The first half of this quirky first-person POV debut novel delighted me so much that I sent a note to the author through the publisher telling her I tThe first half of this quirky first-person POV debut novel delighted me so much that I sent a note to the author through the publisher telling her I took it with me to the doctor's office and hoped the doctor would be running late so I could read and read and read in the waiting room. The main character, an under-achieving middle-aged woman, puts her past behind her and finds that she can read the minds of her pets, and vice versa. That sounds corny, I know, but this writer pulls it off, so convincingly, and with such humor, that I found myself thinking, Of course we can read one another's minds! Why not? But then the author, like her protagonist, wanders off from the life she's made, and the book falls away, losing its focus, its intention, and much of its sense of humor. What happened? This might have been THE book to head up my end of the year gift-list must-buys for literary friends. It was headed there. For the dry humor and spirit of the first half of the book, I still rate it highly--and I'll look for novel #2 from Margaret Hawkins. ...more
The best part of this fine book is Holmes' chronicle of William Herschel's life and his life-long partnership with his remarkable sister, Caroline. AlThe best part of this fine book is Holmes' chronicle of William Herschel's life and his life-long partnership with his remarkable sister, Caroline. All the Herschels, William and Caroline and their sibs, were musical prodigies, but William discovered in his late twenties and thirties a passion for astronomy. He went to England from his native Germany to educate himself--he was wholly self-taught in astronomy--and then brought his sister over after several years to work as his astronomical assistant. She became an expert astronomer herself, and Europe's first eminent female scientist. She lived long after Wm. died and wrote up her daily journals for publication, documenting their private and professional lives together. Holmes' bio of Humphrey Davy is also fascinating, though much more tragic. My one semi-quibble with the book: If you didn't know in advance that Holmes is British, you'd guess it from his almost sole focus on British scientists and his smiling dismissals of French scientific efforts to emulate the British during this period. He needed to focus the book in order to tell a coherent story, but it's emblematic that the only part of the book that deals directly with French science is the section about ballooning, a topic Holmes treats with amusement....more
Mantel's masterpiece, and that's really saying something. Not since 'A Suitable Boy'--an equally long book--have I wished so much for a longer one. IMantel's masterpiece, and that's really saying something. Not since 'A Suitable Boy'--an equally long book--have I wished so much for a longer one. I know she's working on the sequel, but it can't come soon enough for me.
She's taken a step forward in the art of stream-of-consciousness narration with this book in her use of 'he' to designate Thomas Cromwell's point of view. She uses it as I've never seen it used before, in the way a movie sometimes views scenes from the eyes of a character, so that you're not only in Cromwell's capacious mind, but you're seeing out of his eyes, having his thoughts. The traditional method of doing this in fiction now feels clunky to me. How she effects it escapes me, and I'm trying hard to dissect it. Her fluidity of thought and imagination as she writes blasts into atoms all the creaking rules of novel-writing, which makes me recall Somerset Maughm's comment: "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
Nope. They don't. And Mantel writes her own. ...more
Gertrude Bell was one of the handful of British civil authorities who decided how Mesopotamia was to be divvied up after the First World War. She wasGertrude Bell was one of the handful of British civil authorities who decided how Mesopotamia was to be divvied up after the First World War. She was a brilliant scholar and linguist who fell in love with Iraq and lived there for many years. In part because she was a woman, she was greeted across the desert tribes with the height of gallant Arab hospitality, and came to know the chieftains better than any of her male colleagues. She was a fluent speaker of several tribal dialects, which was also of great benefit to her, of course. It’s heart-rending to read her analysis of the difficulty of trying to unite the desert fiefdoms into a single nation. In fact, if you replace a few of the nouns here and there with their modern counterparts, her words could have been written yesterday. As a woman, she makes a fascinating topic: prim Victorian woman who became a great political force. Her private story is very touching....more
Hilary Mantel never wastes a word, and it's only at the end of this brief book (as opposed to her Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, at 500-plus pages, aHilary Mantel never wastes a word, and it's only at the end of this brief book (as opposed to her Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, at 500-plus pages, anyway)that you realize how expertly she has woven every line and observation. She excels, in all her books, at the portrayal of not-so-likable people, and keeping the reader interested in them even as they're repelled. She said recently, when asked what advice she'd give to aspiring writers: "Drop the charm. Eat meat, drink blood." She means it. ...more
Well, it couldn't compare with Suite Francaise, and I suppose that, despite myself, I was hoping for that. Having now read the background on the (amazWell, it couldn't compare with Suite Francaise, and I suppose that, despite myself, I was hoping for that. Having now read the background on the (amazing) discovery of this novel long after Nemirovsky's death, I tend to think that she couldn't have considered the book finished. The characters aren't yet dimensional. They're in development, placed into the action by the author-god but not yet fully animated. If she'd been granted more time rather than death in a Nazi death camp, Nemirovsky would have come up with a way to smooth the narration of the book too. The cousin's coincidental presence at all the moments critical to the action doesn't fly, especially when he crouches outside the window one night and hears a husband and wife talk about their past. Too much is given away and thus the story is never granted that essential breath of mystery. What I'm left with primarily is a keen sense of loss that Nemirovsky died so young. What would she have produced if she'd lived?...more
A wonderful, nourishing book of haiku and tanka that does what fine poetry should: it stills the mind on a single image and holds it there for a clariA wonderful, nourishing book of haiku and tanka that does what fine poetry should: it stills the mind on a single image and holds it there for a clarifying moment--of beauty, enlightenment, and--most importantly, of selflessness. I dissolved into the poetry. ...more
Having been a long-time fan of Samuel Western's journalism on the issues of the Rocky Mountain West (I'm talking a couple of decades), I was surprisedHaving been a long-time fan of Samuel Western's journalism on the issues of the Rocky Mountain West (I'm talking a couple of decades), I was surprised to see this book of prose poetry pop up under his name. His last book--Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River: Wyoming's Search for Its Soul--about Western mythology and its crippling effects in Wyoming, is a slender little gem, but it's of a piece with his other published work over the years, in which he sketches the economic hardships and necessities of the West on a backdrop of its historic self-delusions. Now I find that Western's search for souls has poetic depth and reach as well. In fact, it has incredible reach, over millennia. In 'Act of Faith' an unnerving first-person piece set in the contemporary West, a divorced father hands a 20-gauge to an unpredictable and jealous young son at a rifle range just after the boy has 'detonated' at the father's news of his upcoming trip with a girlfriend. In 'Keeper of the Baleneum Muliebre', the time-setting is two thousand years earlier. A blind man tends the women's bath, 'seeing' it with all his other senses: '...voices ran like colored rivers to his black world." In "The Confessions of Quarries" Western makes a daring leap of the imagination, giving tongue to rock quarries from ancient times to the present: "We have been hiding the transgressions of man since Cain first dispatched Abel. What do you think he did with the body?" My favorite--because I like stories--is the final piece, Coalwater, about a man named Jacky who feels most at home underground in a coal mine with his beloved and hard-working mine ponies. The collection reminds me, in its spirit and reach across time, of Wislawa Szymborska's 'The Tale Begun'-- which I'll begin here:
The world is never ready/for the birth of a child./Our ships are not yet back from Winnland./We still have to get over the S. Gothard pass./We've got to outwit the watchmen on the desert of Thor,/fight our way through the sewers to Warsaw's center,/gain access to King Harald the Butterpat,/and wait until the downfall of Minister Fouche./Only in Acapulco/can we begin anew.
There's more. I hope Western gives us more too. ...more
I go back to this fine book when I feel lonely for Wyoming, where I lived for five years back when I was a journalist. I fell in love with the place.I go back to this fine book when I feel lonely for Wyoming, where I lived for five years back when I was a journalist. I fell in love with the place. My first novel is set there. Rawlins' book is an extended prose poem, exploring the land of the mind as much as the land that lies beneath the feet, but both are beautifully evoked. ...more
There are more than 1,300 reader reviews of this book at Amazon, and I've rarely seen a wider range of reactions. My own are all over the map, though,There are more than 1,300 reader reviews of this book at Amazon, and I've rarely seen a wider range of reactions. My own are all over the map, though, so I now understand the spread. Wroblewski's a fine writer, and I'm going to follow his career. In this book, though, he stretched me too far with the gothic magnifications of every scene, and when Almondine started to talk, I couldn't listen. If you're a dog-fanatic, you'll not only listen, you'll answer back with a long, deep, happy bay, I'm sure. If you're more in the feline camp, like me, you'll give a slow blink and leave the room. ...more