Ondaatje definitely has a turn of phrase, but this is far too poetic, "lyrical," and melodramatic for my tastes. I certainly was taken by his writingOndaatje definitely has a turn of phrase, but this is far too poetic, "lyrical," and melodramatic for my tastes. I certainly was taken by his writing here and there, but in the end, it felt like it was trying too hard. Give me clear, understated, plain prose any day.
And the melodramatic over-the-top love story ... during the descriptions of overpowering love and desire, I just kept thinking, gimme a freaking break! Way too sappy; bordering on ridiculous! I must be getting old....more
What an absolutely lovely, melancholy, moving collection of short stories. They are so ... understated. I think I'm going to agree with Franzen that sWhat an absolutely lovely, melancholy, moving collection of short stories. They are so ... understated. I think I'm going to agree with Franzen that synopsis won't do these justice - you just have to read them. But I will say that these stories are full of little details - the little things that only a woman would notice - that make them very feminine, very evocative of a woman's experience, even while they ponder all the greater themes of what it means to be human. Highly recommended....more
This was enjoyable, if a bit pretentious and firstworldproblemy (seriously, could these characters be any more privileged? yawn!), but it was no MiddlThis was enjoyable, if a bit pretentious and firstworldproblemy (seriously, could these characters be any more privileged? yawn!), but it was no Middlesex, that's for damn sure. I enjoyed the nerdy book-worm aspect, but I expect a bit more of Eugenides....more
At times, I admit, I was tricked. For a moment, lulled by the narrator's plain, stilted, hyper-British voice, I would imagine that this is a mid-20th-At times, I admit, I was tricked. For a moment, lulled by the narrator's plain, stilted, hyper-British voice, I would imagine that this is a mid-20th-century detective novel, that the narrator is in fact a highly esteemed British detective committed to stamping out evil, and that the world is safe in the hands of the omniscient and kindly British Empire ...
Oh, wait a minute ...
Just as you relax into the English colonial society in Shanghai, or enjoying the parties of the "well-connected" in London, something terrible happens to remind you of the dark and seedy underbelly of polite society. Something is torn away, and a character is left orphaned and desolate. And then, just as quickly, it's over and you find you can't quite remember ...
Or was that just your mind playing tricks on you? You'll never know.
Sebald's books are different than any others I have read. Endless paragraphs with no quotation marksBrainy, beautiful, and crushingly sad. Of course.
Sebald's books are different than any others I have read. Endless paragraphs with no quotation marks, punctuated by enigmatic photographs from the past. A mix of fiction and nonfiction: you don't know where one stops and the other begins. The writing is simultaneously dense and minimalist. The intellectual breadth is, in a word, intimidating. While reading, I often stop and wonder if I'm smart enough, well-traveled enough, or knowledgeable enough to truly appreciate his writing. Probably not. But I enjoy trying.
The narrator skirts around the tragedy and loss at the core of his stories in a way that seems to actually intensify the pain and anguish underlying these stories. He doesn't even try to take on the full meaning of the horrific events of the 20th century; rather, he focuses on the minute and small. In doing so, he reduces the inhumanity of the Holocaust down to a very human scale. The reader can't escape through abstractions. The emotional impact is just devastating, and yet, each story also brims with beauty and a love of life ...
I came to W.G. Sebald through Austerlitz, which tells the story of one man through a meandering and sometimes almost esoteric narrative, packed with detailed descriptions of flora, fauna, and (especially) architecture. The Emigrants, which is considered by many to be the finer work, instead contains shorter life stories or vignettes, unified by a common narrator. These stories also delve into details of weather, nature, history, and architecture, but to a lesser degree, and the result is a narrative that is still super-intellectual but feels more easily comprehensible.
It seems wrong to compare two masterpieces which arguably leave much of contemporary fiction in the dust to each other. Who cares which is better? They are both amazing. And I think most critics would agree. That said, on a personal level, I preferred the more cohesive narrative of Austerlitz. I also found the descriptions of historic architecture in Austerlitz to be incredibly evocative of the forgetfulness of European culture - the way the past is present everywhere and yet lost forever. But it is very possible that if I had read The Emigrants first, I would feel differently. Austerlitz was my first exposure to this amazing author and writing, and I was just stunned by it. I might be a little loyal to it too.
But for both of these books: If I could give ten stars out of five, I probably would.
This book has everything I look for in science fiction: a fascinating premise; multiple juicy political and social messages; well developed charactersThis book has everything I look for in science fiction: a fascinating premise; multiple juicy political and social messages; well developed characters as well as an awesome, thought-provoking plot. It's all here! And best of all, it's extremely well-written. The prose is always lean and spare, which is just amazing when you consider the issues she addresses - race, sexuality, violence, love, human nature, life, the universe, and everything.
I mean, dang.
It's a long book, but I was eager to keep turning the pages through all 750 pages. I am looking forward to reading more Octavia Butler. Highly recommended....more
I finished this book two months ago, and I still don't know what I think of it. I found some aspects of it - the ridiculously precocious narrator andI finished this book two months ago, and I still don't know what I think of it. I found some aspects of it - the ridiculously precocious narrator and the at times overly-imaginative narratives - annoying and distracting. The plot is ... well ... flawed, in some important respects.
On the other hand, this book contains one of the most real and devastating narratives of grief I've ever read. It's just painful. And breathtaking. The ending!! So gorgeous! Argh.
Luminous at moments with some long, long, slogs between.
Essentially, this novel is about objects, objectification, and memory. There is also a good dLuminous at moments with some long, long, slogs between.
Essentially, this novel is about objects, objectification, and memory. There is also a good dose of history and cultural analysis of 1970s Istanbul thrown in.
But I have to say, there was a long period of time when I thought this was a novel about a guy who thinks he can have it all - things, money, women - and is shocked and amazed to find that relationships, at any rate, cannot be bought. A novel about a guy who equates love with obsession, or love with possession.
Maybe it's a little about those things, too.
For example, about halfway through the novel, the narrator admits that he never thought about what his beloved Fusun might think or want - he only fantasized about her.
WELL, YEAH. (After three hundred pages of fantasizing!)
Then, later, the narrator's mother comments that in Turkey, where men and women cannot freely mingle and socialize - where men and women can never truly know each other - true love is impossible, and obsession is all that is possible.
AH. Okay, now we're getting somewhere ...
So luckily for this reader, the intensity of the objectification of women in the plot is balanced by some perceptive commentary here and there. Those flashes of insight were wonderful, and I would have liked more of them. Because stories of men who are totally oblivious to the fact that the women they claim to love have actual thoughts or feelings are generally not my cup of tea.
Personally, I found this aspect of the book to be very distracting, and it was harder for me to appreciate the Proust-references and philosophical meanderings, because all I could think was, "Jeez Louise, could this book be any more insanely male-centered?" (Answer: It would be hard. But that is the perspective of the book, after all - a male narrator in sex-segregated 1970s Turkey.)
There is some very interesting commentary about the reason behind museums and the urge to collect.
But then the ending is really beautiful, and I don't want to spoil it.
In conclusion, this was not always "my cup of tea," but it is a complex and thoughtful novel, full of rich and vivid detail....more
This book is almost unbearable. Rebecca Walker tries to be honest and funny, but comes off as whiny, self-indulgent, bitchy, and stereotypically BerkeThis book is almost unbearable. Rebecca Walker tries to be honest and funny, but comes off as whiny, self-indulgent, bitchy, and stereotypically Berkeley (affluent, privileged, obsessed with organic food, alternative medicine, and Tibetan Buddhism). She claims to value motherhood, but she flames her own mother, the author Alice Walker, at every possible opportunity. She claims to be a feminist, but rants that every woman should become a mother. She claims that her rather intense experience of motherhood (she says she could "easily" kill someone to protect her child) is universal, and implies that anyone who doesn't feel this intensity isn't a good mother. While pregnant, she falls into traditional gender roles (she feels her husband is supposed to "protect" her) and claims that this is biological. Finally, the unnuanced generalizations about "Generation X" women and our supposed ambivalence towards motherhood made me want to shake the author and yell, "Speak for yourself!"
The subtitle of the book is "Choosing Motherhood after a Lifetime of Ambivalence," but not only is Rebecca Walker never for a second ambivalent about motherhood (she states she has always wanted to have a baby), she essentially preaches that women are incomplete without it. The book is noticeably lacking in compassion towards women who make different choices in life than she has (including her mother). Especially shocking to me was her assertion that it is not possible to love adopted or step children as much as biological children. Um, what the fuck?
The book obviously says a lot more about Rebecca Walker's hang-ups than it does about women, motherhood, or a whole generation. If she had honestly addressed these hang-ups, instead of constantly drawing broad generalizations from them, the book might not have been so unbelievably terrible.
Her birth experience was the one aspect of the book that felt honest - probably because giving birth is so inherently humbling, it takes everyone down a few notches, and for those two pages, she was incapable of arrogance. Unfortunately, it didn't last....more
Warning: This book may make you cry in public places and make a fool of yourself.
At first, I was a little skeptical - Gilead doesn't need a companionWarning: This book may make you cry in public places and make a fool of yourself.
At first, I was a little skeptical - Gilead doesn't need a companion or a sequel! But of course (and as I myself suspected), I was wrong. This is an entirely different book than Gilead, while sharing its heartbreaking loveliness....more
If I knew there were books this good written IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY I probably would have spent a lot less time whining about how nothing can topIf I knew there were books this good written IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY I probably would have spent a lot less time whining about how nothing can top George Eliot and, I don't know, READING W.G. SEBALD? I am kind of embarassed that, currently, my main reaction to this book is "Holy crap!" I really need to come up with something more erudite, especially for this novel. Meanwhile - stop whining about Eliot and read some Sebald!...more
Fun, fun, fun. Definitely "quality" young adult fiction here. Fast-paced, great adventure, and somehow quite morally challenging too. The only problemFun, fun, fun. Definitely "quality" young adult fiction here. Fast-paced, great adventure, and somehow quite morally challenging too. The only problem was that I read it in three hours, tops....more