this novel is marvel and genius and i liked it tremendously. it is also difficult, partly at a superficial, easy-to-overcome level, partly at a deeperthis novel is marvel and genius and i liked it tremendously. it is also difficult, partly at a superficial, easy-to-overcome level, partly at a deeper level. at the superficial level, zadie smith pulls in all sorts of stuff (snippets of dialogue, local idioms, local references, pop culture, local and national events of the time, etc.) which she doesn't explain. at first this is disorienting, then you get the hang of it. the deeper level is that she draws a human map of a narrow and specific part of the world (NW london) and the billion of us who know nothing about it are condemned to experience unease and alienation in the reading of the book. i believe this is reflected in the lowish scores here on gr. it's not nice to feel excluded.
this latter feature is in fact one of the elements that make the book so fabulous. there has been a lot of discussion, at least since Gloria Anzaldúa (we are talking a long time! Borderlands/La Frontera came out in 1987; and most likely this discussion started before then), about (some) writers of color's refusal to accommodate mainstream (white, american) readership by translating [idioms/cultural mainstays/language] into easily digestible (to above-mentioned mainstream folks) version of themselves. in the writing of latino writers of colors, this has meant using spanish sentences without translating them, even when the book is predominantly written in english. increasingly, writers of color just write their stories without worrying about making them easily accessible to white audiences. it's not that they are inaccessible. it's that you (the white person or the person who is not of the same cultural background as the author) don't get everything. the idea is to reproduce the person of color's position as the permanent outsider, herself the person who is condemned never to be able to understand everything.
in my very limited experience, unlike american writers of color, international writers still tend to do a ton of cultural and linguistic translation. sometimes this pains me. it's as if they were writing for me rather than their own people, who must certainly roll their eyes at explanations of concepts and objects that are entirely familiar to them. and maybe they are doing so for excellent reasons which we can all guess (market reasons, but also the desire to make themselves known to the rest of the world -- this may be particularly true for african writers, who are enjoying a larger and larger readership in the west).
so when zadie smith writes about NW london as a place with its own very particular language and culture, and she doesn't bother translating them for us, she is inserting herself in this revolutionary tradition, a tradition that says, i'm the outsider all the time; if you want to get into my world, it's your turn to experience outsiderness and alienation.
so this is what i have to say about this book's "difficulty:" that unless you are from NW london or other parts of the world that understand NW london's culture, there are things you just won't understand, and that's perfectly fine. it's okay not to understand. this is a very complex and rich world and you are not entitled to global understanding. you are not entitled to have everyone translate everything for you, so that you can consume it in ease and comfort. entering different cultures takes a toll. be prepared to pay it.
this is not to say that this book is impenetrable. it isn't, at all. it's just occasionally uncomfortable and disconcerting, especially for the reader who is used to be catered to. this discomfort is crucial. it is crucial to experience it. it is the discomfort of the outsider.
all of NW's characters are outsiders. leah because she is a white woman who grew in a predominantly non-white neighborhood and whose best friend, husband, and other friends are non-white; keisha because she is forced by her profession and, later, her rising social status to play white in ways she finds painful and awful; felix, shar and nathan -- the doomed characters who act as foil to leah's and keisha's middle-class, apparently successful stories/lives -- because they get chewed up and spat out by the train wheels.
smith waves the book in such a way that the two privileged women, leah and keisha, find themselves having to deal again and again with the friends and acquaintances they left behind, often through violence.
leah seems to me a good portrait of white guilt. when she was growing up she didn't mingle with the bad, mostly non-white crowd; now, as an adult, she has a do-gooder life, with a north african husband whom she however doesn't seem to respect much, and a job in an organization that helps women. the uneasy relationship between leah and husband michel seems to be the product of their playing out of pre-assigned roles: -- michel as at the moderate fuck up with a chip on his shoulder who tries to succeed fast and easy, who takes umbrage at leah's patronizing of him, who cannot quite manage to be her equal; leah as the only white woman in her office, playing maybe at being black (everyone in her life is), rescuing her unbalanced, cracked rapport with michel with mad sex (this is one of the cases in the novel in which sex functions as a bridge over muddy and polluted waters, a la let's forget out differences and fuck. it happens with keisha and with felix too).
keisha tries to resist bourgeois-ation, being co-opted by an upper class, wealthy world of large houses and beautiful children until she no longer can (her husband frank is super rich). her rapport with her husband is also a non-rapport (they don't even have the sex to smooth things over), and they spend more time apart than together. the section devoted to keisha, which is written in short chapters that are on average half a page long but can be as long as a line, is beautiful -- keisha so unhappy, so out of place; tokenized at work; unable to make a life for herself that feels hers; separated from her family by accidents of life but also her increasing giving in to her husband's wealth (interestingly, both leah and keisha have foreign husband, though frank is not technically an immigrant). she is so lost that she turns to unexpected avenues to reconnect with her story, her history, her class. it's lovely and heartbreaking and poetic because of the lovely way in which it's written.
the various sections are moored in time by the jamaican carnival and in space by the very specific and fastidious boundaries of NW.
i have read most of what zadie smith has written and not quite loved it (though now i feel i should re-read White Teeth because it was a long time ago and i was a different person, having changed the entirety of my body's cells, including my brain's cells, a couple of times since then. she is supposed to be a comic writer but i for one didn't find much comedy in this book. then again, i'm not someone who is really good at detecting anglo-american humor. i did find, however, a massive capacity to produce unbelievable language, and an equally massive capacity for grasping the complex depths of people and/in their cultural situations. i would give anything to have zadie smith write about italians living in large american metropolises. i'm sure she would tell me much about myself that i can't articulate on my own. ...more
i really enjoyed all of this book, then it lost me at the end.* nothing special happens at the end that should lose me, but i felt suddenly disconnecti really enjoyed all of this book, then it lost me at the end.* nothing special happens at the end that should lose me, but i felt suddenly disconnected from the book, i don't know why. maybe my mood or the weather or the phases of the moon. i don't know. but here's the thing about time: that now, as i'm writing this review, what is most present to me are not the pages and pages i enjoyed but the end i didn't.
this book is centrally about time. these observation are ironically pertinent to the marrow of this book.
but this i can say: i don't want horses in my books, but i really liked that there was a horse here called Mattone, and the name Mattone was so funny to me (it means "brick" in italian).
franscescho's story is beautiful and franschescho him/herself is beautiful.
all of the italian is pretty much perfect except for the accents, which are treated as if they were irrelevant, which they are not (they change the pronunciation). this is not a small feat.
all the characters fall in love. this is a very good thing. this book is about loving and touching.
i am not sure i cared a whole lot for anyone, but reading was fun, except at the end, as i said. i wish george's mother hadn't died. i am furious that george's mother died. this is not a spoiler.
i can't imagine anyone not liking this book, because it's so alive and fun and crazy. it's also deep in some deep way that eluded me a bit because i'm deep in a different way. i hope that won't count against me.
* (ETA) not having read any reviews, i had no idea that each individual book can have george's or franchescho's story first, randomly!
this book is so good. so so good. it is one of those books of which i ask myself, how did she do it? how did she come up with a story like this? what this book is so good. so so good. it is one of those books of which i ask myself, how did she do it? how did she come up with a story like this? what tremendous formal control does it take to write such a seemingly simple story and pack it with so much stuff?
the beginning is a bit Middlemarchian, in that a rather naive girl marries an older man who is passionate about his scholarship (we never learn whether his scholarship is any good) and also tremendously narcissistic, manipulative, and abusive.
maybe this is self-conscious because the young woman is called dora (Middlemarch, dorothea) -- but then again dora is such a fraught name in 20th century literature.
murdoch wrote this in 1958 but it could well have been written yesterday. scared of her husband, dora leaves. this is the first line of the novel: "Dora Greenfield left her husband because she was afraid of him." i think it should be among those great beginnings that get listed occasionally in some venue or other.
while away from her husband, dora frolics sexually with another guy, a hippy-ish kind of guy who is both a lover and a buddy and asks nothing of dora. which leads dora right back into paul's arm.
so here's the first theme of this novel – the grip that narcissistic, manipulative, abusive men have on women. i know a couple of those personally. i testify that it is true. but, and i'm jumping ahead, these narcissistic manipulative abusive men also have the entire world on their side: their wives who don't understand them; they abandon them and hurt them; because they are so nice; so sweet; so defenseless. narcissistic manipulative abusive men have the world wrapped around their fingers, because the world is a constellation of countless planets that rotate around the suns of narcissistic manipulative abusive men.
the tentative, delicate, ambivalent evolution of paul and dora's relationship is one of the delights of this novel.
the story takes place in a lay religious community attached to a nuns' monastery (anglican benedictine) where paul goes to do research on ancient manuscripts. the nuns are cloistered but one can ask for audiences and mass is said every day at the monastery that outsiders can attend, though the design of the chapel is such that the nuns are invisible to the outsiders. dora, imprisoned in her own dreadful marriage, is horrified by the nuns' self-imposed exile and fails to see, at least at first, that they are in fact quite free and fulfilled.
the lay community is a thing of beauty. it is led by a most captivating character, a gay man with a mixed past in which sexual trouble and a strong vocation to the priesthood battle each other. the community is situated in a large country mansion, run down but still beautiful, architecturally connected to the monastery, and edged by a lake. there are bridges and boats and one cannot really get out of there without using one or the other. there is also a small town one can reach on foot.
the small lay community is only one year old and populated by a motley crew of idiosyncratic folks, about 10 in all. there are two leaders: michael, the real leader – a reluctant one – and james, his second in command, a man less sympathetic than our friend michael. james is a man of certainties. michael is anything but. but james means well and they all mean well and they are trying hard and deeply believe in what they are doing. they work the earth, grow their own food, have meetings, pray, share meals in silence, and enjoy the quiet and comtemplativity of their lives.
the crux of the novel, it seems to me, is that religious afflatus is inevitably erotic, and this eroticism needs to go somewhere. people who are celibate by religious choice work on it all of their lives and when they work on it well (the nuns in the novel are a really good example here) they get to be lovely human beings with a purity, simplicity, youthfulness and joy that is quite beguiling. i do not actually believe that all of this comes from chastity itself. lots of married folks with the same qualities. i believe it comes to the giving of one’s life, freely, to the spirit, radically, in a way that isn’t driven by neurosis or bitterness or repression but true calling) the negotiation of the cravings of the body and the cravings of the soul in the name of love can mold people into a sort of perennial youthfulness.
i love the way in which murdoch delves deeply inside the members of the lay community’s fumblings with their exalted religiosity and their inevitably exalted eroticism (don't take my word for it; read the writings of the saints). male homosexuality is front and center here, and murdoch deals with it in a way that i found very modern. there is some inner torture in the characters, but none of it is endorsed by the author and the most balanced among them are really quite fine. in other words, this is not Giovanni's Room, which was published only two years earlier (this may have something to do with the fact that murdoch was not a gay man, though she certainly was a woman-loving woman).
towards the end things move fast and there is also a great deal of set-piece comedy, until the comedy goes away and things go back to being serious. but the book never stops being warm, and affirming, and hopeful, and if you are a religious person, or a person interested in religion, and maybe also a queer person, you will find murdoch's dealing with all this simply mind-blowing. ...more
this is a good book. it's good in the way good books are good. a good, solid goodbook. a readable book. a book you want to go back to night after nighthis is a good book. it's good in the way good books are good. a good, solid goodbook. a readable book. a book you want to go back to night after night. a book that makes you anxious to see how it ends. a book with good sentences good words a good story. a book where people love each other. a book where people hate each other. a book where there is danger and there is respite. a suspenseful book. a book that makes you hungry. a books that makes you happy you are not cold (and you are not, because you live in miami and this is like the warmest winter since south florida was shaped by the planet earth). a book you like to hold. a book with a good cover, good typeface and good, substantial pages. this is a good book like good books are good. like good cups of tea are good. like good clean toilets are good. like good walks are good. like a good warm blanket would be good if you weren't in miami in the warmest winter since the beginning of the planet. like a good bath is good, and a good shower. like a good breakfast is good.
not, though, like a good soft dog is good. or a good fresh glass of clean water out of the tap. or a good hike in pristine mountains. or a really good pair of shoes -- shoes you want to walk in a long time because when you wear them you don't feel your feet so it feels like you can go on forever. or like a good healthy body is good, and a good healthy mind. or a good, good friend, a friend you can spend hours with, a friend who makes you laugh, a friend who gets it, a friend who when you see them you break into this big great grin and the day is suddenly so good, so full of sun. or like a good song, a song that sinks into your mind and alters the workings of your synapses, and suddenly you feel pretty fucking happy, or satisfied, but not just satisfied like at the end of a decent day, more satisfied like at the end of lovely tender sex with someone you like a lot, whose hands you like a lot, whose skin you like a lot, whose breath you like like like.
so this is a good book, but good only in the sense in which all the things in the first paragraph are good, not in the sense in which the things in the second paragraph are good. and i realize that good, the way i use it here, is subjective, and that people might find a good warm blanket closer to a good soft dog than to a good walk, but this is how i see things, and to me the things in the first paragraph are good in a different, lesser way than the things in the second paragraph, at the time of my writing of this review, which is january 13, 2013, in the hottest winter in the history of the known world. ...more
i read this book because Elizabeth Wein told me to. she says in her blog that this book is much like Code Name Verity and if you have paid any attentii read this book because Elizabeth Wein told me to. she says in her blog that this book is much like Code Name Verity and if you have paid any attention at all to my reviews and updates in the last few months (no reason why you should have, but just in case), you know that Code Name Verity is my current and sole obsession.
this book was unengaging to me until about half way through. it's brilliantly written and fabulous in all sorts of ways (including its sense of place, so, if you are english and come from the part of the country in which the book is set, you might get a bit misty-eyed), but i am not a fan of long-span narratives and this is definitely a long-span narrative. half-way through it starts getting going and it includes an unlikely but fabulously placed rendition of the cuban missile crisis, which, among other things, made me feel infinitely more forgiving toward the current US administration. clem's first person narrative of the cuban missile crisis made me realize that US presidents, even good, sane, moral, awesome presidents, must deal with a powerful entourage which severely cuts into and undercuts the Great Absolute Power we believe they have. my friend wilhelmina jenkins, who, i hope, is reading this, has tried to school me on this for years, but of course i didn't believe her.
at just about the time when peet gives us clem's rendition of the cuban missile crisis the novel grabbed me by the throat and didn't let me go till the end.
the end is fantastic and also disappointing because you desperately want things to turn out well. i'm not saying they don't, but it's ambiguous. you might very well find that they turn out fabulous. i appreciate the rigor of writers like peet, who present life as the mixed bag of goods it is, and leave us wanting for more. like, you know, a sequel.
i won't give this book a star rating because my view of its shortcomings is entirely related to my desires, not to its qualities. it's a great book that deserves better readers than me. ...more
everyone on goodreads, stymied by the impossible task of saying anything about what happens in this book without giving away the entirety othis book.
everyone on goodreads, stymied by the impossible task of saying anything about what happens in this book without giving away the entirety of it, sputters and stutters and eventually says, READ IT. read it read it read it readit readit readitreaditreadit PLEASE READ IT
there's moira's lovely review but most of it is blacked out. read it for the enthusiasm and sense of wonderment. come back to it after you've read the book and click the spoiler link so you can have the book explained to you in case you missed something (you won't have missed anything).
ten things about this book
1. it's like nothing i've ever read.
2. it's about war, torture, weapons, airplanes, piloting, motorcycles, and lots of mechanical things and it's entirely staffed by women.
3. you won't understand how on earth elizabeth wein could possibly have come up with something like this and you will worship her with abandon until you read the author's note at the end (don't read it until you finish!), at which point you will still worship her but at least you will have a sense of how she came up with this.
4. you won't know this is the reason, but the fact that this is a story of women that's also a story of war, torture, weapons, airplanes, piloting, motorcycles, and lots of mechanical things will keep you off balance the whole time. this is not what books with women characters look like. it doesn't compute.
5. it's genius plotting and genius writing and genius heart.
6. it's about women loving each other fiercely with a love you wish you had or had had or could have right now because you need it.
7. it's about pain and hardship but it's incredibly tender.
8. it sings.
9. it's a slow read. read it slowly. as maggie stiefvater says, "give the characters some time to infest your heart."
10. it's not ya, or i don't understand the ya category at all. here's my theory: someone decided it was ya because it's about young (not teen: young) women (instead of, you know, men). or because EW writes ya. or because there are no profanities, no sex, and no drugs. or all of the above.
11. if historical fiction bores you, get over it, this one time (i'm not crazy about it either, in fact i avoid it like the plague).
this book is a broken elegy to the north of england and a world of small shops, small communities, and simple habits that no longer exists. it's alsothis book is a broken elegy to the north of england and a world of small shops, small communities, and simple habits that no longer exists. it's also a tribute to a hardy working class people who knows resilience, pluckiness, no-nonsensicality, and making a life out of what you are given. surprisingly, it's a vindication of the values of faith, which keep people under the direst circumstances out of the clutches of despair and of the feeling of being trapped. these are winterson's words. this truly abused kid never felt despair or a sense of being trapped while she grew up. there was faith for that. no one else felt it either.
have i read too little winterson to know that she writes like this? i remember her prose as lyrical and full of surprises. this is simple, direct, often hysterical in spite of all the horrors (i laughed out loud a lot), and wry. maybe all of her books are written like this and i don't remember. maybe this is written like this because there are only so many ways in which you can describe mayhem.
jeanette winterson was given up for adoption six weeks after she was born. in those six weeks she was breastfed and loved. the family who adopted her consisted of a factory worker and a homesteader. mrs. winterson was a true force of nature, not necessarily in a good way. she was definitely a withering and wintering force of nature for poor jeanette, who disappointed her mom (the book shows it could not have been otherwise) by being a girl (turns out the wintersons had settled on a little boy), by being herself a little concentrated force of nature, and by being the devil's spawn. it is not entirely clear what terrible things jeanette did, but she was often punished in unbelievably cruel ways, and she was never loved.
this book is in many ways mrs. winterson's story. she deserves a story and she is lucky her daughter is a fabulous writer. this terrible woman who loved all that is death-like in christianity and lived under the sign of the apocalypse, renunciation of all worldly pleasure, and doom, is described with great compassion. jeanette must have loved her very much. she must have wanted her very much. she must also have been furiously angry at her, but this book is about forgiveness, not anger.
when young willful jeanette falls in love with a girl mrs. winterson basically say it's either the girl or you and jeanette spends the following couple of years sleeping in a borrowed car while going to school full time and having a part-time job. she is sixteen.
then, because she is jeanette winterson and nothing but nothing will ever stop her from getting what she wants, she gets herself into oxford. if you read the first part of the book without knowing who jeanette winterson is, the fact that she got herself into oxford will make your jaw drop. how on earth could this working class girl who had lived in a place stuck several decades behind real time get into one of the most exclusive universities in the world?
well, she did.
in the second part of the book jeanette moves to the very near present and talks about a terrible breakdown she suffered when she was in her late 40s. i won't say what brought it on but it doesn't really matter. in passing she also tells us that she had two more breakdowns and one psychotic crisis. also, she seems to be one of those people who hear voices without having other psychotic symptoms. apparently she heard voices all through her life. in Agnes's Jacket psychology professor gail hornstein debunks the myth that people who hear voices are invariably schizophrenic or bipolar and need to be medicated to kingdom come (i'm sure she's not the first to say so, but her book is the first where i read it). there are indeed people who hear voices but lead an otherwise normal life.
why JW had breakdowns; why she always had a terrible time sustaining loving relationships; why she was troubled all her life is not something that is very difficult to understand. she spent the first 16 years of her life not getting any love. this tends not to do wonders for one's psychological health.
this book is also an ode to books and words. books and words saved young jeanette, plain and simple. books and words have saved many unloved kids and will continue to do so as long as humankind exists, because there will always be unloved kids and works of literature. her love for and gratitude to literature could not be bigger. it's time for me to read all of her books. ...more
this book is endless. when you figure out who the killer is, you still have like three hundred pages to go, so you tell yourself the person you figurethis book is endless. when you figure out who the killer is, you still have like three hundred pages to go, so you tell yourself the person you figured out cannot possibly be the killer, 'cause how is EG going to keep the book going for another three hundred pages when we all know who the killer is?
well, she can. and she does.
even after the story ends (killer taken care of, case wrapped), she is still going. and going. if there is one thing i fault EG is that her books are too damn long.
now, i have nothing against long books, but they have to prove themselves. no point in stretching a book for miles just so restless souls like me have something to read at night. we are not stupid.
now, as to whether i liked this: i liked this. EG is a first rate writer. she brings up really important stuff. she writes good sentences and paragraphs and sometimes she makes me laugh a lot. but then she decides to dilute all the good stuff with really unimportant stuff, just because (i guess) she doesn't mind writing and writing. but the really important stuff must be dealt with with more depth, and concentration. mysteries are a fantastic genre in which to explore darkness and weakness and pain. EG should not be spending so much time on trifles. she should tighten her books and make them matter. ...more
this book is eye candy. DM fills it with language so rich and poetic that, if you like language, you'll be delighted. and he manages, always, not to bthis book is eye candy. DM fills it with language so rich and poetic that, if you like language, you'll be delighted. and he manages, always, not to be purple or cloying. maybe the language is Thousand Autumns' best asset. it works at multiple levels: the richest is descriptions. i didn't even try to keep up with the adjectival flourishes. nothing much is lost, for me, if language washes over me and the occasional (far from infrequent) pearl simply sucks all the light, leaves the rest of the sentence/paragraph in an under-conscious blur, lodges itself firmly in front of my eyes. DM is not afraid of pearls. he disseminates them with generosity. in a time when realistic and edgy prose is prized, this is brave. at least i find it brave.
another level is dialogue. DM is representing in english what is presumably working class dutch parlance, which he does virtuosistically and with great picturesque turns. but he also gives voice to japanese administrators high and low, haltingly-speaking servants (lots of people here speak in a language not their own), slaves, and the highly educated, and most spectacular, doctor marinus.
but then, like other DM's book, this is also a brutal look into empires, international commerce, the exploitation of human beings, the exploitation of countries by one another, the deceit that characterizes human interactions especially when money and power are at stake, the consistency with which humans screw each other, the rottenness of nationalism, and some pretty brutal times in world's history that are only slightly less brutal than the times in which we live now and, in fact, remind us that there may well be, and in fact are, parts of the world in which things are happening in precisely this way. which makes the book, also, an implicit critique, it seems to me, of the complacency of the reader, who is comfortably enjoying his or her heightened state of civilization (freedom to move, shop, read books) while imperialism, barbarism, oppression, and brutality go on unchecked in all five continents.
and if you want to think of DM as a critic of our times, you can very well see that the imperial lust he exposes in Thousand Autumns is not very dissimilar from the imperial lust of his and our governments, except now we tend to do things in a more polished and much more secretive way.
but then DM is a sweet writer, and doesn't let us walk away from his marvelous novel with bitterness coating the inside of our mouths. he gives us jacob de zoet, who is lovely, sweet, smart, and profoundly decent, and he also gives us other really decent characters (marinus first among them), and those are the ones who ultimately win the day.
* the only reason why i docked that one star is that i don't jive to historical fiction, especially of the boy variety, where exchanges between guys constitute the bulk of the story.
[i posted this review when i finished the book, then the whole thing got deleted, somehow. the helpful folks at GR found it for me cached in google; here is the link. i copied the review: the link is only for all the cool comments.]...more
this is a well written, well paced, well developed mystery. elizabeth george sure likes to pack her stories with language (details details details), bthis is a well written, well paced, well developed mystery. elizabeth george sure likes to pack her stories with language (details details details), but since i like my books to go on and on, and her going on and on is well done, i am not complaining, at all.
okay, now that i got that out of the way let me talk about women and mysteries. men and mysteries, too. the latter first. i learned today (here) that the millennium trilogy, of which i read only the first installment, a book that struck me as mediocre, is considered super edgy in (some, i suppose) queer quarters because the girl protagonist is bisexual.
to this i say: give me a break.
back to women and mysteries. i am not a mystery expert, but my suspicion is getting stronger and stronger that a lot of female mystery writers use the genre to exorcise some specific, scary aspect of being female, including self-hatred. to wit: what's with all the violence on little girls? these books are littered with little girls' mangled bodies. and: what's with all the male sadistic psychopaths? seriously, how many murderous male psychopaths are out there? i image most homicides are conducted by angry, scuzzy, scared, or negligent people, but i doubt many of them are serial murderers with psychopathic mental processes and kinky modi operandi.
this book in particular focuses on another major staple of female self-hatred, the selfish, unloving mother. there are, not one, but two very horrible mothers.
on the other hand, i really liked to subplot of the queer boy. really nice touch, handled well.
now, women mystery writers, chill out will ya?...more
**spoiler alert** this book is a masterpiece, but i found it so disturbing that i can't possibly give it more than three [changed to four] subjective**spoiler alert** this book is a masterpiece, but i found it so disturbing that i can't possibly give it more than three [changed to four] subjective stars. it is the only book i know that puts the reader so deeply and exclusively in the mind of a child, you literally don't know what is going on except what the child apprehends through his limited abilities and his compensating fantasies. for instance: is john an emotionally disturbed kid from the start, or does it progress into profound emotional disturbance as the story goes on? we don't know, because he doesn't, and can't, know.
the novel starts on any old day in john egan's life (i cannot help thinking that m.j. hyland chose john's name as a tribute to jennifer egan, which of course is ridiculous). the family of three, mom, dad, son, is contentedly reading at the dinner table. the narrative proceeds in a rather flat tone, more as an accumulation of details than as an engaging, proper story (this is not to say that there is no story; there is plenty of story in this book). john and family have tea (dinner); john goes to bed; mom tells him a bedtime story; john reads his book; john and his dad watch the telly.
at the same time, though, there is something different that presents itself right at the beginning. john has had a dramatic growth spurt and, in spite of his 11 years of age, he is 6 feet tall and has a deep voice. there is no mention of sexual development. the difference in body shape is not something that worries john. what worries him is that mom and dad seem to behave differently. mom is less spontaneous with her cuddling and playing. so is dad.
since john is not a meticulous narrator we don't know whether mom and dad have started treating john less as the child he is just as the novel starts, or whether this shift happened earlier. john is not interested in giving us back stories and establishing shots. he is an 11 year old and he only knows that mom is more wary than she has ever been of snuggling up with him and playing puppet theatre for him.
the events, as they tick along in john's simple narrative voice, accumulate to describe a rather miserable life. john has only one friend, whom he soon loses thanks to a couple of intensely embarrassing incidents. his classmates don't like him. he's a solitary boy with fantasies of being a prodigious lie detector. his grandmother, in whose house they live, repels him somehow. his father hasn't worked in three years. his mom is a very frayed emotional center for the whole family.
you analyze john the way you'd analyze a real child, which means that you need to get a whole lot of story before you can form any idea at all of what is the matter with him. you can decide what moments are key in john's mental deterioration only after the novel ends. in other words, there aren't any textual clues to indicate to the reader that this or that are Important Moments.
later, when john loses it, you look back and think, oh, maybe it was when his father killed the kittens! but who knows? maybe john was heading for heavy dissociation, paranoia, and possibly schizophrenia from the start. we don't know, because the story ends just as it started, somewhere in the middle.
all the same, hyland represents brilliantly the decline in mental health of the whole family, and john's increasing, and eventually frantic, confusion. when john starts going ballistic, you are as confused as he is, as powerless against his rage as he is, as desperate for love, safety, consistency, comfort, and security as he is. which is not a particularly pleasant feeling. ...more
i found Brick Lane breathtaking, and if anyone is deciding whether or not to read Brick Lane based on this book, i really think they should reconsideri found Brick Lane breathtaking, and if anyone is deciding whether or not to read Brick Lane based on this book, i really think they should reconsider, if for no other reason that they are so different, they could be written by different authors. they really should be judged independently.
i would finish this book if i were reading it at another time. but this is not a good time for me to slog through a writer's experiment with a genre she -- it seems to me -- doesn't quite inhabit. what monica ali seems to want to do here is look at multicultural england through the eyes of an average joe who is not a total scumbag but is not exemplary either. gabriel lightfoot is the chef of the kitchen of a once-first-rate hotel, but the melting pot metaphor doesn't quite pan out, mostly because the white male protagonist is not pleasant. his morals are at least frayed, his character weak, and his mental world on the verge of falling apart.
i don't enjoy novels that chronicle the unraveling of their protagonists, and i don't enjoy novels written by young female writers with a kick-ass feminist novel under their belts that chronicle the unraveling of middle-aged guys (zadie smith does this too! what gives?). there's plenty middle-aged guys chronicling the unraveling of middle-aged guys, and if i want to read about this subject i'll turn to them. what i'm saying in not that writers should be limiting themselves to writing about people who are, whatever that means, "like them," but that if you are monica ali and you can write about vibrant women like nazneen, why write about gabriel lightfoot? (note: i'm aware there are like a million holes in this argument, but please, monica ali, understand what i'm saying! i don't ask that you give us bangladeshi story after bangladeshi story, but... can you take a breather from experiments and write something, you know, good>/i>? cause we know you can).
the writing is solid, sometimes really good, but ali does seem out of her element. she is still head and shoulders above the average writer, but the language doesn't seem to gel, quite. the plot is all over the place. a lot of sections should simply be cut by 9/10s. i've read half the book and i am still far from finding a focus or finding out why people, including gabe, act the way they do. i'm going to be the first one to check out your next book from the library, monica ali, but i'm giving up on this one....more
a really good, intelligent, complex, and riveting police procedural by the creator of helen mirren's inspector tennison series and one of the most reva really good, intelligent, complex, and riveting police procedural by the creator of helen mirren's inspector tennison series and one of the most revered english mystery writers. the plot follows the police work of DI anna travis, who's much nicer than tennison but also someone who's serious and passionate about her work. i am impressed by the way in which la plante manages to focus entirely on the crime while also conveying a whole lot of what goes on between the various police officers involved. the investigation dynamics are all about figuring out an extremely complex series of murders, but at the same time, subtly, they tell us much about how people work together and how they bring their frustrations, rages, hang-ups, and longings to their work. very well designed, and fast, and compelling....more
at first i was a bit bothered by the formal resemblances between this book and Incident (boy talking in the first person with funny language -- here the funniness of the language is in the misspellings, but both books clearly indicate they were physically written but their narrators -- interspersed with little bits of erudition on the part of said boy), but i must grant kneale a greater cohesiveness, because lawrence's erudition (he's an avid consumer of astronomy and especially gruesome stories of roman emperors) play in counterpoint with his misadventures and add whole and complex levels of violence, rage, terror, and desperation to them. lawrence's stories tell the story lawrence cannot tell about himself.
i love the way lawrence's mother is treated by the book. her increasing mental disorganization is presented with respect and kindness, and it doesn't feel at any point condemned by the author. true, lawrence is having it extremely tough, but his mother clearly loves him and his sister and means the best for them. in fact, in spite of the psychological torture she unwittingly puts them through, she is gentle towards her children and uncommonly respectful of their desires (if not of their needs).
i don't know about mothers and kids. children are born to imperfect parents who had imperfect parents and were kids themselves. one doesn't become a better person just in virtue of having a kid, yet the burden of expectation that is put on mothers' shoulders is tremendous. fathers get away with a ton more. i would like to declare a moratorium on mothers. so kids will get screwed up by deficient parents. oldest story in the world. i extend a forgiving hand to beleaguered mothers.
i don't know why people who've read the curious incident of the dog in the night-time would find this second novel a let-down. it seems to me equallyi don't know why people who've read the curious incident of the dog in the night-time would find this second novel a let-down. it seems to me equally tender, sweet, and heartbreaking. it's also hilariously funny. haddon does heartbreaking and funny with such grace, simplicity, and verbal virtuosity, it's wonderful. i admire this writer greatly.
what i admire most about him is that he shows us the behavior of "crazy" people who do "crazy" things from the inside, and from the inside these crazy things make total sense. george's shenanigans are as meaningful and entirely understandable to us as christopher's shenanigans, and, just like in the first novel, we are quite surprised that people around these two should not be more compassionate and understanding, because both george and christopher seem lost in an earnest, brave, broken, and entirely adorable way.
there's a lot here about class, and i imagine other non-english people might find it as hard to make sense of as i did. i mean, ray seems absolutely perfect from all possible points of view, as does tony, but the stuff of class gets in the way tremendously, and one is left quite perplexed until one remembers what one has learned about england from the movies, and it makes a little more sense.
the little kid jacob is picture perfect. haddon has a thing with little kids (of all ages).
another thing that haddon does really really well is show how people like george and christopher, i.e. people who either are different or become different at some point in their lives for some very painful reason, manage to break down barriers and distances in others that would otherwise be as immutable and untouchable as the rotation of the planets. and then everyone feels better.
except there is hell to pay, for everyone, and this is the really heartbreaking part, the amount of pain haddon packs in his books. i was discussing this just now with someone and realized that the highest common denominator between dog and bother is terror. and i don't do terror very well. but this book eases you into terror gently, and by the time you realize that the book is killing you you are too caught up to stop reading it.
anyway, i really liked this book. it doesn't dispel the terror, or maybe it doesn't do so entirely, but it might make you feel like you are not the only one to live in a constant state of terror, and that's a little soothing unto itself. ...more
this book rocked my world, and i've been trying for weeks to understand why. here it is:
* because the plot is flawless
* because the voice is flawless
*this book rocked my world, and i've been trying for weeks to understand why. here it is:
* because the plot is flawless
* because the voice is flawless
* because it's amazingly tender without being cute
* because there's a christopher boone in me, and a christopher boone in everyone i love or at least try to get along with
* because the christopher boone in me loves to see itself written about lovingly, like it's the coolest kid, if not on the block (it will never be the coolest kid on the block), at least in the annals of literature
* because the christopher boone in those i love or at least try to get along with is telling me, "be patient; please, be patient; i'm doing the best i can"
* because i understand this plea, since it's a plea i issue myself like 230 times a day...more
read a few chapters of it. impressive. more later.
still at it. it will probably take me a year to read it. english people write difficult language.read a few chapters of it. impressive. more later.
still at it. it will probably take me a year to read it. english people write difficult language. i wish my sister in law and good friend sharon told me how long it took her to get through a page. it takes me about 4 mins and 23 seconds.
i really, really like this book. shriver is an immensely talented writer with fireworky facility with language and a ton of deep and true things to say about our humanity. many of the passages are simply arresting.
the narrator is not entirely likable, which is awesome, because she lets you see how one can empathize with those whose life sucks whether one likes them or not (and can empathize with oneself whether one considers oneself okay or a total fuckup).
unfortunately i have to stop reading, barely past the 100 page mark. i entirely plan to finish this book, but the pace is very slow (too much repetition?) and i need to be carried along these days.
so this goes on hiatus. but i'm looking forward to picking it up again....more
i'm a few pages from the end of this and want to write some impressions before they cool down. first, pat barker is impressive. she follows an inner mi'm a few pages from the end of this and want to write some impressions before they cool down. first, pat barker is impressive. she follows an inner muse that leads her to write, and publish, books that defy conventional wisdom on commercial success. someone on goodreads says that this book is a reprise of lawrence. if this is true (i haven't read any lawrence, though i most certainly tried), one cannot but admire a writer who engages in the same exploration of love, desire, sex, frustration, art, class, youth, etc. as lawrence. this is 2008. we don't typically do detached psychological investigations of love & desire and cool-ish intellectual ponderings of the human conditions.
so, yah, this book kept me at arm's length, and, still, i am admiring it for that. i'm admiring pat barker for daring to write a book that keeps me, an unabashed fan, at arm's length. i admire writers who push themselves into discomfort when they could profitably cover ground they've already cleared.
since this book is among other things about the mystery of artistic creation, it seems only fitting that barker should be experimenting with her own creative output. and what is this woman doing, writing again and again about men in world war I? what mysterious drive leads her over and over to the mud and the cold and the festering wounds of a time and a space and a population she should by right feel remote from?
paul and kit are more alive and reachable than teresa and elinor, who felt distant to me. all the characters in this book are slippery -- they seem superficial, unaware of themselves and their urges, sometimes silly and petty in an earnest way that doesn't endear them to us -- but we get, i think, paul and kit in a way in which we don't get teresa and elinor. the book starts with an extraordinary scene which i'm astonished -- and impressed -- that barker left in. plot-wise, it bears no relation at all to the rest of the novel, yet it establishes paul's character way before we manage to get some kind of (slippery) hold on him. paul is not an impressive man. he is self-involved and self-serving. when all is said and done, he's not much better than deeply distasteful kit neville, whom elinor, mysteriously, keeps seeking out. all three, however, produce impressive, deep art. why is beautiful art given to such unworthy vessels?
this question is mirrored by a sort of ethical counterpart in the section of the book that takes place at the front. paul has enlisted as a volunteer and is taking care of the wounded in a makeshift field hospital in belgium three miles from the front. the grueling working conditions and the appalling situation of his patients causes him to be disgusted, detached, even a little nasty. the contrast between the wounded soldiers' agony and paul's attitude raises deep questions: where do mercy and healing come from? who is best suited to take care of sick bodies and fractured minds?
maybe the life class of the title is that which barker offers to her reader. in life, unconscionable beauty and tenderness emerge from sordid mediocrity. as a masterfully rigorous artist who's been at it for quite some years, barker must be acutely aware of this maddening fact. the lesson to her readers is -- if you can, if you can stomach it, keep at it. ...more