Romeo, oh Romeo, what a spineless, over-emotional wimp thou art. Saddled with an overly developed flair for the melodramatic, you cannot control your...moreRomeo, oh Romeo, what a spineless, over-emotional wimp thou art. Saddled with an overly developed flair for the melodramatic, you cannot control your emotions. At all. You just jump from one emotional crisis to the next and panic. Wow, what a guy. Even the Friar has to tell him to man up and grow a pair. What does Juliet see in him? Well, she's young, impressionistic, and probably digs the thrill of crossing the line into forbidden love territory. You can hardly blame her, since she has grown up around an insufferable bunch of hotheads who live and die by the motto: "Have sword, not afraid to use it." No wonder so many of them end up dead.
The point, it seems to me, is to caution us against the perils of impulsive action. And EVERYONE seems to be acting on impulse - Romeo, who transfers his affections from Rosalin to Juliet in the blink of an eye, marries a girl he met the day before, decides without forethought to avenge Mercutio's death instead of letting justice take its course (which probably would have led to the death of Tybalt anyway, by order of the Prince), kill Paris and himself in his moment of grief; Tybalt the tyrant and Mercutio the mercurial who can't seem to keep their tongues and swords sheathed; the jittery Nurse who first facilitates the romance with Romeo and then repudiates it; Juliet's parents who throw a hissy fit when Juliet says she doesn't want to marry Paris; and even the Friar, in coming up on the spur of the moment of crisis with the scheme of giving Juliet a sleeping potion to simulate death and having her wait, corpse-like, in a tomb for revival and reunion with Romeo. Yeah, **that's** a good, well thought out plan.
I am a big Shakespeare fan and I had high expectations but this one just didn't do it for me. I will admit, the poetry and wit were at times sublime. Some of the descriptions of love were stunning. But I couldn't decide whether this was intended to be romance, tragedy, farce, or what. I finally decided on tragicomedy, because some of Romeo's words and actions were just so over the top as to be ridiculous. And yet the young lovers both die in a tragic case of misunderstanding.
But wait - there is a winner here, folks. And it's the lovely Rosalin, who was smart enough to give Romeo the heave-ho early on and stay clear of this whole bloody mess. Bravo, Rosalin. (less)
**spoiler alert** “Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves.” ― Emily Brontë
Buddenbrooks traces the decline and ultimate decimation of a proud f...more**spoiler alert** “Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves.” ― Emily Brontë
Buddenbrooks traces the decline and ultimate decimation of a proud family of merchants in Northern Germany. The story opens with precocious little Tony Buddenbrooks, learning the catechism on her grandfather's knee, and closes some 40 years later with Tony contemplating her life and concluding that life shatters faith. Over the course of 730 pages, we follow the Buddenbrooks as they rise and fall and rise again. But it is the painful, exhausting death throes of the matriarch of the family that foreshadows the painful, exhausting death throes of the family itself, culminating in the emotional musical swan song of Hanno, the final remaining male heir. The novel follows the ebb and flow of fortune and disaster over the course of generations, pressing the point that one cannot be certain of one's place in the universe. Nor is it wise to try to hold onto a legacy too tightly. Pride and love of family are virtues, yes, but they also can become destructive obsessions.
This is a well thought out novel, with wonderful prose. Mann knew what he was doing when he associated the color yellow with the Buddenbrooks, for yellow is not only the happy color of sunshine and prosperity, it is also the color of jaundice, fever, and sickness. Similarly striking is his careful use of the color blue, particularly in his descriptions of the bluish shadows around the eyes of Gerda, the mysterious pale beauty who marries the head of the family and lurks on the periphery of family gatherings like an angel of death.
This is also a story of the loss of faith--not just religious faith, but also the faith in oneself--and the self-fulfilling prophecies of doom that can arise from that loss. When the Buddenbrooks don't have faith anymore, then all that's left is pride. In fact, one of Tony's defining features is her haughtiness, even in the face of one social disaster after another. One of the most striking scenes is the death of Thomas, and Mann staged it magnificently. We've followed Thomas's deepening depression and growing obsession with keeping up appearances. He had become meticulous to a fault about his dress and personal hygiene. And then this:
"He turned halfway around, and then, raising his arms, he fell forward onto the wet pavement. "Since the street slopped steeply downhill, his head lay a good deal lower than his feet. He had fallen face-down, and a puddle of blood immediately began to form around his head. His hat rolled off down the street a little way. His fur coat was splattered with muck and slush. His outstretched hands in their white kid gloves had come to rest in a puddle. "There he lay, and he went on lying there until some people happened by and turned him over on his back."
That's stunning imagery, and it brought me back to an ancient proverb that applies to Thomas and Tony:
"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." - Proverbs 16:18
Charming, in a lace, wisteria, and china tea cups sort of way. It's so very pleasant when everything is all sunshine, sweetness, and light. And everyt...moreCharming, in a lace, wisteria, and china tea cups sort of way. It's so very pleasant when everything is all sunshine, sweetness, and light. And everything ends up nice and tidy, just like it's supposed to. It sounds a bit saccharine but actually this book is like a breath of fresh, freesia scented air. (less)
Alice, Alice, we hardly knew you. Yet the world inhabited by the Brits, French, and various tribes of Indians revolves around you, Alice, you utterly...moreAlice, Alice, we hardly knew you. Yet the world inhabited by the Brits, French, and various tribes of Indians revolves around you, Alice, you utterly useless, pitiful excuse for a feckless woman. Your virtues: You're blond. You have a nice smile. You're utterly and completely helpless. Men apparently find this enough. Maybe they even kinda like it that you swoon. A lot. Your motto: Swoon early and swoon often. In fact, I think you spent most of the book in a state of swoonhood. Your final appearance, if that's what you can call it, was in a litter, where you reposed in, yes, a state of semi-swoonhood. Glad to see that you revived long enough to make the final curtain call.
It's hard to warm up to a book that has Alice as the object that catapults the others into action. Especially since you learn so little about her, seeing as she's always practically comatose. But let's sacrifice our own safety and well-being to try to protect our little Alice! Then let's kill a bunch of bad Indians in order to try to save Alice! Really? I would have been tempted to trade Alice off for a pair of some good deerskin moccasins. I think I would have had the better end of that deal.
It's also hard to warm up to the cheesy prose. I got tired of hearing about Uncas' perfect lineaments, those Indian knaves with all their deviltry, and the glorious prospect of going to the Happy Hunting Ground in the sky.
But you know, it was a decent action-packed story. The best thing about it was that Cooper didn't give us a pat, happy ending. The worst thing about it was that Alice somehow survived.
Is it possible to have an authentic experience of a foreign culture? Carpentier answers this question in the negative, and I am beginning to think he...moreIs it possible to have an authentic experience of a foreign culture? Carpentier answers this question in the negative, and I am beginning to think he might be right. It's especially true of vacation sites these days, which increasingly resemble Disneyfied recreations of foreign cultures. But Carpentier suggests that even total immersion into a foreign culture doesn't make you a native -- you can't leave home even if you try.
This isn't a perfect book - the characters tend to be a little stiffly drawn and more romanticized than real, but the prose, while dense, is beautiful. The manner in which the author interweaves music, history, spirituality, and nature into the narrative is masterful.(less)
Rilke's extraordinary semi-autobiographical novel deals with masking our true selves and others in order to fit into the bewildering chaos of the worl...moreRilke's extraordinary semi-autobiographical novel deals with masking our true selves and others in order to fit into the bewildering chaos of the world around us. The writer (Rilke or Brigge, take your pick) takes us through visions, memories, and impressions, and starkly contrasts these with the world as he now experiences it. The work is beautifully amorphous, and surprisingly funny:
"There is a being that is completely harmless if it passes before your eyes, you hardly notice it and immediately forget it again. But as soon as it gets into your hearing in some invisible fashion it develops there, it creeps out, as it were, and one has seen cases where it penetrated the brain and thrived devastatingly in that organ, like canine pneumococcus that enters through the nose. This being is the neighbor."
It's also surprisingly coherent, although it doesn't seem that way when you are knee deep in the writer's take on, for example, the story behind certain Danish or English historical figures, or the true driving forces behind the prodigal son's departure and eventual return. Loosely speaking, the novel passes from an intense scrutiny of self, including preoccupations with ghosts, costumes, death, fear, and isolation, to a discussion of the unrevealed psyches of men and women who are the stuff of legends, and ends on an exploration of the joys of unrequited love: To be loved is to perish; to love is to endure. I felt like I was reading the evolving journal of an anxious, perceptive soul - starting with self (as journalists are apt to do), and developing into a more abstract exploration of human nature and ideals.
The novel opens with the death sentence of one Cincinnatus C. You have love a writer who baits his reader on the second page of the novel:
"So we are n...moreThe novel opens with the death sentence of one Cincinnatus C. You have love a writer who baits his reader on the second page of the novel:
"So we are nearing the end. The right-hand, still untasted part of the novel, which, during our delectable reading, we would lightly feel, mechanically testing whether there were still plenty left (and our fingers were always gladdened by the placid, faithful thickness) has suddenly, for no reason at all, become quite meager: a few minutes of quick reading, and already downhill, and--O horrible!"
Fortunately, for the devoted reader, the rest of the novel does not disappoint. We live through Cin-cin's last days in prison, condemned to death for the sin of gnostical turpitude, a sort of spiritual depravity. He is, quite simply, different. And so his crime is one of non-conformity, so monstrous it must be whispered and is punishable by death: An oppressive society must surgically remove its cancer. So we follow Cincinnatus through isolation, resentment, despair, fear, and epiphany. In fact, we watch Cincinnatus proceed through Kubler Ross's five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Whether intentional or not, Nabokov nailed it first.
The comparisons to Kafka are unavoidable. Kafka's The Trial is brilliantly dark, brooding, and anxious. Nabokov treats similar themes with a lighter touch--Invitation to a Beheading feels more farcical, and the ending is suffused with hope, instead of animalistic violence. In terms of prose, Nabokov gets the edge, but overall I thought that The Trial was better executed (pun intended), even though Kafka never completed it. I can only imagine if he had. But I'm glad I read both novels, since both are marvelous.