I'm hopeful that The Pregnant Widow will be the worst book I read in 2014. It surely can't get more abysmal than this dire affair, that I only finisheI'm hopeful that The Pregnant Widow will be the worst book I read in 2014. It surely can't get more abysmal than this dire affair, that I only finished through sheer force of will. Our protagonist Keith, a posh twit who thinks far too much of himself, takes a summer's holiday to Italy with his girlfriend and other companions. He spends the whole holiday trying to get into other girls' knickers, and has a sexual encounter so epic it alters the course of his life. This summary doesn't really do the book justice, in that it sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is. This is a dry, dull, painfully long tome in which very little of interest happens for exceptionally long stretches. It's stuffed full of literary allusions that must have made Amis feel oh-so-clever but in actuality make it near unreadable in places. In case it's not obvious, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone but an insomniac....more
I read this for my book group, and found it a fairly enjoyable - if not especially well crafted - read. Despite having been into crime fiction for eonI read this for my book group, and found it a fairly enjoyable - if not especially well crafted - read. Despite having been into crime fiction for eons, I'd never read a PD James before. She's always come well recommended (and is apparently a delight to talk to!) but for some reason her books have never appealed enough to coax me to pick one up. On the whole, Death Comes to Pemberley hasn't made me want to rush out and read more of hers, but I probably wouldn't judge her straight crime fiction on the basis of it either.
This was definitely a cosy enough read, and the scene setting was spot-on - atmospheric and very evocative of the Pemberley estate. The core plot had a decent enough hook: Six years after the wedding of Darcy and Elizabeth, Pemberley is preparing for the annual ball, when Lydia Wickham appears unexpectedly out of the dark, stormy night, screaming that her husband has been murdered. Drama!
It's been a couple of years since I read Pride and Prejudice so I can't speak for how well she captured the characters - but on the whole, it did rather feel as though they could have been anyone, with the names Darcy and Elizabeth slotted in. The only character that really, truly, rang 100% faithful to Austen was the odious Mr. Collins ("He began by stating that he could find no words to express his shock and abhorrence, and then proceeded to find a great number, few of them appropriate and none of them helpful. ...He went on to prophecy a catalogue of disasters for the afflicted family ranging from the worst - Lady Catherine's displeasure and their permanent banishment from Rosings - descending to public ignominy, bankruptcy and death.") Ha. Wonderful.
My main issue with the book is that the weight of it felt off. We go from the discovery of a body, to an arrest, inquest and trial - and when the thing feels all but over, there comes another sixty pages of info-dumped exposition explaining everyone's actions and motives in great detail, delivered essentially in a series of incredibly long monologues. There is enough in the way of clues early on that readers can probably have a good guess at how the thing really went down, but this great wave of revelation felt excessive and, honestly, a bit fatiguing to wade through. It took me rather by surprise, as I'd have assumed that as a crime fiction legend, James would have her plotting down pat.
On the whole though, it proved pleasant enough (although there are some dreadfully on the nose passages! "If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?" Goodness me.) If you like both P&P and crime fiction, by all means give it a go - just don't expect to be overwhelmed by the plot....more
I intended to give this book two stars, but hovering over the options, 'didn't like it' is really the most apt. I read this for my reading group, andI intended to give this book two stars, but hovering over the options, 'didn't like it' is really the most apt. I read this for my reading group, and unfortunately it turned out to be one of those rare books so deeply dull that I begrudge the time spent on it. It doesn't help matters that I've read a few of Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller novels alongside it - far less detailed prose, but oh the pace. This book is just so languid and dull. Guterson describes everything in so much painful depth that for every line of dialogue, there must be at least ten pages of description. I have an imagination. I am capable of using it. I do not need to be told over and over and over again what a snow storm is like, how the surroundings look at every waking moment.
The pinnacle of my frustration was probably when Ishmael, one of the lead characters, drove across the island in a storm. Guterson could have said 'Ishmael drove to his mother's house' and saved me from wanting to throw this book against a wall and stomp on it, but instead, he had to tell us about the car's tires, its engine, where and when Ishmael's father had purchased it, all the scenery he saw along his drive... AGH.
When he actually got on with telling the story, it was okay. The effect of the war, the racial tension - there were sparks of something decent there, and at times his never-ending backstory did seem as though it was enriching things temporarily. The court procedures and whodunnit element were far from compelling, and the callbacks to the characters' previous romantic entanglements left me mostly cold the more they progressed. It also got weirdly sexual for a while in the middle there - best encapsulated in the scene which begins with the defence attorney talking to the widow on the stand, and pauses to discuss said attorney's inability to maintain an erection. Just... what? Why? No.
I appreciate that for those less impatient with descriptive writing, this could potentially be an enjoyable read, but I couldn't in good conscience recommend it to anyone....more
It took me a good long time to become fully immersed in this book, but I'm glad I persevered and stuck with it. I really feel quite fond of it and itsIt took me a good long time to become fully immersed in this book, but I'm glad I persevered and stuck with it. I really feel quite fond of it and its 6,000 characters now. Before this was selected for my in-person book group, I'd only read two of Dickens' books: Oliver Twist, when I was too young to really remember it, and A Christmas Carol, which I found quite dull and a chore to get through. I didn't have the highest of hopes going in to Our Mutual Friend, particularly as the introduction to the Everyman's edition waffles on about how dismal and bleak it is. In actual fact, I found it fairly amusing throughout. It was probably 200 pages in before I fully acclimatised to the language (I'd like to read more Dickens in future, but I think I'd have to do several back to back, because it wasn't easy for me to dip in and out of the Victorian style). Even once I was used to it, it was near enough half way through the book before I stopped keeping half a mind on the other novels I could have been reading instead and really started appreciating it.
The characters are broadly drawn - Lizzie is very good, Bella starts off very bad and becomes very good, and there's not a lot of grey in between. But most of the protagonists are so likeable, it's hard not to love the endearing Boffins, cherubic Pa, bewildered Twemlow et al. Many of the secondary characters I found painfully frustrating, though. I'm immensely glad that the dreadful Veneerings and Podsnaps largely faded out after the second book, and wish the same could have been said for the Lammles (whose motivation was never very clear to me - what on earth did they hope to gain by setting up Georgiana and Fledgeby?) and Mrs Wilfer and her daughter Lavinia.
The twist ending certainly took me by surprise, although I don't think it really holds up to any great scrutiny. The romances between Lizzie and Eugene and Bella and John didn't have a great deal of depth, and Headstone and Riderhood made for fairly one-dimensional villains, but that didn't really stop me from loving and loathing them respectively. It's one of those books where, although the happily ever after is mightily convenient if not convincing, I don't begrudge it and am glad for them all.
It's definitely not an easy book to get in to - I was the only member of my group to actually finish it - but I feel very warmly towards it now I'm done, and am confident that I'll try more Dickens in future. (Perhaps not the Everyman editions though. The editor ends the book by praising the Veneerings and Podsnaps as the best characters. There are not words enough in the English language to describe how wrong he is.)...more