I just read this book to review it for the Historical Novel Society, so i'm not allowed to re-print what i wrote for them until it comes out in printI just read this book to review it for the Historical Novel Society, so i'm not allowed to re-print what i wrote for them until it comes out in print -- but let me just say, this is an incredible "debut" novel. It's seriously metaphorical, philosophical, literary, symbolic -- and it's a good story, too! I'll be back with more detail after the HNS Review comes out, but in the meantime, look forward to reading this book!...more
I just finished Bellman & Black yesterday - read it in ONE day - so compelling, such speaking, magical language, so much mystery, tragedy and wondI just finished Bellman & Black yesterday - read it in ONE day - so compelling, such speaking, magical language, so much mystery, tragedy and wonder in the single life of a (mostly) ordinary man with a special gift--and a flaw so accidental to his nature that it's closer to 'our' inheritance of Original Sin than any conscious act of wrongdoing. The occasional page devoted to the mystical lore of Corvids--rooks, ravens, crows--are like icons, windows into an eternity that holds all of time in its careful hands, nothing ever lost, if only Thought and Memory are allowed to play (like rooks) in our minds, swooping, laughing, reckless and daring. A beautiful, deeply thoughtful story. Thanks, Diane! An even more worthy book than the Thirteenth Tale, which I also loved....more
I finished Frances and Bernard last night, staying up past midnight to read it. Although not fond of epistolary novels, Bauer is such a great writer tI finished Frances and Bernard last night, staying up past midnight to read it. Although not fond of epistolary novels, Bauer is such a great writer that the letters just flew by and were a delight to read. I should also say, there was much to slow down for and savor. I have always loved the stories of Flannery O'Connor (the model for Frances) but have never read any Robert Lowell ("Bernard") poetry (I will now). This short book was a wonderful journey into the minds of two exquisitely intelligent people. Bauer captured great depth and nuance in the correspondence between them, and with a few select friends as well. It made me long for those halcyon days of pre-computerized communications known as written letters - I wrote many myself, and have a collection of letters from friends and family from the 1960's and early 70's. This is a stunning, memorable book, and should be read by everyone who is or intends to be a fiction writer.
One amazing sentence remains in my mind, written by Bernard in dire circumstances in a mental institution: "I sleep the way some people commit suicide." ...more
Artist Edgar Degas is justly famous for his many lyrical and revealing paintings of ballerinas, but in Michael Llewellyn’s “Creole Son: A Novel of DegArtist Edgar Degas is justly famous for his many lyrical and revealing paintings of ballerinas, but in Michael Llewellyn’s “Creole Son: A Novel of Degas in New Orleans”, we are presented with a fascinating portrait of the sometimes irascible but emotionally restrained artist himself. Having left Paris after the horrors of the Prussian invasion and the terrifying slaughter of the Paris Commune, Degas sought solace in his mother’s birthplace of Le Nouveau Orleans, among the aristocratic remains of the Creole population brought low by the ravages of the Civil War and the oppressive Reconstruction Era. Llewellyn, who lived in New Orleans for a number of years, writes convincingly of a chaotic, sensual, dangerous and exotic city that is seething with racial tension, criminal politics, sexual license and moral ambiguity. Degas finds himself both repelled and intrigued by the chaos of a people trying to re-build their city after the devastation of war, lamenting what has been lost and trying to avoid inevitable changes. When I started the book, I had no idea it was going to go to these dark places, but with Degas as a companion, it was enthralling to experience the strange and haunted streets and cemeteries, Mardi Gras balls and brothels, as well as the intimacy of his daily life in his mother’s family. Llewellyn crafts a strong and persuasive argument for New Orleans having brought Degas to a new and daring way of painting, experiences that freed his artistic abilities as much as they opened his heart and soul. The descriptions of how Degas thought, observed and painted his subjects are finely wrought and very well written, showing detailed knowledge of the artist’s style and methods. A book to be savored.
Fans of Henry James MUST read this book. Toibin writes incredibly well, and very much in James's "middle style" himself -- not as convoluted as a lateFans of Henry James MUST read this book. Toibin writes incredibly well, and very much in James's "middle style" himself -- not as convoluted as a late work such as The Golden Bowl, but with the amazing psychological depth and clarity of The Portrait of a Lady or The Ambassadors. I've read it three times in four years, and I'm planning to read it again soon. There is an almost mystical sense of communion and sympathy with James that Toibin achieves with a remarkable spareness of prose and dialogue. It is just the ongoing life of a man who happened also to be one of the greatest writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and yet there is an underlying suspense that grows within the story. Couldn't recommend it more highly!...more
I received this book through the Goodreads Giveaway, and once I started reading it, couldn't put it down. I loved the present-tense, omniscient thirdI received this book through the Goodreads Giveaway, and once I started reading it, couldn't put it down. I loved the present-tense, omniscient third person presentation (I have not read Mantel's Wolf Hall, btw); it was fresh and invigorating. Dunant's style is clever and personal, and colloquial in an engaging way. I felt, as a reader, that I was listening to a very amusing, somewhat cynical but also sympathetic first-person-witness who was filling me in on the details of these strange and violent people from long ago. Reading it along with the recent changes in Rome, and the conclave of cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, really presented a vivid picture of differences between past and present. As a Catholic, I was astounded at the depths of depravity and unholiness (if you will) that was tolerated in those days -- and yet, Dunant almost makes you think that the Borgias were just trying to be a big, happy family! (Cue The Sopranos music!)
I was in Rome and Florence about six months ago, and it was fascinating to place these characters, in my mind's eye, in the very places I had walked and stood before last Fall. The characters are well-drawn and as blatantly violent, ambitious and lustful as many of them are, their human-ness is at times appealing -- enough to have made me care about what happens to them. The atmosphere of medieval Rome, portrayed by Dunant's lyricism, is electric and enticing. Her understanding of human nature and political intrigue contributes to making the characters three-dimensional.
I thoroughly and enthusiastically recommend Blood & Beauty, and am very glad that Dunant says in the acknowledgement that she's writing a follow-up, yay!...more
The latest in the series The Burren Mysteries about Mara the “lady judge” (or the “brehon” in Gaelic) crackles with suspense and good humor as Mara anThe latest in the series The Burren Mysteries about Mara the “lady judge” (or the “brehon” in Gaelic) crackles with suspense and good humor as Mara and her scholars of the law school visit Galway, the English-only stronghold in the south of Ireland. What starts out as a mission of mercy to reclaim an aged, mentally ill countryman from the clutches of “English law” turns into a full-blown murder investigation, with Mara and her crew exercising their charm, wits and intelligence to solve the puzzle and save an innocent life. I’ve never read Harrison’s novels before, but I’m going to go back and start with the first one, My Lady Judge, and settle in for a long, satisfying journey to the 16th century world she depicts so well. Each chapter starts with a quotation from a law book or scholarly tome of the time that is enlightening and fascinating as it explores the many differences between Irish and English law customs and reasoning. Harrison is clearly on the side of the Irish when it comes to a choice between, for instance, use of the death penalty or belief in the power of repentance and restitution, and her brehon Mara makes it more than clear why the Irish way is better. A great read, informative and entertaining from start to finish. (original review published in Historical Novel Society Review, Dec. 2012) ...more
I loved this book! I read it about a year ago, after I met Mary Sharratt at the San Diego conference of the Historical Novel Society. It was deeply feI loved this book! I read it about a year ago, after I met Mary Sharratt at the San Diego conference of the Historical Novel Society. It was deeply felt, well written and enlightening regarding the roots and culture of 'pagan' England as it was absorbed into Roman Catholicism. The characters were compelling and interesting, and although it's well known that any story of "witches" in those medieval times doesn't end all that happily, there was much of joy and wisdom in this book as it illuminated the times and the plight of women and the poor. And speaking of illumination, i can't wait to read Mary's new book about Hildegard von Bingen (Illuminations). Thanks, Mary!...more
I read this book a couple of years ago and absolutely LOVED it. Although supposedly a children's book, I was entranced and transported by the lovely wI read this book a couple of years ago and absolutely LOVED it. Although supposedly a children's book, I was entranced and transported by the lovely wonder of the metaphor of windows and mirrors. I have always read and appreciated immensely Gopnik's essays in the New Yorker, and reading him at full-length is a real treat. This is definitely a book you could read aloud to your kids, or savor on your own as you step into a new kind of fairy-tale world....more