What was fact and what was fiction? That was the question in my mind after I finished Mrs. Poe. It tells th...moreWhere I got the book: e-ARC from NetGalley.
What was fact and what was fiction? That was the question in my mind after I finished Mrs. Poe. It tells the tale of Frances (Fanny) Osgood, who is pretty much unknown today but was a hugely popular writer in the mid-1800s, writing poetry and children's books mostly, I think. I had to stop and look her up in Wikipedia about halfway through, because I needed to know more or less where the line between reality and fiction fell, which is the trouble with novelized lives. Anyway, Frances may or may not have had an affair with Edgar Allan Poe during the final years of his wife's short life. They certainly did publish an exchange of flirtatious poems in the review of which Poe was an editor, and lots of people saw fire where there was smoke, and her husband wasn't around much...
But who, seriously, can ever know the truth of such a matter? The biographical novelist inserts herself into the gap between knowledge and possibility, and the reader needs to understand this and take everything that's written with a fairly large pinch of salt. I enjoyed the possibilities: the childlike/childish wife, the female writer skimming along the edge of destitution who discovers that being linked in scandal with a famous author is the way to sudden success, the tortured Poe-t whose work is dark for a reason - all quite reasonable projections of what might have been.
I enjoyed Cullen's writing (except that she mentioned Poe's dark-lashed eyes 1,000,000 times), and loved the more realistic parts of the novel, particularly the gatherings of New York literati and the depiction of a city still emerging from the agricultural age, building itself around the characters as they interact. I did NOT like it nearly as much when strange things started happening to Frances--I felt as if the writer (or her editor), realizing that not a whole lot was actually happening in the novel 'cept a whole lot of yearning, decided to stick in some action. But I LIKED the yearning. I'm kind of a sucker for the slow build of passion under the tight-laced veneer of Victorian propriety, and would have been quite happy to have had just THAT story. That's the beauty of literary fiction--you don't have to have a whole lot of action for it to be good.
So a bit of a mixed bag, but I suspect this might be a novel worth a re-visit, and that's pretty rare these days. It also made me more interested in Poe - I hadn't realized he was considered a SEXY BEAST by the aforementioned tight-laced ladies, and find the idea intriguing.
This debut literary novel is set in 1969, in a small Kentucky town that produces cement and whiskey. A funeral cortege brings home seven dead Cementville soldiers, all members of the National Guard whose families had expected them to remain safe from the conflict in Vietnam, and one surviving, maimed hero. An eighth dead soldier is not part of the cortege; severed from the others by religious denomination and class divisions, his family must mourn him separately. Around these deaths form a number of stories reaching back into family histories and well-kept secrets of love, hatred and violence.
With a large cast of characters united variously by ties of kinship and community, this is a novel that rewards the reader who can keep its diverse threads straight in her mind. Beautifully written and sensitively executed, it weaves the Vietnam era deftly into the family stories and touches on the civil rights issues that still arouse strong feelings in Cementville’s population.
The novel’s even tone and its understated ending may not satisfy readers looking for the sense of completion a rounded-out story brings, but it should certainly gratify those who enjoy good prose and a complex interweaving of past and present. A promising debut.(less)
I went through a major Anne Rice phase at one point a few years ago and then grew out of her. When I saw th...moreWhere I got the book: e-ARC from NetGalley.
I went through a major Anne Rice phase at one point a few years ago and then grew out of her. When I saw that her son Christopher's latest was available at NetGalley I was curious, and in the mood for some horror/thriller.
The plot, or at least a bit of it; Anthem, Marshall and Niquette were high school friends but ten years later Niquette is missing, presumed dead, with the rest of her family, Marshall is a coma patient and Anthem has developed a drinking problem. And weird things seem to be happening around Marshall; small animals and birds are found with exploded heads and the nursing staff are committing random acts of violence.
From that beginning the action shifts back and forth over the years, taking in the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, the history of the three friends, and the lives of journalists Ben and Marissa. What slowly unfolds is a story of paranormal power in a New Orleans setting: sound familiar? The Witching Hour, anyone?
So would I have thought Christopher Rice sounded like his Mom if I didn't know the connection? That's the question that's been plaguing me. Because dang, he really does. His writing is less florid, tighter, more action-packed, more socially aware; but there's the same fluid style, the same centrality of New Orleans in their thoughts. I was not expecting so many points at which I found myself thinking this felt like an Anne Rice novel.
And exactly the same criticism as I had of The Witching Hour all those years ago: the story doesn't bear out the promise of the writing. You get all this great atmosphere, creepy tension, some superbly memorable scenes, and in the end these rather comic-book monsters that I felt totally meh about. And not nearly enough was said about Katrina, which in the hands of Stephen King, say, would have provided some truly terrifying wet-your-pants moments that I'd probably still remember ten years later. Which is one of the reasons I don't read much King.
But I digress. This book just didn't work for me as a whole, although it worked very well in parts. I went back and forth between two and three stars because while I thought the plot was just OK (or OK-to-lame) I definitely liked the writing. I feel like Rice isn't really digging deep enough into the darker corners of his psyche, which you really have to do if you're going to write good horror. Either that or he should stick to literary novels, which I think he'd do pretty well.(less)
This was one of those lyrical novels where the words outshine the plot. Plot, indeed, was thin on the groun...moreWhere I got the book: e-ARC from NetGalley.
This was one of those lyrical novels where the words outshine the plot. Plot, indeed, was thin on the ground: Gabriella, a doctor of medicine in an era where women simply were not doctors, goes in search of her missing father. The search, naturally, takes her into all kinds of places and dangers.
Smells, touch, taste, sight: lots of detail here. Beautifully painted scenes using carefully chosen words. The scene where Gabriella watches a dissection only to realize...well, I won't spoil it...was very good indeed, and I could have done with more of that kind of writing.
If anything, this book reminded me of The Name of the Rose, but it lacked the intricacy of plot that made the latter compelling. If you've seen the movie of The Name of the Rose, you'll understand what I mean when I talk about the poetically gruesome evocations to which depictions of the medieval and Renaissance periods lend themselves, a sort of chiaraoscuro of words and images; this novel has them in spades, but not enough underlying structure to bring it up to Eco's standard.
I'm sort of hovering between 4 and 5 stars for this one, but I'm settling for 4 because it took me a little...moreWhere I got the book: e-ARC from NetGalley.
I'm sort of hovering between 4 and 5 stars for this one, but I'm settling for 4 because it took me a little while to get into this book. Summerscale's deadpan reporting voice has the happy effect that the author disappears from the narrative leaving the characters to speak for themselves, but this also means you have to get to know the characters before you can get engaged so the first 50 pages can be tough. I had the same problem with The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.
This is the true story of Isabella Robinson, a frustrated mother and wife with, evidently, too much time on her hands. Her husband is a controlling bully in true Victorian paterfamilias style, often absent from the home and, one suspects, from the marital bed. So Isabella's eyes rove...and so does her pen, in the form of a diary in which she recounts her obsessions with various men of her acquaintance. When one of her attempts at conquest appears to succeed, Isabella tells all to Dear Diary...and husband Henry finds out. He drags Isabella and her supposed lover into the newly formed Divorce Court, and the diary becomes the centerpiece of a well-publicized scandal.
Oh, those Victorians! This book is a treasury of Victorian naughtiness and prudery hand in hand, as Summerscale unearths skeletons in more than one closet. Charles Darwin makes a few appearances, as does George Eliot and dear old Dickens. If you're a student of the era you'll find many delights, including a slew of eccentric Victorian names (Sir Cresswell Cresswell, anyone?) There is also some thoughtful reflection on, and elucidation of, the position of a middle-class wife in a society where double standards were an everyday experience. Recommended.(less)