This book tells the story of Daniel Sempere, the son of a rare book dealer who one day stumbles upon a mysterious book by a mysterious author called J...moreThis book tells the story of Daniel Sempere, the son of a rare book dealer who one day stumbles upon a mysterious book by a mysterious author called Julián Carax. Daniel tries to find out more of Carax’s work and discovers that almost all Carax’s novels are being systematically destroyed by a shadowy figure who refers to himself by the name of one of Carax’s characters. Thus is a mystery launched, as Daniel attempts to unravel Carax’s secrets and figure out why his novels are being burned.
I liked The Shadow of the Wind, but it wasn’t exactly the suspenseful read that the first few chapters led me to expect. The mystery moves forward in fits and starts; the book is like some overstuffed Gothic horror of a house—the literary equivalent of the Bates mansion, perhaps—and Zafón sometimes seems to get distracted within his own creation, dropping the story of Julián Carax to spend time with another one of his creations, or just to look around and describe what he sees. There is a lot of back and forth between the past and the present as well, and the loose organization of this can sometimes make it seem like Zafón is just making it up as he goes along, without any real plan for getting to the end.
Interestingly, underneath all the mystery and secrets and Gothic detail, The Shadow of the Wind seems mainly to be a book about the mistakes people make in their own lives and the lives of others, particularly about the mistakes that well-intentioned people make: misreading each other, remaining still when they should act, acting when they should remain still, failing to communicate, keeping secrets too long or revealing them to the wrong people. The narrative is littered with these mistakes; we see them compounding each other and rippling through time as events in Carax’s life slowly spiral downward. There’s a nice sense of inevitability to the book’s dramatic conclusion. Although it’s not terribly realistic, I felt that everything had to end as it did.
Perhaps the best thing about The Shadow of the Wind is its use of setting. Zafón has picked a rich setting for himself—Barcelona in the ’40s and ’50s, just after the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War—and he does a great job of evoking the city, the mood of the time, the architecture, etc.
I read the book in a translation by Lucia Graves. I don’t know whether I should blame Graves or Zafón, but the quality of prose in this book wasn’t that hot. I suspect that the occasional lapses into the purple are Zafón’s responsibility, and those actually work with the subject matter, but there are also some seriously cheesy/clunky sentences that I suspect are the result of clumsily translated idioms. I don’t think there’s another English translation out there, but if you’re thinking about reading this book and you happen to be fluent in Spanish, it might be worth trying it in the original.(less)
I read the first half of this book in a tremendous rush, totally engrossed by the story and both horrified and fascinated by Holman's depiction of the...moreI read the first half of this book in a tremendous rush, totally engrossed by the story and both horrified and fascinated by Holman's depiction of the cholera epidemic of 1831. I'm not sure exactly what happened in the second half of the book, but somehow the spell was broken. Holman (inconsistently) employs a fair amount of narrative trickery that didn't seem to add much to the book, and the lack of subtlety became frustrating after a while. I've recently read several books set in the drawing rooms of the Victorian upper classes, so it was fascinating to get a look at the other side of life at that time--disease, prostitution, foul living conditions, crushing poverty, social unrest--but it's unfortunate that Holman's book wasn't as good as it could have been. Still, there are powerful images in The Dress Lodger, particularly of the toxicity that seems to lie in wait in every part of the book... Also, cholera is no joke. I didn't know very much about the disease before reading this book, but it is not to be taken lightly! I was amazed to learn about the way cholera swept over Europe in waves throughout the 19th century, and the way a person who is infected with it can go from perfectly healthy to dead in a matter of hours.
All in all, the book is a decent, mostly engaging read. The prose is a bit heavy-handed at times and is weighed down by Holman's odd narratological choices. Holman's ambition seems to be greater than her talent, but the book is worth reading nonetheless.(less)
This is the first of Narayan's novels that I've read, and I was bothered by it in the same way I'm always bothered by stories that sacrifice psycholog...moreThis is the first of Narayan's novels that I've read, and I was bothered by it in the same way I'm always bothered by stories that sacrifice psychological verisimilitude for the sake of plot. Raju, the main character, begins the book as an unethical, opportunistic, but essentially likable fellow; as the story goes on he transforms first into a money-grubbing, misogynistic, self-serving asshole, and then into some semblance of a holy man. I don't have a problem with characters undergoing changes, but none of these changes felt organic to Raju's development, and they foiled my attempts to connect with the book on an emotional level. I will say, however, that the final image of Raju collapsing while he feels the river rising around his legs is poignant, enduring, and powerfully drawn.(less)
I will confess that I was intimidated by this book, having read only isolated bits of Stein and having heard much about her difficulty. So I was surpr...moreI will confess that I was intimidated by this book, having read only isolated bits of Stein and having heard much about her difficulty. So I was surprised to find this book so readable, and so downright funny in places. It's an odd sort of memoir, skating along across the surface of Stein's and Toklas's life together and almost never delving into any sort of interiority or emotional depth, but it's full of clever lines and sharp little portraits of all the writers and artists that they knew in Paris before and after WWI, and if you read between the lines even a little, there's this great, subtle sense of the long intimacy between Stein and Toklas. What a project, to adopt someone else's voice like that! While reading it, I sometimes got the sense that it was all just a big shared joke between the two of them, and Gertrude and Alice were still off somewhere sitting together and chuckling over it all.(less)
This book is sadly underrated among Updike's oeuvre. I think it's his best literary accomplishment. The Centaur is both a distorted, modernized retell...moreThis book is sadly underrated among Updike's oeuvre. I think it's his best literary accomplishment. The Centaur is both a distorted, modernized retelling of the myth of Chiron and a moving story of a father and son. The prose is dense and rich, heavy with classical illusion; this isn't the easiest read, but it's worth the work. Updike's erudition and his gorgeous way with a sentence are on display here to a degree unmatched by any of his other work.(less)
The book contains three novellas, one of which is quite good. The other two, unfortunately, are not. The middle novella of the three, "Jealous" (a seq...moreThe book contains three novellas, one of which is quite good. The other two, unfortunately, are not. The middle novella of the three, "Jealous" (a sequel of sorts to Ford's short story "Great Falls"), worked very well. It's a dark and lonely story, and Ford wraps the action in wonderfully bleak and atmospheric prose. The other two novellas left me cold. Both "The Womanizer" and "Occidentals" are stories of Americans in Paris, and both of the Americans are self-absorbed, middle-aged, white men who spend lots of time feeling sorry for themselves. Ford is, to some degree, satirizing these characters, but even that didn't make the novellas interesting. "Self-absorbed, middle-aged white men are boring and self-absorbed? You don't say!"(less)
This is one of those books that makes me wish it were possible to use half-stars in rating it. It's a very uneven collection--certainly not a four-sta...moreThis is one of those books that makes me wish it were possible to use half-stars in rating it. It's a very uneven collection--certainly not a four-star book--but the best stories in it are good enough that three stars seems a bit paltry. Byatt's command of language is, as always, excellent, and I can only admire the way she seems to ignore all rules about story-making and to write only to please herself and work out her own ideas about fiction. The narrators of these stories are almost all intensely self-conscious; sometimes this self-consciousness works, but in other stories it's tedious. (less)
This collection seems like a great way to get introduced to Gordimer's work. It contains almost 40 short stories from throughout her career, all of th...moreThis collection seems like a great way to get introduced to Gordimer's work. It contains almost 40 short stories from throughout her career, all of them remarkably competent, some of them brilliant. Aside from her consistency, the thing that impressed me most about Gordimer's work was her absolute refusal to simplify or to accept easy answers to moral questions. Favorite stories include: "Friday's Footprint," "Livingstone's Companions," "Town and Country Lovers," "The Ultimate Safari," and the novella "Something Out There." (less)
Set in Chicago in the 1920s, The Folded Leaf tells the story of an intense friendship between two boys, Lymie Peters and Spud Latham. If I tell you th...moreSet in Chicago in the 1920s, The Folded Leaf tells the story of an intense friendship between two boys, Lymie Peters and Spud Latham. If I tell you that the boys are opposites--Lymie studious and gangly, Spud possessed of all the popularity and physical beauty that Lymie knows he will never have--and if I tell you that the novel follows them to college, where they live together in a boarding house until Spud falls in love with a girl and joins a fraternity--if I tell you all of this, you may imagine a broad, unsubtle story, full of stereotypical characters and situations. I don't know how to write a synopsis that would do justice to the tenderness and deep insight that Maxwell brings to his novel. It would be so easy, for instance, to view Lymie's continuing devotion to Spud, even while Spud pulls farther and farther away from him, as pathetic. But Maxwell won't let us get away with that--he makes us see Lymie's feelings as complex, evolving, and painful.
The book was published in 1945, and it's heavier on narration than is currently fashionable, but that didn't bother me. It reminded me of Winesburg, Ohio and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in the way it seeks out the things that are weird and secret in everyone, even the peripheral characters. But what I loved most was Maxwell's willingness to let his story dwell in ambiguity. He doesn't feel the need to define Spud and Lymie's feelings for each other as friendship, love, or sexual attraction--he allows them to exist as a complicated mixture of all three. There is one frankly erotic fight scene between Spud and a stranger in a park, and a great deal of physical intimacy between Spud and Lymie (they share a bed in their boarding house, for instance), but Maxwell never feels the need to declare whether the boys are gay or straight.
Near the end, the novel undergoes a slight shift toward melodrama that is perhaps unnecessary, but all in all it is a lovely, compassionate, and beautifully written book.(less)
I don't really know what to make of this book, or even how to describe it. The book grew out of the famous poetry class that June Jordan taught at Ber...moreI don't really know what to make of this book, or even how to describe it. The book grew out of the famous poetry class that June Jordan taught at Berkeley for many years, and it's something of a hodge podge. The book is essentially a compilation of materials for and by the class: student writings (both poetry and personal reflections), a sample syllabus, lists of classroom ground rules, tips for staging readings, etc. The book came out in the early nineties, and often feels a bit dated in some of its earnest political correctness and focus on identity politics. But June Jordan was an incredibly impressive poet and activist, and the book is definitely imbued with her sense of poetry as a real tool for change. It's an interesting book, I'm just not sure how useful it is unless you happen to be trying to initiate your own version of the Poetry for the People course.(less)
This is a real mixed bag. There's some great writing in this anthology, but there's also plenty that isn't so great. Nonetheless, it provides a fairly...moreThis is a real mixed bag. There's some great writing in this anthology, but there's also plenty that isn't so great. Nonetheless, it provides a fairly comprehensive overview of Indian writers in English and it's a good way to find out which of those authors you might like to read more of and which you'd rather avoid.(less)
I am sympathetic to some of Hesse's themes, but could not stomach the endlessly hectoring and didactic way in which they are presented. This is the no...moreI am sympathetic to some of Hesse's themes, but could not stomach the endlessly hectoring and didactic way in which they are presented. This is the novel not as a vehicle for story or character or emotion or insight, but rather as an instrument for making a point. And a blunt instrument at that.(less)