Very disturbing detailed portrait of the Parker/Hulme murder case in 1954, of which I was already aware. As a fan of suspense novels, Anne Perry was a...moreVery disturbing detailed portrait of the Parker/Hulme murder case in 1954, of which I was already aware. As a fan of suspense novels, Anne Perry was a familiar name to me already when I heard of her participation in adolescence in the murder of her best friend's mother. The news hit the USA shortly after the Peter Jackson film "Heavenly Creatures" came out. I saw the film and it was my introduction to Jackson (The Lord of the Rings), as well as the actor Kate Winslet. I've never been a fan of Victorian mysteries, though, and I haven't read Perry's works.
It's clear that Graham blames Perry as the dominant personality and the instigator behind the murder. He portrays her as a perpetrator, not a victim, although he does ascribe the cause of the murder to Narcissistic Personality Disorder (presumably not under her control...). In fact, the original book title does not contain Perry's name and I found that change to be a cynical bid for more readers. He is from Canterbury NZ, where the murder took place, and has definitely accepted the local view that the upper class Perry (Hulme) led astray the less advantaged fish shop girl Parker (Nathan). (Both girls took different names upon release from prison.) Graham also spent a chapter dismissing & debunking an earlier book that focused on the lesbian aspect of the girls' relationship, called Parker and Hulme: A Lesbian View. The author, Glamuzina, was a younger schoolmate of the girls, but her importance as a primary source is dismissed because she brings in Maori world views of spiritual causation -- a deal-breaker in Graham's chilly Kiwi opinion. Plus Glamuzina is critical of the insular Canterbury community in ways that clearly violate Graham's experience of the place.
The background and setting were painstakingly described, yet the reason that these two finally committed such a brutal and unusual murder never really was explained to my satisfaction. The role of mental illness as defined now & then was covered adequately, but adolescent psychology -- and the issues of lesbian repression, denial, and societal condemnation -- were not explored thoroughly. Graham seemed to accept the lesbian nature of the girls' relationship (though he faithfully reports Perry's many denials of lesbianism as an adult -- meanwhile, she lives in a primary relationship with a woman), yet he seems rather squeamish in the end to examine the role of homophobia in the murder. Lesbianism was defined as a mental illness at the time (until 1972) and Parker & Hulme were shudderingly and disgustedly described as "dirty little girls" by prosecutors and the press. In a world where straight relationships received enthusiastic applause, what might have been the effect on the girls of finding themselves outside that affirmed category? Graham doesn't say.
Still, the massive amount of research on the backstory, as well as the description of the subsequent lives of Hulme & Parker in the aftermath of the murder made it an absorbing read.
I give David Gillham credit for a mostly good outing in telling this story of a German woman's growing resistance to Nazism from that woman's perspect...more I give David Gillham credit for a mostly good outing in telling this story of a German woman's growing resistance to Nazism from that woman's perspective. In many ways, he did a good job.
I liked the development of the relationship between the anti-Nazi activist Ericha and the main character, "kriegsfrau" Sigrid.
Loved the gobs and gobs of German in-speak, atmosphere, and war trivia. Other reviewers have mentioned this stellar aspect of the book. Historical fiction that is very well researched is such a pleasure to read. As others have noted, you could smell and taste the airless Berlin of 1943.
Loved the half-Jewish Nazis next door, the pregnant Frau Obersturmfuhrer and her lesbian sister, Carin. In fact, Carin was one of the best-realized characters in the book. She was both sarcastic and warm, wise-cracking and deep, funny and sad. I'm usually quite critical of male authors' depictions of lesbian women, so this characterization was a treat. There were few other minor characters as well imagined: Frau Weiss and her children were somewhat believable (though idealized), but all the other U-boats were complete stereotypes, as were the building superintendent & wife, other residents, Sigrid's boss, etc., bellicose Nazis right down to their grey teeth.
I was disappointed that Sigrid's mother-in-law was so entirely one-dimensional. It made her completely predictable. I hoped that the evolving circumstances of the novel would somehow impact her witless bitchiness and relentless pro-Nazi attitudes, but the author missed the opportunity to develop this character at all. No matter that her son was essentially destroyed by his part in the war, even confronted with that and his suicidal return to the Eastern front ... nope, sorry, she was the same at the end of the book as at the beginning. There's no way I can buy that an unemployed nosy woman at home in the Berlin apartment day and night could *miss* Sigrid's activities completely. She found Sigrid's love letters, after all, so we know she was prying. But her occasional suspicions essentially are couched in her dislike of Sigrid rather than any apprehension of her anti-Nazi activism.
In many ways, I found Caspar, Sigrid's soldier husband, the most coherent character in the book. He was an earnest civil servant kind of guy who is drafted, is completely unfit as a soldier but does his best with a bad situation. His identity and character are destroyed by the chaotic violence of the Eastern front. After being wounded, Caspar tries to return to his life, realizes the impossibility of that, and returns to die. He was exceedingly well-drawn and sadly, all too comprehensible.
Sigrid herself was difficult to understand and identify with. At first, in the turmoil of living in war-torn Berlin, she is consumed with thoughts of her love affair with Egon and focuses on memories of her emotional/sexual tie with him to remove her from her brutal day-to-day existence. I could imagine such thoughts as a good escape valve. However, as the book goes on, I often felt that I didn't know her or understand her motivations, even though we read her first-person account. I was left feeling that, while Sigrid tells us her *actions,* she never really thinks very much, aside from obsessive musing on her sexual encounters with men. For example, Sigrid never says to herself -- Egon is a good and upright person who doesn't deserve the treatment that he receives from the Nazi government -- I believe this to the extent that I will endanger myself to save unfairly targeted Jews. Or -- my beloved nurse was a Jew... Or -- my best friend in elementary school was a Jew... Her motivation for endangering herself is unclear and unconvincing (although we are probably supposed to extrapolate it from the relationship with Egon).
I'm sorry, Mr. Gillham, almost every woman that I know obsesses on her relationship with her beloved one and its meaning, NOT on her sex acts with that person. I still would have given this book 5 stars, despite all the titillating sex scenes, except for ... (view spoiler)[ the rape. When Egon rapes Sigrid out of rage, shoving her against a wall and telling her to "Take. This. Back to her marital bed..." I almost closed the book. This, in my view, is where the author really failed to comprehend his main character, as a woman. Being violently raped by a loved one is the ultimate betrayal -- in which you as a person are reduced to a receptacle for another's rage -- well, it would be something that, at the VERY LEAST, Sigrid would dwell on for the remainder of the book and it would certainly color, perhaps destroy, her love for Egon. Instead, Sigrid relates the incident matter-of-factly and continues to worship Egon, scan the streets for a glimpse of him, review their other sexual encounters, etc., etc., etc. (hide spoiler)] Without this incident, I thought the complexity of Egon's character was well-depicted, as a targeted minority pushed to the wall to try and survive, as a man deeply injured by grief, loss, and societal wrongs.
With other reviewers, I failed to understand the meaning of Sigrid's affair with Wolfram, the war-injured brother of her neighbors. If I were cynical, I'd say it was an opportunity for many more sexy bodice-ripping scenes in sleazy hotels. It's hard to believe that we're supposed to imagine that Sigrid was planning for the denouement, way back in that relatively early section of the book -- when she'd barely become involved with the anti-Nazi underground. I suppose we're intended to think that Wolfram is a consolation prize, since Egon is unavailable. I don't know (as a lesbian) if heterosexual women are usually enticed by strangers presenting their hard-ons to them in stairwells, but I find it hard to believe that they are.
What I think that the author was probably attempting to do was to debunk the common stereotypes of virgin/whore and depict Sigrid as a passionate woman who doesn't shrink from seeking solace in her sexual relationships with men. It was a good attempt and Sigrid was a woman who did develop a sense of her own authority and acted on it in the climactic final scenes -- fast-paced and suspenseful -- her actions were believable and admirable. It's just her inner life and emotions that didn't persuade.
Oh, yeah, minor but distracting point: Gillham thanks his editor in the acknowledgments -- and she really did NOT deserve the praise. There were half-a-dozen or more lapses of continuity and flat-out mistakes in the book that were so glaring that I started keeping track. At one point, Sigrid finds a dirty playing card that depicts someone she knows -- later on, it's termed a "postcard" -- very different. Just one of too many such errors. Glad you liked your editor, Mr. Gillham, but in future, I'd find someone with actual skills so that you don't torment your readers to this extent again!
This book covered the history of suicide from the Golden Gate bridge -- an astonishing 1500 plus people have so ended their lives. The author's belief...moreThis book covered the history of suicide from the Golden Gate bridge -- an astonishing 1500 plus people have so ended their lives. The author's belief is that a suicide barrier (higher railing) like those installed on other world landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, would end the carnage. The stories include many many sad tales, and some deeply disturbing cases, such as young teens ending their lives and fathers killing a child AND themselves. Horrific. I agree that a barrier is needed and there's no excuse for not having one long before now. But Bateson's writing style is repetitive and ultimately boring. I skimmed the last 50 pages. (less)
The introduction to this book stressed that it was a novelization of real historical events. Ultimately, I found that a lazy choice -- did the author...moreThe introduction to this book stressed that it was a novelization of real historical events. Ultimately, I found that a lazy choice -- did the author invent details and change facts to avoid having to do some actual research?
I found a number of things about this book annoying: several historical details were incorrect. He mentioned flowers in bloom at the wrong time and species that are non-native. Would they have been growing in northern Michigan at this time? One of his characters used colloquial phrases that were definitely not from the 19th century.
I disliked that the novel focused almost exclusively on the interaction of the murderer, and his son. I would have preferred a more balanced focus with more about the victim -- poor characterization.
I found the introduction of characters mid-stream to be jarring and poorly integrated. The character of Daniel becomes strangely central, yet he is introduced mid-book as a tubercular reporter who happens to casually run into the murder victim in her wanderings on her final day of life. The book focuses on his relationship to the murderer's son in an almost homoerotic way -- their "friendship" ends the book.
It was strange how the map inside and the cover blurbs all used the names of the actual people on whom the story was based, rather than the character names that are actually used in the book. It made it confusing to find the Parmalee, Stagg, and Curtis houses labeled on the map -- which bear no resemblance to the names in the narrative. Also, details of house locations, where the murderer was working at the time of the killing, where he was seen at the time of the murder, and where the body was found were all slightly changed, so that the map bore little actual resemblance to the events as recounted in the novel.
It was overall an interesting story but would have been much improved by telling it as nonfiction/historical series of events rather than a novelization. (less)
My teenage years were during the 1970s, probably the only decade since 1940 to mostly ignore Judy Garland's oeuvre. Yes, The Wizard of Oz was on TV ev...moreMy teenage years were during the 1970s, probably the only decade since 1940 to mostly ignore Judy Garland's oeuvre. Yes, The Wizard of Oz was on TV every year (and it was miraculous), but other than than an occasional Andy Hardy movie on Saturday afternoons, her body of work didn't really make an appearance. I'm really just now discovering the depth of her acting and singing talent and her great movies.
I think that the world in the 1970s was too stunned, too sad, too ashamed, too angry, too deeply grieving her sad end to face up to the loss of such an extraordinary talent. Her struggle with addiction made her into a person who, like all other addicts, can form a relationship only with her drug, thus driving away those she loved and everyone else. The pattern is so clear in this book: the pain of exploitation as a child submerged beneath uppers & downers, the agony of being used and viewed simply as a paycheck by those who should have loved and treasured her, more drugs, more rage, more despair, more suicide attempts, and finally early death by overdose. Yes, the world loves to watch the anonymous train wreck, but ultimately, we loved Judy and it was unbearable to watch her crumble. So in the 70s, we turned away.
Gerald Clarke is a wonderful writer who does the next-to-impossible: he tells all without making us hate Judy. It's not that he excuses her or blames everyone else, but he reveals her heart & vulnerability, he tells "her side of it," making us always understand Judy's motivations even when they are so entirely wrong-headed or delusional. He makes it clear that Judy could only really Get Happy on stage. Interacting with and responding to an audience was the only place that she felt confident and alive -- off-stage were shark-infested waters. Clarke tackles the inherent mystery of WHY Judy Garland's voice and songs strike such a deep chord across all categories of people -- like, why gay men love her so -- and does a good job of explaining its resonance of joy & pain.
Clarke is a wonderful storyteller. Generally, I struggle through biographies when I read them because they often founder on the details and can't convey the sweep of a life or make the subject feel known. Ultimately, Clarke does all that as skillfully as a master weaver -- creating a whole cloth that both warms and scalds as we wrap it around ourselves and see Judy's life from the inside. (less)