Sensual prose telling the story of a man who travels to Japan, then an exotic land, to purchase and smuggle silkwor...moreCompelling, sparse, and beautiful.
Sensual prose telling the story of a man who travels to Japan, then an exotic land, to purchase and smuggle silkworm for his village. There, he enters the house of a local nobleman sitting on the floor with nothing around but the still and obedient body of a woman "her head resting on his lap, eyes closed, arms hidden under a loose red robe that spread around her, like a flame". Herve sits opposite the man and, without noticing, lowers his gaze to hers. And begins a journey of yearning, of being pulled by a force invisible but undeniable. It complicates Herve, it becomes his obsession; this woman who does not speak.
Barrico's voice is deep and lulling. He places these two characters worlds apart even when they are standing in front of each other. We can feel the vast and empty abyss between them, the impossibility of their fate and desire. Yet we feel the force, too. The incomprehensible force that draws them to each other. We feel their desire almost make our own skin tremble. He makes a look of the eyes the most delicate and powerful thing.
There is a scene when Herve, on his final chance of seeing her, is kneeling on the ground. He knows she is in the litter passing right behind him. We feel Herve closing his eyes and imagining her, inside the litter, seeing him, knowing that he came and that he is there. We can feel him closing his eyes and concentrating because he knows he cannot turn around. If he cannot see her, he will feel her. And we feel him feeling their electricity running through him, the connection between them coming to life as they cross paths for the last time. We feel him saying good bye, him on his knees on the ground with his back to her, and her feeling him from inside the walls of her litter.
And then on the other side of the world, is Helene. His loving and dutiful wife with the most beautiful voice in the world.
A story of love -- in its most obsessive and forbidden nature, raw and erotic, vague and mystifying, and in its most logical quality, faithful and selfless, patient and kind. (less)
I understand now why Laurie Halse Anderson is one of those writers readers never fail to keep track off. I read Speak several years ago and remember f...moreI understand now why Laurie Halse Anderson is one of those writers readers never fail to keep track off. I read Speak several years ago and remember feeling how it stood stark naked amongst other books I had read before it. Anderson’s writing is poetic yet so daringly outspoken that you can’t help but stop and listen.
Anderson is famous (or infamous) for tackling varying degrees of heavy subjects. This may be her most ambitiously profound yet. It’s about Hayley Kincain. Daughter of Andy Kincain. Step-daughter of Trish. Homeschool-ed, truck-driving, cross-country traveling, socially-inept yet bad ass Hayley Kincain. Hayley enters her senior year in an actual school for the first time in her life. She and her father move into his childhood home, where she spent her early years living with Gramma. After her death, Hayley spent the next years criss-crossing the country as map navigator to her truck-driving father. An ex-soldier. A PTSD victim.
Anderson confronts a very serious, very difficult and harrowing issue and she shies from almost nothing. Hayley’s father was deployed to Iraq during the war and through a series of flashbacks, we are taken back to glimpse at snippets of his traumatic experience. Each flash of memory worsening and worsening until we need to put the book down, for a bit, to breathe because we realize again and again how much men and women are asked to bear when we send them to battle. They are lost and sacrificed almost before they ever even land on whatever unfamiliar soil they are assigned to…to what? To conquer? To fix? To help? All of the above?
Andy Kincain has seen unimaginable horrors. Death from all angles. Death in front of his eyes. Death as a slow, crawling comprehension of a very grave mistake. His soul is lashed with every breath he takes from another, with every breath he loses for himself. PTSD is unceasing and Andy is always falling. His condition is reflected on his daughter. Her fight-or-flight tendency, her crass sarcasms, her tendency to categorize people and situations between threat and action. She is smart and she has survival tactics.
Hayley isn’t perfect. I never expected her to be, mind, but in all honesty, even I sometimes wondered why a totally adorkable math joke-throwing, swim team hero was getting himself worked up over her. Sometimes. Because she’d do that thing where she’s so trying to be a stone cold freak but her heart is melting and then ours is too and we’re all gushing over Finn. Because he’s cute.
Off topic. The thing that impressed me most with her was how unflaggingly devoted she is with caring for her dad. Begging him to get help. Forgiving him his lapses. Wanting him to drink himself into unconsciousness so she can rest even for a night. Begging him again in the morning. She barks and she bites. No judgmental hand will lay a finger on her father.
Because he isn’t just her father. He is her only family. You can smell desperation on her. You can smell the blood and tears as she clings on whatever is left of him. Anderson maneuvers her readers through scenes of violence and affection between father and daughter, each meaning to tighten the bond between reader and character and it works. We find ourselves praying and angry, frustrated and giving up.
This is a close dissection of a broken man. A man of war who cannot live with his sins…or achievements, depending on which angle you’re looking from. A man with post-traumatic stress disorder. A soldier left to himself; a soldier seemingly abandoned with no means to heal; seemingly abandoned by the organization who took enough responsibility to send him there but not enough when he returned. And a story of the daughter who carries his bones, desperately putting him back together.
I'm sure you've seen this cover making its round in the book community. Even I find it quite catching, and I've been known to criticize a YA cover onc...moreI'm sure you've seen this cover making its round in the book community. Even I find it quite catching, and I've been known to criticize a YA cover once or twice...or most-times. But that's beside the point. What I want to say is that I think Sharon Biggs Waller's A Mad, Wicked Folly deserves popularity.
Because, truly, if one's decision whether or not to read a book is based on synopsis alone this book would've been discarded easily. The premise promises drama and opulence to some, monotony and exasperation to others. It promises nothing more than what we've all read before: a girl trying to defy her circumstances, a girl with morals, goals, and personality. But they're always a let down. Not here. Not Victoria Darling. Not Sharon Biggs Waller.
A Mad, Wicked Folly is a historical young adult fiction that does its job; it entertains while imparting knowledge. Victoria introduces us to art, Pre-Raphaelite art in particular. Through her artist's eyes, she shows us the beauty and technique in painting. She shows us how to look at a painting. That right there, I haven't felt from a YA book in a long time.
Take A Mermaid, for example. An iridescent painting by John William Waterhouse. A familiar painting to myself but with Victoria, I learned where to look, how to look and what to make of what I saw. I found myself googling the painting, zooming in and out of focus trying to see what she felt. If that's not compelling writing, I don't know what is. The passion is there, coursing through the author into her character and into the reader.
Another fascination of Waller's is history. This novel is set at the turn of the 20th century. England. Now, if you watch Downton Abbey, you'll know all about the remarkable changes occurring during this period. If not -- why aren't you? It's astonishing that women's suffrage (just another way to mean women's right to vote) has only been around for a century or so. Literally just a couple of blocks down the timeline and women of then were so unjustifiably limited. There was already a subway station for crying out loud!
Victoria is originally mixed in with a group of suffragettes, a huge misunderstanding. She wants to focus on art, not politics. But as she tries harder and harder to make her artistic dream come true, the more she bumps into strictures. And more and more, her creative aims are tied tighter with those of the female protesters. Victoria slowly realizes how all the suffocations of life have been because of her sex. How freedom in one area of life is not enough. How it must be freedom in whole.
Victoria is illustrated as passionate, ambitious and determined. I'm glad to say she stays that way. She is not swayed easily, distracted often. Her focus is straight and unrelenting. More importantly, she never forgets herself. Not in a selfish, self-absorbed way. But in the way of never losing one's identity and aspirations.
There are other things, like, oh, romance. Of course, there is. And it's nice. The love interest is a dish. The relationship is believable; it develops in a timely fashion; and there is a genuine connection. Victoria makes friends with the suffragettes who are based on real people and some of them sparkle.
The writing is wonderful. It uses dialogue extremely well; relying on the characters to tell the story rather than the author scrawling endless descriptions which readers are made to swallow. Characters have personality! I rarely laugh out loud but there were some very funny quips that made me actually LOL.
A negative? Well, maybe because this book does take on some heavy issues, it did sometimes border on preachy; a little too repetitive. But that's a faint negative. Also some weird phrasing; some sentences sounding off. Again, small complaint. The ending? While, I did find it a tiny bit preposterous -- a little hard to believe -- I appreciated it. It was brave in more ways than one.
If only all YA books were this easy to read and review. Sharon Biggs Waller's A Mad, Wicked Folly is a wonderful treat. Pretty on the outside, beautiful on the inside. Likeable characters, good plot. Respect is given to history. This is an ode to art and justice.
This review also appears on The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.