Although I don't know how accurate this is as a biography, it is spot-on as an internal monologue about her paintings, her suffering, the symbolism sh...moreAlthough I don't know how accurate this is as a biography, it is spot-on as an internal monologue about her paintings, her suffering, the symbolism she developed for her persona, and her political beliefs. I only wish I'd had the foresight to check out a collection of her paintings so I could have followed along with her development as an artist visually as well.(less)
I've been reading this book (almost) yearly since I was sixteen, and it never has lost its magic. Goudge's writing style is simultaneously descriptive...more I've been reading this book (almost) yearly since I was sixteen, and it never has lost its magic. Goudge's writing style is simultaneously descriptive and spare, conjuring the intimacy of half-gypsy Froniga's herb-filled cottage, as well as the violent world during the time of Cromwell. To this day, the scent of rose or lavender brings me back to the first time I read the book, and I imagine myself in another life, creating rose-petal conserve, perhaps.(less)
Everything an Alice-loving bibliophile could want: a fictional retrospective of what the real Alice might have thought as she thought over her life in...moreEverything an Alice-loving bibliophile could want: a fictional retrospective of what the real Alice might have thought as she thought over her life in old age. Wonderful!(less)
From the ornate dining-room of the doomed Titanic to the sitting- room of a medium, from the mean streets of 19th-century Shanghai to the investigati...more
From the ornate dining-room of the doomed Titanic to the sitting- room of a medium, from the mean streets of 19th-century Shanghai to the investigations of William James, Howe leads the reader through the illumination of one woman's mind and soul. So much research went into this book! - and yet the reader is never pummeled with it. One of the most delicious, sensual, and satisfying reads of the year!(less)
Everyone believes in something, be it God, alchemy, market forces, or mutability. Meyer Maslow, high-profile Holocaust survivor and founder of Brother...moreEveryone believes in something, be it God, alchemy, market forces, or mutability. Meyer Maslow, high-profile Holocaust survivor and founder of Brotherhood Watch (BW), believes in all of the above, and then some. As head of an organization that uses publicity and moral pressure to free political prisoners and dissidents, he is surrounded by acolytes who staff his offices and follow his central belief: "peace through change."
The eponymous changed man, Vincent Nolan, leaves his van in the top tier of a parking garage, descends to the gritty heat of Manhattan, and rides the elevator (along with a dwarf - his description, not mine!) to the cool BW headquarters. The women who serve as gatekeepers for Meyer are wary, but they do allow him access.
Vincent tells Meyer his story, mixing truth with wary selectivity. He has, indeed, escaped from the ranks of the American Rights Movement (ARM), a neo-Nazi organization, after an ecstasy-fueled flash of insight in the middle of a rave. He also has stolen his neo-Nazi cousin's van, money, and stash of drugs, details he omits, knowing that they would block his plan to offer himself as a symbol of the type of change dear to Meyer's heart and soul.
Also omitted is the shaky basis of his altered philosophy and the struggle to change his inner vocabulary of borrowed neo-Nazi lingo. He is determined. (" "Attitude is everything,' he reminded himself as he navigated the hot and multicultural streets of Manhattan - the very essence of the evil against which the Aryans fight.") His decisions are fortified by his totem books: Crime and Punishment, and The Way of the Warrior.
At this stage, Vincent is a chameleon in the guise of a changed man, trying on the identity of redemption as he once did with ARM (although without a drug hit). He has drifted from one identity to another, from his mother's New Age airiness to the ARM, on currents of disappointment and neediness, taking on coloration as needed.
Bonnie Kalen, Meyer's fundraising assistant, is a witness to the moment that bonds the two men. Both have tattoos, coloration, as it were - Vincent's death's head and SS thunderbolts vs. Meyer's tattooed numbers. Meyer believes in the alchemy that can transform evil into good, and sees potential where others might suspect a scam.
Bonnie agrees to give Vincent temporary refuge in her home. Her disaffected sons accept the stranger as another peculiarily in their lives, already changed by their parents' divorce. The elder, writing a school paper about Hitler, takes Vincent's hint about Hitler's sexuality and takes it too far, resulting in a minature version of the plight of the dissident journalists that BW deplores. Bonnie, numbed from her divorce from a self-absorbed cardiologist, takes on the challenge of making Vincent ready for his closeup as the new face of BW.
The transformation is not easy. What transformation is? A dress rehearsal for the upcoming glittering fundraiser begins when Vincent spills red wine on his shirt. It ends with Bonnie, drunk and asleep on Meyer's bed. Meyer, who knows that he has burdened Bonnie with the task of taming the rough-edged stranger, looks at his sleeping aide and "feels like a different person. Purified. Washed clean. It's as if he's come through to the other side... he can experience pure love for a fellow human being... This is what God gives you in return for trying to be conscious and do the right thing."
(Yes, even secular saints can lose their way and begin to fret about drug busts at Pride and Prejudice camp, or insert phrases like "moral bungee jump" into their speeches.)
The newly-tamed Vincent has a weakness that almost ends his new career - an allergy to nuts - and he has to fight the effects of a single nut in a salad to deliver his speech about - well - about his escape from a nest of nuts. His escape from ARM has not escaped his cousin's notice, and his desire for cover is destroyed as his heroics are publicized. Raymond, the neo-Nazi cousin, hunts him down and confronts him on a live, Oprah-like talk show...
Francine Prose has conjured a story that uses fairy tale and archetypal situations and characters in a very modern cautionary tale. The reader will encounter Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Pea, dwarves (both physical and moral), Ice Princesses, and the solitary rites of passage that prepare a person to emerge and survive in a new life. The twin devils of political correctness and bigotry are personified in high school classes as well as Raymond's Homeland Encampment. Can it be as dangerous to follow a charismatic leader whose goals are saintly as to follow a demonic historic figure? If Meyer is eager for publicity, is he selling his soul by agreeing to a live appearance with a charismatic talk show host?
What book would I most want to see filmed? The Ladies, a novel by Doris Grumbach. I've wondered often why it never was filmed. It's such a good story!...moreWhat book would I most want to see filmed? The Ladies, a novel by Doris Grumbach. I've wondered often why it never was filmed. It's such a good story!
In the late 18th century, two Irish women decided to leave their family homes and create a life for themselves in the wider world. Sarah, an orphaned teenager, met Eleanor while on holiday from school. Eleanor, a woman in her thirties whose father had never forgiven her for being a daughter instead of the son he longed for, had dressed as a man from childhood and had enjoyed the kind of freedom that few traditional women could imagine. They became dear friends and companions, and their friendship was considered salutary by their families - until they eloped.
Lesbian love, even (and especially) loving relationships that were true marriages of hearts, minds, and bodies, shocked the families into allowing Sarah and Eleanor to leave their homes. They never returned. Instead, they established themselves in a small Welsh town, Llangollen, where they lived according to their own vows and beliefs. That their love was as natural as any was their first vow of binding. They vowed to create a beautiful home with bountiful gardens to sustain them, and to read and study to develop their minds and hearts.
Dressed in the riding habits and top hats that Eleanor designed as their lifelong fashion, they lived a solitary life in the puzzled town, and refused to allow themselves to be sensationalized when they attracted notice. Gradually, they received the visitors who would make them famous - Wordsworth, Byron, Walter Scott, Edmund Burke, Richard Shackleton, Josiah Wedgewood, and Anna Seward, amongst others. They grew old together, and they died together; their love never faltered.
Now, imagine the movie! Since there will be no more Merchant/Ivory productions, I would like Jane Campion to direct because of her skill in depicting women who make brave and difficult choices amidst natural or social beauty. (Think "The Piano" or "Portrait of a Lady," and imagine the Ladies against the expanses of rural Wales.) Picture Sarah's resplendent gardens, the house that the Ladies decorated, and the immense bed they shared; picture their beloved cow and the artichokes they feasted on with freshly-churned butter. The movie would be a visual treat.
Emma Thompson might be a good choice for the older, more assertive Eleanor. I can imagine Kate Winslett as Sarah, blonde and emotional, comforting Eleanor through her monthly migraines, knitting delicate stockings and gloves, and designing the gardens that would be so admired. Who would portray their famous friends? I'll leave that to you,the casting director, although I might suggest Anthony Hopkins as Sir Walter Scott, and (dare I say) Hugh Laurie as Lord Byron.
Perhaps you are puzzled, wondering why real-life luminaries are including in this fiction. Simple: Doris Grumbach's novel is a fictionalized biography of two very real, very brave women: Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler, the Ladies of Llangollen. Did Sarah suffer from debilitating dreams and lingering guilt about her sexual preference? Did Eleanor develop a passion for magic in her later years? Grumbach cautions the reader to remember that her book is fiction, her own vision, and not a faithful biography. I think it would make a splendid film, and I recommend the book as a fine romance and a vision of the lives of two pioneering women.(less)
Elegance, from Webster's Online:A quality of refined gracefulness and good taste.
A hedgehog is elegant. Its spiny defenses are attached securely; they...more
Elegance, from Webster's Online:A quality of refined gracefulness and good taste.
A hedgehog is elegant. Its spiny defenses are attached securely; they do not shoot in all directions to injure at random. Each spine is a dull camouflage, not garish or multicoloured like the feathers of a tropical parrot or the scales of a tropical fish. Predators and passers-by trot past apace.
Both Madame Michel and Paloma, the narrators of this novel, are hedgehogs in a ritzy Paris apartment building. Madame Michel, the concierge, appears to be a drab, slightly slow sterotype, a disguise that she has perfected over the years since her husband died. To the residents, she is a plodding prole: a presence to be summoned and directed, nothing more. To her diary, she reveals all: her autodidact past and her desperate need to hide a sensibility that encompasses Purcell to Tom Clancy. She needs to survive, and she writes of her need in prose that ranges from literary and witty to heartbreaking.
Paloma, a brilliant 12-year-old existentialist, studies manga, writes witty and erudite diaries, and plans to commit a flamboyant suicide when she reaches 13. Part sophisticate, part little girl, she writes a good deal about irritants (including her noisy older sister whose expensive schooling seems to be quite, quite pointless) and moments of grace, which, she hopes, might form an anodyne to her bleak world-view.
Were it not for a new tenant, Kakuro Ozu, these lives might have progressed (or detonated) according to their carefully-constructed camouflage. Ozu realizes quickly that each is not as she appears. The below-the-stairs drab is teased out by a reference to Anna Karenina, and the little girl soon finds that the concierge shares her own refined and cynical sensibility.
Since the stories of all three characters play out through the two diaries, I was happy to have listened to the audiobook. The two narrators capture the intelligence, wit, blindness, and grace behind characters who might have seemed too unappealing to follow long enough for a reader to glimpse, truly see, even though Ms. Barbery's writing is smooth and compassionate and - elegant.
How I long to read French well enough to read Barbery in the original!)
If I decide to re-learn French when I retire, my goal shall be to return to the Hedgehog. Even if I don't, I know I'll reread this book, slowly, spine of book (or glowing reader) in hand, teasing out the true spine of each character.
Stoddard's habit of collecting quotes led to this book. Each day's quote and meditation gives the reader the opportunity to think about something new,...moreStoddard's habit of collecting quotes led to this book. Each day's quote and meditation gives the reader the opportunity to think about something new, or something old and forgotten. (less)
What I remember most about Ishiguro's earlier book, Remains of the Day, is that he was able to capture the nuances of language and gesture that can se...moreWhat I remember most about Ishiguro's earlier book, Remains of the Day, is that he was able to capture the nuances of language and gesture that can separate people, or define them. In this book, language and nuance are key because the characters possess almost nothing else.
When we meet Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, they are students in a posh English boarding school. It becomes apparent quickly that the education they are receiving is not typical, and that they are being educated for an unusual purpose. They become aware that their destinies will not be chosen freely. That awareness almost becomes a character in itself, growing and becoming, simultaneously, more nuanced and more overt. The women who instruct them might be religious Sisters but for the lack of religion or spirituality in the curriculum.
These children are permitted one box of treasures apiece. The things that comprise "treasure" may have come from the trucks that bring random objects to the school - a cassette tape of an obscure singer, say, or a fancy pencil case. The treasured objects that define and separate the children are pathetic artifacts from a world they have yet to experience.
I hesitate to further define the plot. The details of these childrens' destiny are revealed fairly early in the book. How they deal with this certainty, and how their relationships change as they go through their lives, comprise most of the novel. Again, details and nuance rule until the end of their lives.
If I had to sum up the book in one phrase, it would be "mysterious dystopia." One never learns why these children were essential to the plan that their lives took, but that question (for me, at least) did not surface until I closed the book and begun to ponder. I'm still pondering, and making connections to books and films that have addressed the central issue. Ishiguro's genius in showing us the hidden corner of a dystopia is strongest in what he does not reveal. The negative space of that world is limned, delicately.
"Tell the truth but tell it slant," says Emily Dickinson. Absolutely.(less)
Absolutely loved it. The book is positively overstuffed with tea, baked goods, British characters, and sly wit. I can not wait to read the next in the...moreAbsolutely loved it. The book is positively overstuffed with tea, baked goods, British characters, and sly wit. I can not wait to read the next in the series, and the next. (less)
Mary Cassatt is one of my guiding angels. Her paintings of women writing letters, drinking tea, reading, and doing needlework illuminate a life I ofte...moreMary Cassatt is one of my guiding angels. Her paintings of women writing letters, drinking tea, reading, and doing needlework illuminate a life I often imagine for myself - a life surrounded by quiet beauty and the leisure to appreciate it.
Harriet Scott Chessman, the author of Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Papers, has gone beyond the escapist dream by bringing the reader into the life of Lydia Cassatt, the frail older sister who posed for many of Mary Cassatt's best-known paintings. "I have thought, imagined, and dreamt my way into her world," says the author. The narrative wanders as Lydia poses, musing as she holds up a teacup for hours or reads a newspaper. Lydia remembers the young man she once loved, the images she saw through her dead brother's telescope, the great artists she has known (Degas, Pissarro, Renoir), and her mother's sense of betrayal when Mary sells portraits of family members.
"Who is going to care about such pictures as much as Mary's own family?" asks Mother Cassatt. Lydia understands the core of Mary's art - how she works for hours to capture the image, gesture, and illumination of one moment, how beloved and iconic these paintings will become.
Lydia does not always understand what Mary sees, and especially not what Mary see is her, but she cherishes the gift that her sister has given her by using her image as the public face of Mary's genius.
Mary Cassatt creates the five paintings that comprise the narrative after Lydia is diagnosed with Bright's disease, inevitably fatal in the nineteenth century. Lydia's disease, her helplessness and agony, often delays the progression of the paintings. It does not affect the bond between Lydia and her sister, whose love and care seem to bathe Lydia's suffering in the rosy, caressing light in the portraits. Even Degas, whose brusque and sarcastic manner often upsets Mary, seems to become a more caring, softer presence as Lydia's life ebbs.
Chessman portrays the details of Lydia's disease and decline in prose quite blunt. One does not have to imagine the pain or embarassment of these symptoms; the prose leaves little room for imagination. However, Lydia is neither diminished by her disease nor severed from her essence. She retains the ability to observe, analyze, and understand her sister's vision and her own joy to have been a part of Mary's art.
At the end of her life, Lydia's deepest imaginings buoy her: "To live in that world you made... that creamy world of no difficulty, no blood... a life like a shell curling in on itself, glistening and clean on the sand, rolled in salt water, rolled and rolled, spent and spending." This book allows the reader to bask in both worlds - the world illumined by the magic captor of light, and the world in which we observe the mundane details behind the illusion.
Chessman has written a seamless and welcome glimpse of these worlds. Don't miss it.(less)