The Crimson Petal and the White tells an ugly story. It’s very dark and even amidst all of the beautifully colorful late Victorian gowns and essences...moreThe Crimson Petal and the White tells an ugly story. It’s very dark and even amidst all of the beautifully colorful late Victorian gowns and essences of perfumes and potpourri infused throughout, nothing is really able to mask the harshness and vice that corrodes the London middle class society described.
In regards to plot, the stories that make up the 900 pages of Faber’s novel are quite simple and could easily be summed up in a few sentences. But what makes Faber’s novel a compelling read is his ability to slowly unmask all of the façades of the London setting he describes, and how this in turn affects the personalities of his characters, forcing the reader to wonder how will these characters survive, and which ones will be able to escape from the city’s overbearing clutches.
Faber’s London is a living, breathing entity and is arguably the book’s most important character, inviting and providing intrigue and shelter, as well as helping or hindering discovery and/or escape. Through London’s manipulative hand, none are left unscathed. Faber illustrates this well.
That said, I didn’t entirely enjoy all of the storylines in this book. My favorite stories were associated with the minor characters. On the one hand, I loved the eccentric aloofness of Emmeline Fox. I also liked the awkward interplay between Caroline and Henry. These two stories worked well, and I wished more of the story could have been dedicated to them. On the other hand, I was rather disappointed with Sugar, one of the main characters of the novel. Even though Sugar is in some ways redeemed in the end, it is hard to forget that she did become something she should have despised. Compared to the strong-minded girl the reader is introduced to in the beginning, as the story progresses, Sugar’s character seems to regress when she meets William Rackham. I thought she had a stronger sense of independence and even though she does regain some of it, there’s a kind of mourning for what once was.
Agnes’ etherial qualities are the strangest sections of the novel, yet her story makes the reader wonder how many girls at that time were just as innocently ignorant of life. For me, her story was the most disconcerting in the book, however Faber does not portray her as a sympathetic character. Her story is equally as ugly and disappointing as the rest—but not for how the narrator chooses to end her story. Arguably, I’d say that she is the strongest character in Faber’s novel—steadfast in her beliefs to the end and beyond....
As for the men in this story, their proclivity to vice and dissipation is horrible and at times disgusting. William’s treatment of Agnes was truly deplorable. That said, Faber is at his best playing with façades when he describes his male characters. Even the most upstanding male figure in this story is plagued with a hidden vice that gradually eats away at their character like a disease. For these men, life becomes a game where only the strongest survive.
Despite its ugliness, Faber created an interesting tale, one that I’m looking forward to seeing on film. (less)
The Flight of Gemma Hardy really surprised me, though I must say, not in a good way. When reading through this book, it felt like this was the author’...moreThe Flight of Gemma Hardy really surprised me, though I must say, not in a good way. When reading through this book, it felt like this was the author’s first novel, and I was genuinely surprised that Margot Livesey is an acclaimed writer and author of a number of works. When you really consider and analyze the story of The Flight of Gemma Hardy—completely ignoring all of the book’s connections with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—as a pure story, the plot of Livesey’s novel falls apart. The story itself is more fantastical than based upon reality, i.e. something that could have really taken place during late 1950s-mid-1960s, the time period when this story is set.
The crux of this book’s problem is the complete lack of communication amongst the characters. None of the characters outwardly express themselves or really discuss their feelings. There are lots of secrets in this book and not all of them are ever really resolved by the novel’s end. As well, this lack of communication forces the reader to wonder how is it possible for these characters to feel any sort of real and meaningful emotional connection. Ultimately, the more you think about these characters, their motivations, emotions, etc., their actions become all the more convoluted and strange. But what hurts the story even more is its immediate connection with Jane Eyre. Like the other Jane Eyre retelling I have read, April Lindner’s Jane, the connection between the two stories does more harm than good. In both retellings, the authors seem to be forcing a connection between the two main characters, without providing enough substance to really form a lasting connection between the two.
Livesey increases the age disparity between her Rochester and Jane: Hugh and Gemma. Here, there’s an age gap of twenty-one/twenty-two years, with Hugh already well into his forties when he meets Gemma. Livesey pronounces this age gap through her characterization of Gemma. For a young woman, Gemma is still very much a child. She fails to understand the symbolism of his actions, i.e the significance of the bird feather he gives her—completely dismissing it like a piece of trash, even expressing her displeasure to him. Yet after meeting with him two or three times, she believes she has found someone she understands, someone she considers to be “her equal.” Now, with that in mind, how can one express that Hugh’s feelings are truly honorable? When thinking about it, Hugh just seems to be a man facing a mid-life crisis, seeking someone with whom he can “sate his lusts.” But even so, what kind of man would continue to pursue a childlike girl, who completely fails to understand him? Given the title, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, and the story’s comparison to Jane Eyre, the outcome of this relationship is obvious: Gemma finally gets scared. Yet, given Hugh’s position and the fact that he is an adult male living in the late 1960s, I find Hugh’s reaction to Gemma’s flight completely unrealistic. Hugh’s actions overstep certain boundaries that no real man would ever take if placed in Hugh’s situation, unless the man happened to be a close relation to Gemma, e.g. parent or guardian. Hugh’s choices don’t make sense, and his feelings toward Gemma seem to increasingly manifest into an unhealthy obsession.
Emotionally, Gemma is a still a young teenager. She is moody and acts on impulse without thinking about the possible outcomes or consequences of her actions. She never questions people or her situation. She readily breaks people’s trust for her own personal gains. As well, once she forms an opinion about someone or something, she is loath to change it. Developmentally, she is not ready to handle the situations in which she finds herself. In some ways, she reminds me of Agnes Rackham from The Crimson Petal and the White. Though while Agnes has excuses for her changeable disposition and unworldliness, Gemma does not. In regards to sociability, Gemma fails to bond with people. The one person I would have thought that Gemma would want to form a connection with, i.e. Hugh’s niece, she doesn’t. Strangely, Gemma here remains passive than reactive, stating she has no desire at attempting to form a bond with the little girl, seemingly believing that it should have been the little girl’s place to make the first move. It is really strange, and so unlike Jane Eyre’s relationship with Adèle.
The ending of this book is abrupt and completely drab. Its sudden cleanliness is so drearily dull and unsuitable. The ending reads like a child’s fable with the inevitable promise of growth and development after hardship. Yet given everything that happens over the course of this novel, the probable outcome of this Jane Eyre retelling shouldn’t be warranted. Honestly, this story needed additional spice to make up for Gemma’s silliness throughout. I felt Gemma’s story should have ended with dramatic and ironic flair, with one of those wonderfully evil bad ends. It would have been more fitting, a good way to shock the reader from a relatively dull story.
Overall, I think that The Flight of Gemma Hardy illustrates one of the worst faults an author can make: creating a weak, almost lazily crafted work. The decision to extend and elaborate on plot details rather than develop interpersonal relationships between her characters was a poor choice on the author’s part. Unfortunately, these extensions to the basic Jane Eyre plot only enhance the improbable nature of this story. (less)
When I first came upon the title Code Name Verity, I was really looking forward to reading it. I generally do enjoy war stories, both on film and in b...moreWhen I first came upon the title Code Name Verity, I was really looking forward to reading it. I generally do enjoy war stories, both on film and in books, and Code Name Verity offers something different for younger readers with its focus on women WWII pilots. I thought this would be rather interesting. However, I am sorry to say that I was rather disappointed with the story.
Part of my disappointment stems from Elizabeth Wein’s author’s note, stating that she was weaving fact with fiction in order to make a good story—stretching ideas and events in order to make them seem plausible. I don’t entirely understand why she did this...I felt she could have easily changed the setting to the latter part of the war, i.e. after 1943 when women pilots in the ATA were permitted to fly without restriction. This setting choice, I ultimately felt to be a detraction to Wein’s story. As Wein’s story stands, pilot Maddie is constantly skirting around rules and regulations to do what she wants most: fly. For me, Maddie’s constant bending of the rules made the story seem more and more implausible as the story progressed, especially since Maddie’s punishment for her court-martial offenses are at most a slap on the wrist. Maddie’s poor judgment in decision making detracted from the seriousness of the story and the events taking place. Had the story been set at a later point in time, Wein could have focused more on the kinds of missions these women pilots faced, which would have lead to more intrigue, and made for a more interesting story from Maddie’s point of view.
Thus, characterization also hurts the storyline. Maddie is essentially a child placed into a position of power. She doesn’t seem ready to take on the responsibilities she is given. She is easily influenced by her own desires and her peers. Conflicted thoughts often lead her to follow the wrong track. Though she does feel culpability for her choices and their consequences, at times it feels insincere and almost flippant. Whenever she feels bad, she is ready to “bawl” at a moment’s notice. Even though the reader is not really meant to feel this way about Maddie, over time I couldn’t help but feel a lack of sympathy towards Maddie’s constant outbursts of emotion. Yet regardless, Maddie somehow manages to survive and make the best of her situation. In this sense, she reminds me of Liz Grainger from the BBC series Wish Me Luck.
That said, I did like Queenie. In essence, she is everything Maddie isn’t in terms of character. Even though they are roughly the same age, Queenie is so much older in regards to experience and is fully able to assume the responsibilities given to her. She is a girl who doesn’t mess about. Perhaps this difference in temperament is the foundation for their mutual attraction and friendship. However, I did find some fault with Queenie’s story as well. Though Wein does dip slightly into the emotional and psychological effects of imprisonment, for the most part, Wein provides a surface telling of the events. Her writing style is not as severe as the stoic monotone of Sebastian Faulks in Birdsong, but it does veer close to a reporter’s writing style with its detailed description of facts and events taking place during wartime. I honestly did not mind the descriptions of piloting, etc., yet at the same time, I also found myself wishing Wein could have developed the psychological aspects she does allude to in the story.
I will end on a positive note. I really liked how Wein ended her story. It is the perfect place. It doesn’t force additional complications and emotions that I felt would have had no real place in the story, especially given everything that had happened. Wein definitely made a good choice.(less)
I was pleasantly surprised at how well Trobough crafted the beginning of her book. She was almost Dickensian in the characterization of her characters...moreI was pleasantly surprised at how well Trobough crafted the beginning of her book. She was almost Dickensian in the characterization of her characters. Everything described is so visual...the little boy left behind, scared by the sudden appearance of the dark figure with the egret feather peering at him through the bushes...the soothing quality of the dark figure’s voice...the image of Fiona and Glory, two old ladies who are essentially the female version of the Odd Couple, finding little Victor...it’s wonderful! The writing is so vivid and real. It is well done.
However, the momentum Trobough developed during the first third of her novel somehow manages to dissipate as the reader progresses through the latter parts of the book. I think the main reason why the first section of the book worked so well, is its focus—the story centered around the boy and those two elderly ladies who adopt him. Together, they made an amusing trio. Though as the story progresses, Trobough continuously adds to her supporting cast of characters, which in turn, helps the story lose its focus. Rather than the prior focus on character, the story becomes heavily focused on plot, told from different points of view. Because of this, the characters became flat and listless, almost shadows of their former selves, as the plot meandered to its end. Too much happened, causing the story to feel cluttered. I found this change disturbing.
As well, I think all of the shifts in time and the addition of the various storylines of these new characters contributed to a major story error—an error I truly hope the editors were able to catch before the final printing. The story begins in 1924, when little Victor is around 18 months to two years old. Yet around the time of Pearl Harbor (Dec. 1941), Fiona describes Victor as being only sixteen and too young to enter WWII. Between that period of time is seventeen years, and given Victor’s age in 1924, it would make him eighteen, almost nineteen years old—certainly old enough to enlist without the need to fake his age. I sincerely hope the 1924 date in my copy was a misprint.
While I did enjoy some aspects of this novel, considering the work in its entirety, I don’t feel that it met my expectations. I was rather disappointed by it. That said, I do think if the novel was broken up into shorter pieces, i.e. short stories about small town life collected into one volume, Trobough would have had a much better work. The short story format would have given her more room to develop her characters as well as her plot. In the short story format, there would be a lesser chance for her to lose momentum in her storytelling. (less)
When I first finished Birdsong, I honestly did not know what to say. My thoughts were jumbled and I wanted to wait until I could see the film version...moreWhen I first finished Birdsong, I honestly did not know what to say. My thoughts were jumbled and I wanted to wait until I could see the film version on PBS to see if it would offer a different perspective to aid in my reading and interpretation of the book. I will say that as a first impression, some aspects of the novel did not sit well with me and I was particularly interested in seeing how a screenwriter would/could attempt to film these particular sections of Faulks’ novel. After watching the film, my curiosity was left unsatisfied since these sections were omitted for the most part. While I will say that the film does build up some elements that were lacking in the novel, particularly the relationships between various characters, the film does somehow manage to maintain the same dull emotional distance I felt when reading the story.
What surprised me most about this book was the fact that it’s described as a romantic, epic love story. The emotions felt in this story are not what I would consider being akin to love. Or if this is love, it is truly an ugly form: self-abasement and curiosity mixed with selfish, lustful yearnings...duplicitous acts and manipulations. Even our main character Stephen doesn’t know how to characterize his feelings. All Stephen knows is that whatever he felt for Isabelle was the only real feeling he has ever had for another human being; and the war helps him define this feeling as “love.” As for Isabelle—and the same could be said for her sister Jeanne—something else takes precedence over matters of the heart. Both have ulterior motives that drive them towards Stephen, who ultimately seems to become a pawn in their little games. Comparing Birdsong to the other Faulks novel I have read, The Girl at the Lion d’Or, Faulks’ portrayal of women is not very flattering.
One of the worst parts of Birdsong was the characterization of Elizabeth, the protagonist in the 1978-79 sections of this book. I really don’t know what to make of her, she seems to be a mass of contradictions. Ultimately, I thought her obstinately stupid and I honestly found it difficult reading these particular sections of the book. I feel that there is something gravely wrong when a woman is more concerned about soiling new towels when she is about to give birth than about the wellbeing of her newborn child:
“‘The towels,’ she sobbed, ‘you’ll stain them.’ He gathered a pile of newspapers from the fireplace and spread them on top.”
I think Faulks wanted this scene to be beautiful and heartfelt—Elizabeth finally gets the child she has always longed for and gets to fulfill a legacy. However, little details like this, almost make this important event an awful farce. It chilled me. Also, I found these sections to be the weakest part of this novel. In some ways, they prevent the reader from finding out what really happens to Stephen at the end...what happened between him and Jeanne...does he really learn the truth...was he forced to be in the position we find him at the end. The summation that is given is not at all satisfactory and leaves the reader with even more questions that are not answered by the novel’s close.
I think perhaps the main reason why this book is so acclaimed is how Faulks describes war. He does succeed in portraying war in minute, graphic detail. He is very precise, down to the way soldiers can destroy each other, evident in Stephen’s interactions with Weir. Yet, the descriptions are at the same time cold and distant. Faulks writes stories like a news correspondent. He reports facts, while maintaining a distance. Even though the reader sees, the reader doesn’t feel it happening. Though I do think that this is how some people do experience a war—not real...can’t believe it’s happening to them...detached. However, these war sections of the novel are not the only sections that read like this. The entire book—the romances and Elizabeth’s personal quest—read the same way. Birdsong is written with the same monotone, dull voice with no real attempt at differentiation. I just think this is Faulks’ personal style since The Girl at the Lion d’Or reads the same way.
All said, I was really looking forward to reading this novel, however I was ultimately left disappointed by the story. (less)
If, like myself, you’ve never read a Georgette Heyer novel, this novel is a good place on which to start. Her writing is so much fun. It’s pure entert...moreIf, like myself, you’ve never read a Georgette Heyer novel, this novel is a good place on which to start. Her writing is so much fun. It’s pure entertainment. She takes some of the best aspects of 18th Century literature, writing in the style of Henry Fielding and Frances Burney, also throwing in a bit of Jane Austen for good measure.
This is a book purely written for the enjoyment of plot…no heavy themes, just good fun amusement. I absolutely love the description of Sylvester with his Hepzibah scowl—that villainous look mixed with a heart of pure gold. It’s wonderful! But the one character who steals the show is his six-year old nephew, Edmund. Going by looks, Edmund appears to be an angel with his blond curly hair and blue eyes. Yet underneath that angelic exterior is a mischievous little imp: “When Uncle Vester knows what you did to me he will punish you in a terrible way! said Edmund ghoulishly. […] Uncle Vester will grind your bones! […] To make him bread.” ;-) But my favorite little scene is when a French lady enamored by Edmund’s beauty goes up to him “planting a smacking kiss on his cheek. “Petit chou!” she said, beaming at him. ‘Salaude!’ returned Edmund indignantly.” Oh boy! ;) When Edmund’s politely told that his little comment wasn’t a very civil thing to say, he states in a satisfied tone, “I didn’t think it was.” :-)
Yes, the heroine, Phoebe Marlow is a bit silly and impetuous, but the book’s so devilishly good you can easily forgive her. I had so much fun reading this, and definitely expect to read more of books in the near future. (less)
This is a difficult review to write, since this book has some personal significance: My grandparents were living in Lithuania during this time, and so...moreThis is a difficult review to write, since this book has some personal significance: My grandparents were living in Lithuania during this time, and some of the stories they’ve told me were equally as horrific as some of the scenes described in this novel.
For a debut novel, Between Shades of Gray is beautifully constructed. Lina, our narrator, is an artist. Throughout the book, she uses her pen and charcoal as an outlet to depict her anger, frustration and helplessness over what she witnesses—her completed drawings and watercolors becoming textured and layered with all of those pent up emotions. And even though art is her main form of expression, Lina’s able to take that same artistic talent and apply it to her storytelling. Her story is just as textured and finely detailed, with no attempt to shield her audience from her harrowing experiences. Yet despite her negative sentiments, Lina’s never consumed by them; underlying her entire story is hope and love. This is how Lina’s able to see between those shades of gray…. Thus in a way, Lina is using words to paint an expressionist work, one that could rival the work of her favorite artist—the expressionist painter Edvard Munch.
Even though the subject is certainly heavy, Sepetys does include a few cute little details—though, if you don’t know some Lithuanian, they can easily be missed. For instance, the names of her characters: the “Vilkas” family, i.e. the “Wolf” family, Miss “Grybas,” or as Miss “Mushroom,” Mrs. “Rimas” aka Mrs. “Rhyme.” And as a side note, the name Jonas (John) begins with a “y” sound (as in yawn), if you want to pronounce the name with a Lithuanian accent. So instead of “Joan-us”, it’s “yawn-us.” The letter “j” in Lithuanian is pronounced with a “y” sound—“Marija” is “Maria,” as another example.
Also, Sepetys doesn’t portray all of those Russian soldiers as the antagonists —something my grandmother always states when she tells one of her stories. Many of those soldiers were only boys, like Kretzsky, and hated their job. But regardless of their personal feelings, they were forced to act as representatives of their government in order to survive.
This is truly an excellent novel, showing the amazing capacity of the human spirit to survive against all odds. (less)
Recently watched a program on Ovation highlighting the controversy surrounding the rightful possession of Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer...moreRecently watched a program on Ovation highlighting the controversy surrounding the rightful possession of Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer and some of his other works. Wanting to keep the art theme current, I decided to read this book, which chronicles the life of Emilie Flöge, the sister-in-law and long time companion of Gustav Klimt. Historically, no one really knows how deep their relationship went, but during his final illness, he wanted her by his side. It’s also speculated that she was the model for the woman in The Kiss. Basically, this novel offers an interpretation of these facts—of Emilie’s life with Klimt.
The best part of the book is the beginning, chronicling Emilie’s childhood. The author paints a rather good impression of a precocious twelve year-old. I rather enjoyed Emilie’s observations of Klimt’s character, silently taking pleasure at his disheveled appearance and his slovenly habits at the dinner table… talking while eating, choking on his wine, watching as bits of food drop off his fork and onto his lap—her way of exacting revenge against the unflattering portrait he’s made of her. :-)
However, I didn’t at all like how Emilie’s portrayed as an adult… this woman pining for Klimt’s affections, helplessly in love with him. I found it creepy especially considering how roughly he treats her. It’s one of those situations of “He loves her as he can love.” It seems that Klimt’s affection for her is mostly silent. Emilie tries to look into his art—his portraits of her—as a means to gauge the extent of his feelings towards her, but finds it difficult. She sees him building her up into something she’s not. Yet she loves him anyway. I don’t know….
While it’s an interesting interpretation, I was hoping for more than I got. Personally, I feel that Klimt’s own photos of Emilie show more depth of feeling than the sentiments expressed in the novel. (less)
I’ve always enjoyed watching those British serials on PBS about small town life like Cranford and Last of the Summer Wine. And when I saw An Irish Cou...moreI’ve always enjoyed watching those British serials on PBS about small town life like Cranford and Last of the Summer Wine. And when I saw An Irish Country Courtship, advertised on Goodreads giveaways, I expected to find the book as something just as fun and pleasurable—a doctor story mixed with small town humor, gossip, mischief and matchmaking. However upon reading it, I must say that I wasn’t very impressed.
I just felt that that book was missing something. What I always found so entertaining about those British serials are the crusty characters like Compo and Howard in Last of the Summer Wine and Twister in Lark Rise to Candleford who’re always getting into various scrapes and all kinds of mischief. It’s just fun to watch them. Unfortunately none of the characters in An Irish Country Courtship fall into that category. Because of that, the book lacks that certain spice those characters bring to the story. The book has quite a number of supporting characters, which for the most part are relegated to the background and don’t really contribute much to the story. But to be fair, this book is part of a series, and perhaps these characters are better developed in the earlier books.
Also I believe that An Irish Country Courtship is a bit of a misnomer, as the story is focused more on personal crises than courtship. Dr. Barry Laverty spends most of the book mourning the loss of his girlfriend Patricia who has broken off their relationship. This begins Barry’s internal crisis of identity: Is he really fit to be practicing as a GP in a small town or as Patricia suggested, is he just wasting away possible opportunities life may yet have in store for him? Then there’s Dr. Fingal O’Reilly’s emotional crisis. For the past “twenty years” he’s been mourning the loss of his wife of “six months” who was killed during the Blitz. And only now is he beginning to consider moving on and possibly engage in a relationship with Kitty, a nurse who works with him. But is he sullying the memory of his dead wife by thinking of Kitty? The reasoning is rather silly. But even so, there’s really not that much courtship there either, as Kitty leaves town for about 100 pages or so, giving Fingal the time to sort out his feelings.
On the whole, the story’s OK, but I did expect more. (less)
I was so excited that I won an advanced proof of this book from Goodreads giveaways. The novel’s synopsis seemed rather promising, as it was “inspired...moreI was so excited that I won an advanced proof of this book from Goodreads giveaways. The novel’s synopsis seemed rather promising, as it was “inspired by an episode in Henry James’s life.” Basically, a notable Henry James expert and biographer theorized that James had been in love with his cousin, Mary (Minnie) Temple, with whom he shared a lengthy correspondence, though he never acted upon his feelings. She’s also supposedly the inspiration behind James’s most noteworthy heroines: Isabel Archer, Daisy Miller and Milly Theale. Interesting to note that upon Minnie’s death from consumption at age 24, he destroyed all of his correspondence to her, but preserved her last three letters to him. And in essence, the story of Emily Hudson stems from this theory.
Unfortunately, Melissa Jones’s take on this theory didn’t live up to my expectations. The best summary for this book I think comes from Emily’s own reflections, “[She wondered:] if William had indeed been right: she merely flitted from feeling to feeling, loyalty to loyalty, and had no anchor of any kind.” Emily’s progression throughout the book is truly a mess! The book spans her various experiences from age 19 to 23, through a mix of narration and an epistolary format. Initially, Emily appears youthful and impulsive. She’s very free and open in her comments and I could understand her cousin William’s initial interest in her. And I liked her budding relationship with Captain Lindsay.
What killed this book for me was the second section, which highlighted her antics in London. This section sullies the image that the reader’s formed of Emily—from youthful exuberant innocence to willful duplicity and melodrama. She knowingly engages in a relationship with Lord Firle, a known philanderer, despite having been previously warned of his wicked ways by several acquaintances. Yet, while she engages in this affair with Firle, which fills her “with an improbable overweening joy,” she still claims that she has feelings for the Captain. Yuck! I was waiting for her cousin William to pull her aside and tell her off, but as her actions got worse, he gradually pulled himself away, leaving her to her own devices. What a disappointment.
The third section, which describes Emily’s convalescence in Rome, (she suffers from consumption, an illness she exacerbated by spending an evening out in a storm, followed by a dip in the ocean) was slightly better. But it tries to write off Emily’s actions as merely being the impulsive actions of youth. I’m sorry, but too much had happened for her antics to be solely categorized under the label of “youth.”
Despite those problems in terms of the plot, the writing isn’t that bad, and I rather liked the pairing of narration and letter writing. It gave more substance to the characters. If I compare this book to other examples of historical fiction that I’ve read, I consider this book better than Victoria Holt’s Mistress of Mellyn, but not as good as some of the Catherine Cookson novels that I love. (less)
My mother gave me this book, telling me that I might get a kick out of it. She was right! This book gives a new meaning to a five star rating: “amazin...moreMy mother gave me this book, telling me that I might get a kick out of it. She was right! This book gives a new meaning to a five star rating: “amazing”… Amazing in the sense—How could this book have been published?!
I’ll admit the story had potential. When I first started it, I thought it would be like those old Catherine Cookson novels I used to love to read in my early teens. Once I was a third of the way into the story, I was embarrassed that I even made that comparison. Cookson’s books are much better written, with better storylines and good developed characters. Though I’m truly surprised that Cookson’s books are for the most part out of print, while books like this are still in circulation.
Holt’s story is a mess. Some ideas are introduced, but never fully explored. The ending’s rushed and the concluding events are never fully explained. The murderer never explains the motive behind his actions. It’s all left to conjecture by the narrator, the governess. And when you really consider all the things the murderer did, you begin to wonder how that person could have done it all without an accomplice. For example, loosening and tossing a boulder from a cliff. You also wonder what was the real motive behind those actions. Did that person have a prior claim to the house? And this suppressed hatred the murderer supposedly “felt” seems strange, when throughout the book, that person was genuinely nice and affectionate to everyone, without fault—that kind of feeling is rather hard to fake. It all seemed too easy.
Also, the book lacks historical accuracy. For instance, in Victorian times, it wasn't common for women to attend a funeral procession; only men witnessed the burial of the loved one. So for the governess to witness the body of Sir Thomas, a neighbor of her employer, being placed in a tomb is highly unlikely.
The characterization made me laugh. Connan, got to love that name, is never developed in the book, yet he’s the main heartthrob for the governess. They hardly ever speak, only a brief word to each other occasionally, but only about business. Holt develops her secondary character Peter, the neighbor next door, more fully than Connan, and because of that I almost wished that he were the leading man. At least he was entertaining. Though in all fairness Connan does have some gem lines when he suddenly professes his love:
“Should I have prepared you for the shock? … I am sorry, Miss Leigh. I thought I had managed to convey to you something of my feelings in this matter.”
“I want to marry you because I want to keep you a prisoner in my house.”
“I am a dissolute, degenerate philanderer. I am going to say was. Because from this moment I am going to be faithful to one woman for the rest of my life.”
With a few laughs, it was an easy read, but left me ultimately unsatisfied. (less)
This is the second of Winterson’s novels that I’ve read, the first being Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Both are rather good in their way; some parts...moreThis is the second of Winterson’s novels that I’ve read, the first being Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Both are rather good in their way; some parts are written very well with humorous phrasings and other passages that evoke beautiful imagery with poetic undertones. But my main criticism for both novels is the format and storytelling. There's stream of consciousness combined with magical realism; and if you’re not careful in your reading, you can miss quite a bit of pertinent information.
In Lighthousekeeping, there are several storylines that are weaved together to make one coherent whole, the main thread being Silver’s story marking her growth and development through her relationships with her mother, Pew the lighthouse keeper, and her lover. In that sense, I did like the bildungsroman theme… the psychological and social growth of the narrator—the pains of growing up and trying to find her place in the world. As well, I liked how Winterson used storytelling as a means to help the narrator with her developmental journey. But, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat alienated by the narrator, since she withholds pertinent information. Two thirds of the way into the book, someone asks Silver, “Tell me a story” but you don’t find out the identity of that person until the final few pages. And when you finally get to the reveal, that this person is in fact Silver’s lover, you sort of get the feeling that she’s almost embarrassed to profess her love for her, as she only once fleetingly mentions that her lover’s a woman. I actually almost missed the reference. In fact, Silver makes her lover almost genderless, she’s never named, the references are most always “you” and the physical descriptions of the lover are androgynous… the person could be equally male or female.
Silver’s unreliability as a narrator is also readily apparent in her perceptions of reality. A lot of her actions in the story almost mimic the stories she tells herself, or were previously told to her by Pew. Her view of the world became colored by those stories, in effect distorting her perceptions. Towards the end, it was hard to determine if the events she describes actually happened or are really just stories in themselves, for instance her return to the lighthouse.
The threads I loved were Pew’s tales of Babel Dark and his double existence as both lover and husband. It sort of had a Hardy-esque quality, mixed with themes from Gaskell’s North and South and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Even though the story itself had a déjà vu feel to it, Winterson brings in themes of nature and identity through Dark’s interactions with Darwin and R.L. Stevenson. Thought this was well done. Though, Winterson doesn't really finish this storyline—there's no mention of what happens to Dark's wife and son.
Overall, the good parts outweighed most of the bad, making it a likable read. (less)
This book is rather reminiscent of the sensation novels written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins in the latter half of the 19th Century, t...moreThis book is rather reminiscent of the sensation novels written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins in the latter half of the 19th Century, though the subject matter of Sleep, Pale Sister is much more risqué than any of those works published back then. It’s a sort of twist on the Gothic ghost story and the madwoman in the attic theme, interlaced with a mystical Middle Eastern flavor.
I loved that the book is told through a split narrative. Each voice is so different, adding various layers to the narrative, making the novel, on the whole, that much more intriguing. The writing’s hypnotic, easily drawing you into this world of art, fantasy, magic and debauchery. All the characters are deeply flawed, each one desperately desiring more than what they have. Reality is never enough as the characters often seek solace in drink or their drug of choice—be it women, fantasy, love, laudanum, or chloral hydrate. Though at times it can be difficult to discern what’s real and what’s illusion, as the characters are describing the events as they see them—through inebriated or drug induced perceptive states.
The story itself is rather cold and creepy, and given that the reader’s able to glimpse inside of and witness first hand the characters’ perverted thoughts and the flawed reasoning behind their actions, it becomes so real, so tangible, and dare I say it—at times even understandable, which makes it all the more disconcerting, and left me feeling ultimately flustered and uneasy as I read the final few pages. (less)
I love Harris’s writing style. The prose has an oral quality to it… very lyrical, making you want to read it aloud. And it all makes sense, given this...moreI love Harris’s writing style. The prose has an oral quality to it… very lyrical, making you want to read it aloud. And it all makes sense, given this story’s set in France, year 1610. The tone of the narrators is actually quite modern, but the oral nature of their narrative sort of gives the story its authenticity, if you will.
Like her other novels, this one also has a split narrative, as the story’s told from the perspectives of Juliette and Guy. I loved how their stories read like verbal duels, a battle of wills; each competing with their narration… each pointing out the other’s flaws and schemes, so the reader can recognize elaboration or concealment. This was rather well done. Also liked how at times they would occasionally concede defeat in their duel… secretly admiring and applauding each other’s style and audacity. Couldn’t help but smile at them during these times. ;)
Though at times, some of the scenes are a bit overdone, such as the nuns’ overzealous cult-like devotion for their priest, which lead to the dancing during vespers and physical twitches… but looking back, and realizing the theatrical nature of the story as a whole, those scenes do indeed make sense. And I couldn’t help but inwardly smile at some of the religious traditions and conventions that Harris pokes fun at.
Really liked this one, can’t wait to read more of her work. (less)
Yes! I’m finally finished with this poorly crafted soap opera. But actually, Splendor is not as bad as the prior two books in this series. There were...moreYes! I’m finally finished with this poorly crafted soap opera. But actually, Splendor is not as bad as the prior two books in this series. There were a few scenes that evoked some images that were quite good. *grins wickedly* For instance, I loved the scene where Diana’s Aunt Edith comments on Henry’s appearance, stating how much he resembles his father at that age. Henry was sitting in a corner with drink and cigarette in hand. I had fun juxtaposing this image with the picture of his father: the dyed hair, corpulent waist, heavy jowls, and red nose—carrying all those signs of “good” living. Fast-forward twenty, thirty years and there’s Henry!
Truly, Henry’s such a milquetoast. In Envy, he tells Diana that he’s going to do something with his life by joining the navy, to “fight for our great nation in the Pacific.” In reality, he ends up having an extended vacation in Cuba, his most strenuous activities being drinking and pining for his lost love. Upon his return, nothing changes. He starts something, but never sees it through.
Though at least Henry stays true to character. Penelope, on the other hand, develops delusions of grandeur, setting her sights on the prince of Bavaria. That storyline is wrong on so many levels. One, she’s new money and has no family history. Two, she’s married, and if she was granted a divorce and was free to marry him, there’s the language barrier. (At least for Edward and Mrs. Simpson he was British and she was American.) The funny thing is she actually believed she had a chance with him, that he truly loved her. Oh boy!
That final scene between Penelope and Henry was well done. It reminded me of the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Lammle from Our Mutual Friend. Society brought those two people together, calling it the perfect match—she the mature young lady both beautiful and rich, he the handsome and wealthy bachelor, so lucky to get her—though it becomes immediately apparent that it was a match based on lies and assumptions, a union that can no longer be dissolved.
There’s also an essence of that union in Carolina’s relationship with Leland. She kept digging herself into a deeper hole, telling one fabrication after another. She even lied to his parents, telling them she no longer has any living relatives and no sister. And she naively kept up her relationship with Tristan. How could she not expect the truth to come flooding out? And I just loved the moment after she tells all, she envisions herself having a private ceremony with Leland on a yacht. *shakes head*
Well at least Teddy Cutting got his happy ending. He and Diana were the only characters that strove to get what they wanted, even though the outcomes were not exactly the ones they had envisioned. (less)