Moderately enjoyable novel with an unexpected twist at the ending. It brought back distant memories of an era I now only vaguely recall. Ewan's portra...moreModerately enjoyable novel with an unexpected twist at the ending. It brought back distant memories of an era I now only vaguely recall. Ewan's portrayal of the heroine (if she can be called that... more an anti-heroine, really) is refreshingly unsentimental. He does have an uncanny ability to inhabit his female character's heads, a trait he shares with another English novelist I admire from an earlier era, Joyce Cary. (less)
Much as I enjoyed the setting and language of this book, I found the central characters rather flat and unconvincing, not to mention that I grew heart...moreMuch as I enjoyed the setting and language of this book, I found the central characters rather flat and unconvincing, not to mention that I grew heartily sick of the constant shifting back and forth between three main points of view. The main appeal here was exoticism. When it comes to really relating to any of these characters, I'm afraid I couldn't. Still, there were some very intriguing scenes (particularly those featuring Piya and Fokir), and I did enjoy Ghosh's lush description of the Sundarbans, a region I knew virtually nothing about. (less)
I gave this one an hour listen; long enough to get drawn in -- but wasn't at all drawn in -- then decided that this would be a waste of time as I wasn...moreI gave this one an hour listen; long enough to get drawn in -- but wasn't at all drawn in -- then decided that this would be a waste of time as I wasn't enjoying it. Bland reader, sentimental and cloying writing, romanticized characters, and a transparent plot -- it just didn't seem to have much going for it. I had hoped that the scientific angle would play a larger role in book, but instead the direction it was heading seemed to be a fairly typical historical romance.
I filed this one under the "fifty page rule" -- if I can't think of any reason to continue after fifty pages and am not enjoying it, then it's time to move on to something better. (less)
One can't take Fleur Talbot, the central character of Loitering with Intent, entirely seriously, but then I think that may be the point. Fleur is slig...moreOne can't take Fleur Talbot, the central character of Loitering with Intent, entirely seriously, but then I think that may be the point. Fleur is slightly ridiculous (as is just about everyone else in the book), but at the same time she's eminently likeable, with her forthright cut-to-the-chase impatience with pretense and middle-class snobbery.
Fleur, who believes it is a great thing to be an artist and a woman in the 20th century, has trouble at times distinguishing where life leaves off and her novels begin. She's forever making notes of stray phrases and scraps of life that she can work into her novels. While I don't know enough about Spark's life to say, I'd wager that Fleur is a poke at a younger self and her youthful literary pretensions.
At any rate, it's a fond poke, with Spark depicting Fleur as mostly sympathetic in her literary worries and abstractions. The plot of the book rollicks along, propelled by an assortment of oddballs and dingbats, not the least of whom (and my personal favorite) is Edwina, a cackling elderly embarrassment to her odious son, Quentin Oliver, who rides herd over the six members of the Autobiographical Society. The opening scenes, in which Fleur amuses herself by spicing up the pathetic and largely illiterate memoirs of these six are some of the funniest passages in the book. Then there are various poets and publishers, some of whom are recognizable, such as three august personages called the Triad, obviously based on Osbert, Edith, and Sacheverell Sitwell.
Loitering with Intent is a fairly convincing representation of how a novelist's mind works. It reminded me, in some ways, of another novel featuring an artist at work, Gulley Jimson of Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth. Both books show the novelist or artist so consumed by their current creations that little else seems to matter, and in both books there are numerous comic scrapes and escapades. Not to mention that both Fleur and Gulley have their wellsprings of inspiration -- in Fleur's case it's Cardinal Newman while in Gulley's it's William Blake.
I should mention that the main reason I started listening to this book was because it's read by the incomparable Nadia May, always a great favorite. She did (as always) an excellent job. (less)
If I hadn't been on a road trip and had little else to listen to, I would never have finished this. By the end I was thoroughly and completely SICK of...moreIf I hadn't been on a road trip and had little else to listen to, I would never have finished this. By the end I was thoroughly and completely SICK of Bucky Bleichert and his fixation on a dead woman he'd never even met (alive).
I didn't know anything about James Ellroy going in, though after listening to the postscript (which went on forever it seemed), I read up on him on Wikipedia. So the guy is obsessed with his mother's murder and transfers it over to the real-life Black Dahlia case and, for some reason, I'm supposed to give a s**t?
I like hard-boiled stuff, and I revere the novels of Raymond Chandler, among others. Unfortunately, Ellroy's The Black Dahlia is more a psychic purge than a detective story. There were overtones of Chinatown and Silence of the Lambs, except (and this is a big "except") the central character's motivation is completely unbelievable and he's unlikeable to boot. No Sam Spade here, I'll tell you. Just a confused cop mucking around in a sort of sexual/self-flagellatory/self-destructive haze.
Oh. My. God. I kept listening to this book, hoping it would get better. It didn't.
Admittedly, it started off promisingly enough, with a virulent rant...moreOh. My. God. I kept listening to this book, hoping it would get better. It didn't.
Admittedly, it started off promisingly enough, with a virulent rant address to American Airlines, one all frequent flyers can relate to. Initially, the novel was quite funny in an off-kilter Confederacy of Dunces way. Alas, soon it began to spiral downwards as Benjamin (Benny) Ford, stranded in O'Hare airport, reflects on his life. Suffice it to say his life is a train wreck, in large part a self-inflicted one.
There's nothing likeable or even mildly redeeming about Benny. If I met him, I'd find an excuse to get away from him as soon as possible: he's a bitter, self-pitying, nasty-tempered bore. To say he has "issues" ain't the half of it. Listening to his extended rancorous monologue felt like I was trapped in O'Hare with Benny, a traveling companion I just couldn't ditch.
Normally I give a book fifty pages to draw me in. If it hasn't by that point, well, there are plenty of promising books waiting in the wings, so I move on. I was listening to this, however, and somehow just couldn't get over the fact that such a well received novel (at least by the NY Times) was such a complete bummer.
I ended up listening to almost half of it before I snapped, stomping over to turn off my I-pod docking speakers and literally swearing at Benny as I did so. Yes, I had grown to hate him that much.(less)
Ultimately I found this tale too languid and introspective to arouse much interest. Kathy, the central character, reminisces on her childhood at lengt...moreUltimately I found this tale too languid and introspective to arouse much interest. Kathy, the central character, reminisces on her childhood at length, and the reader senses (or hopes) that something shattering will happen, but it never really does. At one point, Tommy, Kathy's lover, walks into a field and has a meltdown, but that's about it. I found myself wanting to take Kathy by the shoulders and shake her. (less)
Predictable anglophile fluff. My main motivation for listening was that I'm a sucker for WWII (and post WWII) stories set in Britain, plus the cast fo...morePredictable anglophile fluff. My main motivation for listening was that I'm a sucker for WWII (and post WWII) stories set in Britain, plus the cast for this audiobook was terrific. (Better than the material, truth be told.) Full of "characters" (in the worst "salt of the earth" sense) prone to quoting pithy bits of profound text from books they've discovered.
I found the "joy of reading" theme to be unrealistic, but I did enjoy the glimpses of wartime Guernsey. Figured out the love interest/dramatic conclusion to this one halfway through the book. Obviously the author was smitten by the concept behind 84 Charing Cross Road, but her version isn't nearly as well done.
Further evidence that I should avoid chick lit. (less)
"The truth is, sir, that men do what their power permits them to do. We are no different from the Pharaohs or the Mongols: the difference is only that...more"The truth is, sir, that men do what their power permits them to do. We are no different from the Pharaohs or the Mongols: the difference is only that when we kill people we feel compelled to pretend that it is for some higher cause. It is this pretence of virtue, I promise you, that will never be forgiven by history."
Sea of Poppies wrestles with the complex moral questions of the opium trade in an unexpectedly emphathetic way. There are the producers, users, and traffickers, all with complex motivations and needs, and then there are the untold thousands simply swept up by the tide of the opium trade.
Ghosh's magisterial novel connects the lives of a disparate set of characters, ultimately placing them on board a ship, the Ibis, headed for Mauritius. While the plot is too complex for neat summary, a resonant theme is transformation and rebirth. Several characters experience precipitous falls from grace and yet also find redemption. The central character, Deeti, is a simple woman who finds she has more strength than anyone ever expected, while another character, rajah Neel Rattan Halder, finds friendship and solace in the most unexpected of companions.
Ghosh's characterization and pacing are superb, not to mention he wields effortless control over imagery and language. I never found myself growing impatient at the lyrical descriptive passages; instead, these somehow illuminate the very souls of the characters. Having recently come back from a trip to India, I was once again intoxicated by the sights, sounds, and smells of India as depicted in this gorgeous novel.
Halfway through the novel, I discovered Sea of Poppies was the first novel in a trilogy. At this writing, the second novel has yet to be published. I'm hoping, of course, to find the second novel as rewarding as the first. I'm also hoping another audiobook version narrated by Phil Gigante will be produced, for he is an excellent narrator for this work. (less)
A tale within a tale, Angle of Repose is ultimately an examination of marriage, of forgiveness, and of pri...moreHow two such unlike particles clung together
A tale within a tale, Angle of Repose is ultimately an examination of marriage, of forgiveness, and of pride. Toward the end of the book, Lyman Ward, the protagonist, comes to grips with his motivation for writing a book about his grandparents:
"What interests me in all these papers is not Susan Burling Ward the novelist and illustrator, and not Oliver Ward the engineer, and not the West they spend their lives in. What really interests me is how two such unlike particles clung together, and under what strains, rolling downhill into their future until they reached the angle of repose where I knew them. That’s where the interest is. That’s where the meaning will be if I find any.
Lyman ruefully reflects that his grandmother had been "more lady than woman" while his grandfather had been "more man than gentleman," a fundamental difference that led to an ultimate severing not of the marriage, but of its underpinning of intimacy and compassion. Lyman's own failed marriage, he comes to realize, does not have to end as pridefully and wrongheadedly as his grandparents' did.
As the story of two marriages in two different generations, Angle of Repose is a complex and compelling tale. Yet it also is a story of the West, not the West of stereotypes but of real people and complex social strata. There are frank assessments of historical personages such as Clarence King and John Wesley Powell, and there are hints and echoes of what will come to be. The reader finds multiple angles to examine.
On a personal note, as I read the novel I could not help but think about my grandparents, who were also two very different people held together more by convention and pride than mutual sympathy. Like Oliver and Susan Ward, they traveled and worked out west. Like Susan Ward, my grandmother was, despite being every inch a lady, a competent career woman. Like Oliver Ward, my grandfather sought refuge in drink. Reading Angle of Repose made me reflect how much we owe to our parents and grandparents, but also how little we may understand them. (less)
Enjoyable, quirky tale of two brothers -- Lyndon, a loner brussels sprouts farmer (and former successful sculptor), and Woody, a neurotic movie produc...moreEnjoyable, quirky tale of two brothers -- Lyndon, a loner brussels sprouts farmer (and former successful sculptor), and Woody, a neurotic movie producer (and former Wall Street hotshot). Set on the foggy northern California coast, there are lots of gentle pokes at Californian lifestyles and pretensions. The author does a good job of engaging the reader's sympathies for the rag-tag residents of the little community of Rosarita. The narrative proceeds briskly enough to keep the plot perking along, but at the same time the main characters' inner turmoil is what really propels the book forward.
At times Wrack and Ruin stops just shy of being too over the top to be credible, though there's certainly enough antic silliness to justify classifying it as a comic novel, such as an episode when an elephant breaks loose and rampages through a "chili and chowder" festival. Mostly, though, both Lyndon and Woody engage in rueful middle-aged self-assessment as they search for meaningful relationships and purpose in life. What is success, exactly? This central question isn't ultimately answered, but at the end there seems to be a sense of hope and redemption. (less)
A gentle, "cozy" read with an uplifting (but not nauseatingly so) message. The title character grew on me, though I never entirely believed in him. Th...moreA gentle, "cozy" read with an uplifting (but not nauseatingly so) message. The title character grew on me, though I never entirely believed in him. This novel of an improbable love between middle-aged protagonists is for optimists, but there's enough wry humor here to engage those with less cheerful views of human nature.
The reader of this audiobook, Peter Altschuler, gave a suitably crisp military delivery for Major Pettigrew but showed considerable range rendering the other major characters as well. I enjoyed his reading very much. (less)