide spoiler)]? Too convenient and unnecessary.
3. Harry's other women. We're supposed to be really invested in this love story between Catherine and Harry, and yet the book takes us on multiple trips through Harry's reverie, where he remembers every other woman he's fallen in love with. There's the seamstress, with whom Harry had been madly in love during college. There's Claire, the New Zealand woman at the London dinner party during the war. There's the woman he meets who was surfing in the lake. None of these interactions really seem to have anything to do with anything.
4. The audiobook. I read the first 20% and the last 10% on my Kindle, but for the most part, I listened to this on audio. The narrator is just awful. He has a weird, hollow sort of whistle in his S sounds, and the way his voice rises at the beginning of each sentence and falls at the end makes him sound like he's in a lemonade commercial. I may have enjoyed the prose more had I been reading it with my own inflection. The audiobook made it sound so corny.
5. The ending. Screw you, ending. (view spoiler)[Harry's moral highground won't allow him to take any money from his wealthy father-in-law to save the business, and he won't think of selling the business, but instead he'll plan to murder a bunch of gangsters? And what does Harry get for his trouble? A bullet in the belly. So all of the preceding 700+ pages are for naught. And then the book, even in the epilogue, never tells us what happens to Copeland Leather. Does it survive? Does Harry's child end up running it? Who knows? (hide spoiler)] Ugh. Thanks for nothing, book. If I wasn't so glad to see this book end, I would be really upset.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I would give this book 4 1/2 stars, but for GR purposes I lean more toward 5 than 4. This book is meticulously researched, extremely compelling and we...moreI would give this book 4 1/2 stars, but for GR purposes I lean more toward 5 than 4. This book is meticulously researched, extremely compelling and well-written, and very thought-provoking. Also recommended: Not Me by Michael Lavigne. (less)
This is a definite four-and-a-half star book. It really probably should be five, but I feel like I've been too generous with stars lately so I'm tryin...moreThis is a definite four-and-a-half star book. It really probably should be five, but I feel like I've been too generous with stars lately so I'm trying to cut back. Is that silly? Maybe so, but there it is.
Juliet, the book's main character, writes "It was amazing to me then, and still is, that so many people who wander into bookshops don't really know what they're after--they only want to look around and hope to see a book that will strike their fancy. And then, being bright enough not to trust the publisher's blurb, they will ask the book clerk the three questions: (1) What is it about? (2) Have you read it? (3) Was it any good? Real dyed-in-the-wool booksellers -- like Sophie and me -- can't lie. Our faces are always a dead giveaway. A lifted brow or curled lip reveals that it's a poor excuse for a book, and the clever customers ask for a recommendation instead, whereupon we frog-march them over to a particular volume and command them to read it. If they read it and despise it, they'll never come back. But if they like it, they're customers for life."
That is almost precisely how I came upon this little gem of a novel. I was at Barnes and Noble looking at The Wednesday Sisters A Novel when I saw that the blurb on the back compared it to The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which I did not care for, and so I asked the customer service rep if she'd read it. She hadn't, but recommended Guernsey to me instead. I am ever so grateful that she did.
The cast of characters in this book are delightful. Their stories are both hilarious and harrowing. During WWII, German soldiers occupied the Channel Islands between England and France, Guernsey being one of them. I've read stories of people in the camps and of people on the home front but I never even thought about the people in occupied villages and towns. It was beautiful to read about how hope can survive even the bleakest of situations, how kindness can be found even from those amongst the enemy, and how life goes on after war.(less)
The message of this book deserves 5 stars but the writing was pretty trite in spots. The Biblical allegory was handled nicely but it read too much lik...moreThe message of this book deserves 5 stars but the writing was pretty trite in spots. The Biblical allegory was handled nicely but it read too much like a romance novel for my taste. The second half of the story was better than the first.(less)
Lisa See's writing is beautiful, and I understand this book is supposed to be about the women of China (and, indeed, the world) who wanted their voice...moreLisa See's writing is beautiful, and I understand this book is supposed to be about the women of China (and, indeed, the world) who wanted their voices to be heard. But what I found really fascinating about it was the descriptions of Chinese rituals and superstitions, and learning what the Chinese thought (and to some extent, still think) about death. The descriptions were so vivid to me that I felt like I could really see the pavilions, the plum tree, the Viewing Terrace. Beautiful.
This isn't really my style of book, but it was entertaining enough. The characters weren't likeable, the prose was unsophisticated, and the historical...moreThis isn't really my style of book, but it was entertaining enough. The characters weren't likeable, the prose was unsophisticated, and the historical accuracy was questionable at best, but it still kept me interested enough to finish its 600+ pages in just a few days.(less)