**spoiler alert** This was the first Peter Wimsey mystery, indeed the first Dorothy Sayers' novel that I've read. Wimsey's wealthy sleuth, butler assi...more**spoiler alert** This was the first Peter Wimsey mystery, indeed the first Dorothy Sayers' novel that I've read. Wimsey's wealthy sleuth, butler assistant and willing sidekick (Parker) reminded me of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe characters.
I found the dry humor smooth, but not particularly involving. However, I embarked on this series because I've heard such good things about Wimsey and Harriet Vane. I started at the beginning, with the expectation that the books would get better overtime and that the witty romance to come would fill any voids appearing in the clockwork mysteries. So, while this first entry left no strong impression upon me, I remain open to future delights.
I was surprised by Wimsey's nervous hallucinations, both because I didn't expect to see Post Traumatic Stress Disorder featured in a light, 1923 mystery and> because it added a certain vulnerability to Wimsey's character that was not unwelcome.
We first saw a deeper thread peeking out from Wimsey's glib exterior when he told Parker that he was now approaching a part of the investigative work that he dreaded, when the thrill of the chase gave way to conscience and regret. Of course, his reluctance could be written off as mere words with little substance behind them, except that Parker's response is rather serious and sharp. He doesn't just tell Wimsey that he shouldn't feel guilty about letting a murderer go free, he also tells him that he should take no joy in playing detective for sport. It might make him seem debonair and interesting, but if that's all he is, what's the point?
The way in which Parker tells Peter, his social and intellectual superior, that instead of just playing bon vivant, he needs to do something meaningful with his life, without feeling apologetic about it is not heavy-handed, but coming unexpectedly, the moment carries a certain force, one that I didn't expect to find in a serial mystery.
Obviously, I'm accustomed to the detective moralizing as they make observations about the criminal mind. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot do that all the time. However, I'm unused to the hero himself being analyzed by someone with a perception that is as on target as their own.
Parker's words brought me up short and then they were followed by the scene in which a weary Wimsey is frightened by flashbacks to German gunfire.
At the end of the book, when they are walking in the graveyard, Peter is grasping Parker's sleeve, needing that guidance and security, as he pushes aside memories. He reminds himself that he has been in graveyards for far more painful tasks. The sudden switch to a 2nd person narrative at the beginning of this chapter is a bit jarring. Yet, it does bring the reader closer to Peter. When he is referred to as "you" and "your" there's an illusion that one is having an intimate conversation with Peter. "You" (for instance the "tu" in Spanish) is familiar and personal.
This first mystery hints at a man who has been battered. He wasn't broken, but he hasn't completely healed either. That little hint of psyche is not explored, but it's already enough to prevent Wimsey from being an archtype. We never knew why Nick Charles drank too much. I don't think Dashiell Hammett considered it a problem that needed a reason. In their last stories, Marple and Poirot both ultimately engaged in conduct that warranted a closer examination of their personalities, but we never got it. In this, Wimsey's first outing, we see that something fragile and fascinating lies beneath his clue-collecting. He's motivated by more than a love of mischief and doesn't even bother to hide his weakness from those who care enough to look.
Having Freke = Freak was a nice touch. The journey to Gaudy Night should be promising.(less)
Overall, Samantha Bee's pieces on The Daily Show are more amusing than the sections of this book. It offers more smiles than chuckles.
However, the las...moreOverall, Samantha Bee's pieces on The Daily Show are more amusing than the sections of this book. It offers more smiles than chuckles.
However, the last half of the book does to seem to be sharper and more finely sketched than the first half.
As Bee takes us through her early childhood years, although each incident and characterization is exaggerated for comedic effect, it hints of more honesty than humor. Her parents seemed to have been selfish, neglectful, and incapable of nurturing. They certainly aren't painted as anywhere near abusive, but when you wouldn't even have rated an honorable mention on your mother, father or stepmother's Top 10 list or priorities, it's got to lead to the "tears of a clown" and, no doubt, is just the sort of dysfunctional upbringing that has shaped the lives of hundreds of comedians. Still, it invoked a little more concern than comedy.
I was also concerned that I identified so closely with some of Bee's more exaggerated neuroses. She was probably just kidding, but I really do suffer from an acute fear of "poo dust." The way she described her middle-aged boyfriend's bathroom habits fueled all my toilet phobias, which are already way out of control. She also described an affinity with older people and uncanny communion with her Grandma's outdated point of view that struck way too close to home. Maybe that's why I teared up reading the book's acknowledgments, especially: "And to my grandmother, whom I miss so much it makes my bones ache. What the hell were you thinking, dying on me like that?"
Of course, like all sneaky Canadians, she tries to convince us that she and Jason Jones take figure-skating lightly, mocking the sport over a tub of popcorn, but I know they feel the same sense of outrage over Jamie Sale and Davie Pelletier's perceived slight just as strongly as their comrades and are still conspiring to make the world pay.
In the end, Sam leaves us with memories of her amorous cat and a pink horse-riding helmet, topped with a straw hat, which may just be worth the price of the book purchase -- as long as you got it on clearance. (less)
I knew what to expect going into this book, from inadvertently reading summaries. Even if I hadn't, the Pied Piper foreshadowing in Rainbow Valley, ga...moreI knew what to expect going into this book, from inadvertently reading summaries. Even if I hadn't, the Pied Piper foreshadowing in Rainbow Valley, gave this last book's big development away. Even so, it was very moving. I read it during a flight and cried like a lunatic the whole plane route.
Being mostly familiar with U. S. History, it was interesting to see the war from a Canadian perspective. Susan's view on Woodrow Wilson and his love of "notes" was hilarious. It makes me wish that Montgomery could have written one during World War II as well. I'd like to know what Susan would say of FDR and to see how PEI would have reacted to events leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
It was interesting that women only got the right to vote during the war and only women with husbands and sons could vote at that! Despite the sexism at the time, I find Montgomery's women to be quite equal and independent thinkers, even young Rilla, the only one of the Blythe children who, seemingly, lacks ambition.
It's also notable that the family did not judge "sissy" Walter, even if some of his school mates did. His sensitivity was a derivative of Anne's, but many societies would not appreciate or tolerate it. Given the bullying that leads to suicide and murder so often in American schools these days, the Ingleside perception of Walter seems quite topical.
What Walter said in his last letter, about it being harder for him to return than to die in battle, was another prescient moment on his part. He knew that the memories of what he had seen -- done, would be overwhelming for him. It hinted at the post-traumatic stress syndrome that is acknowledged (but still not fully appreciated) today.
What would certainly never fly in today's world is Bruce's drowning of the cat, to ensure Jem's safe return home. Everyone thought his gesture was "wonderful, wonderful". Rilla pointed out that he'd have to learn you could never bargain with God, but not one character ever criticized what he did to the poor cat! Of course, cats have been abused in stories for decades, but usually by naughty boys, not "good" ones. I found that episode both shocking and droll.
When Walter and Faith rode pigs down the street, Gilbert jokingly objected on behalf of the swine, but he said not a word in defense of Bruce's drowned cat! Montgomery certainly knows how to personify animals when she wants, but in this instance she wasn't concerned with feline feelings.
I loved the ending, but found myself wondering just why Ken Ford had taken two weeks to contact Rilla after arriving home. I concentrated on his face scar and told myself maybe he was healing from injuries and did not want to communicate with her until he could stand face to face in good health, but I'm not sure. I know his concentration was on the war, but his diffidence was frustrating. The poor girl didn't even know where she stood for 4 years.
The lines that stood up and had me tearing long after the book was closed were Anne telling Susan to set the table for everyone, even the dear lad whose chair must always be vacant. Susan answered that it was not likely she'd forget to set his plate and I cry even now just typing about it.(less)
This book makes a quick, pleasant read, but it's very shallow. Half of the pages are filled with little more than Eden's name-dropping. Of course that...moreThis book makes a quick, pleasant read, but it's very shallow. Half of the pages are filled with little more than Eden's name-dropping. Of course that's fine, when she's telling stories about people who truly participated in her life and career (like Sydney Sheldon and Larry Hagman), but when Eden only met Marilyn Monroe for 5 minutes because they shared the same body double, it's hard to justify her decision to spend several pages talking about Ms. Norma Jean, especially since she doesn't even spend 1% as much time discussing her own sister.
If you're going to devote more time to people you once mingled with at a party than to those who influenced and shaped your path and shared your day to day dreams, you aren't going to reveal anything very meaningful about yourself. Eden doesn't.
Her showbiz anecdotes aren't boring, but they aren't hilarious or insightful either. Most of the men she met (Desi, Tom Jones, Warren Beatty) flirted shamelessly with her and she always declined their advances, because she was a self-acclaimed reserved, classy and naive lass. Most of the women she met hated her on sight (Katharine Hepburn, Ann Southern, Lauren Bacall and all of the dancers at Ciro who called her "Miss Virgin" and scoffed that she thought she was better than they were). Around the 50th time, it becomes a little tedious to read how enthralled with or envious of Barbara that everyone was, especially since it's not entirely believable. It's true she had a sweet face, wonderful figure and delightful mannerisms, but she was hardly embued with so much talent that one would believe Lauren Bacall would be scared to take a vacation from "Applause," because she was afraid that Eden would supplant her in the audience's affections.
The I Dream of Jeannie chapters of the book are the most meaty. Certainly fans of the tv show will want to have this in their library. Outside of that cult classic and its actors, it's rather annoying how Eden pads the pages with mini-bios of other celebrities. Most of the background she offers on them is public (or wikipedia) knowledge, not information she's gleaned through personal communications or insight.
Eden mentions that her character Jeannie wasn't real, but was just a figment of Tony Nelson's imagination. I can't speak to the black and white episodes, which are less familiar to me, but I've seen countless reruns from the last 4 years of the show and Jeannie was very real. She was seen by Tony, Roger and many others. Poor Dr. Bellows practically went insane because he witnessed so many of Jeannie's stunts, for which he had no rational explanation. While the show itself may have been a fantasy, within the world of the series, Jeannie was certainly a reality, not an illusion.
Eden leaves her son's losing battle with drugs to the end of the book, which almost makes the tragedy seem like an afterthought. If Matthew's trials had been weaved chronilogically through the narrative, the pain Eden ultimately suffered might have seemed more real. As it is, we don't get a feeling that their relationship was a constant and central part of her life. She tells us how much she loved him, but she also tells us that she married an obnoxious bully who disliked her 10 year old child and caused her to lose custody of him. Why she would enter a marriage that she had doubts about in the first place, knowing that would be the cost, is hard to fathom. It led me to the conclusion that Matthew was not quite the priority in her life that she claimed -- which doesn't make her at all responsible for his drug overdose over 20 years later. It just makes her less sympathetic as the mother left behind.
If you're a fan of sixties tv, add this to your collection. If you want to sink your teeth into a good autobiography, this likely won't have enough substance for you. (less)
Great romp, but it left me wanting moral resolution. Farce is fine, but I guess I'm just more partial to Dickens' method of weighing the scales of jus...moreGreat romp, but it left me wanting moral resolution. Farce is fine, but I guess I'm just more partial to Dickens' method of weighing the scales of justice more carefully. I felt unsatisfied that 2 characters who colluded in planning a rape, walk off scot free. Indeed, the Lord actually takes a heroic turn in the end. Although he tried to rape Sophia, he helps free an imprisoned Tom at the end and it's as if he's paid his dues.
It's not as if I'd expect either the characters or plot to punish the would-be rapist. As in life, I know in fiction that the bad guys will not always hang, nor do I even expect them to be shunned by all the worthy ones. But I'm accustomed to the writer addressing their turpitude more firmly. Fielding spends chapters railing against forced marriages --which he realizes were legally sanctioned forms of rape -- while only giving glancing attention to a plotted, criminal rape. At least the planners should have been exposed and verbally assaulted, somehow made contrite (as Austen routinely disposes of her culprits).
In Fielding's case, only Blifil is branded a villain by all. While, the Lord and Lady who arranged the heroine's emotional ruin never face censure.
The only person to whom the aborted rape is exposed is Aunt Western who declares she would have stabbed the assailant if she'd been present and (as a spinster) could hardly bear the thought of having her own lips kissed, upon hearing that her niece's breast was brutalized. Yet, Miss Western still plans to marry the fiend off to his intended victim her (supposedly) beloved niece. Far from being scorned or treated to her comeuppance, in the "happy ever after" ending we learn that Aunt Western remains a cherished member of the family, spending 2 months at a time vacationing merrily with the niece she meant to doom.
Though a comedy, the narrator made enough piercing observations about the cruelty of human nature, as to provoke the reader's outrage and concern, along with his guffaws. I was left uneasy when the story ended with only some of my aroused passions assuaged.
Once they finally reconciled, Allworthy cautioned his charitable nephew that forgiveness was laudable, but one could also be too kind. Those who deserve sanction should receive it. When they don't, their malfeasance is promoted, ratified. You cannot remain honorable, while excusing dishonor. Allworthy understood this, but I'm not sure his creator did.
Plot red herrings: When Mrs. Miller said she had been married only 5 years before her husband died, I wondered how she came to have one daugher who was 17 and another who was 10. She wasn't with her husband long enough for him to father the youngest girl. Even though she admits that he was her lover before they married, she doesn't say she was pregnant when they wed. She not only would have had to be pregnant, but also to have given birth to a child that was nearly 2 at the time of the nuptials, for her to have a daughter 7 years younger, fathered by the same man.
I thought this discrepancy would lead us to find a secret in Mrs. Miller's past, but it didn't.
I was also confused about why Sophia colored upon hearing Arabella Hunt's name. I know that learning Tom rejected the rich Arabella's proprosal helped to convince Sophia that he wasn't a libertine, but when Mrs. Miller described Sophia's reaction to the news, it seems that Sophia had a specific reaction based on who Arabella was. I thought we would discover a link between Hunt and Western eventually, but we never did.
Culinary note: Didn't know they used to serve birds with eggs still inside of them. Black George brought some to Sophia, knowing that a fowl full of eggs was a favorite of hers. I wonder about the texture of the unhatched eggs. Nausea inducing thought, but they would find the idea of going to the grocer and buying a ready cut package of chicken wings gross too, I'm sure. (less)
**spoiler alert** I'm afraid I share a problem with Robert Fanshaw: I sometimes get so bogged down in details, want to say so much, so thoroughly, tha...more**spoiler alert** I'm afraid I share a problem with Robert Fanshaw: I sometimes get so bogged down in details, want to say so much, so thoroughly, that it becomes very difficult to say anything completely. The burden of finishing my thoughts looms so huge that I don't even want to start them. Is it normal for a reader to get writer's block? Of course, I haven't attempted to review Time Traveler's Wife at all. I'm afraid THAT would require nearly line by line analysis. This should be scads easier -- I hope!
After reading Niffenegger's interviews and critic reviews, I never thought Fearful Symmetry was a book I'd savor in the first place. I didn't read it for itself. I was hoping that it would give me further insight into Time Traveler. I felt if I became familiar with the writer's approach, I'd find clues that would help me nurse a fantasy: the delusion that Clare and Henry found each other, somewhere between his death and hers. I daydreamed that there was a mystery underpinning Time Traveler's surface and I only had to ferret it out. I thought if I came to know Niffenegger's other characters, I'd learn more about what Clare and Henry could be after their story ended.
Was Niffenegger capable of happy endings or did she perceive life as too random to provide those? Did she ever firmly abandon nihilism to reward suffering? Could she, would she ever concoct implausible scientific schemes that might help her characters find peace in the end?
Basically, I imagined that behind the Time Traveler scenes (pages) Dr. Kendricks formulated a drug that helped Henry enter the future and stay there with Clare after his death, long enough to heal the pain we all endured when he was wrenched away. I read Fearful Symmetry in hopes of finding even a glimmer in Niffenegger's writing style that would support my own Clare and Henry fantasies. Guess what? I did! Fearful Symmetry helped sustain my Time Traveler illusions and succeeded in being entertaining in its own right.
To begin, Fearful Symmetry distanced me immediately. My heart was never at risk of being broken by any of its characters, because, save for Robert, it was impossible to identify with them. They weren't merely dysfunctional. They were unreal. Plot devices rather than people. The book seemed more experiment than tale. The very opening pages introduced an undercurrent of necrophilia, incest, and obsession seeping from each of the unnatural and unhealthy relationships showcased. Yet, even while I approached their stories with detachment, there was no disinterest.
While Clare and Henry were normal people living a paranormal life, Fearful Symmetry was comprised of the abnormal, but their feelings were frequently described in painfully poignant and human terms.
We all learn about death at an early age, but somehow knowing what it means technically, never prepares you for the reality of the deceased's absence. When you experience it, it's such a shock that it makes you question everything else. If a tree falls in a forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? When the people you loved disappear, are you really still here? Did the life and secrets you shared actually happen? Somehow, they not only take the future you expected to have with them, but they take part of the past as well and death seems more concrete than life. As Robert Fanshaw grieved Elspeth, I relived the losses in my own life. It's amazing how you can't seem to make the decades you spent together stretch to cover the complete expanse of time you're destined to spend without them.
If I had my father, my grandmother, my brother for 30 or 40 years, how is it that my memories of them can't last in full detail for another 30 or 40 years. How can I possibly begin to forget mannerisms, gestures, habits, smells, sounds, almost immediately? When Fanshaw said he wanted to stop time to keep the memories he had of Elspeth from slipping away, when he was realized that a thing had not quite happened until he'd told Elspeth about it, I was sucked in by the truth of the words, if not by the false story they surrounded.
To the extent that I used Symmetry as a guide book to Time Traveler's Wife, I was heartened by the answers I found to my questions. Time Traveler suggested that if God existed, he was indifferent. In that world, random won over reason. By contrast, Symmetry seemed to follow the law of fictional ethics. In the end, there was a clear balance of equities, emotionally, if not ethically. Readers received what they rooted for and characters got what they deserved. In the most shameless plot contrivance, Niffenegger even introduces a new (or newly seen) character in the last pages, just to end Julia's story on a positive note.
Martin is not only reunited with Marijke, but seeks the outdoors, letting us know that his OCD will remain in remission. Like him, all the other characters break free of the fears that crippled and confined them. They conquer their demons and dependencies and we find that it was never actual ghosts that haunted them.
Edie and Jack find love beyond their 21 years of lies. Edie is so buoyed by the discovery that she forgets her fear of flying.
Even before Valentina soars with the crows, we see that death has given her a dominance she never possessed in life. She is the one giving instructions to Julia, rather than the other way around. She finds her own way outside to the world and gets her sister to let her go. She breaks free, as does Robert.
Before Elspeth's death, Robert was happy in their love. From the opening pages, we see that she manipulated and used him, but not only did her appeal make the control she had an easier pill to swallow, it was medicine Robert craved. He wanted her to wield that control. Meeting Valentina took him out of his comfort zone to an independence he'd never sought before. He told Valentina that Elspeth lost her compassion in death, but he probably changed more than Elspeth did.
I think his most powerful line in the story comes during his conversation with Jack. Jack does not know how to describe Robert's relationship with Elspeth. Was he her boyfriend? Lover? Significant other. Jack begins, 'You were Elspeth's . . ." Unsure how to finish the sentence. Robert thinks the sentence is perfectly completely. He was Elspeth's period. Consumed, subsumed by her, her needs and desires. Robert then adds to himself that he was Elspeth's creature. Her pet. Her pawn. His perception of their relationship is suddenly altered. But is it because he feels like less man and not that she's become more monster?
The book reminded me of Daphne Du Maurier's writings in many ways. Rebecca would be the most obvious comparison, but I'm also reminded of my favorite, "My Cousin Rachel." In that book, the reader never knows whether or not Rachel was evil or whether her crimes were imagined. In Symmetry, the reader has much more insight into Elspeth's motivations. Robert suspected that Elspeth planned Valentina's death, meant for it to happen all along, just as surely as she'd been "plotting" to live in Sussex. He thought the whole idea was conceived by Elspeth, not Valentina. Valentina does see something dark and "strange" looking at her through the window once and wonders if it is Elspeth.
Elspeth's first thought upon hearing Valentina's plan was that it was too much of a temptation. Not a risk, but TEMPTATION. There's a hint that she was deceiving Valentina, Robert and, maybe, herself all along. Robert also has a nightmare and wakes the house screaming Elspeth's name. Both Elspeth and Robert fear what she might do. On the other hand, it was Valentina who was sewing a black "shroud" for herself and noticed 6 unlucky magpies roosting. Certainly, the ominous abounds, but it seems to be in the air, rather than directly in Elspeth.
I myself don't think Elspeth engaged in longterm scheming to take Valentina's body or even to take Jack 21 years earlier. But in the end, it doesn't matter whether it was premeditated or not.
Ultimately, when you continue to LET things happen, it has the same effect as when you MAKE them happen. Eventually, "I didn't cause it" is no defense to: "You didn't stop it." The crime of acquiescence. Things fall into place for Elspeth; she doesn't push them there. In the end, she was shopping for a Sussex map, before she ran into Julia. The encounter gave her a reason to justify the move she'd already planned to Robert, but it wasn't a lie or pretext. She seemed to influence fate with willpower rather than maneuvering, in much the same way that her mood could silently change Valentina's, when she'd been a ghost. In the end, Elspeth is probably no less culpable than Robert thinks, even if not quite culpable the WAY he thinks she is.
He leaves, as Elspeth's literary "punishment." Yet, she is young (thanks to Valentina) and resourceful. She probably won't be alone for long. The family she knew is gone, but there is a new baby. His new life and hers will be forged together.
As to that baby, that's an instance where justice does not prevail. He is an innocent child, yet Robert has left him in the same way that he was abandoned by his own father. The son will likely grow up bossed by Elspeth, the same way that Robert was gladly bossed by his aunts and mother. History will repeat itself, through mother and son and new repressions, lies and perversions will surely be born from that Oedipal stew.
When Elspeth understands that Robert won't return, I feared that he had committed suicide. I didn't understand why he had left his manuscript behind and was wary of the look of "finality" about the scene. But though there is room for doubt, I'm certain that Robert lives. He left the finished book behind like a turtle discards his old shell. Writing the thesis gave him purpose, but kept him stagnant, enclosed. Finishing it brought completion, release from everything that kept him from moving forward, including Elspeth. For him, the History of Highgate Cemetery was Elspeth. Her apartment, its books and old furnishings, was akin to the graveyard and its inhabitants. In both cases, the line between preserving and learning from the past and wallowing in, -- swallowed by -- it is blurred.
Elspeth took care of Edie. Robert took care of Elspeth, Julia took care of Valentina. Marijke took care of Martin. It was only when the caretaking stopped that life began. So often, love takes more than it gives. It's no coincidence that all the plaques quoted in Postman's Park involve someone who died while trying to save someone else. The need to care for someone is exposed as selfish, not selfless, and it kills the love that sparked it. Devotion becomes dependence. Desire brings destruction. In fact, Symmetry is just a realization of the same moral taught in The Monkey's Paw (cited by Henry in TTW) in much the same way that Stephen King's "Pet Cemetery" was. That being the case, how can it give me hope of the happy ending I craved for the Time Traveler's? Symmetry is about letting go, rather than clinging to what's gone. That's the key though. You can't resurrect what's dead, but you can restore what's been divided, like Martin and Marijke, Edie and Jack.
Perhaps Mark Sanford could never fall back in love with his wife, any more than Elspeth could resume life with Robert, but if the love never left, that's different. Love can survive any death, but love's own.
J. Geils said "Love Stinks" and I don't know if Niffenegger agrees, except for Elspeth's post-grave breath, love doesn't exactly "stink." But it suffocates, when you hold it too close. It's as often disabling as it is uplifting and Niffenegger doesn't seem to want to let her characters ride tandem, until after they've proven they can ride alone. The joy of love is reserved for those who've gone without. It's the reward for waiting.
The narrator tells us Valentina fell in love with Robert almost instantly and he felt the same, but was afraid. If she'd known he loved her, would it have been different? If he'd known she loved him? Valentina thinks that it's Elspeth who stands between her and Robert, but the wall is really of her own making. They're boats that missed each other and, yes, I'm wistful thinking of the possibilities. I wonder about Robert, where he went. Is he living with Jessica and James? Is he teaching? He's the reader's stand in, the only fully fleshed character, yet still empty at his core. Of course, that's a hollow, a void, that's probably supposed to be there. Everything else in the story gets planted in his hole. He's conduit rather than conductor. So, I suppose it's only fitting that we know more about how everyone else ends up than we do about his conclusion: even if it's the one we care about most.
As for Symmetry's silly plot mechanics with tiny ghosts in a drawer, hooking spirits, swiping corpses that have been kept on ice, etc., it was offputting, comical and certainly made me think less of the author's talent. We're veering into dangerous V. C. Andrews/Dean Koontz territory with this entry. The supernatural works best the closer it stays to metaphor. Yet, the more convoluted things became, the more confident I grew that Niffenegger is not above contorting logic and straining our suspension of disbelief to reach a desired conclusion. If Sebastian, Robert and Elspeth could work to bring Valentina's body back to life, then Kendrick, Henry and Alba could work to bring the DeTambles back together too, sooner or later. That gave me hope.
The story was ridiculous, the characters unbelievable, unengaging and their actions gratuitously grotesque. Why is it that Elspeth tries to have sex with Robert fresh from the coffin? For nicety's sake, couldn't she try a warm bath (and listerine) first? The book wants to shock us, by refusing to disguise or perfume our animal need. But once you push the reader away like that, you only give him a better view of the story's deficiencies.
Time Traveler's plotting was genius, both literally and figuratively. That is, the plot was exquisite, enhanced by the way it was laid out and mapped more meticulously than the hundred thousand head stones at Highgrave. Fearful Symmetry is plot-driven, rather than planned. Events are thrown at us carelessly, just to get us to the predetermined destination. We're not led to the end, so much as railroaded there, with characterization lost along the wayside. The journey need not always matter, but if you're going to compromise that trip, the end result better be worth it. Symmetry's is not. Still, the book isn't entirely lacking in value.
I don't know what to make of the suggestion that Valentina was suicidal and abusive (Julia's black eye). I was never convinced that she would have taken her own life had Elspeth rejected her plan. I'm confused as to why we never saw this more psychotic side of Valentina up close. It takes more than having Julia defensively say, "she didn't mean it," for me to accept Valentina's sinister side. Clearly, a girl who thinks that death is the only way to escape a smothering sibling relationship has a screw loose. But the fact that neither Elspeth nor Robert could offer Valentina more practical solutions to her dilemma suggests to me that the problem was in the writer's limitations, not in the youngest Ms. Poole.
Clearly, Niffenegger couldn't think of another excuse for the body switch to happen. The fact that, due to her simple inability to walk away, Valentina was willing to sacrifice the kitten, Julia, Jack and Edie's well-being makes her either crazed, cruel or ill-conceived. Possibly all three.
I would have liked to see Valentina and Robert see into the other's heart and build a romance, but this novel had a more macabre agenda and there's nothing wrong with that! Some books are about rare and radiant maidens named Lenore nd some are about why they're lost and will never return.
I wouldn't call this book an early mystery or detective story, since we know the victim, the guilty party and the motive quite early on, as does the b...moreI wouldn't call this book an early mystery or detective story, since we know the victim, the guilty party and the motive quite early on, as does the book's hero, Robert Audley.
We don't follow along as Audley unravels the crime, so much as we watch him gather clues. Though obvious and redundant it's not a boring read and, while Braddon is no Dickens, she does employ mild humor that makes the story go down easily.
We meet Robert Audley as an idle bachelor. When one of his friends, George Talboys, goes missing, he traces the disappearance to his uncle's new (and much younger) wife, Lucy Audley. He soon guesses that Talboys was married to Lucy and when he left for Australia to find his fortune, Lucy (once Helen Talboys) faked her own death, assumed a new identity, abandoned their child and snagged a new and richer husband. When Talboys returns, she is already ensconced in high society, doted upon by her older husband. Talboys' presence threatens to expose her identity and he mysteriously disappears. Audley soon begins to suspect that Lucy was Talboys' wife and links her to, what Audley suspects, was Talboys' violent end. Audley spends the rest of the book proving his suspicions, while Lucy works to elude him.
Audley's sleuthing should, rightly, take up half as many pages as it does. The novel is padded with Audley's guilt as he wonders how the truth will effect his poor uncle, along with endless descriptions of aged homes and windy weather which are symbolic of the characters' moods and secrets. The thing is, symbolism isn't really necessary when you also spend a lot of time plainly describing those moods and secrets. The house is moaning. Its inhabitants are moaning. The wind is moaning and, after 100 pages of this, the reader is moaning.
As mentioned, Braddon is not Dickens in terms of wit, but neither does she match him in emotion. However exaggerated his plot and people, Dickens makes you feel his characters' suffering. His villains are brought to justice, but his innocents also endure real -- and sometimes irrevocable -- pain. Life has consequences, but not in Audley's world. Braddon's happy ending feels much more contrived than the convoluted plot that preceded it.
Furthermore, other than wanting and finally getting to see Lucy nabbed for her crimes, I felt that the book lacked rooting value.
To begin with, George Talboys is not the most sympathetic of murder victims. Had Lucy (nee Helen) truly been the dear girl he thought he'd wed, she would have been sorely misused. Frustrated with his lot in life, he left Lucy and their infant son in poverty. He said he was going to seek his fortune and, if he failed, he wouldn't be back at all. Lucy was left to fend for herself, with only a drunken father to aid her. Although, her husband's conduct did not excuse her own decision to abandon their baby, one can hardly fault her plan to assume a new identity and try to find a job as an unmarried woman. Certainly, George did not deserve to be murdered upon his return 3 years later, but he basically left her to die. So what if she led him into believing that she actually had? Under the circumstances, it's hard to join in Robert Audley's tender musings about his missing friend. In fact, if all Lucy had done was kill George, I wouldn't really have considered her a bad sort. But her crimes did not stop there. Moreover, aside from the homicidal urges, she was selfish, phony and childish. Thus, she needed to be brought down, just not to avenge George.
The book also thwarted my romantic expections. When we meet the Audleys we learn that Robert's young cousin Alicia is smitten with him and has long been awaiting a marriage proposal. She is a lively, spirited, and loving girl and Robert has casual plans to marry her some day, though he delights in teasing her, derides her love of horses, and complains that she "bounces" too much. His intentions towards her are formed enough that he encourages her to reject the marriage proposal from a local squire, assuring her that if she's patient she may receive an offer from someone for whom Robert knows she really cares (himself). Hurt that he's taking her for granted, Alicia retorts that she doesn't think Robert is acquainted with the person for whom she really cares. Despite her tart tongue, we feel Alicia's pain and look forward to the point when Robert sees her as a woman, not just a kid cousin. I expected their friendship and familiarity to flower into the kind of love that Emma realized for Mr. Knightley, but it is not to be.
In searching for George Talboys, Robert meets George's cloistered sister Clara and instantly falls for her. She has a reserve and refinement that no women in his languid circle possess and while that is alluring to him, it's not too exciting from a reader's perspective. We don't spend much time with Clara and while her composure is respectable, it's not compelling. For me, she quite paled in comparison to Alicia. Robert acknowledges how smitten he is with Clara, but feels guilty, because he has tacitly led Alicia on and thinks himself honor bound to remain single, rather than commit to another. His guilt is never resolved. Instead, while Felicia is, on Robert's instructions, away with her father, Robert becomes engaged to Clara without a second thought to his cousin.
We never learn how Alicia deals with this betrayal, since Braddon is as unconcerned about her as Robert. Alicia marries another, the local landowner whose proposal she'd rejected earlier. We know the man loved her, but never saw her early indifference towards him evolve into something more. At one point, when Robert twice kisses Felicia in brotherly fashion, we know that she sees that he only loves her as a brother. Still, in those days, marriages were built on a lot less than platonic love. The fact that Robert's affection for her might have been tepid, does not make her pain, or my disappointment for her, less. Alicia was only a supporting character, but more central to the story than Clara was and I'm not sure why her conclusion was given such short shrift. Robert and Clara's happy ending was not much of a romantic reward for the reader.
Finally, the book's biggest denouement may have been the greatest letdown. I spent the whole novel waiting for Lucy Audley's punishment. She not only ostensibly killed Talboys, but tried to kill Robert (after threatening to have him committed), setting a fire that took the life of a servant who'd been blackmailing her. Moreover, she created a wedge between her husband and his only child and generally used people. As her crimes mounted, so did her need for comeuppance. In the end, she does confess all to Robert. However, anxious to spare his uncle pain, Audley quietly sends Lucy away to a french mental institution and keeps her heinous secrets to himself. She is never subjected to the public shame that spurred me forward to the novel's end. It was like slogging through a two hour Superman movie, only to have Clark Kent give Lex Luthor a big ol' hug in the last frame. Anti-climatic, to say the least.
Still, these frustrations were minor ones. The plot wasn't poignant or penetrating enough to seriously invest or disappoint its audience. While I wouldn't really call Robert Audley a classic detective, romping through Lady Audley's subterfuges with him was a pleasant diversion.
I read a few Pooh stories as a child and they didn't grab me. The movies, with an annoying Tigger and an ever-perplexed Pooh and his honey pot did not...moreI read a few Pooh stories as a child and they didn't grab me. The movies, with an annoying Tigger and an ever-perplexed Pooh and his honey pot did nothing to attract me and seemed rather slow.
However, I recently revisited the original stories and was delighted and touched. The wit and personality observations. Eeyore's sarcasm. The reverence they have for Christopher Robin who is all-knowing to the forest creatures, but would be considered a child too young to have opinions of any importance in the human adult world. The rapport between Piglet and Pooh and their kindness, as contrasted with Rabbit's ego and insensitivity. Kanga's obsessive concern for young Roo ... all so beautifully and amusingly rendered.
As a child, I cried over the song Puff The Magic Dragon. As an adult, Toy Story 3 also made me shed a tear. I'm late in the game in enjoying those same poignant themes in Winnie the Pooh, but that doesn't make them any less compelling. I love how it's not really articulated -- the leavetaking. Christoper Robin doesn't say he's going to school, because that's not really what's taking him away from the Enchanted Forest. He's growing up. It's not that he'll have other obligations and won't be able to do "nothing" any longer. It's that his imagination won't be fueled or fulfilled by his old friends, for much longer. That pains him. Outgrowing something is sometimes not any easier than being outgrown is.
**spoiler alert** And the most delicious part is, we never know if she was guilty or not. It leaves you going back over every ambivalent detail. Rebec...more**spoiler alert** And the most delicious part is, we never know if she was guilty or not. It leaves you going back over every ambivalent detail. Rebecca gave readers a definitive answer, but this book doesn't and that's why we fully appreciate Philip's torment.
When I've read about the movie Suspicion, it's been said that Hitchcock wanted to make Cary Grant's character the bad guy, but the movie studio chickened out in the end, didn't want to hurt his image. It's argued that it would have been a better movie, if he turned out to be the murderer and the happier ending trivialized, even mocked, the portent of everything that had come before. But wouldn't the same be true if the plot had gone the other way?
It's not a gimmick that can be overused, but My Cousin Rachel proves that when handled properly not knowing is the most enticing option of all. The writer has to know. You have to feel that the answer, true or false, exists out there somewhere, even if it's inaccessible to you. That's what keeps you guessing, wondering, reviewing, even after the last page is turned.
The intrigue in the ambiguity here, as in classic works like Turn of the Screw or Young Goodman Brown is that if there has actually been no crime, then the sin is actually the protagonist's and the reader's. If you've misread the situation and something innocent seemed sinister in your mind, what does that say about you? The deception, desire and debauchery that you've suspected that someone else committed has been a figment of your own imagination. Perhaps, a creation of your own dark longings. You thought it was happening not because of the evidence, but because part of you wanted it. Hoped. You're not battling someone else's evil, but your own subconscious. The mystery isn't in the (possible) murder; it's in the mind.(less)
The book was quite whimsical and took me on flights of fancy that almost removed me from the plot, more than drew me in. Y...more*****contains spoilers******
The book was quite whimsical and took me on flights of fancy that almost removed me from the plot, more than drew me in. You don't get much of a study in characters, because their secrets make up the mystery. They're more puzzle pieces than people, but given the story's themes of loneliness, abandonment and incompleteness, perhaps they don't feel like flesh and blood humans, because they aren't. They've been denied the other part of themselves that would have allowed them to develop into whole individuals.
There's something almost robotic about the narrator Margaret Lea. It's not that she's devoid of emotion, but it's revealed in guarded descriptions rather than expression of feeling. She's a writer, interviewing a writer and, through their voices, we have details related to us, but we don't get characters actually living their lives. This is not a flaw in the book, as much as it is the point.
For all its lyrical wording, the thrust of what happens in the book is unsaid, which is why so many of the characters might as well be mute: Isabelle, Charlie, Emmeline, Adelaide, all full of untamed passion released in wild energy. They're fueled by instinct, not intellect, fury, not sound. They're a family of Helen Kellers who conquer and reject Anne Sullivan, send her running off defeated, keeping the diary and keys she wielded in her battle to bring order into their lives, as souvenirs marking their victory.
Margaret Lea, a historian of sorts, goes to interview Vida Winter, a famed and mysterious novelist who has never given anyone the true story of her life. Winter decides to finally tell the truth to Lea. But it's not a biography she recount. Her life story reads much like one of her works of fiction, in keeping with Winter's theory that everyone mythologizes their own birth -- their existence.
Winter's story starts with her grandfather, a brooding widower who came to dote on his daughter Isabelle beyond the point of sanity. He dies when hair he has pulled from his beloved's hair entwine so deeply into his fingers that they become infected. The sickness mixed with his grief at losing the girl prove a lethal combination. His obsession with her begets a legacy of incest and violence that he passed on to his son Charlie who also fixated on Isabelle who was herself mad. Though physically brutalized by both her father and brother, she reigned over the two, using their rage to control them more completely. Masochist and manipulator, they eventually realize that they only ever took from her what she gave. She marries, but the twins she delivers, Adelaide and Emmeline have clearly been sired by her red-headed brother.
The girls grow like weeds or animals, as Charlie and Isabelle are too gripped by lust and insanity to notice them. Struggling to maintain the Angelfield home that is quickly decaying around them, the family's elderly housekeeper (Missus) and caretaker (John-the-Dig) feed and love the twins, but cannot govern or guide them.
Missus and John enjoy the novel's most realized bond. They are not lovers, but partners in every other sense. Decades of shared meals and shared employer secrets, create a seal as simple as it is tight. They don't talk about what they've witnessed, but don't need to: "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" One will ask. "Aye," the other responds. There is nothing more to be said. The other characters are deeply tied together, but everything they conceal is an invisible wall between them, a thin, but impenetrable divider, leaving them grasping for the union they can never fully achieve. Missus and John have no secrets from each other, while acting in quiet unity to protect everyone else's. You may have wanted more for the couple, for them to find their own life as one, rather than spending their whole existences as caretakers for others, but unlike the domestics in "Remains of the Day" Missus and John aren't barren, because they aren't alone and are not defined by everything that passed them by. Of all the people longing for their other half in this book, John and Missus found it.
As Aurelius says later in the book, he spent so much time searching for the answers to his past, when he should have been content with what he had in Mrs. Love, the woman who took him in and raised him as her own. Who could have given him more than she did? Certainly not his biological family, this we know, though he doesn't. Eventually, maybe he learns you don't need roots to grow. Once you shake free of the past, you can move forward.
Meanwhile, a generation before Ambrose' unmanaged and unmanageable, the Angelfield twins wreak havoc at home and throughout the town. Mentally disabled, completely unhinged or simply neglected? It's hard to tell. They speak mostly to each other, largely oblivious to the world around them. Emmeline is mild-mannered, passive, easily attracted to anything sparkly and always hungry. Adelaide is the smart one, sharp, fast, hardly ever sleeps. She dominates her sister, or does she? Is her power over Emmeline as illusory as Charlie's was over his sister Isabelle's?
When Isabelle is hauled off to an institution, Charlie's last remnants of sanity flee and so does he. He ultimately goes missing altogether. Meanwhile, Maudsley, the doctor who committed Isabelle decides that her daughters are horribly neglected and hires Hester, a governess, for them. She is not cruel, but entirely clinical, rather than compassionate. Her forceful efforts to bring structure to Angelfield and its inhabitants is the story's quiet catalyst. She takes Emmeline and Adelaide on as a case study. She and Maudsley decide to make a scientific study from their observations of the twins' connection and stunted development. Easily lured by food and kindness, Emmeline is maleable, but Adelaide is a less willing guinea pig. She fights Hester and won't be harnessed or broken. Hester decides to divide and conquer, separating the girls and sending Adelaide to live with the Maudsley's, hoping that the heartbreaking loss of her sister will make her docile. It doesn't.
Even with Adelaide gone from Angelfield, her spirit seems to remain at the house, undermining Hester's work, stealing her possessions, making her doubt her own sanity. She thinks she sees the twins together, even when she knows that's a physical impossibility. But in the end, Hester is undone not by the tricks the house plays, so much as her own failings. She spent so much time diagnosing the twins that she was unaware of her own motivations. In the end it was the proper Hester found utterly lacking in propriety. Caught in a kiss with the married doctor which, perhaps, took no one by surprise except the two whose lips locked, Hester is disgraced by the scandal and disappears without a trace.
The twins are reunited and, working with John and Missus, to keep the fact that they are now orphans secret from the outside world, one steps forward into womanhood. Schooled by the family servants, she takes charge of everything, from killing fowl for the table, to lighting fires for warmth, maintaining the massive garden, handling finances and legal matters, to caring for Emmeline. No one is more surprised than Dr. Maudsley when the addled Adelaide, a girl he considered nothing more than a science project, morphs into a capable young woman, far removed from the savage who must have tampered with John the Dig's ladder, causing a senseless death that the elderly Vida Winter still mourns.
After John and the Missus are both dead, a ravaging fire destroys Angelfield. Adelaide leaves home to enter the world and become Vida Winter acclaimed, but reclusive, writer. As Margaret Lea chronicles Vida's story we see how it tears into her own. Margaret was born a twin, but didn't realize it until she found hidden papers in her parents' bedroom at the age of twelve. She learns she and Moira, her other half were conjoined. She always felt a sense of loss, but now that she can put a face to it (the mirror image of her own), she is consumed by the pain. She can't see her own reflection without aching for the sister trapped away from her behind the looking glass. She's haunted by the hole, and her parents' betrayal in not telling her. Moira's not the sister she never had. She's the part of her soul that no one ever acknowledged. Worst than missing a body part is for the world to pretend they don't see its absence. Where there's no mourning there can be no healing.
When Vida Winter tells of the fire that cost her Emmeline. Her pain is Margaret's. The hand that Vida burned in the fire, is like the scar marking the place where Margaret was separated from her twin. Not fully trusting all that Winter has recounted, Margaret visits Angelfield herself. Finds the shell of the long gutted house. She makes a friend in the rubble, Aurelius. He likes to roam those grounds, looking for his past. He was a foundling. Left in a basket not far from Angelfield, on the doorstep of a kindly woman who took him in as her son. Mrs. Love raised Aurelius to bake like she did. He becomes a caterer and always carries cake with him, to fill the pangs (hunger or otherwise) of life. Mrs. Love has long died and Aurelius is left to wonder where he came from alone. He thinks his mother must have come from Angelfield. Margaret realizes that his story must be connected to Vida Winter's.
Back at the Winter home, Margaret is awakened from her sleep by singing. She follows the sound out into the maze of a garden on Winter's estate. She encounters an old woman, face disfigured by burn scars and realizes it's Emmeline. She didn't perish in the Angelfield fire. Not physically. Margaret devines that Emmelinie is Aurelius' mother. She has identified one of the twins, another trip to Angelfield reveals the other. As Angelfield is being excavated for construction of a hotel on the site, 60 year old bones are found in the rubble. Suddenly all the pieces come together for Margaret and she realizes that Vida Winter is not the grown up Adelaide.
Vida was an illegitimate daughter of the lecherous Charlie. Half sister to the twins, she looked enough like them to be passed off as one. This is not the story of two little girls. It's the story of THREE girls, twins and a half sister. As surprise twists go, it's not as effective as discovering that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time!
Abandoned by an unknown mother, this illegitimate daughter, the third girl at Angelfield (let's call her Vida, since that's whom she grew up to be) was left as a waif at Angelfield and cared for in secret by John and the Missus. She had full run of the house, but in secret, hiding behind curtains, in closets, under furniture. Charlie and Isabelle never knew she was there. When visitors came, she was sensed not seen. An invisible eye always watching, something glimpsed in your peripheral vision. Passed off as imagination. The twins knew she was there, though outsiders did not. She was one of them, yet not. They grew up as three, but this third girl was never one of them. So indelible was the cord between Emmeline and Adelaide, the third girl could never cross it. She loved Emmeline and tried to protect her from Adelaide's cruelty, but Emmeline would rather bear the blows of her twin than bask in the embrace of her half sister. When Adelaide was absent, Emmeline would turn to the third girl (who was never even christened with a name) for companionship, but would turn away just as quickly when Adelaide returned.
When the third girl was romanced by a local boy who came to help John with the garden, she rejected him, her first love being Emmeline. On the rebound he turned to Emmeline, her lookalike. Emmeline was soon pregnant. When the baby was born, he alone took precedence over Adelaide in Emmeline's heart. Adelaide could not stand the competition and tried to burn him alive. The third girl intercepted the plot, swept the babe to safety by depositing him (Aurelius) on Mrs. Love's doorstep and returned to Angelfield only to find the house aflame.
She rushed to get Emmeline out only to have Adelaide fight her off. Concluding that Emmeline and her son could never be safe while Adelaide lived, the third girl trapped Adelaide in the fire and pulled a resistant Emmeline to safety. Only once they outside, when the third girl looked into Emmeline's vacant eyes, behind badly burned skin, she didn't recognize her. She wasn't even sure she had trapped the right twin in the burning house. Could she have killed her beloved? The truth is, one way or another she had. By separating them, she had killed both twins, whether one still breathed or not. The person who remained was neither Emmeline or Adelaide, but a crazed soul who would spend the next 60 years searching incoherently for her lost twin. "The dead go underground" she would mutter in twin speak. That's why she could often be found digging in Vida Winter's garden, on an endless trek back to a world before the fire. The third girl went on to take over Adelaide's identity, only to abandon it when she became the famous author, Vida Winter.
By the time Winter gets to the end of the story, the twin known as "Emmeline" has succumbed to illness. Margaret arrives at the bedside only after death has arrived and is grief-stricken that she didn't get a chance to ask Emmeline to take a message to her sister on the other side, the conjoined twin who could not live without Margaret, but the thing is, Margaret can't live without her either. As Margaret sobs out this realization, voicing the loneliness that has permeated the book, but never been put in plain words, the raw emotion washes over the reader.
With Emmeline gone and the story of the Angelfields over, Vida Winter's tether to life also comes undone. As she dies, she promises to take Margaret's message to her sister.
And so things end, for the most part. Margaret tells the reader that she will answer any last questions we may have. But it's only a tease, because of course the book leaves us with more questions, all good suspense stories do.
We find that Hester whose sudden disappearance was so suspicious that one suspected she may have been murdered, actually relocated abroad. When Dr. Maudsley's wife died (of natural causes) he moved to be with Hester and, together they raised four children and published many academic works. It seems unfair. The character whose hypocrisy and cold objectivity allowed her to separate the twins, regardless of the pain it caused, is the one who should have been punished above all others. Hester, not Emmeline, Adelaide or Aurelius should have been left alone and bereft. Perhaps it is because she could overlook her mistakes -- though we can't -- that she was not trapped by them. Hester got away with tearing the twins apart, but Vida Winter, the third girl, never did. She disappeared into the world of literature she'd always loved, becoming a part of it, making characters so real that they not only captivated her fans, but dictated to her, ordering her to tell their stories. So, she wrote 12 tales that were bigger than life, but could never overshadow or escape her own: the thirteenth tale, the myth of her own birth.
When Margaret Lea puts Winter's words away and moves towards her own happy ending, we're left with one question. There was a treasure box found in Emmeline's belongings one that contained scraps, remnants of the shiny things that Emmeline liked to collect, before the Angelfield fire. How did this treasure box survive the flames? Does the fact that it did prove that the twin who survived the fire was indeed Emmeline? If so, Vida Winter would have come to this conclusion herself and not left it to the reader.
We know that Vida impersonated the twins in their youth, but we aren't sure exactly when. When Adelaide was out of the house and someone stole Hester's diary (one of the items found in the treasure box), was it Emmeline or Vida Winter? We were told that Emmeline was simple-minded, if she stole the diary, how could she lie about doing so with such believability that even Hester was convinced. Was Emmeline more clever and conniving than Vida Winter led us to believe? Or is Vida Winter the one who really stole the diary? Is she the one who got the treasure box that contained the diary out of Angelfield? If so, why does she pass the treasure box and its contents off as Emmeline's.
When "Adelaide" was in the schoolroom with Hester, entranced by the classic books that Hester read to them, but not wanting to show her interest, was that student really the violent Adelaide or was it Vida Winter (the one who loved books) impersonating Adelaide?
It's unclear whether the thought occurs to Margaret or not, but as this reader closed the book she wondered if Vida Winter had left Margaret with a fourteenth final fiction. Maybe there was no third girl at all. Maybe Vida was really Adelaide or Emmeline or maybe they are all three interchangeable strands of the same psyche, finally united in death.
In all, this book is a good read. Yes, it takes you into another world. Yes, you feel you've lived through years with the characters. But in the end you don't know them. They're acquaintances, fun to wonder and speculate about, but with whom you never interact as people.