I absolutely loved this book as a kid. I must have read it 20 times. I know it's not historically accurate, predictable, and not exactly great literat...moreI absolutely loved this book as a kid. I must have read it 20 times. I know it's not historically accurate, predictable, and not exactly great literature, but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for it. It made me feel brave and adventurous, and that certainly counts for something. (less)
Do you ever wonder about why people choose to read the books they do? Well, I can tell you, I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel because it won the Book...moreDo you ever wonder about why people choose to read the books they do? Well, I can tell you, I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel because it won the Book Prize For Fiction in 2009. You see, The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt was nominated for the Booker in 2009, but did not win. Curious to see what book could beat one of my favorite books of all time, I looked up Wolf Hall. And what do you know, it's another piece of historical fiction set in England and written by a woman. This could be interesting! I was intrigued, so I picked it up from the bookstore, determined to see if it was really better than The Children's Book.
Well, dear readers, I am sorry to say that it was not. I had such hopes for this book. It is set during the time of King Henry VIII, whom we all know was an interesting character in English history. The main character and narrator of the book is Thomas Cromwell, about whom there has been much speculation. Other main characters include Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, and Queen Katherine. I went into this book expecting the best, but I was sorely let down on every front. Wolf Hall was an exercise in disappointment.
First of all, I have to say that the writing was of a fine literary quality. I have no doubts that Hilary Mantel has a strong grasp of the English language, which is not something I can say about some authors I've read. Her only stylistic flaw was the tendency to put little artsy cliffhangers at the end of each section. I got the feeling that she didn't want to end a section without putting something that sounded either meaningful, artistic, or foreboding. While that can be a good technique when used sparingly, it came off feeling very contrived to me, like she was trying a little too hard. By the time I got to the middle of the book, which is a good 600 pages long, I was over it.
The main problem with this book was its lack of both character development and plot. First, the plot. I got to the end of the book not really sure what the point was. Quite frankly, I was expecting there to be more pages, because I didn't feel like the book had gone anywhere or come to any kind of conclusion yet. That is not a feeling I like. There was no climax, no conclusive event, nothing that tied together all the disparate happenings throughout the book. I felt like I was reading a series of events rather than a novel.
That would have been fine with me, had the characters made up for it. I don't need a plot-driven book if there is enough character development to make it character-driven. Sadly, this book fails on all fronts when it comes to characters. Our narrator, Thomas Cromwell, is so nebulous that he almost doesn't have a character to develop. His defining traits consist of a willingness to please the people he works for, a gift for business and diplomacy, and a tendency to treat his underlings well. That's what we start with at the beginning of the book, and that's what we're left with at the end. I had trouble believing he had aged at all throughout the course of the novel simply because he changed so little. Sadly, all the characters in the book are relatively similar to him, if not in character traits, than in voice. Though they are described as being very different, I had trouble distinguishing between characters. While their political leanings may have been different, there was hardly a difference between the voices of Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, or any other character. Mantel should take note that dialogue without tags or quotation marks (which is a device I actually like when used correctly) only works if the characters are distinct enough not to need them. Sadly, this was not the case in Wolf Hall.
There were a few things I liked about this book. Like I said, the writing itself was not bad, which is always a positive thing. I enjoyed that Mantel gave a fresh perspective on some very tired historical figures. I can't tell you how many saintly depictions of Thomas More I've read in my day, so it was nice to see him in a different (read: heartless and heretic-burning) light. Still, this book was mostly a let-down. It wasn't terrible enough for me to hate it, but rather squarely mediocre in every category. In my opinion, Wolf Hall should not have beat The Children's Book for the Booker prize, and I do not recommend it.
No character development, very little plot, mediocre overall. Not recommended.(less)
The first thing I have to tell you is that this is not an easy review to write. How does one review an 675 page book in just a few paragraphs? But the...moreThe first thing I have to tell you is that this is not an easy review to write. How does one review an 675 page book in just a few paragraphs? But then how does an author manage to fit the whole world into just 675 pages? I honestly don't know, but if A.S. Byatt can do the latter, I can definitely attempt the former, though I fear I may ramble a bit.
This is usually the part of the review where I'd tell you what The Children's Book is about. the summary GoodReads gives you up at the top of the page is interesting, but it doesn't really tell you what the book is about. This book is not one of those books where there is a terrible secret that, when found out, changes everyone's lives forever. No, this book is much more complex, much more real, than that.
What is this book about? - It is about a family. It is about what family means, what motherhood means, what brother and sister and husband and wife mean, and what those relationships require from you. - It is about politics, from banking systems to anarchy to socialism, and how they affect the lives of the rich and the poor. - It is about art, about literature and pottery and painting and music and drama and all the different intersections of these things. It is about artistic movements, about aesthetic principles, about what it means to truly have talent. - It is about love, and all the different ways it is found and kept, the ways that it is honored or forgotten or missed along the way. - It is about scholarship, and what it means to be educated. It is about the fight between living in academia and living in the real world. It is about the desire to think real thoughts, and the consequences of that desire. - It is about the lives of women, and the choices that were often made between having a career and having a family. It is about what makes someone 'marriageable' and what makes them happy, and how those things often disagree. It is about the fight for suffrage and the multitude of different ways that women can find happiness. - It is about sex and sexual desire, it's many different forms and functions, love and loyalty, fun and exploration, mistakes and betrayal. - It is about war, and all of the stupid pointless waste that goes along with it. It is about the lack of glory found in fighting, about the mud and the gore and the pain of dying alone. - It is about perseverance, and about carrying on after pain and loss. It is about love in all its real and honest power. It is about steadiness, about sacrifice, about pain, and above all about the hope that comes afterward. - Most of all, this book is about life, in all its forms, with all its twists and turns, from the moment of birth until your final breath.
The Children's Book is, in short, about everything. When I started this book, I was amazed at the sheer number of characters. I even made a chart to keep track of them. I drew family trees with lines connecting friends and lovers. By the time I got to the end, my tree was all but forgotten. I was taken wholly into the world that Byatt described. I knew these people, had known them for decades. I didn't want to give this book back to the library, for fear of losing them. When I finished this book, I considered turning right back to the beginning and reading it all over again. I know that, no matter how many times I read it, I will never have taken in everything this book has to offer. That is, to me, the sign of a great book.
When Griet's father has a crippling accident that prevents him from working, her parents hire her out as a maid to the famous Dutch painter Johannes V...moreWhen Griet's father has a crippling accident that prevents him from working, her parents hire her out as a maid to the famous Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. From her position as maid she sees, and contributes to, the domestic tensions of the household as she tries to skirt the fragile temper of Vermeer's wife, who becomes more jealous as Griet is given more tasks in her husband's painting studio. Griet becomes closer to the striking painter as time goes by. She goes from just cleaning the studio to assisting him in preparing his paints, and eventually sits to be painted, becoming the subject of one of his most famous paintings, The Girl With the Pearl Earring.
Wow, that synopsis sounds pretty good, doesn't it? It almost makes you want to go down to the library and pick it up. Well, don't waste your time. Girl With a Pearl Earring was disappointing in every category. Though it was a light and easy read that I finished in about a day, I still felt like I wasted my time reading this book.
First of all, let's start with the main character, Griet. I'm not even sure if I should call her a main character really, because she has almost no personality except for a few trite and overdone traits that are supposed to make her seem strong or moral, but just make her come off as a stuck up brat. She makes a big deal of not letting anybody see her hair, saying that she's not the kind of girl who "lets her hair down," meaning that she isn't a prostitute. She then goes on to mention that the style of the time was to have the hair only partially covered or put up in a bun. So does she really need to make such a big deal (and she does make a really big deal) out of keeping her hair tucked away so safely? No, she doesn't, and by doing so she shows herself to be a pretentious goody two-shoes who thinks that she's more pure or whatever than everybody else. If this is the author trying to give Griet a will of her own, it's a very poor way of doing it. Her hair and her strange obsession with her employer (who never gets a personality besides liking peace and quiet and having gray eyes), are her only defining characteristics, and that makes it really hard to empathize with her in any way. The overly dry and observational writing style doesn't help much either. Now go and apply that to every single character, good guy and bad guy alike, and you'll begin to see why I consider this book so over-rated.
So the characters aren't very good. Maybe it's a plot-driven book? Sadly, no. If there is a plot in this book, it would probably be the build up to Griet being painted. Or maybe it's the relationship between Vermeer and Griet. Or maybe it's the relationship between Griet and the butcher's son. Well, the answer is that it's all of those and none of them at the same time. Chevalier has enough material for there to be a really deep and interesting plot, but she never fully develops any of them, so it just ends up being a meaningless, directionless story told from the perspective of a disinterested narrator. Even the point that should be the climax of the story, when Vermeer finally paints Griet, seems somehow lifeless and meaningless.
Ok, so it's not plot driven or character driven, but maybe it has a great setting? It is historical fiction after all. The answer is yet again no. The setting should, in my opinion, be the highlight of historical fiction, and yet I had to go back and look at a summary of the book to tell you where and in what time it took place (seventeenth century Netherlands). That is never a good sign. Griet describes her surroundings a couple of times, mostly a bridge over a canal and a big church, but other than that this could have been set in almost any time or place. While the characters make a big deal out of women not having children out of wedlock and of maids being respectful to their employers, I feel like those are things that are true of most times, and don't really serve to give a good sense of place. In fact, for a book about a painter, most of the descriptions were very bland. She spends time grinding colors for Vermeer, but while she says that they are beautiful, I was never once captivated by a single description of either a color or a painting.
Now, while the plot, characters, and descriptions may have been bad, there have been many books that were saved by a good message and a good ending. Sadly, this book is not one of them. I'm not really even sure what the point of the book was supposed to be. The ending was very rushed, and though I could tell that the author was trying to be profound, the whole thing just came off as trite and meaningless. I love cheesy books as much as anyone, but this one wasn't even cheesy. It was just awkward, because I could tell that the author wanted to be meaningful, but just couldn't figure out how to do it.
I love art, and realism like Vermeer's is one of my favorite styles of painting. This novel had so much potential to be decadently descriptive and rivetingly beautiful, but none of that potential was ever realized. This book was simply one big disappointment. I was planning to read another of Chevalier's books, Remarkable Creatures, but after reading this I don't know if I really want to read anything else by this author. What a shame.
I had mixed feelings about Remarkable Creatures going into it. On one hand, I'd heard lots of good reviews from many wond...moreI could not finish this book.
I had mixed feelings about Remarkable Creatures going into it. On one hand, I'd heard lots of good reviews from many wonderful book bloggers, and I've always been interested in Mary Anning. On the other hand, the other book I'd read by Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring, was incredibly boring, simplistic, and sometimes downright bad. I was hoping that the interesting character she had to base her story on would help make this one more exciting. Sadly, that wasn't the case. I got a ways into this one. Fossils had been discovered by the time I left, and yet I still didn't feel like anything was happening. The character development was non-existent and the plot was crawling. There were parts where I knew Chevalier intended to be meaningful or deep, but they just came off as contrived or cheesy, like something somebody would write rather than something somebody would actually think or say. With this book being as much of a failure as the last, I have officially given up on Tracy Chevalier.
Been Here a Thousand Years is the story of the Falcone family. Starting on the day that Don Francesco Falcone's first and only son is born, it follows...moreBeen Here a Thousand Years is the story of the Falcone family. Starting on the day that Don Francesco Falcone's first and only son is born, it follows the next five generations of the Falcone family and Italian history through two world wars and the modernization that follows. What a great setup for a book! Beautiful Italian country landscapes, good food, and the relationships between people and their history. What could go wrong?
The answer is, quite frankly, a lot. The story is told through a series of vignettes, each chapter telling the story of a different member of the family, usually female. But somehow, what could have been a meaningful commentary on family, history, the changing tide of time and the things that stay the same across the years, this book just sounds like some old lady rambling on about their family, becoming less and less coherent as she goes, before they eventually nod off to sleep and their grandchildren finally escape to go play outside. This book wasn't terrible, it was just boring. None of the characters were well-developed enough for me to actually care about them. Not only that, but all of their names sounded the same, so they were very easy to confuse, especially considering that they were all related and were all basically the same person plus or minus a character trait or two. None of them did anything really meaningful or were worth caring about in pretty much any way. Reading about them wasn't torturous by any means, but it didn't exactly help me stay awake either.
Another thing that bothered me about this book was the foreshadowing. It was absolutely terrible. You would be reading along, and then she'd say "Later on, (insert thing here) would happen." And then, twenty pages or so down the way, it would. Foreshadowing should never be that obvious. Ever. Not only did it completely ruin the momentum of the book, but it got really old after awhile. Does every even really need to end with that sentence? I think not.
This book had so much potential, but it never quite made it to where it should have. It had a laid back, melancholy style, but without character or plot development that style quickly changed from melancholy and detached to just plain boring. The characters were just a wash of mediocre people, one after the other, with nothing, not even their names, to distinguish them from the others. I kept waiting for this book to reach some profound conclusion, to tie everything together, to actually mean something, but it never did. In the end, we are left with nothing, caring no more for the characters than we did when we first started. As much as I wish I could, I cannot recommend this book to anyone.(less)
The summary of this book sounds exciting doesn't it? It definitely get me interested. Sadly, the book is not nearly as exciting as the blurb on the ba...moreThe summary of this book sounds exciting doesn't it? It definitely get me interested. Sadly, the book is not nearly as exciting as the blurb on the back cover. This is yet another book that tries very hard to be deep or meaningful and just comes across sounding contrived. Some of the sentences in this book are truly groan-worthy, and most of the deep revelations (night is like death, having your heart stolen is painful, war is not good) are not really profound so much as they are obvious and trite. The characters are flat and unlikeable, the plot is mostly uneventful, and the magical realism fails to satisfy. While it is by no means the worst book I've ever read, I really had to make myself finish it, and I found myself skimming over paragraphs just to get to the end. Overall, I would say that this book tries to do a lot of things, and never really succeeds in doing any of them. I would not recommend this book.
I just finished Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple, and I found it surprisingly enjoyable. Of course, after reading her book of essays, In Search o...moreI just finished Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple, and I found it surprisingly enjoyable. Of course, after reading her book of essays, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, I was expecting it to be good. I just wasn't expecting it to be good in the way that it was. When I read the blurb on the back and saw that it dealt with sexual assault, abuse, and poverty, I was prepared for a dark and depressing book like Toni Morrison's Beloved, which is difficult but well worth the effort. What I got was a book that was just as meaningful as Beloved, but perfectly accessible and enjoyable to read.
I think what made the book so good was the writing style and the main character. The writing was kept light and genuine. It used dialect, but it was never hard to understand like some books that use dialect can be. The reading was always easy and never a chore. I finished the book in less than two days. But the easy reading wasn't because the book was light in subject matter, but rather because the book was so well written that reading it was simply a pleasure.
I also think the easiness of the reading came from the main character, Celie. She was just so likeable that I honestly wanted to read about her. She was genuine, sweet, strong, and honest, even when she made mistakes. Even when she was still submissive to her abusive husband, I loved her, felt for her, and thought she was incredibly strong. She had a way of getting through things and living that I found really admirable. Despite all the bad things that happened to her, she still had room in her heart to love, and to love completely and truly at that. Celie is a great character, and Walker did a great job of showing how an uneducated poor black woman is absolutely a complete and interesting person with a compelling story and a rich inner life.
After hearing so many stories about this book being banned from schools for various things from sexual content to lesbian themes, I was pleasantly surprised at how simple, accessible, and hopeful this book was. I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want teens to read it. I sure wish I had read it back then. I really enjoyed The Color Purple, and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for an easy read that isn't fluffy or forgettable. (less)