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 late...moreFans 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!(less)
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 third...moreI 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!(less)
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 Deg...moreArtist 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.
I just finished Bellman & Black yesterday - read it in ONE day - so compelling, such speaking, magical language, so much mystery, tragedy and wond...moreI 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.(less)
Louis Bayard is a consummate, critically acclaimed writer of literary historical novels - and The Pale Blue Eye adds to that high level of achievement...moreLouis Bayard is a consummate, critically acclaimed writer of literary historical novels - and The Pale Blue Eye adds to that high level of achievement by also being a murder mystery! PLUS - a young, very odd, very eccentric, and ultimately very likeable Edgar Allen Poe is one of the main characters. Set during Poe's 1-2 year "training" at a barely established West Point (c. 1830), Poe is commandeered to help a retired NYC detective (Augustus Landon) to infiltrate the close ranks of West Point cadets and find out the truth behind a horrifying "suicide" that turns into a bona fide murder. I could not put this book down until I finished it (although I did have to sleep one night) and the concussion of surprises and twists as it races toward the end really is a knockout. Bayard has outdone himself with this book (following an equal success with his previous book, Mr. Timothy, about the now-grown-up Tiny Tim.(less)
This is a strange and wonderful book, loosely based on the original "legend" of how Bach came to write his Goldberg Variations - one Mr. Goldberg (his...moreThis is a strange and wonderful book, loosely based on the original "legend" of how Bach came to write his Goldberg Variations - one Mr. Goldberg (his landlord?) couldn't sleep at night, and begged J.S. to play music to him to help him sleep. Josipovici's book has 30 chapters, and starts with a Mr. Goldberg, a Jewish writer in the early 1800's, who is hired to "read" to an eccentric English squire (is there any other kind?) to help him sleep. But I think that's where the resemblance ends, and the storytelling begins...(less)
I found a copy of this book in the apartment in Rome where my husband and I are staying for a week, after touring other parts of Italy (Florence, Sien...moreI found a copy of this book in the apartment in Rome where my husband and I are staying for a week, after touring other parts of Italy (Florence, Siena, Venice, Orvieto). I wouldn't have even started reading it except that we both came down with colds and needed to 'stay put' for a day or two -- WHAT a fantastic book! Of course, it's a Pulitzer Prize winner, but I had never heard of it. Jones' historical/magical-realism about the fictional Manchester County in Virginia, is a masterpiece of engaging characters, subtle language, fancy and fact. I just saw a quote from Hemingway that said something like a writer's object is not just to tell someone a story, but make the reader feel as if he or she had actually lived the story -- and that's just what Jones' book does. The characters of his black people -- slaves and free -- are enticing and very real, very human; the white folks just the same: good, bad, religious, sacriligious. The fact that there were free black people, former slaves, who went on to own land and then their own slaves is a troubling and astounding theme of the book, and very well presented from many sides of the question. Jones plays with time and events, shifting from present to future to past but seamlessly and effortlessly (it would appear). A remarkable book, worthy of time and thoughtfulness as you read it. So glad it serendipitously appeared to engage me during my 'downtime' in Rome. Now it's off to St. Peter's!(less)