Agatha Christie‘s The Body in the Library, published in 1942, is a light read, but sprinkled with a variety of unlikable characters, most which can be...moreAgatha Christie‘s The Body in the Library, published in 1942, is a light read, but sprinkled with a variety of unlikable characters, most which can be considered suspects. They are greedy, or indifferent about the murder of the poor young woman found dead in the library of Mr. & Mrs. Bantry.
The story flip-flops between characters. For awhile we follow the Inspector and then we will follow Miss Marple and/or Miss Bantry. This back and forth isn’t necessarily jarring but it seems to slow the action down. And I often found myself confused because there are just too many characters, and too many similar ones, at that. The police investigators are rather interchangeable, for example. Though there are points of interest, however, one being a man, Conway Jefferson, who lives with both his daughter-in-law and son-in-law. His children, who were married to them, were killed many years back and so he has taken to the two as a kind of surrogate family. In turn, the two eventually become somewhat irritated with their situations, feeling obligated to assume roles they no longer feel comfortable in. I can’t help thinking that this is a more profound and fascinating story. The examination of this splintered, makeshift family. Forget the murder mystery! The real substance lies in the exploration of life going on after death, following the spouses once they have migrated from coping to moving on and how Conway remains clingy and territorial. In fact, the murdered girl was one that this bereaved man chose to show an interest in, taking her on a daughter of his own. He was even about to go through the formalities of adopting her and adjusting his will.
As for the murder mystery itself, I must admit there was a certain predictability about it. I certainly didn’t guess all of the particulars but I did form a somewhat hazy conclusion early on. I suppose I found that strange “family” so interesting because the mystery came out as a dull.
I have only read one other Agatha Christie book–And Then There Were None–and I found that so much fun! I am certain to give her another try at some point because The Body in the Library seems to be one her lesser referenced novels and therefore, one can only assume that she has better stories out there because those are talked about so much more frequently, such as Murder on the Orient Express, or her other Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries.
I also read that Christie herself regarded The Body in the Library as a parody of sorts, since a body in a library is a most cliché storytelling technique. So I guess she just wanted to see if she could break through the cliché. I don’t know. I didn’t detect a cliché exactly, just a certain boredom. Though perhaps, that’s just the letting itself be known.(less)
The 1944 film version of James M. Cain‘s Double Indemnity is one of my all-time favorites and perhaps because I haven’t seen it in years is why this b...moreThe 1944 film version of James M. Cain‘s Double Indemnity is one of my all-time favorites and perhaps because I haven’t seen it in years is why this book is so refreshing to me. I was frequently surprised by the story’s twists and I found myself wondering what exactly was changed to make the film adaptation, though I am certain many changes were made. This novel just didn’t give me the sense of deja vu I was expecting. I must give it a rewatch some time.
One of the pleasures of reading this novel is how it is still relevant today. That is to say, it does not come off as dated and many other books published in its time–1935–do. For example, it examines the greed of the insurance business. How it will try to elude payment even in the absence of actual evidence of fraud. That is most certainly a practice that continues today. One only must look to insurance claims filed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for proof of that.
Cain’s characters are all interesting studies, each with understandable–if also unidentifiable–motivations. The protagonist, Walter Huff, though an accomplice to murder, is just an ordinary guy led into temptation by a femme fatale. But his motive for murder is two-fold. While he undoubtedly wants to rub the husband out to get to the wife, he also just wants to play a game of sorts. In no more than a page or two, Walter relates to the reader that he wants to test the system and he exacts a murder plot in an attempt to prove that his cunning mind and deep knowledge of his job will allow to get away with murder. Too often he has come across claims from people who didn’t know what he does about how insurance works and because of that, he believes he can be successful where the others have failed. It’s as if he were playing a simple game of cards for a modest bet. And what he wants to is to prove that the house does not always win.
In the end, it isn’t so much his morality that is his undoing as it is his affection for a rather unlikely love interest. And as the story reaches its climax he’ll find himself in danger for his role in the whole sordid mess and his paranoia surrounding it.
It is a rather short book, comparable to another of his novels I recently read, The Postman Always Rings Twice. I think I liked this one more. It felt somehow more immediate and urgent and engaging. Someday I will have to return to the library and check out Mildred Pierce which sounds like a fascinating examination of a twisted mother/daughter relationship and is about three times as long as these other two stories.(less)
The only real knowledge I had about Chuck Palahnuik was though the film Fight Club. (Which a terrific flick and excellently directed and photographed....moreThe only real knowledge I had about Chuck Palahnuik was though the film Fight Club. (Which a terrific flick and excellently directed and photographed. It’s gotta be in my top 25-50 of all time.) I had never read one of his books before. Until now. I checked Lullaby out of the library as I was browsing around looking for something new and interesting. The librarian who checked me out remarked that he is one of her favorite authors and she owns all of his books. So I was intrigued. And this book?
Imaginative, bold, and seething with scathing commentary on contemporary American society and its willingness to be governed by consumerist culture, and content in its indifference and ignorance, Lullaby is a richly padded and darkly nihilistic parable about morality and power, with a dash of hopelessness sprinkled in.
It may sound like a downer but Chuck Palahnuik‘s charm lies in his use of language. He has a gifted hand, aided by a thoughtful mind. Reading it, each word seems deliberate. The book isn’t so much nuanced as it is direct. Carl Streator tells it like it is. How he sees it. How he feels about it. Unusual in its tone and unapologetic in its message, Lullaby is narrative that is strangely pleasurable despite the nightmare it weaves.
The novel is also peppered with repeated phrases, slightly altered each time it appears. They begin to take on a sort of sing-song quality in and of themselves. And how appropriate for a story named after a kind of song. “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words _____.” — “These _____-oholics. These _____-ophobics.” — “For whatever reason, I thought of _____.” Another repeated technique is that as Streator describes color–what someone is wearing for instance–he assigns it the color of a fine dining dish. It’s really kind of cool.
Since the film Fight Club was about all I knew about Chuck Palahnuik, I must admit that the themes and overt messages of Lullaby are familiar. Like the narrator in Fight Club, Carl Streator rants on about people. Their irritating manners. Their rude behavior. Their sick minds. But it still feels fresh and relevant. You respect the viewpoint because you can understand it. Streator is a lonely man, a bitter man. He does little more than exist until his life is forever-changed by the power a single poem holds. This story is an adventure.
There’s a high body count. He can’t control himself. But he wants to. All he has to do is think the poem the person that has inflamed his annoyance drops dead. He practices counting exercises to direct his death wishes away from unknowing victims. “Counting 345, counting 346, counting 347…” Hmm, yet another repeated phrase.
The book is a lot of things. Thrilling. Depressing. Satisfying. All at once, and not necessarily in that order. The ending leaves you contemplating the new world order that now exists in the Lullaby world and I found myself thinking, now that would be an interesting television show! This story is filled with a variety of vividly imagined characters, each with their own views on modern life and morality. And they are all chasing the power of magic, hoping to wield it for their own uses.
This was a fascinating read. Even a fun one. The words themselves are lyrical and flitter off of the page in a wonderful melody.
Sticks and stones may break your bones but these words are quite astounding.(less)
To be honest, it took me like 3 weeks to get through the first 300 pages of the 1000+ page novel, Under the Dome. But after that, I finished up the ne...moreTo be honest, it took me like 3 weeks to get through the first 300 pages of the 1000+ page novel, Under the Dome. But after that, I finished up the next 700 in a mere 2-3 days. I was compelled to read this mammoth of a book after recently re-reading The Stand. (Review of that to follow.) I was so thoroughly impressed with The Stand that I thought perhaps Under the Dome might impress me equally. (If you’re wondering, it doesn’t quite measure up.)
What took me so long to get through the first fourth of Under the Dome is paradoxically why it took me no time at all to get through the entirety of The Stand in almost no time at all: the constant juggling of the huge cast of characters. As The Stand begins, we are introduced to the main characters one by one; they don’t yet know one another and so their journeys and experiences are easily distinguishable from one another. Under the Dome takes place in the small New England town of Chester’s Mill, and as such, the characters are already interacting with one another and have established relationships we are not already privy to. So as you read, it is easy to get everyone confused; you have to kind of pause and think about who is who as the scenes shift and alliances form. But after the initial 300 pages, I started to know the characters myself and the story became more interesting.
The greatest fault I can find in this novel, however, is actually in the characterization. It’s rather black & white with little shades of gray. Either a character is “good” or “bad.” Shades of gray are what make people interesting, if you ask me. For example, while the big villain of the story, Big Jim Rennie, often rationalizes his behavior or tries to justify his actions to even himself, he still recognizes an inherent quality within himself: he just wants what he wants, that he is an unapologetic and selfish power monger. Simple as that. Without any redeeming quality he–and most of the other characters–has very little dimension and thus, he doesn’t seem all that believable.
On the other hand, if the novel is viewed as largely allegorical–which it most certainly can be–the black & white tendencies of the characters become understandable. After all, allegory is a way of illustrating a message–whether it be political, religious, environmental, or otherwise–about the state of circumstance and choice, about human nature. Stephen King himself stated that he wrote Under the Dome with his view of the failures of Bush-Cheney administration in mind, as well the state of the environment. (If there is one thing the Dome in the novel demonstrates, is how quickly the air becomes polluted and contaminated when it is enclosed, much like the atmosphere encloses the Earth.)
Much like The Stand, the climax of Under the Dome fails to be as compelling as the events that precede it. But that’s okay. The joy of reading both books lies in the journey of the characters, in their struggles and their triumphs.
If you are wondering about the “secret” of the Dome, I won’t spoil it for you here. Is it a fascinating reveal? That’s up for the reader to decide. This reader was sort of apathetic to it because that’s not what the story is really about. The Dome is merely a device to get the characters in this situation. A MacGuffin of a larger sort. Is it worth the read? Sure. I really enjoyed it once I was able to get acquainted well enough with the characters. But if you are a slow reader, this one may not be for you.(less)
Yes, I read a lot. Quite voraciously, in fact. I often can’t wait to finish a book so I can start on another. This is the fourth or fifth book I have...moreYes, I read a lot. Quite voraciously, in fact. I often can’t wait to finish a book so I can start on another. This is the fourth or fifth book I have read this week. I read a few series so I haven’t composed any entries for those, as I will probably wait until I finish all the books that have been published in them so far.
Dashiell Hammett is one the prime writers of noir pulp fiction. Slightly minimalist but with a remarkable sight for detail, he crafts dark tales about shadowy characters and undesirable circumstances. He has such a natural hand for creating these dark stories and that is no doubt thanks to his former professions as a sergeant in the military and his work for a private detective agency.
Woman in the Dark is undeniably one of his lesser works. It feels somewhat rushed and unfinished. I never got a true sense of the characters and their motivations. I felt as if I were missing something. But it is a quick read, taking little less than an hour to complete it. Why it is billed as a novel I don’t quite understand, since it hardly can be classified as even a novella at only 75 pages. I picked this up at my local library since it is something I hadn’t even heard of before. Apparently it was originally published in a magazine called Liberty in 1933 and in three installments. And the book itself it is three parts, each one a separate journey. There’s a better story in here somewhere. It has all the classic makings of one of those classic noir novels. The damsel in distress, the misunderstood, sensitive and dangerous ex-con, the slimy cohorts and acquaintances, etc.
There is an uncharacteristic sentimentalism to Woman in the Dark. After all, its extended title contains the words A Novel of Dangerous Romance. The ending is an optimistic one, rushed and forced as it may be. Seldom do these types of stories end with such hope. Perhaps that hope would hold more resonance if the characters were fuller, if I could understand how these two souls–the damsel in distress and the ex-con–ended up falling in love in such a short span of time (hardly more than a day!) and under the bleakest of circumstances.
I can recommend this book for those who enjoy Hammett’s other works but I don’t know that it would appeal to others. But again, it is such a brisk read, you’d hardly feel as if your time was wasted.(less)
I actually had no intention of reading L.J. Smith‘s The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening & The Struggle. It was sort of happenstance that I did. My...moreI actually had no intention of reading L.J. Smith‘s The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening & The Struggle. It was sort of happenstance that I did. My mother loaned me a few books she thought I might like and I was waiting to get a new book, I just popped this open to kill some time. It reads incredibly fast. I had both books completed within hours. I don’t have anything particularly positive to write about this series however. I was rather underwhelmed.
First off, I find Elena unlikable. A couple characters accuse her being of selfish. Well, she is. I also hate this whole thing in YA fiction where teenage girls become so absorbed by some guy that everything else ceases to matter. This guy becomes their only reason to exist. They are obsessed and neurotic and always feeling unworthy of undeserving of his devotion. And it’s irritating that these are the role models for young girls and women. I understand that these are teenage girls in these books and that teenage girls are often petulant and self-involved and reckless. But the girls in so many of these books don’t feel real to me. I was once a teenage girl with teenage girl friends. Guess what? They didn’t act like so many of these YA heroines.
Sorry for the rant but I just got really irked by Elena in these books. The CW show is awesome though! I really look forward to it and I am anxious for September. If I had read these books before I saw the show, I don’t think I would have given it much of a chance. Thankfully, the show is only a shadow of these books. It’s veered quite far off the path in lots of different ways. And I, for one, am thankful for that!(less)
I’m not big on police procedurals–or John Grisham or Patricia Cornwell (I don’t need to be bored by lawyers and doctors, thanks)–but Tana French‘s Edg...moreI’m not big on police procedurals–or John Grisham or Patricia Cornwell (I don’t need to be bored by lawyers and doctors, thanks)–but Tana French‘s Edgar Award winning novel In the Woods sounded quite intriguing. I really love a story about characters with a haunted past that must confront it and experience a transformation of sorts in the process. Sadly, that’s not exactly what I got with this book.
This was a book I enjoyed while reading it and that, in fact, turned out to be quite the page-turner. The real problem crept on me in the aftermath of my finishing it, in those moments when you close the book and ruminate on all the words you just took in.
Bottom line: it was an unsatisfying ending that left a signifiant plot thread just dangling with no sense of closure, with barely a thought given to it in the final pages. The whole draw of the book for me was this connection between Rob’s past and the case he was investigating. I don’t want to spoil potential readers, so I’ll just say that the end didn’t exactly have the coalescing I was anticipating.
I also don’t appreciate the author’s attempt to be clever when she claims that we, the readers, have been duped just as Rob himself was. While this may be true from some readers, it certainly can’t be the case for all. For example, I was not duped. There is a scene in the novel that I suspected was planted as a means of foreshadowing and I thought that it might have a payoff later. It did. So for the author–or more appropriately, I suppose, Rob–to assume I was as fooled as he was is a bit insulting.
Another problem is Rob Ryan himself. By the novel’s end I just didn’t like him anymore. He came off as pathetic, obsessive and foolish. Typically, character stories involve some sort of redemptive angle, or at least an attempt to examine a character’s faults and to learn from them. Of course, not all stories must end this way; a tragic end is often a more powerful way to go, so long as it is apropos to the character(s) journey and/or the writer’s subjacent message. But that is something that must be earned. I’m not saying In the Woods ends tragically per se, but to me, it ends with the character no wiser than when we met him at the beginning. And that is sort of tragic because, really, what’s the point of that?
There’ some good stuff in there, however. Tana French crafts exemplary prose. The words are so deliberate and lulling. There’s a poetry there. But what good are beautiful words without the benefit of a well-designed story?
There is a follow up to this novel. It’s called The Likeness. It is not a sequel, nor is it an origin story. Rather, it takes place awhile after In the Woods and the first person storyteller this time around is Cassie, Rob’s former partner. I did try to read it. Tried. I got to precisely page 100 before I just had to set it aside and resign myself to not finishing it. 100 pages of setup is just way too much. I felt as if nothing were happening. Page 100 is actual where it appears something is about to happen, but by that time, I was not invested enough to care.
Can I recommend In the Woods? Look, it’s not bad. It just needs some tightening up and an ending that at least addresses one of the biggest mysteries within the story. Perhaps Tana French intends to write another book that does indeed delve ito this mystery. But to be honest, I don’t care. I expected a resolution this time around. It almost felt promised. What I can suggest is reading the the prologue. It’s a beautiful piece of prose and it will give you an idea of what this author is capable of. I so enjoyed the style of her writing, I only wish that enjoyed the story she had to tell. So I will keep my eye out on her future endeavors and hope I won’t be quite so disappointed next time.(less)
Goldengrove by Francine Prose is a story set amid the landscape of immeasurable loss and grief. Its thirteen year old protagonist, Nico, attempts to c...moreGoldengrove by Francine Prose is a story set amid the landscape of immeasurable loss and grief. Its thirteen year old protagonist, Nico, attempts to comes to terms with the loss of her older sister, Margaret, as her parents fold into themselves as they, too, seek solace from the pain.
I had never heard of Francine Prose before. But she’s written something like 15 books. I have no idea why she has eluded me. Especially because she is quite simply, amazing. Her prose is so fluid and haunting with a subtle poeticism about it. Just thoughtful. With stunning and beautiful metaphors, with lovely details passages. In fact, the opening lines give you a good idea of the quality of the writing:
We lived on the shore of Mirror Lake, and for many years our lives were as calm and transparent as its waters. Our old house followed the curve of the bank, in segments, like a train, each room and screened porch added on, one by one, decade by decade.
When I think of that time, I picture the four of us wading in the shallows, admiring our reflections in the glassy, motionless lake. Then something–a pebble, a raindrop–breaks the surface and shatters the mirror. A ripple reaches the distant bank. Our years of bad luck begin.
Most of the novel is spent on the introspective musings of Nico. There is action and dialogue, certainly, but the bulk of the story is Nico thinking. She has a wisdom about her and an uncanny ability to understand those around her, despite the confusion she feels. Her desperation–or more appropriately, her desire–to reclaim a piece of her sister is what drives this book. She falls into a peculiar and somewhat perverse relationship with her dead sister’s boyfriend. And these sessions with Aaron are one of the driving forces of the novel. For me, at least. The two of them share only one commonality and that is that they miss Margaret. In each other they find a way to remember her as they recount conversations and songs and films they shared with her when she was alive. It is because of these scenes that we, as readers, discover who Margaret is as a character. Ironically, she comes alive in spite of her death. In fact, Margaret is almost a ghost throughout this book. I don’t mean that literally, it’s just that her memory lingers over every moment. You sense her–and her absence–all the time.
If you want to get technical, I love Prose’s use of grammar and punctuation. She inserts commas and em dashes at all the right beats and sometimes uses short sentences, so the prose flows out as if you were reciting a poem. It’s just lovely, lovely, lovely. Anyway, once again, this is a lovely piece of work. I soared right through this book in little more than a day. There’s a crisp and deliberate quality to the language and you can sense that the author thought carefully about her words. So, I recommend!(less)
The Great Gatsby. A literary classic. So I am supposed to like it, right? And it’s not as if I didn’t enjoy it, I guess I was just expecting something...moreThe Great Gatsby. A literary classic. So I am supposed to like it, right? And it’s not as if I didn’t enjoy it, I guess I was just expecting something more. I was also surprised by just how short it is! A mere 180 pages.
This was my first time reading it, having somehow avoided it being assigned as required reading in high school and college. The character of Gatsby is sort of shrouded in secrecy for the majority of the narrative and I found myself quite curious to learn more about him, to discover those secrets. So when I did discover those secrets, well, it just turned out to be rather anticlimactic. Sad and hopeless, but anticlimactic nonetheless.
The most interesting thing about this book, for me, was the narrative style. While it is told in first person, the first person narrator, Nick Carraway, is little more than observer. He is sidelined from the action and is delegated more to witnessing the drama of his wealthy–what to call them?–companions. And that is an odd way to tell a story and few novels, in fact, use this technique. But it works here. It would be such a different story if Daisy or Tom or even Jordan were telling this tale. Somehow Nick is privy to information that other characters are not and as such, we learn more about the world and its characters than we would have otherwise. And it’s a neat way to sort of discover and experience things as Nick does.
I can appreciate the novel for its artistic merits as well as its subjacent commentary of American excess, decadence and disillusionment. Fitzgerald has a skilled hand and his prose is often quite lovely and also haunting, with the capacity to linger in you. (In fact one of my favorite quotations of all time comes from his Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise: “I don’t want to repeat my innocence. I want the pleasure of losing it again.”) And the ending sentences of The Great Gatsby are among some of most beautiful.
All that said (or more appropriately wrote,) I much prefer Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise to this one. (less)
Charles Dickens‘s perennial classic A Christmas Carol is a book that I had never read. A story that has been adapted countless times and in various in...moreCharles Dickens‘s perennial classic A Christmas Carol is a book that I had never read. A story that has been adapted countless times and in various incarnations. And so I thought it was time to give the source material a read.
Perhaps what makes Charles Dickens a prolific–and still relevant–author is his upbringing. As a child reared in the classist British society in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, he was witness to and apart of great social injustices of the time. These experiences with societal hardships are easily seen throughout his library of published works, and in fact, many of them are built around such concepts and observations, such as Oliver Twist and David Copperfield.
A Christmas Carol is certainly drawn from such societal elements, using class and poverty to weave the tale of the cranky, cheap and greedy (and you can now add legendary and infamous to that list too!) Ebenezer Scrooge. I don’t need to go into specifics. After all, is there anyone who doesn’t know what A Christmas Carol is about, that doesn’t know about the four ghosts, the inevitable redemption of the grouch, Tiny Tim, the uplifting and celebratory message?
Instead I will just state that if you have never read this book–or more appropriately, novella–it’s a swift (under 100 pages) and good read. What’s most remarkable about to me is that this story is so timeless and classic, so rich and profound, that in all its various adaptations–the movies, the television episodes, the operas, the plays, etc.–those stories remain incredibly faithful to the original work; it’s quite astounding. Perhaps that speaks to the story’s success, that everyone who has adapted it felt little need to change the major plot points and qualities of the characters.
A Christmas Carol is widely credited with reinventing Christmas, making it the holiday like the one we experience today, one filled with compassion and generosity. I guess we have Charles Dickens to thank for making this the best time of year, for imagining a holiday that is many a person’s favorite. It’s certainly mine. I can’t wait for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; my daughter is three years old now and is sort of starting to understand more and more things. I’m so excited for her to experience the holiday this year! And it’s a holiday we wouldn’t quite have the way we do, if it weren’t for A Christmas Carol.(less)