Whatever it is, Elena Ferrante understands. Your darkest self, the part of you that you desperately hope no one ever sees, she does, and she gets it.Whatever it is, Elena Ferrante understands. Your darkest self, the part of you that you desperately hope no one ever sees, she does, and she gets it. She might pass judgement, she may hold it against you, ever so slightly, but she knows where you're coming from when you're at your worst. She sees and writes about so clearly that delicate tightrope we walk with our friendships between honesty and loving support. As humans we are flawed, and these flaws most often come out into the light when we are interacting with other people.
"Every intense relationship between human beings is full of traps, and if you want it to endure you have to learn to avoid them." --pg 451
As we go through our lives, there are things about ourselves that we hide from our own consciousness, and hope no one notices them. As a mother, protagonist Elena lashes out at her children when she's stressed or angry about outside situations and often leaves them for weeks at a time without thinking twice, but when her friend mentions being a shitty mother, Elena defends herself, never copping to the fact that she may have been somewhat wanting in that area. Yet the way Ferrante portrays it, you can tell that the character Elena sees it, like a shadow flickering in the corner of her eye, where many of our deepest flaws lurk.
This is what is at the heart of the Neapolitan Novels and their appeal to me. Beyond the fantastic writing and storytelling, the complete honesty is what ensnared and enmeshed me in with the characters. Their complexity and intelligence, their mistakes and successes--nothing is black and white. All people have a part of themselves that is their best self, and a part that is the worst, and those differing parts surface despite and because of our best intentions. I feel like it is rare to see an author who is able to portray this as well as Ferrante does, and for this reason alone these books enter my pantheon of favorites. When this book ended and Lila and Lenu left my life, I felt very much as Lenu does as she ponders her friends absence and realizes it's bitter finality. I wonder how long I'll wait to re read the series......more
I want to go around and press copies of My Brilliant Friend on everyone I know. Each book in this series is amazing, hands down and flat out. Those WhI want to go around and press copies of My Brilliant Friend on everyone I know. Each book in this series is amazing, hands down and flat out. Those Who Leaves and Those Who Stay continues to explore the lives of its characters with the same ruthless honesty and insight of its predecessors, and I fucking loved it liked I loved all the Neapolitan Novels. The feminism that Ferrante begins espousing in the end is genius--totally true to life in the hypocrisy of the character who is writing it--and I can't wait to read more. ...more
"What you select from, in order to tell your story, is nothing less than everything," he said, watching the branches of the old trees dark against the"What you select from, in order to tell your story, is nothing less than everything," he said, watching the branches of the old trees dark against the sky. "What you build up your world from, your local, intelligible, rational, coherent world is nothing less than everything. And so all selection is arbitrary. All knowledge is partial--infinitesimally partial. Reason is a net thrown out into an ocean. What truth it brings in is a fragment, a glimpse, a scintillation of the whole truth. All human knowledge is local. Every life, each human life, is local, is arbitrary, the infinitesimal momentary glitter of a reflection of..." His voice ceased, the silence of the glade among great trees continued. --Ursula K LeGuin, Four Ways to Forgiveness
Four Ways is a wonderful quartet of love stories set in LeGuin's Hainish world. Though couched in romance, each story is a powerful study of culture, freedom, the nature of power, and gender. Brilliant, beautifully written, and moving, I think that this has eclipsed "The Dispossessed" as my favorite LeGuin. She is science fiction at its best, and by doing so, transcends the genre. ...more
I loved this book. The characters, the insight into racism and humanity in general, the portrait of Nigeria, all of it.
What I liked especially was hoI loved this book. The characters, the insight into racism and humanity in general, the portrait of Nigeria, all of it.
What I liked especially was how unlike other immigration stories it was. I feel like there is almost a genre of contemporary fiction that specializes in the horror of immigrating from the developing world to the first. These are usually tales of endless victimization, heartache and tragedy, and though I don't deny their truth, there are other paths that can unfold. Though Ifemelu stumbles and suffers, she is clearly the master of her own fate. ...more
I don't think I've ever read anything that better depicts the turmoil of emotions in a friendship. Envy, admiration, respect, jealously, love, insecurI don't think I've ever read anything that better depicts the turmoil of emotions in a friendship. Envy, admiration, respect, jealously, love, insecurity, anger––these feelings are not mutually exclusive, and Ferrante shows this to us with devastating accuracy. We often see portraits of friends who are there for one another when life is painful or hard, that say "you go girl!" and are unqualifyingly supportive and comforting. What Ferrante has me wondering now is how much of this is a product of our American middle-class culture?
Poverty both complicates and simplifies life, it strips away illusions and makes you see that the blunt facts of our existence broil down to having enough money to feed, clothe and shelter ourselves and our families. In this environment, crime and corruption are not shocking or even necessarily evil, they are a choice made out of desperation by those who have the moral flexibility and/or weakness of character to engage in them. A quick way to, for once, have enough money. No doubt this path leads many into darkness, but it is an understandable choice.
It is in this world that My Brilliant Friend takes place. There is no room for illusion, there is no outside world. What exists are the established networks of family feuds and the code of conduct in place for keeping the peace. Violate them, and violence will follow. The neighborhood in which Lila and Lenu grow up in is all that is known to them or their family--they live in Naples but have never been to the sea. They are both from a young age able to see their world for what it is, and it is this unembellished perspective that informs their relationship with each other. If Lenu were to fall, Lila may catch her, or may let her fall, depending on the circumstance. They are friends, they are loyal, but there is an implicit understanding that they must first look after themselves and their family. More than emotional support of comfort, it is sheer competitiveness that drives their friendship, and at least for Lenu, this is better than any "you go girl!" she could get for hauling herself out of the life she was born into. Lila's fate is trickier, and I can't wait to read the rest of the series to find out what it is. ...more
"The Luminaries" is a book that you don't have to like to appreciate. Everything about it is meticulously done--the writing, the research, the charact"The Luminaries" is a book that you don't have to like to appreciate. Everything about it is meticulously done--the writing, the research, the characters, the plot, and the structure. Eleanor Catton's talent cannot be denied, nor will I try to do so. The first several chapters of the the book put me in awe of her writing. Struck by the quality of her sentences, I checked her short bio on the back of the book, and noted that she had indeed gone to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her psychological insight was keen, and her portrayal of the 1860s in a male-dominated frontier town was pitch perfect. However, though I finished all 800 something pages, I found myself curiously dissatisfied with it.
"The Luminaries" is mystery presented in reverse, and the story begins after most all the relevant action has happened. The setting is a small, coastal New Zealand gold rush town. A man is dead, a whore is found near death on a road outside of town, and another man has vanished. From twelve men on the periphery of the action, each designated as an astrological sign and an important function in the town, we hear about varying aspects of the central story. Slowly, with great attention paid to the characterization of each of these twelve men, the story unwinds. For hundreds of pages, Ms. Catton builds up the mystery through these twelve men, a mystery that, at its core, has nothing to do with them. This deliberation of the plot, though done with the pen of a true literary craftsman, had a lack of dynamic tension that often left me somewhat sleepy and near boredom. Despite all the time she spends on these twelve characters, telling us their intimate histories, their likes and dislikes, and their astrological charts, they matter but little to the underlying story she's telling. By the time she gets to the emotional meat of the story, it's near 700 pages in and she's zipping through chapters like a cat on fire. All the characters she spent so much time developing are gone at this point, and we're left with a short story of innocence taken advantage of by wicked people.
Picking up "The Luminaries" to read was something I had to push myself a bit to do. Normally the type of reader that zips a compelling story, I trudged through this one like it was assigned reading. As someone who aspires to write better than I currently do, I appreciated reading a quality piece of contemporary literature. In that vein, it did indeed feel a bit like homework. I'm better for it, I'm glad I did it, but it didn't move me terribly deeply, and I will most likely turn my copy in for credit at my local used bookstore or pass it along to an interested friend rather than keep it for posterity and revisitation. ...more
In some respects "The Eye in the Door" was every bit as good as "Regeneration". Its portrayal of war-time society and the mores of the time felt autheIn some respects "The Eye in the Door" was every bit as good as "Regeneration". Its portrayal of war-time society and the mores of the time felt authentic, and the writing itself is fabulous. However, I missed the dynamic of the other characters that had been developed in "Regeneration". Even though the portrayal of the psychologically complex and amoral Billy Prior was brilliantly done and a fitting vehicle to capture the charged hypocrisy/self-denial of the times, the continuing juxtaposition of his character with the others from "Regeneration" had been one of the things I was looking forward to. Onwards to Regeneration, #3......more
Since finishing this book early this afternoon, I've had waves of grief come over me at odd intervals. My knee-jerk rating of 'The Ghost Road' is fourSince finishing this book early this afternoon, I've had waves of grief come over me at odd intervals. My knee-jerk rating of 'The Ghost Road' is four stars, but that is simply within the context of the series itself. I don't have much patience for flashbacks in general, and much of 'The Ghost Road' is full of them. I still missed the characters that I got to know in Regeneration #1, but it was still fantastic and deeply moving. Five stars to the Regeneration series, without reservation. ...more
These are gorgeous stories, each perfectly complete. Munro has so much skill as both a storyteller and a writer, that she makes the illustration of aThese are gorgeous stories, each perfectly complete. Munro has so much skill as both a storyteller and a writer, that she makes the illustration of a lifetime within 20 pages or so look easy. Reading each story, I felt as though I was contemplating a beautifully done watercolor. ...more
"The Beet Queen" is an eloquent and honest portrayal of the awkwardness of our closest relationships and childhood. The story centers around two famil"The Beet Queen" is an eloquent and honest portrayal of the awkwardness of our closest relationships and childhood. The story centers around two families, linked through the friendship of Sita, then Mary to Celestine. It is told through the lenses of the three girls, Mary's brother Karl, Celestine's brother Russell, and one or two friends of their family.
"The Beet Queen" begins in the quasi-magical perspective of a child, with Mary and Karl's mother abandoning them at a fair. Their paths diverge--Mary taking root in a small town, and Karl drifting aimlessly. Settling in Argus, Mary "steals" Sita's best friend Celestine, beginning a lifelong friendship that is, despite all other happenings, the heart of this novel. Raw and unsparing in its portrayal as the characters are to each other, Erdrich lets the ugly, flawed and uncompromising parts of each person shine. "The Beet Queen" glories in the parts of our nature that don't fit in with the ideal portrait of humanity, the stubborn part of our psyche that would rather rebel than be something we're not. In this way, it is not a nice read, but luminously course. It begs you not to sympathize with the plight its characters, but empathize with their shortcomings and resignations, and to see what beauty there may be in that....more
I will not deny the greatness of "The Slynx". While I read it in English, I have to give kudos to translator Jamey Gambrell for capturing an book writI will not deny the greatness of "The Slynx". While I read it in English, I have to give kudos to translator Jamey Gambrell for capturing an book written entirely in dialect, and not making it sound forced. The language that Ms. Gambrell used had a rhythm and flow to it that felt natural and preserved the humor that I imagine the original Russian must have. The cultural wasteland that is described in "The Slynx" is wretched, and the base nature of the narrator, Benedikt, illustrates this perfectly. Tolstaya is unrelenting in her portrait of a landscape, both internally and externally, blighted by nuclear disaster. Her description of its aftermath is woven into the tapestry of the novel seamlessly, never stopping to make a clumsy explanation of how things came to be, but illustrating them in an organic fashion as our anti-hero Benedikt goes about his life.
I enjoyed "The Slynx" for a while, but it never grabbed me completely. Benedikt was somewhat sympathetic and enjoyable at first, but after his marriage to the daughter of the leader of the thought police, called the Saniturions, I ceased to care. His complete lack of self-reflection and empathy made it so I could barely relate to him. The dialect, as lively and inventive as it was, became oppressive. I wanted out of Benedikt's head and life. By the end of the novel, I could sympathize with the OIdeners, the people who were alive before the disaster, and by virtue of their mutations, were semi-immortal. They lived in perpetual mourning of the lives they lost before the Blast, and were unable to assimilate into the present-day society because of its corse and brutal nature. "You can't do anything with them, these Oldeners. They start shouting at the wrong time, swear in strange words, and push you around for who knows what reason. They're always unhappy: they don't understand a good joke, they don't like our dances and games, they never have a good time like people are supposed to, they're no fun, and all you hear from them is "Oh, horrors!" when nothing horrible is happening at all." In a society where the pinnacle of humor is someone hurting themselves ("Of course, if someone hurts me or my body, it's not funny. If it's someone else, it's funny. Why? Because me--that's me; and him--that's not me, it's him"), and a game consists of people smothering each other til "he's all red and sweating, and his hair's sticking out like a harpy's. People rarely die, our guys are strong, they fight, there's a lot of strength in their muscles."
I would have preferred that one of the Oldeners be my guide to this nightmare, even if they're no fun. But that's a personal preference, and has nothing to do with the artistic merit of this novel. If I could, I would give this book three stars in accordance with my personal taste, and four point five for literary achievement. Tolstaya managed to brilliantly capture a true dystopia, beyond anything I've read or seen before in how it is pictured. As it stands, since this is my personal Goodreads account, I'll stick with the three. ...more
I have to admit that I feel a little smug at the random literary choices that lead me to read both "Cloud Atlas" and Rudiger Safranski's philosophicalI have to admit that I feel a little smug at the random literary choices that lead me to read both "Cloud Atlas" and Rudiger Safranski's philosophical biography of Nietzsche at the same time. For while the movie version of "Cloud Atlas" tries to sell us on karmic redemption, the novel seems to me to be, on one level, a critique of the ideas of Nietzsche in literary form. Through the skillful employment of fiction, David Mitchell makes a convincing argument against Nietzsche's conception of slavery and the will to power. Far from fostering a new creative renaissance that elevates the artist, slavery engenders laziness in the privileged class and robs those of the slave class of their intellectual freedom (Sonmi-451, Robert Frobisher). Also easily corrupted is the will to power, which, instead of aiding in self-actualization in order to throw over an overbearing cultural norm, can be used as a means of brutality for no greater goal other than greed and domination (Bill Smoke, Henry Goose). The only tricky part to this pairing of books is that "Cloud Atlas" is eminently and compellingly readable, and Safranski's biography is not as much so. Safranski has yet to delve into Nietzsche's ideas on eternal recurrence, and I am already done with "Cloud Atlas". I suppose I'll just have to re-read "Cloud Atlas" when the time comes. Not an unpleasant thought.
For its own sake, independent of Nietzsche, I enjoyed "Cloud Atlas" thoroughly. "The Orison of Sonmi-451" was science fiction at it's most eloquent, both heartbreaking and beautiful. "Half-Lives, The First Luisa Rey Mystery" parodied itself without sacrificing character or suspense. The two narcissists, Timothy Cavendish and Robert Frobisher, though never giving up their egoism, manage to arouse compassion (in Frobisher's case), or at least sympathy (in Cavindish's). In both story and in theme, David Mitchell gives us a lot to feel and think about. My only hesitation in giving "Cloud Atlas" that last star has more to do with my own reading preferences. Though I appreciate what Mitchell was trying to do through weaving together all of the different story lines, I very much dislike jumping from story to story in a novel. I get so caught up in a given character and plot line, and then abruptly I'm asked to put that on pause and go on to another. Somewhere towards the end in all but my favorite one or two stories, I got frustrated and just want to find out what happens in the story immediately following. The only time I found it bearable was sequence of "Sloosha's Crossin an Ev'rythin After" being nested in "the Orison of Sonmi-451" because I knew I wasn't far from getting back to Sonmi's tale. Next time I read "Cloud Atlas", I think I will ignore the "nesting doll" format, and just read each story straight through. ...more
Being a Murakami fan and after reading some of the many five star reviews, I feel like a bit of a spoilsport. While I loved the beginning (lets say, tBeing a Murakami fan and after reading some of the many five star reviews, I feel like a bit of a spoilsport. While I loved the beginning (lets say, the first 300 pages) and would give the story the full amount of stars if it went on like that, there was a point where the story feels less like it unfolded and more like it was written. When I'm reading a good work of fiction, I want to be carried along by the story and characters, without being reminded that this is an author laboring to bring these events to fruition. At a certain point in this novel, 1Q84 seemed more like Murakami was forcing events to happen for the sake of a pre-determined conclusion than because the arc of the story lead naturally to those happenings.
Somehow, despite being 925 pages long, 1Q84 doesn't seem complete. What, for example, exactly are the Little People after? While I never have felt the need for an explanation for weird and magical happenings in Murakami before, I feel that too much effort was spent bringing the heroine and hero together (or deliberately keeping them apart) at the expense of what was happening to make this strange alternate universe of 1Q84 be. It is still an engaging and absorbing read, but as the book went on and Aomame herself lost her angry edge, I feel the book lost some of its edge and purpose as well.
Still, I wish the star ratings were relative. For example, Murakami as a writer gets 4.4 stars consistently, but within that, each book can be graded against each other. No one is as good at twisting ordinary reality into the magically absurd. And for once, I feel more depth to the main protagonists, male and female. All in all it was time well spent, but I couldn't help feeling a little dissatisfied with the last half. ...more