everyone on goodreads, stymied by the impossible task of saying anything about what happens in this book without giving away the entirety o...morethis 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 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
*...morethis 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(less)
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 also...morethis 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. (less)
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. (less)
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...more 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. (less)
**spoiler alert** i wrote this on feb 11, 2006. it took me a bit of digging through discs to find it. i'm posting it so i can contribute to the conver...more**spoiler alert** i wrote this on feb 11, 2006. it took me a bit of digging through discs to find it. i'm posting it so i can contribute to the conversation that is going on over at jennifer aka eccentric muse. check it out.
i finished kazuo ishiguro’s never let me go two nights ago and i wish i had written about it immediately, while i was still “inside” it, but i didn’t have time and i have now started a new book (ali smith’s the accidental). in any case, never let me go is a quite exceptional literary accomplishment, though i think ishiguro’s decision to break the spell at the end was a bit unfortunate, that it was aesthetically clumsy. but this may just be me. it’s just that this book is so entirely mysterious, not only because of this subject matter, but, even more so, for the way ishiguro decides to portray it. it is mysterious, for instance, that the book’s england should be so bucolic, so a-modern, some fantasy-land not necessarily beautiful (it is often grey and rainy), but certainly uncontaminated by the worst of civilization. even cars figure in it only accidentally, and TV sets. but no phones, no modern devices, no cities. there is a scene near the end when kathy, ruth, and tommy are quite taken by some big advertising poster, and what’s striking it’s the sense of wonderment these people have, not precisely at manifestations of modernity—they seem not to care really— but at allusions to what their life might have been, or to what other people’s lives are like. i think the wonderment at the poster with the office scene is not that different from the wonderment they all feel at the strangely beached boat.
it’s occurring to me now, and i’m not going to go back and organize these thoughts better, that maybe the clones have a different sensibility from the “other people.” it seems pretty obvious from the boat scene that it is a big deal for all of them, even those who, like tommy, are at first not particularly interested. yet, it is also made somewhat clear (at least to me), that the boat is not a big deal for people in general. it’s an event that really affects this community but not other communities, for some reason. so one might think that the idea is that the clones have a different sensibility.
their most striking feature—even though ishiguro magisterially makes it come across as if it were absolutely normal, so you realize it is strange only after thinking about it a bit—is how obsessed they are by the vagaries of their relationships with one another. kathy, as the narrator, analyzes little events and exchanges between her and the people in her life to the minutest detail, as if they had the greatest significance in the world. it is only when the book ends that you realize that none of it was really that important, except maybe all the discussions that concern the clones’ relationship with the guardians, because those provide clues to their status and future as clones. but this is interesting for us, the readers, the normal people. to them, to the clones, what is important are the subtlest nuances of their friendship, and their rapport to the guardians. it’s as if their world were incredibly fragile, and they needed to pay tremendous attention in order not to not spoil the good mood between them or make things uncomfortable.
so the strange thing about this book is that these characters, or at least kathy, are simultaneously detached and obsessed. they are detached from what worries most of us, the readers. but they are obsessed with their—not inner life exactly, but the inner life of their relationships. kathy never spends much time analyzing the way she feels (the scene with the “never let me go” song is an exception, though obviously an important one), but she spends a tremendous amount of time analyzing the way she feels towards tommy and ruth, and they way they feel towards her and each other.
both tommy and ruth are, by the way, not wholly sympathetic characters. you keep expecting to find out why we should care about them, but at the end there’s nothing. so it is unclear, too, why kathy should love either of them so much. and it is hard, ultimately, to determine how much she loves them. she does, in spite of the title, let them go rather matter-of-factly, even though i’m fairly sure those separations are meant to be more emotional and devastating than i myself felt them.
it is undeniable, though, that the book doesn’t call for much identification on the part of the reader. although undeniably human, the characters are also wholly alien, partly because of the things i’ve mentioned so far, partly because of their passive acceptance of their “destiny.”
why don’t they conceive of a different life for themselves? why don’t they run away? but they don’t, even though it is absolutely clear that they received little to no indoctrination at hailsham; that, in fact, the whole purpose of hailsham was to keep them as innocent as possible about their future.
so this intensely moody, mysterious atmosphere gets somewhat spoiled, i think, when kathy and tommy (and we) get told about everything, get given the whole sorry story, at emily’s and marie claude’s house at the end. there the book jumps, if for a second, into realist mode, and though i am a great fan of realist fiction and do not typically enjoy non-realist fiction, it is a bit of a let down. we did after all gather a sense of what was going on, and i, for one, would not have minded if the book had left me with some unanswered questions.
a lot of this book reminded me of an incredible japanese film i saw a couple of years ago, afterlife. same mixture of dingy realism (broken down houses, cassette tapes, mud, fences, cement, roadside cafés) and intense concentration on the characters’ interaction with each other, but in a way that makes them absolutely alien to us, the viewers.
this book gathers its rarefied, elegiac atmosphere also, partly, from what it omits: clothing is barely there (not in the sense that the characters go around naked, but in the sense that their clothes are rarely described), as are physical appearances. in general, what is missing is all that concern the life and comfort of the body: food, sleep, money, homes, rest, play. and, to some extent, even the life and comfort of the mind: though there are books (i found ishiguro’s dropping of classics’ titles playful rather them meaningful in a deep way), but there are no cinema, no theatre, no museums, no history, no buildings and monuments, no science. also: no alcohol, no smoke, no drugs. even illness and physical decay, a key element of course of the novel, are dealt with with incredible scarcity of details: what gets donated on the “donations?” why carers? how are the recovering patients taken care of? are they in pain? do they take medication? do they undergo dialysis? there are only “tests” and “completions,” and that’s about it as far as the details of the grueling medical procedures they have been “created for” are concerned.
the whole sociology and morality of the cloning business is touched upon only at the end, in the scene with emily and marie claude that i thought ham-fisted, too explicit for such an inexplicit book. there are these mysterious “they” who send notices and keep the clones lined up for the next task, but one feels strangely incurious about them. the story, ultimately, is not about what goes on (and that’s why the scene at the end doesn’t work). the book is about holding on to one’s humanity, about balancing knowledge and ignorance, maybe about faith and love and those precious, fragile, impalpable things that keep us human in a inhuman world. (less)
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 b...morethis 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.](less)
this is the story of joss moody, a fictional trumpet player with a west indian father and a white scottish mother; the story is inspired by billy tipt...morethis is the story of joss moody, a fictional trumpet player with a west indian father and a white scottish mother; the story is inspired by billy tipton, a real-life sax and piano player. in fact, there are no similarities between these two men except for the fact that they both were prominent jazz musicians and both were biological women who lived as men.
the element of race is so important in Trumpet -- as important, really, as the element of gender -- that billy tipton, who was white, seems barely more than an inspiration. jackie kay fashions a new story entirely and her story plays deftly and lyrically with the issue of joss's identity -- an identity that is simultaneously very strong and very tortured -- and other people's perception of it after his death. there is no doubt that joss perceives himself as a man, just as there is no doubt that everyone perceives him as a man too, even when his biological femaleness is revealed upon his death. for some reason (this is something it would be interesting to discuss) his wife is less than protective of dead joss's masculinity and lets the doctor and the undertaker examine him alone. inevitably, the story gets out.
there is a lovely passage in which millie describes helping joss dress in the morning. as she carefully wraps and pins his bindings around his chest, she observes that she never touched his breasts. when joss inserts a pair of socks in his boxers, she delicately averts her gaze. on his part, joss dresses heavily, with two t-shirts over his bindings and a shirt and jacket on top. he's always dressed to the nines, very elegantly and formally, even in the hottest weather and the most casual circumstances. this is no problem for joss and millie, not something they discuss. another couple might choose to have endless conversations about this; this couple chooses not to. this is interesting too.
so in a way joss's masculinity is entirely unproblematic: he is simply a guy and there is nothing to talk about. in other ways, though -- in the ways in which this masculinity is relentlessly, physically constructed each morning and each night, by himself and his wife, and then carefully tended to by both through a lifelong system of deception, it's a huge problem.
unlike billy tipton, joss dies of heart attack (or so it's implied). bound under tight bandages of all kinds, his heart gives out.
the book is narrated by a number of voices, each given one or more chapters. the lion's share is given to colman, joss's and millie's adopted-at-birth son. colman's profound love for his father is seriously shaken by the discovery of his betrayal, but, as i said, this goes farther than gender. race permeates the novel in ways more subtle than gender but still very profound. both joss and colman have white mothers (colman's is of course adoptive); both, as it turns out, have little knowledge of their fathers. the racial lineage of these two men is confused, hidden, and broken: joss's father died when he was young and joss refuses to discuss him; colman's adoptive father, joss, is a famous man whom his son cannot but see as an idol. idols are hard to live with and colman is faced by his own inability to live up to his idea of his father every step of the way.
in the fact that joss's father is not present -- even in stories -- and colman's father is not a biological father in more senses than one lies the burden of these two black men. their black masculinity is literally orphaned. each one of them has to fashion it on his own, any way he can.
colman's rage and hurt are depicted beautifully, as are millie's simple and profound love for joss and her deep mourning. but the secondary characters are beautiful too. in particular i loved the undertaker and, in the last part of the novel, one of joss's childhood friend. her chapter is a real treat. (less)
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 figure...morethis 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. (less)
**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...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 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. (less)
i found this book totally exhilarating. since i haven't read anything else by muriel spark, i have no idea how it compares to her other work, but, com...morei found this book totally exhilarating. since i haven't read anything else by muriel spark, i have no idea how it compares to her other work, but, come on, hard to beat a picaresque romp in and around israel and palestine taking place a few years after the end of the british mandate with the eichmann trial (not exactly comic matter) as background! the story involves muslim arabs, christian arabs, a jew who recently converted to catholicism, english and israeli jews, and of course good old unreligious but VERY DECENT britons. this decency is part of what's at issue, along with: occupation, colonization, and the birth of israel; sex and love; femininity and masculinity at the onset of post-modernity; and being a cool catholic in a complicated world.
spark delivers the crisp, well-wrought, wry, not-quite-explicit prose that we expect from a mid-twentieth century English Writer, and her composition, cutting quickly back and forth in time, is perfect.
the inter-cultural stuff is the most fun -- especially the way various groups have the other ones "made" only until it happens that they get totally outsmarted (did i mention this is a spy thriller? it's a spy thriller). here's a sample of the shrewdness required when people of various different cultures are forced to share narrow spaces: "By the time [the servant] returned, Joe had gone a long way to measuring Miss Rickward's substance, and with the experience he had long acquired of the English-woman on her travels, calculated that her cheap, shapeless, pink-and-red cotton dress, broad brown sandals, large old dark-brown leather shoulder bag, unvarnished finger-nails, eyes the colour, near-grey, of western spiritual compromise, and her yellowish, much-filled teeth, added up to a woman of some authority and wealth."
and, of course, people are constantly hiding, with lots of unlikely and thrilling masquerading, too. (less)
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 nigh...morethis 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. (less)
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 attenti...morei 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. (less)
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 reconsider...morei 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.(less)
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.
this is a well written, well paced, well developed mystery. elizabeth george sure likes to pack her stories with language (details details details), b...morethis 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?(less)
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....moreread 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.(less)
a really good, intelligent, complex, and riveting police procedural by the creator of helen mirren's inspector tennison series and one of the most rev...morea 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.(less)