A rather astonishing, disquieting dance between subtlety and bluntness, crudeness and tenderness. The FSoG comparison by the publisher is specious atA rather astonishing, disquieting dance between subtlety and bluntness, crudeness and tenderness. The FSoG comparison by the publisher is specious at best; this book does work with the idea of submission to authority, but certainly not along the same line as FSoG. The submissiveness here is both sexualized and not, and The Blue Room is definitely more interesting about submission than FSoG (though I wanted it to be picked apart more explicitly than it was--lots to do with God, with the mother, with Johanne's idea of her destined future), but those two books aren't doing the same thing at all. The romantic relationship in both serve different functions, and the most important relationship here is the power dynamic between the mother and daughter....more
There's an undeniably steely emotional core to this atmospheric short novel. There's a smartly crafted twist to it: Menmuir shifts the whole novel verThere's an undeniably steely emotional core to this atmospheric short novel. There's a smartly crafted twist to it: Menmuir shifts the whole novel very carefully by dropping one word into an otherwise unremarkable sentence, in the middle of a passage I was already glued to for emotional reasons. Suddenly, everything that came before and everything to come was lit differently, revealing a stark emotional landscape that I traveled through without fully understanding. I finished the book in a rush of feelings and appreciation. Upon immediately rereading, however, a lot of the analytical pieces fell apart--I wanted more a-ha! intellectual moments, not just those admittedly appealing wallops of feels--and I came away appreciating the mysteries and the ambiguities Menmuir built his story out of, but wanting more of it to hold together, for a few more of the puzzle pieces to fit together more firmly in a more logical, not-dream-world sense....more
The terrible thing about this book is that, at one point, the characters have the possibility to eat cinnamon rolls, and I was looking forward to thatThe terrible thing about this book is that, at one point, the characters have the possibility to eat cinnamon rolls, and I was looking forward to that, BUT THEN THEY DON'T.
Everything else about this book was wonderful: the romance was nuanced and hot, the story was fun and unique, and the characters were engaging all the way through. Bourne brought a lot of thoughtfulness to standard tropes and archetypes.
The cinnamon rolls though. IDC that Tia makes up for it later by eating everything in sight (LIKE, ALMOST LITERALLY) while at an amusement park. I wanted to live vicariously through their enjoyment of those cinnamon rolls. :(...more
It was not a dream as she said, it was a fairy tale and in their predicament, fairy tales were crucial.
A charming outsider gently disrupts life in a
It was not a dream as she said, it was a fairy tale and in their predicament, fairy tales were crucial.
A charming outsider gently disrupts life in a small Irish village, complete with the inevitable furtive affair with a dissatisfied young wife. But this interloper is more than just the mystic healer he claims to be, more than the warrior poet he appears to be: he's a fugitive war criminal, and the consequences of his deception are brutal and bleak--but a drop in the bucket compared to what atrocities he has committed.
My primary concern going into this book was that it might be exploitative. Why tell a story about the Siege of Sarajevo by centering on Fidelma, the Irishwoman who unwittingly falls in love with the man who orchestrated it? Would all the war crimes simply serve as backdrop for the angst of a bored and pretty first-world lady?
Hahaha nah O'Brien is a smarter author than that.
This is a text very smart about narratives of violence, narratives of war, and narratives of trauma. I don't think a chapter goes by without some very self-conscious story-telling, by an entire cast of what probably amounts to hundreds, in which tellers either explain themselves or don't, but they do so by choosing words and sharing their traumas and staking a claim both in the narrative as well as in the nebulous point between past and future. One does so with purple crayon. Characters own the suffering that has forged them, that has dropped them into a a text where they find themselves explaining themselves to a displaced Irishwoman who has with found herself in a bigger narrative of pain and genocide than she has the skills and emotional ability to handle. Fidelma often fades into the background even in the chapters she openly narrates, and there's no narrative coddling of her. She can't figure out her own role, has no mark to measure up her complicity, is unable to find in anyone else's story a guideline to what kind of grief she's entitled to but she suffers anyway. She's no martyr: she's lost and confused. I found that compelling and unusual, and I was impressed O'Brien did this without belittling or trivializing all the other types of trauma she draws upon to tell this story.
I thought a lot a couple other books while reading this. First, Elizabeth E. Wein's Rose Under Fire, which also deals with war crimes, testimony, and stories. (I also think Rose Under Fire is an example of the aforementioned exploitativeness, centering on a reader stand-in of a plucky young American Mary Sue, but it was still a worthy story in other ways.) There's value in being able to speak about what has happened to you, but also there's value in--as Eliza Hamilton by way of Lin-Manuel Miranda might put it--taking yourself out of the narrative. That's the power of authorship, and when you find yourself tripped up in incorrect narrative readings of a situation, when you surround yourself with stories of other displaced people who can't return home (and yet don't know how to square your own story against those), you can, like Fidelma, find that the context you're in cannot be processed easily and you won't let it be.
Elizabeth Strout's My Name Is Lucy Barton also came to mind while reading this. While different in tone and scope, it also looked at narratives of trauma, and an individual's suffering in context of more epochal suffering, and the possibility of reconciliation with oneself if not with one's abusers.
And I thought The Little Red Chairs was operating in similar murky and thematic territory to Sofi Oksanen's phenomenal Purge, especially in the attention paid to women's bodies as the locus of personal and impersonal violence.
So, while I thought the use of Fidelma was deftly and sensitively done, there was a sense of mismatch brought on by the title. That's a fiery and poignant reference there, the kind of thing that makes me want to sit down and cry for a little while, but I didn't get fiery, poignancy from the text itself. I get the significance of children--and the death of children--in relation to what O'Brien explores, but I can see that there's a gap between the text and title that might really dismay readers. (And at the same time, I also think there's more for me to think about that, particularly in the idea of memorials and grief rituals. So IDK.) At any rate, this book is less about Sarajevo and more about all those inconceivable global forces that destroy little, ordinary lives. I can see how that might be at turn-off for readers wanting something more concentrated.
Anyway. I found this book rich, diffusive, disquieting, and I'm glad I didn't discount it because of the centering of Fidelma....more
Interesting, in that it felt like a Romance and not a Presents at times, and I thought it was stronger when it focused on the Romance-y angles: the evInteresting, in that it felt like a Romance and not a Presents at times, and I thought it was stronger when it focused on the Romance-y angles: the evolving family ties and how that changed Alessandro's sense of self in particular, life in the small Scottish village, the more tender and feel-good emotional dynamics. The dramatics and the sex and the Presents-y trappings (he buys her new clothes unlike her own! they jet-set to the gigantic place he owns on a tropical island! he ignores her after their climactic argument and her rejection of him, because he's realizing he loves her!) weren't as appealing or nuanced.
I did like Williams' writing style, especially the long scenes that felt like they were very much a stage play style: there was so much movement in the emotions and in the characters' goals during a single scene--and yet it always full of clarity and vitality--and it was quite satisfying. All the headhopping, though, reminded me of Nora Roberts....more
Okay, time for me to take another year-long break from Christie. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was marvelous; despite knowing the whodunnit, I was hoodwOkay, time for me to take another year-long break from Christie. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was marvelous; despite knowing the whodunnit, I was hoodwinked pretty good with the howdunnit, and I only spotted one line of anti-Semitism. In this one, the anti-Semitism is egregious and woven into the logic/rationalizing out of the mystery, and being too familiar with how Christie writes/patterns/constructs her mysteries, spotting the culprit was too easy....more
While a more straightfaced book than the rollicking The Good Lord Bird, Song Yet Sung is no less nimble and a piece of a similar project: in both bookWhile a more straightfaced book than the rollicking The Good Lord Bird, Song Yet Sung is no less nimble and a piece of a similar project: in both books, McBride consciously wades in among the links of American Mythology and tugs those chains hard. He may destabilize those myths, but he doesn't break them. And he's not trying to. The movements he makes with the stories he tells, it's all to get a better idea of the shape and strength of these myths. Here, he focuses in on the collectivity of the dream of freedom.
This is so well-paced. I just kept reading, my attention never getting distracted because there was always something interesting to follow. Characters were brilliantly clear, intensely motivated. Even when Liz, the Dreamer, was motivated to go nowhere…that was some intense motivation and stubbornness. There wasn't often a lot of subtlety, and there was definitely some melodrama and sentimentality. The writing verged from beautiful to overwrought, and almost never understated. But whenever I found some reading time, I was really excited about getting back to this book, because it was so engrossing and so competent. Its use of place, and travel through place, and character-revelations through character-interactions, were all the sorts of things I enjoyed in The Good Lord Bird, but its construction--the multiple viewpoints of protagonists and antagonists & their games of cat and mouse, the writing style, the rather delicate and protected heroine at the center, the depictions of resistance and complicity--made me think readers who liked All the Light We Cannot See might also like this book, despite the different time periods and settings. (Also, this book is better, even if it does share similar flaws.)
Finally: how is this not a movie yet, omg. ...more
This was one of SYNC's free offerings this year, paired with Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down. I ended up turning to an ebook copy midway through listeThis was one of SYNC's free offerings this year, paired with Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down. I ended up turning to an ebook copy midway through listening; I can read faster than I can listen, and I was too engrossed to slow down. It was both an entertaining read and an intellectually textured one, though the book ends with choked-up grief over passing, and that feeling overwhelmed everything for me. I'd recommend it to readers who want to expand on Boy, Snow, Bird or to follow up on A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America, books that look critically at what is lost by passing....more