I found Bazarov so utterly insufferable in the first hundred pages that it was impossible to care about anything that happened to him in the second huI found Bazarov so utterly insufferable in the first hundred pages that it was impossible to care about anything that happened to him in the second hundred.
Also, I think I was spoiled by reading the fantastic Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of Anna Karnenina a few months ago. George Reavey's translation here seemed clunky and awkward in comparison, and I really missed the informative annotations....more
What a mess! Prose so self-consciously "lush" as to be ridiculous, characters both unbelievable and uninteresting, stories utterly predictable in theWhat a mess! Prose so self-consciously "lush" as to be ridiculous, characters both unbelievable and uninteresting, stories utterly predictable in the most irritating possible way--by which I mean that if you think to yourself, "What is the most irritating development that could possible come next in this plot?" then that is almost guaranteed to be the thing that happens next. ...more
Some of the essays in this collection were absolutely brilliant (my favorites: "Typical First Year Professor," "What We Hunger For," and "Tragedy. CalSome of the essays in this collection were absolutely brilliant (my favorites: "Typical First Year Professor," "What We Hunger For," and "Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response."), but many others left me wanting a bit more. A bit more rigor, a bit more depth, more thorough research, more care spent on sentences. As is often the case, the best pieces simply showed me how much Gay is capable of, and made it more frustrating that she didn't always fulfill that potential. It's possible that some of the essays are harmed by context; if I encountered them in their original forms (which for many of them were as blog posts and articles on the internet) I might be more willing to accept their particular flaws. But when they are collected in a book like this, and published to the amount of fanfare that this book has received, I expect more. I feel a bit curmudgeonly being unsatisfied by this book when everyone else in the world seems to have loved it, but oh well! I've never read any of Gay's fiction--perhaps it would work better for me....more
The Night Watch begins in 1947, introducing us to four Londoners who are trying to recover from the Second World War. None of them fought, but each o The Night Watch begins in 1947, introducing us to four Londoners who are trying to recover from the Second World War. None of them fought, but each of them was scarred in their own way by their wartime experiences. We see them living in situations that are not right for them--isolated and alone, stuck in the wrong relationships, working the wrong job, mired in inertia. From this point, the book moves backwards rather than forwards, first to 1944 for a long middle section that shows us some of the events that brought the characters to the point where we met them in '47, and then very briefly to 1941, for a glimpse at the earliest beginnings of these situations and relationships.
The backwards chronology is the thing that most distinguishes this book from others and I found it really fascinating, but I'm not totally convinced that it worked. On a page-by-page basis, I really enjoyed reading the book and certain scenes were tremendously gripping, but the plot lacked momentum. Certain conclusions were foregone: when a character was in a life-threatening situation in 1944, I wasn't in suspense about whether she'd live--I'd already seen her going through her daily routine in 1947. The beginning of the book felt like a true beginning and I liked that about it; I wanted to follow the characters through those circumstances, to see if the little glimmers of hope that Waters gave to the characters in 1947 turned into meaningful changes to their circumstances, but instead I had to go backwards with the character to '44 and '41, and could only imagine for myself what might become of these characters in a forward-moving timeline. Usually I appreciate (sometimes even prefer!) open-ended conclusions to stories. Why did it feel so different when the open-ended conclusion came at the beginning? And would these stories have worked if they had been told in conventional chronology? I've turned the various plots around and around in my mind, but I still can't answer that question to my own satisfaction.
There is something fatalistic about these stories told back-to-front, everyone's outcome sealed by the time the story begins. Those first meetings that happen in '41, hopeful, flirtatious, or tender as they may be--well, we know already where they all lead. At points this makes the novel feel airless, depressing. But at other points it simply seems absolutely accurate and right. I've read a decent number of war novels, but I don't think I've ever read such a realistic and substantial portrayal of survivors in the aftermath of war, irrevocably changed by their experiences and doing the work of carrying on with their lives.
Waters's unconventional structure obviously occupied a lot of my thoughts about The Night Watch, but there are other things that are worth mentioning too. I thought it was absolutely tremendous as a work of historical fiction--perhaps the best Waters novel in that regard. Her depiction of day-to-day life on the home front during the late stages of the war is remarkably vivid and compelling. Really impressive. And she managed to write scenes that were so gripping that I stayed up later than I meant to reading them even though I already knew the outcome. That is also really impressive. There are some lovely bits of echoing and circularity facilitated by the structure. There is a tremendous portrayal of the community of butch women who drove ambulances through London during the Blitz. Really, there is a lot to like about this book. It won't replace Affinity at the top of my list of best Sarah Waters novels, nor will it knock Fingersmith from the top of my list of most fun Sarah Waters novels, but it was worth reading....more
A very uneven collection. There are some standout stories (the title story, "How Shall I Know You?" and "The Heart Fails Without Warning" were my favoA very uneven collection. There are some standout stories (the title story, "How Shall I Know You?" and "The Heart Fails Without Warning" were my favorites), but others felt underdeveloped and/or were marred by endings that were too pat. I appreciated Mantel's willingness to let her characters be odd or unpleasant, and to allow their idiosyncrasies to exist in ways that felt believable rather than self-consciously "quirky." Although I was sometimes frustrated by her prose style in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, in general I found it more interesting than the style in these stories....more
Terribly disappointing after The Bone People. In fact, these stories accomplished the worst possible thing: they made me doubt that The Bone People waTerribly disappointing after The Bone People. In fact, these stories accomplished the worst possible thing: they made me doubt that The Bone People was as good as I remembered it being....more
My least favorite of the Atwood novels I have read. Three adult women (all of whom are supposedly intelligent and have histories that, one would thinkMy least favorite of the Atwood novels I have read. Three adult women (all of whom are supposedly intelligent and have histories that, one would think, would have led them to develop a bit of backbone and resiliency) cower in fear of the woman who stole their men. Just listen to "Jolene" instead instead of reading this bloated book--it will take only three minutes, and you'll be able to enjoy Dolly Parton's gorgeous vocals at the same time....more