The degree of difficulty involved in writing Adeline must have been great. I can’t imagine how long Vincent spent reading bios about Woolf, her letterThe degree of difficulty involved in writing Adeline must have been great. I can’t imagine how long Vincent spent reading bios about Woolf, her letters and diaries. I’m deeply impressed by the breadth of scholarship involved. In her notes, she cites her sources, which are extensive, if not complete. Then again, a complete bibliography of books about Woolf is a life’s worth of reading, much less time spent interpreting all the facts, forming them into a work of fiction. Or “faction,” maybe. Has anyone used that term to refer to fiction disguised as fact? Let’s say they haven’t and that I’m breaking new ground. No one else will care but I like the thought I’ve CREATED SOMETHING, unlikely as it is.
[I won’t tell if you won’t. And I’m pretty sure you don’t care either way.]
What Vincent has done in Adeline (The title is Virginia Woolf’s actual first name. She went by her middle name.) is take Woolf’s life, novel by novel, breaking it into acts as if in a play. Starting in 1925 with her inspiration for To the Lighthouse, triggered by time spent soaking in the bath (I really don’t know if this is accurate), the author expands the story to include what was going on in Woolf’s life, and within her circle of friends, at the time she was writing each book. Vincent pays much attention to Virginia’s relationship with her husband, Leonard Woolf, using his point of view to explore the mental illness she suffered – presumed to have been bipolar disorder or manic depression. In Virginia’s shoes I believe Leonard’s actions would have felt annoying. They show how much he cares but his occasional coddling, as depicted in this novel, would have driven me absolutely bonkers. Was he this protective? I never got the impression he was so overbearing. And was he so overly-dramatic? He dealt with this for a very long time. It’s not as if any of this was new to him. After a while, even the most unusual of situations will become “normal.”
He was always watchful, always on the lookout for her inevitable tumbles into depression. Knowing the signs her extreme downturns were returning, he needed to be certain she got what was considered appropriate care. Of course, what was considered appropriate then is far from modern-day treatment, using a combination of drugs to control the chemical imbalances in the brain. Anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds and anti-psychotics, regulated by a psychiatrist, are often used in a “cocktail” to keep the mood – and racing mind – on an even keel. Drugs, paired with talk therapy, can go a long way toward controlling bipolar disorder. For Woolf, taking away all stimulants was her “rest cure.” Because mania brought on her obsessive writing, she was kept away from it. Likewise, reading, very closely associated, needless to say. It must have been a living hell for her. No wonder she dreaded the inevitability of it.
Bipolar disorder is thought to be a dormant condition in many, brought out by a triggering event. So, not everyone predisposed toward bipolar will exhibit symptoms. There are also two different forms: Bipolar I and Bipolar II. Not being a psychiatrist, going by what I know to be true, I think it’s more probably the latter that afflicted Virginia Woolf. Bipolar I is the almost solely depressive form. Manic stages are present but greatly muted, in comparison to Bipolar II. Mostly, Bipolar I is a deep funk, often tending toward suicidal impulse. Bipolar II, however, is the one most people identify as the “true” form, usually unaware it’s not the only possibility. People with this condition exhibit incredible highs, during which they are manically productive and feel indestructible, then fall very far into depression, often needing to be hospitalized to keep them from harming themselves.
In Woolf’s case, we can fairly safely presume the event which released her bipolar was the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her half brother, George Duckworth. I wanted to slam the book down when Vincent wrote dialogue between Virginia and Leonard, in which Virginia so casually mentions the abuse. The way the two referred to it was wooden and unnatural, even taking into account Leonard was well aware of her past. It was a lazy shortcut device used to inform the reader of the horrors Virginia underwent.Trying to recall how Woolf referred to the events with Duckworth, I don’t remember her speaking of it casually. It’s a struggle to recall her talking about it at all, even in her diaries, and letters to her beloved sister Vanessa, much less while she’s watching Leonard weeding the garden. After that section I read with a very guarded disposition, no longer completely trusting the author. For the record, this wasn’t all that far into the book.
Beyond that, I have issues with Vincent’s stylistic choices, her tendency to stay too much within Virginia’s head. There’s too much potential for misinterpretation, for creating thoughts she never had, leading the reader to believe she was a far different person than she was in reality. I’ll admit, I tend to feel protective of Woolf, sensitive to how she’s portrayed. Already feeling distrustful certainly didn’t help.
It’s also an annoyance that the language used is so formal, the prose over-written. It would have been better pared down to minimalism, in my opinion. It would have made for a much better book without prose verging on, sometimes crossing into,”purple” territory. Never mind the high intellects found in the real-life players of this drama; it would have been perfectly excusable to skirt that, opting for s more simple style, focusing on the story and not so much overly flamboyant conversations. It needs less blow by blow, more showing and less telling. As written, it was difficult keeping focus. Every few paragraphs something would sound “off” to me, reminding me I’m reading a book and not immersed in the lives of the Bloomsbury Group. This is the opposite of what you want to find in a novel, any disconnection from what’s happening in the book. Novels should be as seamless as possible. It’s crucial the reader lose herself in the story, not wander off to think about shopping lists or what’s for dinner. Fiction is an alternate reality, with emphasis on the real. Even in the case of fantasy and science fiction, a story needs to feel real, as in possible. If I’m reading a work of horror, I need to feel frightened. If it’s a dystopia, I should feel unnerved and worried, uncomfortable. I never lost myself in Adeline.
There may be a narrow readership for Adeline: those with a casual curiosity about Woolf who aren’t interested in more than a surface grasp of her life, as well as an introduction to the major figures in her peer group. What’s less fortunate is these readers may feel as though they’re doing a bit of wading to get to the meat of it, that the characters have personalities so big and overbearing it’s overwhelming. Using such a loud style does no favors to readers unfamiliar with Virginia Woolf. Rather, it’s off-putting.
There are so many nonfiction books out there about Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, if a reader wants to get a sketch of her life. Hermione Lee’s is definitive but too long for the casual reader. Instead, Nigel Nicholson’s short Penguin Lives edition, titled simply Virginia Woolf, would be my recommendation. Nigel Nicholson was the son of Virginia’s one-time lesbian lover, Vita Sackville-West and uses:
” … family archives and first-hand experience for his brisk, dutiful biography. For the young Nicolson, Woolf first appeared as a lively and amusing visitor. Not yet famous, to Nicolson she was like “a favourite aunt who brightened our simple lives with unexpected questions.”
– Publishers Weekly
Overall, the effort gets points for the idea but loses most of its value in the areas of stylistic choice and execution, which, well doesn’t leave it with much. Try as I did, I could not abide Adeline. Perhaps I’m too predisposed to finding fiction based on the life of Woolf to be irritating (it took two times for me to grow to love Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, not that I’m comparing the magnitude of two books). I cannot recommend the book.
With a husband who’s an average workaday bureaucrat, married to a beautiful wife longing to leave their provincial town for the excitement of life inWith a husband who’s an average workaday bureaucrat, married to a beautiful wife longing to leave their provincial town for the excitement of life in the city, In Her Absence is at first reminiscent of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. In place of the farmer’s daughter, Emma, anxious to marry the doctor she presumes will take her away to a more exciting life, Molina’s Blanca was raised in a wealthy family, never lifting a finger to support herself. She married Mario not because of his important job or big salary (he had neither), but his kind nature. He came upon her at the lowest point in her life, when, mourning the loss of the artist boyfriend who abandoned her in poverty, she was left drug and alcohol addicted. By the time she was strong and healthy again, she had grown to care for Mario. But did she love him or merely feel she owed him?
Blanca’s life has been filled with a passion for art and rubbing elbows with artists. She loves what’s new and cutting edge, whether it be painting or music or sculpting or writing. At the same time, Molina characterizes her as a devoted wife, in her own way. She loves cooking Mario gourmet meals and is always waiting for him when he comes in from work. Yet, she longs for more, dragging Mario into Madrid when he’s agreeable, when they can afford it on a bureaucrat’s salary. For his part, he understands nothing of art and could live without it very easily. But pleasing Blanca, his lovely and perfect wife, is his highest priority.What rubs him the wrong way are the male artists who make no attempt to hide their lustful thoughts about his beautiful wife. For her part, she doesn’t flirt outright but does fawn over them, which may look similar from a husband’s point of view.
Blanca’s no artist herself, there’s no “room of one’s own” she longs for. Instead, she’s absorbed by beauty. She is a caring wife but often she’s miles away, mentally:
“When she read a book, listened to music, or watched a movie, Blanca had a marvelous ability to sink deep in herself and disappear entirely from the external world. This absolute concentration was something Mario had learned not to interfere with, the proof of a sensibility that was a constant wonder to him but made him feel dull by comparison. Sometimes he felt intimately deserted, wanting to tell Blanca something or ask her a question but knowing it wasn’t worth trying, not because she’d pay no attention but because she literally was not there; she’d taken leave of her senses, as people used to say, in the most literal meaning of the words, taken leave of the reality that so often bored or disgusted her.”
“Disgusted” is the key word and a strong one. Cooking and cleaning and performing regular household work are jobs a person could understandably be bored with, but disgust is another level deeper. It’s much more visceral, far more angry, even hate-filled, indicating just how restless Blanca truly is. But for one yearning to make a life living in the midst of culture and the arts, forced into the role of housewife, disgust may fit. “How can I be here scrubbing his floors and ironing his clothes when I should rightfully be at exhibits and concerts?” The feeling agrees with her personality, however it makes it difficult not to see Blanca as a rather spoiled woman, too used to privilege. Despite how he tries to justify her behavior, convincing himself she loves him more than the excitement in the galleries and soirees of Madrid, even Mario’s all-consuming love can only go so far.
Mario’s position is that of breadwinner, Blanca uninterested in working to help bring money into the household. On the few occasions she does find work she quits shortly thereafter, justifying it with her complaints it was boring or she was unhappy. Mario’s patience was endless, though he’d give anything for her to work, then, a few years later, have a baby, completing the family. Her complete refusal to be a wife more than superficially brands her as a selfish woman, unappreciative of the husband many women would have loved to have, a man who adored her:
“Blanca would often say they led a life from which great experiences were absent. He conceded that she was right, but also thought, on his best days when he’d get home a few minutes before three after a workday devoid of annoyances, that for him there could be no greater experience than simply walking home along the same route as always in the knowledge that unlike all the other men he went by in the street – men in bars and talking about soccer with cigarettes in their mouths, men with hungering faces pivoting to watch a woman walk past – he alone had the privilege of desiring beyond all other women the precise woman he had married, and the absolute certainty that when he opened the door of his house, he would find her there.”
Molina doesn’t judge his characters. He’s much more even-handed, far too skilled. The author of thirteen novels, he’s won Spanish prizes twice, making him one of Spain’s greatest living writers. He knows precisely what he’s doing. It boils down to Blanca and her attitude toward her responsibilities in the marriage. It’s Blanca whose character is the heart of the book, the center around which Mario turns:
“Another man might have thought she was flighty, but for Mario Blanca’s endless sequence of new and different jobs and wildly disparate enthusiasms was proof of her vitality, her audacity, her innate rebelliousness, qualities he found particularly admirable because he was largely devoid of them.”
A bit tongue in cheek, a little hint to the reader Blanca knows what she has and isn’t inclined to let go of the man. Not that she’s all self-centered. She tells him, at one point, he rebuilt her when she’d come near dying, “as if you’d found a porcelain vase that was smashed into a thousand pieces and you had the skill and patience to reconstruct the whole thing, down to the tiniest shard.” A women lacking a moral compass wouldn’t have been so kind.
What to make of these two? That’s up to the reader.
Antonio Munoz Molina, aside from his excellent characterization skills, writes first class prose. The edition I read, the only English language edition I know of, was translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen. We’re always at the mercy of translators but I can attest to the beautiful writing. It’s a short book, at 134 pages, tightly written. It moves well and offers much food for thought. At times I’m not sure if the author’s being straight or playful; sometimes I have difficulty picking up on this sort of veiled humor, tending to take writers at their word too often.
I think readers should approach In Her Absence with a healthy dose of skepticism, reading between the lines. It’s a sneaky little novel, one I wouldn’t mind dissecting to see what’s inside and how Molina pulls things off. I’d most definitely read more of his work, if I come across it. If this novel is representative of his writing, I’m already a fan....more
Next time you hear a creak in your house, when no one else is there, maybe you should consider changing your locks...
Mr. Heming, well-respected realtoNext time you hear a creak in your house, when no one else is there, maybe you should consider changing your locks...
Mr. Heming, well-respected realtor in a small English town, would love to sell you a house. He'd also love to copy your key, visit when you're out (occasionally when you're in) and take a small souvenir you aren't likely to miss. After all, it's harmless, right? A victimless crime? When a sock goes missing, you're likely to blame the dryer gremlin, not the man who sold you your home. Because who on earth would conceive of such a thing?
Growing up, Mr. Heming is a budding sociopath, a boy who can't quite connect emotionally with others. He does things that are evil, without understanding why they upset others so much. After all, he never meant any harm... Things just happened to turn out badly. Because he was there and didn't intervene doesn't mean he's bad.
All proceeds as smoothly as it can, despite a bit of suspicion dogging him, until he sees a beautiful young woman who works in the library. She has beautiful curls, her face is perfection. She's tiny and lives an unassuming life in the home she grew up in, moving back after her mother's death. Mr. Heming, subject to occasional crushes, begins to make his move. When it turns out she's involved in a none too legitimate relationship he's crushed. But there's always a way in, isn't there...
If you're Mr. Heming, there is.
Brilliantly paced, delightfully wicked, I defy you to start this book without finishing it in one marathon read. Not that it's long, because it isn't (though I wished it were longer), but it's almost impossible to turn away until you find out what becomes of the characters. And if Mr. Heming's as perfect as he tells us, if he's really untraceable. If he's gotten away with everything he believes he has.
This novel is about as much fun as it's possible to have with an unreliable narrator. It's farcical and terrible, creepy and a bit too possible. What's most disturbing is it leads to reader to sympathize with a man who's done some truly awful things, all without seeming to realize it.
Mitchell’s book is far from my average reading genre. The memoirs I choose are generally literary: about literary figures, memoirs about reading, travMitchell’s book is far from my average reading genre. The memoirs I choose are generally literary: about literary figures, memoirs about reading, travel memoirs or books written in a literary style. It Was Me All Along is none of these. Rather, what attracted me to this book was its subject matter: an introspective look at how our society predicates a woman’s value based on her looks and the unique perspective of one woman’s journey to find peace in her relationship with food, within her own body and mind.
Her story is honest. She doesn’t gloss over how she wound up eating herself to almost 300 lbs., doesn’t make excuses for herself or her behavior. She shares how food filled gaping voids in her life, how the mouth-feel of a cupcake or succulent hamburger obsessed her, how her whole life revolved around her next meal while in the midst of the current one. From her description of her early life, it’s not surprising food became her mainstay. Her father, while often a kind man and loving father, was also an alcoholic, her parents prone to frequent – often violent – arguments. As he fell into an increasingly dark abyss, he began disappearing for longer and longer periods of time. Safety and stability missing from her life, all she knew she could rely upon was food. It became her only constant, one which never failed to fill the emptiness created by loss.
It’s easy to empathize with Andie Mitchell. Her story is easily followed and the descriptions of her life experiences clear and chronological. Despite her tendency toward self-conscious, overwritten prose, the self help genre is forgiving. It doesn’t matter so much how cringe-worthy some of her metaphor-laden writing is, what matters is the information is imparted. Mitchell’s certainly good at expressing how it felt to be so large, how it hurt being teased and shunned and what about food was so appealing. Her journey is outlined well and flows easily. When she ultimately begins to turn her life around, she tells us about her exercise routine, how she struggled past exercise addiction to a more liveable, comfortable relationship with burning calories. Most impressively, she reveals how she overcame her food addictions.
Ultimately, once she’s come into herself her relationships shift. She begins to discover who she is, what she loves, and where she’d like to go in life. After struggling so long with her body and mind, finally it comes down to what makes her happy. Ironically, food is still central. Her life-long love of baking, influenced by her mother’s own skill in the kitchen, lead her to food blogging. Now that she’s learned so much about enjoying controlled eating, she shares her insights with others, some of whom fight the same battle she’s already won.
It’s inspirational reading one person’s fight against odds heavily stacked against her. Losing and keeping off weight is usually a fruitless struggle, as backed up by statistics. Reading Andie Mitchell’s story it suddenly feels a little less hopeless. Following her advice opens new avenues to try, learning to enjoy food without guilt attached. Not only that, learning to love yourself for what, and who, you are.
While not a stylistically impressive book, this is nonetheless an effort with noble intent. There’s much truth here to be discovered....more
January’s been a restless reading time, exacerbated by the winter blues. I haven’t been able to settle down to anything, bouncing from book to book, nJanuary’s been a restless reading time, exacerbated by the winter blues. I haven’t been able to settle down to anything, bouncing from book to book, nothing holding my interest longer than a few dozen pages at best. It’s been an agony for someone as reliant on the love of reading as I am. I’m used to falling back on reading as a means of escaping life’s troubles. When I don’t have that outlet I tend to get frustrated and flustered. It’s damned awful.
My savior came in the form of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, a well-paced and sparing novel I flew through in two days. Part of the reason I consumed it so voraciously was the mystery element, of course. The deeper you get into the book the harder it is to restrain yourself from paging forward to see how it ends – not that I’m that sort of reader, but if I were I’d have had a very difficult time holding myself back. The other reason is the deceptively simple style and the stylistic choice of giving alternating points of view of the main characters, one per chapter. I love getting inside the heads of more than the main character, especially when the author is skilled enough to give the reader just enough intrigue, not enough to figure out the answer too soon.
Hawkins’ novel is being compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, for obvious, yet not quite stylistically true reasons. Both books feature beautiful blonde wives who go missing (which is a bit cliché), criminal suspicion falling on the husband – not unusual in real world missing person cases. Also, both involve affairs likely to have played a role in foul play, as well as a sub-theme of pregnancy: one partner who wants a baby, while the other has more complicated feelings.
In The Girl on the Train the main character is Rachel Watson, ex-wife of Tom Watson, an unsympathetic character who left Rachel for a young, beautiful blonde (again …) named Anna. Rachel, already battling the alcoholism partly at fault for ending her marriage, falls apart. She harasses Tom and Anna even two years following her divorce, calling their home in the middle of the night, showing up on their doorstep drunk and disheveled. Though sympathy for Rachel is easier than Tom, I found myself becoming irritated with her inability to clean herself up and move on. While I understood her pain, she made herself pathetic holding onto Tom’s leg, drinking herself sloppy. We all know heartbreak but for God’s sake pick yourself up and move on!
The woman who goes missing was not Anna Watson but rather another beautiful, petite blonde who lived a few doors down from the Watsons, Megan Hipwel. What gives this novel such a unique edge is the method by which Rachel comes to know of Megan, before her disappearance. Taking the commuter train from the suburbs into London twice a day, Rachel passes her former home. Spying on her husband’s new life, she comes to notice the house a few doors down and the blonde woman and her ideal, handsome husband who often sit and watch the trains from their terrace. She sees them so often she gives them names, imagining their lives. They become her idea of the perfect couple.
Coincidentally, from the train Rachel also witnesses an event in the back garden of the ideal couple, something that upsets her more than it really should. And, when Megan goes missing, Rachel believes she may hold a key piece of evidence. However, being a drunken, unreliable witness, the police don’t take her seriously. She’s already admitted she was on the street both her husband and Megan live on the night Megan disappeared, and has denied seeing another soul. They know she’s obsessive and they know she’s a drunk. She blacked out that same night. Rachel can hardly trust herself, either, much less unravel fact from fiction.
Unlike Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train uses a much more believable method of obscuring the truth than the not quite believable machinations of a brilliant and psychotic main female character. The book relies on Rachel’s blackouts, much more realistic as a plot device. Hawkins slyly presents us with good and murderous characters, keeping the plot taut via Rachel’s lost night, which seems to be key. Even that she twists, lulling the reader into believing one truth, then switching things up.
Rachel is a good person who’s been terribly hurt, and her impulses aren’t easily controlled. No one quite trusts her, so when she ultimately remembers the truth, will the police listen to her? And is it even the truth?
The Girl on the Train is a sometimes flawed but compelling read that unwinds itself slowly. It’s possible to guess the ending, and yes, I did, but the tension makes it no less an exciting read. Is it worth the claim it’s the next Gone Girl? In some ways I’d argue it surpasses it. You can believe it and relate to the often frustrating characters. It’s something that could happen, not a plot so far-fetched it comes off annoying. There is such a thing as too many twists. The Girl on the Train has just enough. Recommended, especially if you find yourself in a reading drought and need an unputdownable book to get you back on track.. ...more
Meh. The blurb promised the world, but the book didn't deliver. It was supposed to be about an insular community rejecting and English family who bougMeh. The blurb promised the world, but the book didn't deliver. It was supposed to be about an insular community rejecting and English family who bought a vacation home on the outskirts of town. Problem was, there was no tension. It was flat, the characters themselves two-dimensional and the story as a whole just, plain dull....more
Daniel Kelly is one of three children raised by a hair dresser mother and truck driver father in a poor area of Melbourne, Australia. Born with OlympiDaniel Kelly is one of three children raised by a hair dresser mother and truck driver father in a poor area of Melbourne, Australia. Born with Olympic-contender swimming ability, his performance earns him a scholarship to an exclusive, private school. However, being from the wrong side of the city, he's outcast and bullied, until counseled by his coach he should "always push back." In retrospect, he could scarcely have been given worse advice.
Pushing back ignites a furor in Danny, unleashing a temper that's barely controllable. He develops a high from being feared, as well as an inability to accept being bested. As his talent is put to the test in ever greater contests, his violent tendencies grow. Eventually, he commits an act so heinous the results force him to reconsider everything he's ever cared about. It takes years, almost 30, before he's able to overcome the horror of his past. Still, he continues to struggle with an anger grown to become an addiction.
Christos Tsiolkas writes with urgency and flair, both for character development and poetic description. His characters very much three-dimensional and sympathetic. This is writing by an assured wordsmith, truly a model as far as compelling fiction. He also uses flashbacks seamlessly, revealing just enough to keep the reader riveted.
His pacing through the first 3/4 of the book is spot on. I didn't want to put the book down until I found out Danny's fate. However, the last 1/4 dragged a bit, as Tsiolkas began the downhill run to the end. Not so much that I wouldn't recommend the book, because it's a great read, but enough I became a bit restless. Such is the case with so much fiction. Writers often struggle in tying together all the plot threads. Those who handle this tricky transition flawlessly are in the minority of truly masterful writers, but I realize the level of difficulty, so forgive writers of Tsiolkas's stature who write so assuredly through the rest of the book.
Thank you, Amazon Vine, for my free review copy of this excellent read. ...more