This was a very quick and easy read that had me chuckling every five or ten pages or so. It is overall very light reading. Feels honest in a self-deprThis was a very quick and easy read that had me chuckling every five or ten pages or so. It is overall very light reading. Feels honest in a self-deprecating and occasionally silly way, and provides more fun than food for thought. I did appreciate Fey's thoughts on being a working woman and mother, and was most interested in her thoughts (and mixed feelings) about playing Sarah Palin on SNL. If you need airplane reading or a book to take to the beach, or just generally want something fun that you can finish in a day, this is a great choice.
Considering how mixed my feelings and reactions were throughout the reading of this novel, I'm thoroughly sad that it's over. Anything with 1000-ish pConsidering how mixed my feelings and reactions were throughout the reading of this novel, I'm thoroughly sad that it's over. Anything with 1000-ish pages leaves you either missing it or thrilled it's over when you finally finish, but I didn't expect to miss Bleak House this much. The reason is that I usually am most excited by books with extremely real (and flawed) characters and care nothing for plot, but this book has most of its merit in the plot's twists and turns. The major characters (Esther, of course, but also Jarndyce, George, Lady Dedlock, and perhaps also Richard, Ada, Bucket, and Tulkinghorn) are depthful, but not always very real.
George was the most interesting character to me - he has sort of given up on life after making mistakes in his youth and cutting himself off from his family, but he is still focused on helping others (Phil, Jo, Miss Flite) when he can and on protecting those who matter to him (the Bagnets, Nemo, Gridley). When he first protects Nemo by withholding the letter, then has to give it up because of the threat to the Bagnet family, his struggle is very real and thought-provoking.
However, most of the story is spent with Esther and Jarndyce, two characters who are too good and moral to be real. In the case of Esther, she has a Victorian-feminine sense of what is proper and is also incredibly self-denying and self-deprecating, doing exactly as she's told, feeling worth little, and waiting for others to provide for her happiness. This does makes sense with her upbringing - she was made to feel worthless as a child - but it seems to me that this should have damaged her, not turned her into the perfect woman who everyone loves. It's a scary thought that not so many generations ago the perfect woman was one like Esther.
I think that, besides George, what kept me intrigued was the endless parade of bizarre, fascinating and just generally interesting minor characters.
There's Miss Flite, who goes to court every day with her "papers" and keeps a large flock of birds with foreboding names she intends to release when her suit is finally over.
There's Mrs. Jellyby who is obsessed with a tribe in Africa to the point of completely ignoring her husband, children and home.
There's Mr. Bagnet who calls his wife "old girl" and pretends to be in charge of decision-making in his home, but really he always has his wife make decisions by telling everyone that she's just saying what he thinks so he doesn't have to.
There's Krook, a mean drunk who collects endless junk (papers, rags, bottles, etc) and who spontaneously combusts early in the novel.
And then there's Skimpole, a middle-aged man who calls himself a child and pretends to know nothing of the ways of the world. This allows him to sponge off his friends, never pay for anything, be completely selfish and irresponsible, and never apologize for anything. He's obnoxious, but for some reason Jarndyce, Esther, and others all love him, the same way you'd love a child.
The plot was fun, meandering, and well-constructed, with each of the innumerable characters playing his or her role in glitchless harmony. There were some tragedies and some great happinesses, but I was never so empathetic to anyone that I felt them deeply - with the exception, perhaps, of George's happy ending....more
This is a wonderful series of short stories about a variety of different characters in early 20th century Dublin. The book begins with stories of younThis is a wonderful series of short stories about a variety of different characters in early 20th century Dublin. The book begins with stories of young people and works its way through college students, young adults, parents, and older people, and ends with a novella, The Dead, which ruminates on mortality.
Each story is highly character-driven, with Joyce's third-person omniscient narration diving deeply into the thoughts, feelings, physical senses, and even speech patterns of his characters. Each story also has a strong sense of setting and place, both in Dublin and in the more specific settings of the stories.
Joyce is, in general, not easy reading, but I found this collection of stories very accessible and, even, a quick read. I enjoyed being so deeply immersed in a new-to-me setting.
The Dead - I was intrigued by how Gabriel's love for his wife was accompanied by an increasing sense of tension as the story went on.
Eveline - This is a very short story, but I quickly felt for Eveline, who was unable to surmount her fears and hesitations to escape the pain of her family's past (and present).
A Little Cloud - Sad but very realistic, I felt for Little Chandler who feels he has failed himself, and then fails his family on top of it.
I've read and enjoyed a lot of Shakespeare's plays, but this was my first reading of King Lear. I found it to be a very odd play. The action, includinI've read and enjoyed a lot of Shakespeare's plays, but this was my first reading of King Lear. I found it to be a very odd play. The action, including numerous deaths, happens very quickly, and motives are not very clear at all. Why does King Lear demand his daughters publicly flatter him? Why does he repeatedly fly into rages so easily? Why is everyone so easy to manipulate? Unlike other Shakespeare plays, there is no clear motives for manipulation and mis-information hear and it's very difficult to make sense of why plots (such as Edmund's against his brother) are effective. Some characters, including Lear, even seem to die spontaneously. It was all very odd. Not difficult to follow, but difficult to accept or delve deeply into.
Themes: play, war, family, pride, jealousy, greed, secrets, rage, madness, poor decision making skills, moral murkiness...more
ALERT: If you aren't familiar with the plot of King Lear, there may be slight spoilers below.
My complaint about Shakespeare's King Lear was that motiALERT: If you aren't familiar with the plot of King Lear, there may be slight spoilers below.
My complaint about Shakespeare's King Lear was that motives were completely unclear. There was little indication for how Goneril and Regan became so villainous, and also little explanation for Lear's erratic decision-making that causes him to continuously make things worse.
In A Thousand Acres, Smiley fully solves one of these problems. In her version, the sisters Ginny and Rose are very depthful creations, with histories and personalities that make their actions and decisions mostly easy to understand (with the possible exception of Ginny's attempt to poison Rose). She endows these women with the complex histories they deserve to have made clear.
That said, Smiley doesn't do the same with Larry (the Lear father figure). His motives are not clear at all, and he becomes the extreme villain that the sisters are in Shakespeare's play. Particularly when his history of abusing his daughters comes out, he becomes a flat character whose uncontrollable urges have led him to madness. I don't demand that he inspire reader sympathy or anything, but it would have been nice for him to be more well-rounded.
Very early in the novel, Jess Clark (the Edmund character) says to Ginny: "Anyway, I always think that things have to happen the way they do happen, that there are so many inner and outer forces joining at every event that it becomes a kind of fate."
I felt exactly this way throughout my reading of the novel. First, because I already knew the story of King Lear, I knew that certain events would have to happen and that the story would end in tragedy, no matter what. But moreso than this, the reader is able to see many of these 'inner and outer forces' and so has to watch hopelessly as the characters are deal with the constant aftermath of decisions made or words spoken without any clear sense of how they got to that place. Everything happens so quickly and comes out of nowhere so it seems to be fate, though all of it is dependent on conscious and often unconscious feelings and decisions. Things that didn't have to be, up to and including the transfer of the farm and Ginny's miscarriages, seem very much like they had to be.
Overall, I was really impressed with how well Smiley manages the monumental task she set for herself: reinterpreting Shakespeare. I was also glued to the story from the start; it was very engaging and caused plenty of emotional turmoil. I found myself partway between Rose's selfish, angry perspective and Ginny's giving, forgetting and harmony-at-all-costs perspective. Part of the tragedy of the story (and of rural farm family life according to the novel) is that Rose and Ginny never release enough of their secrets and communicate enough to learn these perspectives from each other.