Much has been said about this book so apologies for a review that is likely redundant.
My first recommendation would be to shop for the best translati...moreMuch has been said about this book so apologies for a review that is likely redundant.
My first recommendation would be to shop for the best translation. I read what was on my shelf and I'm not sure if there are better translations available. I wish I had checked. Nevertheless, Flaubert's prose seemed vivid and vigorous in my Lowell Bair translation.
Madame Bovary the book is dense with distinct and colorful characters, but it's Emma Bovary who holds the stage, and she's such an interesting character in that she's both attractive and repellant. Her most attractive quality is her passionate thirst for life, and it conflicts with her most destructive quality, which is her narcissistic and shallow self. She is simply unable to bring her imaginary world of glamour and romance into the world as it is. Her passions can only be satisfied in the literary world she remembers from school days and that world of endless excitement doesn't exist outside the covers of a book. Thus, she moves through her affairs destructively demanding more and more, until everyone she has touched is damaged in some way. We are attracted to her for her lusty appetite for life, but we shrink from her reckless blindness to the actual humans around her.
Some readers see Madame Bovary as a story of female repression and rebellion. Others see it as a story of unrealistic and unfair bourgeois expectations crushing a free spirit. You'll have to decide for yourself which characters are victimized in this book.
The subject of this biography is Patricia Highsmith, the author of the "The Talented Mr. Ripley", "Strangers on a Train", and "The Price of Salt", all...moreThe subject of this biography is Patricia Highsmith, the author of the "The Talented Mr. Ripley", "Strangers on a Train", and "The Price of Salt", all published before she was 35 years old. Joan Schenkar has done enormous research, and she's an astute reader of Highsmith's novels. Shenkar identifies the several themes that thread through Highsmith's novels -- the mirrored personalities of pairs of characters, same yet opposite; the barely suppressed homosexuality; the thin line between love and murderous hatred -- and she identifies their sources in Highsmith's own personality and experience persuasively. Additionally, Highsmith was part of an incredibly interesting time and place -- in Greenwich Village among writers and artists (Capote, Paul Bowles, and many others not quite so famous) in the 1950s. She was also openly lesbian ("openly" for that era) in a time when "gay" and "pride" were rarely found in the same sentence, and her sexuality and serial failed relationships actively fueled her creativity.
Patricia Highsmith is an incredibly interesting subject but for me, and the fault may be mine, this book did not live up to its potential for a few reasons.
I had a problem with the biographer's choice to tell the Highsmith story thematically, rather than chronologically. Themes such as Highsmith's obsessions with alter egos, obsessions with objects, her stinginess, her affairs and relationships -- each theme is covered in a set of chapters more or less a-chronologically. This takes events out of time, and that was troubling for me as a reader. I lost the order of events many times and found myself in the middle of events without knowing whether Highsmith was 30 or 50, in her first relationship or her 10th, famous author or struggling graduate. A closer reader may not have the same trouble that I did. Things were made even less clear by the biographer's asides, especially in the first chapters. She breaks mid-sentence, refers to events past or future, and may even break her aside with another aside. When a narrative is not chronological to begin with, this only adds to reading difficulty.
Also, in my opinion, the balance between research and narrative feels weighted in this book too much toward research. Some aspect of Highsmith's character is illuminated with a story by an acquaintance. Then another story illuminates it from a slightly different angle. Then another (pushing the book to nearly 700 pages with index and notes). The details pile up as though the biographer can't stand to waste them. Schenkar is a good writer when she allows herself -- she can be funny and sarcastic and, as in the final chapter, moving -- but too much in this book I felt she was not selective enough in her inclusions.
Ultimately, though, this is a decent book about a fascinating person.
He’s 19. A college dropout, bored, tired of hanging around his parents’ house and living in his old room. He wants a challenge and at the same time he...moreHe’s 19. A college dropout, bored, tired of hanging around his parents’ house and living in his old room. He wants a challenge and at the same time he wants to prove something to himself. So he hires on, without experience, as a merchant seamen on a two year journey halfway around the world to a place not yet described in any book. This is the background for Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast” and any decent writer should be able to do something with an opportunity like that. But Richard Henry Dana, even at his age, turns out to be much more than a decent writer and this book is a masterpiece. The narrator here is young, smart, and curious. He’s also pretty damn brave, has an eye and taste for the poetic, he can be very very funny, and he’s the kind of guy who never misses a chance to see something new. He’s the perfect guide to an incredibly dangerous journey to a California coast at a time when the English speaking population of San Francisco would fit in a cable car and everyone would have a seat.
The prose style of “Two Years Before the Mast” is surprisingly accessible for a book written so early in the 1800s and modern readers should have no problem with it. The sailing jargon, however, can fly pretty fast in parts of the book and it’s probably useful to know what it means to furl a sail and what reefing means (furling just means rolling it up and tying it for storage, reefing means rolling up the bottom of a sail to reduce its wind surface). (less)
I never get tired of the narrative voice of Dave Eggers. In this book, a memoir of sorts, Eggers is smart and goofy, playful and sad, arrogant and sel...moreI never get tired of the narrative voice of Dave Eggers. In this book, a memoir of sorts, Eggers is smart and goofy, playful and sad, arrogant and self-effacing and yes, it lives up to its title. You should read it. At the least, pick up a copy in the bookstore and read a page anywhere, and I mean anywhere... 'about the author', 'preface', the copyright page is good, the acknowlegments too, and the 'Rules for Enjoying this Book'. It's worth your time. (less)
Alas, it's a primarily a book about conservation efforts aimed at 4 large predators: the Indian lion, the Siberian tiger, the Australian crocodile, th...moreAlas, it's a primarily a book about conservation efforts aimed at 4 large predators: the Indian lion, the Siberian tiger, the Australian crocodile, the European brown bear. A good book, but not what I was promised by such a great cover, and such a great subtitle ("The Man-eating predator in the junles of history and the mind"). (less)
A fairly short novel that tells the story of a woman at a very particular point in her life. A romantic relationship, that included financial support,...moreA fairly short novel that tells the story of a woman at a very particular point in her life. A romantic relationship, that included financial support, has just ended, and she finds herself entering a world of suddenly constrained options. The story reminded me of a modern, working class version of Edith Wharton's "House of Mirth". Recommended.(less)
The full title of my copy of this book is "Lieutenant Nun: Transvestite in the New World" and, true to its word, it's the autobiography of a cross-dre...moreThe full title of my copy of this book is "Lieutenant Nun: Transvestite in the New World" and, true to its word, it's the autobiography of a cross-dressing female adventurer in Peru in the early 17th century. The memoir itself is only about 80 pages, but barely a page goes by without a duel, a seduction, an escape, or an arrest. It's all apparently true but you'll be left wondering how the lieutenant nun kept her secret in all the beds, jails, and barracks she visits.(less)
What I didn't know about Gypsies would have filled a book. Actually it did fill a book and for me it was fascinating. Travelling in Turkey I twice saw...moreWhat I didn't know about Gypsies would have filled a book. Actually it did fill a book and for me it was fascinating. Travelling in Turkey I twice saw horse-drawn Gypsy caravans travelling the highways, and I've been approached by them in Spain and Serbia and Croatia as well. I still don't know who they are but after reading Fonseca's book I have a better idea.(less)