This was a sight-unseen Bookcrossing book (chosen on the basis of the first sentence). I'm not a reader of mysteries generally; I'd heard of Barbara VThis was a sight-unseen Bookcrossing book (chosen on the basis of the first sentence). I'm not a reader of mysteries generally; I'd heard of Barbara Vine and knew it was one of Ruth Rendell's pen-names, but I'd never read any. After a few recent duds, it's good to feel you're in the hands of a master storyteller from the first page (and indeed the first sentence).
It's not so much a whodunnit as a whydunnit, and even a whatdidtheydo. A bleak little tale, with clues and red herrings very cleverly scattered through it. The viewpoint switches effectively between the three main characters, each with their store of regret and guilt poisoning their life in different ways. She allows you to figure out part of the story fairly easily, but I really didn't see the final twist coming. Perhaps a bit too neat, but it adds a final note of grim humour. Don't read this if you want to like the main characters; nobody comes out of it well, except for one unlucky victim. Otherwise, it's a great choice for a summer read, and I'll look out for more from her....more
I don't quite know what to say about this novel. It won the Goncourt, and it's not a bad book by any means -- but nor is it a masterpiece. French reviI don't quite know what to say about this novel. It won the Goncourt, and it's not a bad book by any means -- but nor is it a masterpiece. French reviews on Goodreads and Amazon seem to be divided between those who say it's beautifully written, and those who say it's "butchering the French language" (because of its use of "fragnol", a mixture of French and Spanish).
I would say both. I really liked the voice Salvayre gives to her mother. This is probably partly because we have quite a few neighbours who left Spain for France in 1939 or later, and I can hear their voices, with that r-rolling Spanish accent, even if they speak better French than Montse. I felt it made her character more vivid and realistic. Then evidently the passages paraphrasing or directly quoting Bernanos were well written. But the parts in Lydie/Lidia's own voice often seemed clunky, inelegant or downright grammatically incorrect in places. "José raconta son séjour dans la ville et la ferveur splendide qu'il y avait trouvés"? That seems plain wrong to me. "Il s'en dédiait. La récusait." I think the verb she's looking for is dédire (to retract), not dédier (to dedicate), in which case the imperfect is dédisait. But what do I know? The Goncourt jury was chaired by Bernard Pivot, and he knows a lot more about French grammar than I do. Note: I can see it could be a frustrating read if you don't know any Spanish -- some complete phrases in Spanish are not translated, and Lydie's mother's invented words are only easy to figure out if you know the language, for example, "je me raccorde" is obviously "I remember".
There are some quotable quotes:
Révolution, liberté, fraternité, communautés, ces mots qui, accentués en espagnol sur la dernière syllabe, vous envoient immédiatement leur poing dans la figure.
The novel as novel -- I think maybe I'm just not sufficiently aware of French novel-writing culture. I didn't understand why she chose to alternate between Bernanos and Montse. Obviously Bernanos presents a contrasting view, but there's no connection between them, and I couldn't help suspecting he was there to pad the novel out. Maybe there's something I don't understand there, since French readers seem happy with this device. She also uses rather stock characters to illuminate the conflicts in Spanish society. That helps to make things clearer, but it feels a bit forced.
The passionate feelings Salvayre still has about these events are often well conveyed though. On the young Republican soldiers:
Et lorsqu'ils parviendront au front, mal nourris, mal armés, hébétés de sommeil, transis de froid et dans un état de fatigue tel qu'il leur rendra supportable le meurtre collectif qui leur aurait paru abominable en toute autre circonstance, lorsqu'ils n'auront plus la force de rassembler deux pensées, lorsqu'ils seront uniquement occupés à survivre et à se battre sans plus se poser des questions, lorsqu'ils accompliront des gestes d'automate sans plus aucun conscience du bien et du mal et sans le moindre affect, ils déchargeront leur fusil, au signal, sur d'autres jeunes gens à l'allure plus martial ceux-là, uniformes impeccables et bottes impeccables, mais tout aussi abusés par la propagande de leur camp qui magnifie mensongèrement leur combat et leur promet, contre une médaille posthume, ou le plus souvent contre que dalle, la reconnaissance éternelle de la patrie, tu parles.
Some individual scenes were very striking, notably the one where Montse and Rosita, sitting in a cafe in Barcelona, watch a man burning bundles of banknotes, and the scene where Montse's parents are invited to meet her new in-laws. I wished there'd been more of these beautifully observed moments. But elsewhere there was a lot of telling-not-showing; instead of scenes of conversation and action, as you would find in a British novel, Salvayre simply tells the reader what the characters are feeling and thinking. So ultimately it all fell rather flat for me. At the end (this is not a spoiler), Montse leaves for France with her young daughter. Not a word about what happens to her parents, her sister, Don Jaime (who has become quite important in her life by then) or his family. This seems strange to me -- Montse has not come across as someone who would simply abandon her entire family.
Given that I didn't know what to say, I seem to have written quite a lot :-/ So three stars for a book which was not bad, but could have been so much better. And I'm still looking for modern French authors to enjoy....more
A Bookcrossing book by an Australian author I've never heard of, but she seems well respected and I like short stories, so I thought it was worth a trA Bookcrossing book by an Australian author I've never heard of, but she seems well respected and I like short stories, so I thought it was worth a try. It was OK; she's a good writer, but it was all rather gloomy with occasional flashes of black humour. Good enough but shoe won't topple Alice Munro from her perch :)
And I get to review a book on GR with 0 reviews -- quite rare!...more
This promised a lot but didn't really deliver. I read another review that said:
Burton tried to tackle too many different subjects in a relatively shor
This promised a lot but didn't really deliver. I read another review that said:
Burton tried to tackle too many different subjects in a relatively short book, and she wasn't particularly subtle about it. Women's rights, homosexuality, racism, and class division are all introduced within the first 50-100 pages and none of them are developed satisfyingly enough to provide any real social commentary.
Spot on. She's also been compared to Sarah Waters, but she is really not in the same league, with an excessive love of adjectives and purple prose. I didn't find the characters compelling, and some things seemed implausible. Nella suddenly seems to reach an incredible maturity in her reaction to Johannes' arrest and Marin's secret. And yet despite her country upbringing and witnessing her own mother's pregnancies, she is fatally clueless about childbirth. The miniaturist was simply an enigma that was never resolved, and was not even necessary to the plot. It's only a first novel though, so Burton may improve with practice....more
I put this on my Bookmooch wishlist years ago, when it came out, after reading a review of it, and just finally got a copy of it. The blurb sounded faI put this on my Bookmooch wishlist years ago, when it came out, after reading a review of it, and just finally got a copy of it. The blurb sounded fascinating, and the title, with its double meanings around the effects of disease and the consumer society on traditional Arctic lifestyles is sooo clever. I felt a bit let down by the novel as a whole though.
In the acknowledgements, Patterson -- a doctor working in the Arctic, whose first novel this is -- thanks someone for helping him "make the transition from a collection of essays about cultural change and epidemiology to a novel". And that is just the problem. The novel is laden with ideas about consumerism, disease, social change, family relationships, and it often feels as if plot and character are being twisted around to fulfil a particular metaphorical purpose. Then at the end, he ended up with a lot of material that couldn't be fitted in --some of which he'd already published as essays. So, hey, let's have the doctor in the story leave some notebooks behind and include them at the end of the novel! As essays they were mostly interesting, but in this context they didn't work.
Within the story itself, there were just too many threads. As many reviewers have said, the subplot about Balthazar's niece Amanda seemed totally out of place. I suppose it was intended to provide a counterpoint to the lives of Victoria's daughters, but it doesn't work and isn't even necessary; he could have used Marie's visit to Winnipeg to address this aspect. A murder midway through the book just fizzles out, the murderer revealed in a throwaway line towards the end. Hints of an earlier relationship between Victoria and Balthazar were given and then just abandoned. Too many extra characters faded in and out -- the two schoolteachers for example, where one would have done. The fates of the teenagers, and in fact of Victoria's whole family, were overwrought almost to the point of parody. As for the ending, it was just too contrived -- a real letdown.
But on the plus side, the descriptions of Arctic landscapes and the struggle of local people to adapt and survive as southern culture moves in were really well done, based on deep knowledge of the area and its people. So three stars....more
I didn't enjoy this as much as the other Thirkells I've read. Alice was just an annoying character; her wimpishness was already getting on my nerves aI didn't enjoy this as much as the other Thirkells I've read. Alice was just an annoying character; her wimpishness was already getting on my nerves after only 50 or so pages, and she hadn't grown on me by the end of the book. But other than that it has all the hallmarks of sharp social humour that make Thirkell fun to read -- I especially liked Sally, and enjoyed the battle between the noxious Mrs Rivers and the hapless Mr Johns....more
A great writer and poet playing around with words and ideas in pieces most of which are just a couple of pages long. Uneven, best enjoyed in small dosA great writer and poet playing around with words and ideas in pieces most of which are just a couple of pages long. Uneven, best enjoyed in small doses....more
I can't really figure out what to say about this book, so it's just as well there are already 555 Goodreads reviews to go on. I'd never read any MurdoI can't really figure out what to say about this book, so it's just as well there are already 555 Goodreads reviews to go on. I'd never read any Murdoch before and didn't really know what to expect. What I got was a roller-coaster of powerful writing. But what was it about? I'm still not sure, but I think different readers will appreciate different elements.
I loved the minutely detailed descriptions of the sea ... and laughed at the equally precise descriptions of Charles Arrowby's bizarre gastronomic tastes ("a salad of cold Italian tinned tomatoes with herbs" for example). A classic unreliable narrator, the narcissistic Charles is quite loathsome, but keeps us entertained. The mid-section of the book, with his delusional pursuit and sequestration of the blameless Hartley, I found quite creepy, but it was relieved by the French bedroom farce aspects of his crowd of theatrical visitors. There were ludicrous coincidences (even for someone like me who is very tolerant of coincidences in both fiction and real life) but it's clearly not intended to be a realistic novel -- or maybe Murdoch is saying something about fate? I couldn't help feeling there were many elements of Buddhist philosophy that were passing me by -- pity James was such a cipher -- but I did figure out that Charles' stay at Shruff End was some form of bardo (Buddhist limbo) between phases of his life. I suppose the novel is very much of its time (late 1970s) and might have seemed less odd then.
Anyway, I was never bored with this book, and I expect I will read more Murdoch at some point....more
Hmmm ... well, this is the first Margaret Drabble I've read, and I'm afraid I was distinctly underwhelmed. It starts out as the diary of fifty-somethiHmmm ... well, this is the first Margaret Drabble I've read, and I'm afraid I was distinctly underwhelmed. It starts out as the diary of fifty-something discarded wife Candida Wilton, uprooted from the life of a headmaster's wife at a posh school in rural Suffolk to a tiny flat in Notting Hill. I suppose Drabble does a good job of putting across the limited view point of someone who has led such a sheltered life, but it doesn't make Candida a very endearing character. Nor does the text really read convincingly like a diary -- it's more like an interior monologue.
Part 2 switches to the third person to recount Candida's expedition with six female friends, following the tracks of Aeneas from North Africa to Naples. Lots of classical references here, but it's written in a plodding, sub-Malcolm Bradbury style, again not very engaging. In fact I only started to like the book in the very last section, when Candida finally begins to face up to at least some of her prejudices, and attempts to reconcile herself with her estranged daughters. Maybe I'm not quite old enough to empathise ......more
Oh dear, another disappointment picked up in the second-hand bookshop. This mines the same family history vein as several of Forster's other novels, bOh dear, another disappointment picked up in the second-hand bookshop. This mines the same family history vein as several of Forster's other novels, but with a twist. Catherine's mother died when she was only six months old, and she was brought up by her father's second wife, whom she sees as her true mother. She resents attempts by her family to evoke the perfect, beautiful and talented mother that she never knew, but after the death of her parents when she is 31, she discovers a "memory box" left for her by her real mother, filled with objects that are presumably significant. She sets out to try to discover the meaning of these objects.
The trouble is that Catherine is a really antipathetic character. Rich enough not to need to work (she dabbles at being a freelance photographer) she comes across as a spoilt, self-centred brat. Living on her own, she appears to have no friends except for her even more obnoxious cousin Rory, and the whole book is effectively her internal monologue about her feelings towards her mother, aunt, and stepmother, with no dialogue and virtually no interaction with other people. It's true that Forster skilfully exposes Catherine's repressed anger towards her mother, and subtly shows the development and maturing of her character as she gradually comes to accept the reality of her mother's true character, but I just couldn't overcome the fact that I disliked her, and I found her musings about the objects essentially dull. I am sure though that if you had lost a parent at a tender age, you might find this book psychologically compelling, and I had the impression that Forster was using it as therapy to work through some repressed resentments of her own....more
This is the story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's maid, Elizabeth Wilson -- another example of Forster "re-purposing" research, in this case for her This is the story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's maid, Elizabeth Wilson -- another example of Forster "re-purposing" research, in this case for her biography of EBB. Just as in Diary of an Ordinary Woman, she does a wonderful job of creating an authentic, convincing voice for Wilson, and the story is full of telling little domestic details. She also marvellously portrays the tensions in the relationship between Wilson and her mistress -- half maid, half friend -- and the way the relationship falls apart once Wilson starts to express needs of her own, instead of submitting utterly to Browning's every whim....more
An odd hybrid -- a novel in the form of diaries, with an introduction in which Forster describes how she came by the diaries of Millicent King, a womaAn odd hybrid -- a novel in the form of diaries, with an introduction in which Forster describes how she came by the diaries of Millicent King, a woman as old as the century (she was born in 1901). I imagine Forster is recycling some of the research she did for the joint biography she wrote of her grandmother, her mother, and herself (which I haven't read).
Millicent's life is resolutely ordinary (apart from its length -- she lives to the age of 98) -- but I found her story curiously involving. Millicent isn't always very likeable -- she can be stubborn and selfish, and finds it hard to make friends -- but she's also determined to "stand on her own two feet" and has a strong sense of right and wrong. Forster really draws you into her life. As a 13 year-old, Millicent longs to "do something" with her life, but it's arguable whether she really does. After a spell as a teacher, she becomes a social worker, drives ambulances during the Blitz, and then goes back to teaching while bringing up her sister's twins, orphaned by a bomb in 1943, finding none of this truly fulfilling. Just as in real life, there are false starts, friendships and love affairs that don't work out, and loose ends (for example Millicent's younger sister Grace returns traumatised from occupied France in 1944, with a 4-year old daughter in tow, and although she has clearly suffered greatly, Millicent never finds out what happened to her). Like many women of her generation, Millicent sets great store by duty and respectability, is reluctant to discuss money or sex, but is also fiercely determined to be independent. Forster handles the change in tone as Millicent grows older really well, and although things become less interesting towards the end, with the elderly Millicent increasingly confined to the house, it's always compelling.
I'd previously read and liked Forster's Lady's Maid (a novel told from the point of view of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's maid), and I'll be looking out for more of her books....more
Rachel Joyce can certainly write (albeit with some rather purple prose at times), but wow, this is a depressing read! I had to keep putting it down beRachel Joyce can certainly write (albeit with some rather purple prose at times), but wow, this is a depressing read! I had to keep putting it down because reading it was making me feel tense and twitchy. Every character, when faced with a decision to make, is guaranteed to make what is plainly the wrong one, each person digging him- or herself into a deeper hole. That said, Joyce deals sensitively with OCD -- I've no idea what it's like living with this but she makes it ring true. The portrait of Byron's mother is also terribly touching. And she has some clever ideas for linking the two stories, including the use of two minor car accidents as the impetus for a new direction.
On the other hand, the young Byron didn't make sense to me as a character. He keeps coming out with maudlin little homilies that just don't seem appropriate for a 12-year old boy, even a seriously disturbed one. And the social context he lives in seems more 50s or early 60s than 1972. It's difficult to discuss further without spoilers, but I worked out early on what the connection between Jim and Byron must be -- there are enough clues for only one outcome to be possible. After everything that happens in this book, and the many setbacks the characters face, the "happy ending" is a bit too abrupt. So I didn't enjoy it as much as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. A good one for a book group I'm sure as reactions are bound to be varied....more