“They have known each other for a long time. She has never quite been able to recall the moment when they met, the place, the precise day, whether she...more “They have known each other for a long time. She has never quite been able to recall the moment when they met, the place, the precise day, whether she shook his hand or they kissed on the cheek. Nor has she ever thought to ask him. She does have a first memory, though. As she was climbing into her coat in the narrow hallway of an unkempt apartment, she had caught his look of distress. The woman he had flirted with all evening was refusing to leave with him. He was trying to persuade her with an insistent barrage of words, which fell to pieces in the face of the majestic creature. She thought the idea of being suddenly deprived on the object of his affections must have been more than he could bear just then. And seeing him this way, in love, had moved her. She had slipped between the two of them and said, I’m off. But he had not replied.”
One of the more difficult books I read this month. I was torn between feeling sorry for and being just so irritated by the nameless main character.
Somehow I ended up reading yet another story about a lonely love stuck woman. In love, foolishly oh foolishly so, with another woman’s man.
And she feels it so.
As I suppose does anyone in an unrequited kind of love. It hurts so much yet she cannot let him go.
There is a wistful kind of romance to this story. She is that voice you hear announcing the trains at the Gare du Nord. She has hardly any friends. And seems to be a magnet for weird men. She pretends to be a prostitute, she shoplifts, she is locked into the apartment of a man she had met in a cafe. And there is that hint of a childhood trauma, which is only detailed at the end. She is obviously desperate for attention. Yet she does get people’s attention everyday when she makes her announcements. But hers is a disembodied voice. One that will never be recognized. She makes all these announcements for people departing and arriving, yet she has never left France. It is a rather claustrophobic world that she lives in. I can hardly get a breath in.
So I pity her and yet I cannot stand her. She makes all these infuriating decisions. And I keep wondering, what? What is she doing? Why is she so naive? So foolish? And so I struggle to make my way through this book. I start and stop reading it, because I want also to read more of Curiol’s Parisian world and of her way of noticing the everyday things. And who doesn’t love Paris – or at least the thought of it. Although in the nameless woman’s Paris, there seems to be a predator lurking around every corner (!).
“The Jardin du Luxembourg and its hodge-podge of tourists. Rings of chairs arranged as if for the conversations of invisible characters. It’s up to anyone out for a walk to imagine, according to the layout of these metals remains, what went on here before his arrival.”
So while I didn’t quite enjoy reading it. No that doesn’t sound right. Maybe it’s more like that it was such a challenge reading Voice Over that I am surprised, glad that I managed to finish it. It was a relief when Voice Over finally came to an end, but voice is vibrant, authentic, exacting. Paul Auster says it so much better in the foreword:
“Curiol’s eye for detail is so sharp, so exact in its renderings of the world beyond her character’s skin, that even as the narrative concentrates on the actions of a single individual, we are simultaneously given a crystal-clear picture of French society at large – the new France, the France of the early twenty-first century.” (less)
I have a love-hate affair with Overdrive. I love that I can borrow and return books without having to leave my bed. It’s got a pretty good selection –...moreI have a love-hate affair with Overdrive. I love that I can borrow and return books without having to leave my bed. It’s got a pretty good selection – you should see my ‘wish list’ (where I’ve added books to read). But it also sucks – I can’t highlight passages, I can only bookmark pages. I know it’s a borrowed e-book but I would love to be able to highlight sections of the book to come back to later when I’m writing my review. But no…. just bookmarks, no highlighting, no note-taking.
So here I am stuck with many ‘bookmarks’ on the Overdrive e-book I’m blogging about, The Confessions of Noa Weber.
One of which was on page 10. And which I later realised was bookmarked for this passage:
“To confess to the finish… to confess till it finishes me off… to talk about him, to talk about myself, to talk so I won’t have to bear it any more. To talk until I can’t stand myself any longer. To talk, to talk, to talk myself to death – this is apparently why I’m standing here before you today.”
And that is essentially what The Confessions of Noa Weber is about. Noa Weber is 47 years old, a writer of crime novels (her protagonist is a very busty woman called Nira Woolf) in Israel. Her daughter is turning 29. And she has, for 30 years or so, been obsessively in love with Alek, whom she first met at a party as a teen and married to avoid being drafted.
It is an unrequited love:
“I loved him. And Alek wasn’t in love with me. And in spite of my youth, I did not give way to the temptation to interpret various gestures of his as possible manifestations of love. I did not count my steps to the refrain of ‘he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not…’. And even when I read between the lines – lovers will always read between the lines, they are never satisfied with the manifest content – I did not deceive myself by discovering signs of a feeling he did not possess. I loved him, and precisely for that reasons, I knew that he didn’t love me.”
This book could easily have sunken into some kind of weird deranged blog-style rant. Isn’t that what one immediately thinks of when it comes to obsessions? And this is some obsession. But Noa isn’t some pathetic lovelorn woman. Sure, as a young pregnant girl she was:
“What happened to me during the birth was that I began to think about pain as a kind of sacrifice I was making for Alek, as if I had surrendered to pain for his sake.”
But the Noa Weber writing this ‘confession’ is more mature and self-aware, she is unfaltering in her need to confess. And she is also really dead on when it comes to her thoughts about love, young love, not-so-young love, unconditional love. It becomes quite philosophical, thoughtful.
However, I kept glancing at the bottom right corner of the Overdrive app, which tells me just how many pages are left. Because this isn’t the easiest book to read. It does get kind of annoying at times, so often I wanted to tell her, enough with Alek already. He’s not in love with you. He’s got other women, he’s even got other children by those women. But you know what? There’s no need. Because she knows all that already. She does. She is, after all, confessing all this to the reader. So I am guilty of skimming, a little on this page, a little on that. Because she gets a bit repetitive. So maybe I might have missed out on a few crucial emo bits, but sometimes skimming makes for a better book reading, because I can get on with it and move to another book.
So that’s my confession. I am a skimmer when the need arises. And in parts of this book, it did. But there is some part of me that understands Noa Weber and her unrequited love, I guess somewhere (perhaps buried deep inside) most of us, we would understand how she feels:
“There will never be a summer for us. Never in any summer will I walk with him along foreign streets, with their desperate squalor and their desperate splendor that I seem to know from some previous incarnation. And never will I experience again the consciousness of infinite expanses where everything seems pointless but love itself. Love will never expand me. The one right body will never come to me.”(less)
“We were dreamers, both of us, unpractical, reserved, full of great theories never put to test, and, like all dreamers, asleep to the waking world. Di...more
“We were dreamers, both of us, unpractical, reserved, full of great theories never put to test, and, like all dreamers, asleep to the waking world. Disliking our fellow men, we craved affection; but shyness kept impulse dormant until the heart was touched. When that happened the heavens opened, and we felt, the pair of us, that we had the whole wealth of the universe to give.”
Philip Ashley, orphaned at a young age, has been brought up by his older cousin Ambrose. The two of them are so close, that Philip has become like him:
“Well, it was what I always wanted. To be like him. To have his height, his shoulders, his way of stooping, even his long arms, his rather clumsy-looking hands, his sudden smile, his shyness at first meeting with a stranger, his dislike of fuss, of ceremony.”
Philip is heir to the estate as Ambrose is single and childless. And Du Maurier is careful to set up the household as a rather masculine one, devoid of feminine charms.
So it is to everyone’s surprise that Ambrose, on a tour of Italy, meets Cousin Rachel, a distant relative born and brought up in Italy and now a widow with “a load of debts and a great empty villa”. But as she is a “sensible woman and good company”, Ambrose writes that they are spending plenty of time together. And some months later tells Philip that they are married.
Philip is rather horrified at the thought, feeling more alone than ever before. And pretty much resolves to detest Cousin Rachel: “One moment middle-aged and forceful, the next simpering and younger than Louise, my cousin Rachel had a dozen personalities or more, and each one more hateful than the last.”
But the tone of Ambrose’s letters change. They become strained and suspicious. And worried Philip heads to Italy to find the truth. And there he learns that his dearest Ambrose is dead, of a brain tumor, according to Rachel’s doctors.
He returns home, now master of the estate. And learns that Cousin Rachel is headed to his very shores. He is still determined to hate her, and continues to build up this villain, this ogre in his mind. But they meet and he does not know what to make of this diminutive, charming woman who threads her way into his life, his household.
I would like to say more but I think the rest of it is perhaps best discovered on your own, as I had a wonderful time doing so myself. I pretty much spent wee reader’s nap time racing my way through the second half of this book. This book just kept me wondering, what next? And there was also plenty of: ‘nooooooo! Don’t do that!’ and ‘Are you crazy?’
So it was frustrating.
Not that it was a difficult read, but because I felt so invested in the story, in the characters (perhaps I felt for this motherless youth, for his naivety?), that I just was so exasperated by what seemed like all the wrong decisions.
And du Maurier leaves us at the end, still wondering. Was Cousin Rachel really that diabolical? Or were they all just victims of rather unfortunate circumstances?
I can’t help but compare My Cousin Rachel to Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. Both having similar situations – ownership of a manor, tangled relationships, webs of deceit. For me, My Cousin Rachel was a better read, perhaps because I did not despise the narrator (Philip) as much as The Little Stranger‘s Dr Faraday. And in both books, the reader is left hanging. There are conclusions of a sort, but plenty of questions left unanswered. But in the case of My Cousin Rachel, I found myself turning back to the front of the book and starting the first chapter over. And then finding all these hints and clues that Du Maurier had dropped along the way. I think I would have reread this all over again, except for the fact that it was due back at the library… perhaps this just means I need my own copy?
“But once there were only three, most powerful and glorious of all: the god of day, the god of night, and the goddess of twilight and dawn.Or light an...more“But once there were only three, most powerful and glorious of all: the god of day, the god of night, and the goddess of twilight and dawn.Or light and darkness and the shades between. Or order, chaos, and balance. None of that is important because one of them died, the other might as well have, and the last is the only one who matters anymore.”
And it was with a little sigh of satisfaction and a sense of fullness (but not to the point of being overstuffed) that I finished this book.
Perhaps there was a feeling of relief too. Because it had lived up to my expectations. And oh, were my expectations high. Largely because of Eva’s review and her link to this article in Salon. Plus the fact that it won the 2011 Locus Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Crawford, Gemmell, Tiptree and World Fantasy awards.
I love going into a book, especially fantasy and SF, not knowing much about it. And what a ride this was. But perhaps you might need a tidbit. This is a world of gods and mortals, and features an incredible character in Yeine who comes from a matriarchal warrior tribe and who is named heir to the hundred thousand kingdoms.
“I am short and flat and brown as forestwood, and my hair is a curled mess. Because I find it unmanageable otherwise, I wear it short. I am sometimes mistaken for a boy.”
And as we discover the city of Sky and the Arameri society with her, we realise just how strong and yet so very likeable she is.
A fantastic read.
Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first book of the Inheritance Trilogy, but it works fine as a standalone read. Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods make up the rest of the series.(less)
A leather-bound book. Weathered, yellowed heavy paper. A careful handwritten script. A fireplace. A glass of wine. A stiff-backed, heavy, scarlet chair....moreA leather-bound book. Weathered, yellowed heavy paper. A careful handwritten script. A fireplace. A glass of wine. A stiff-backed, heavy, scarlet chair. A rug so thick you can barely see your toes. Snow falling outside, magicking everything white.
All this. Any of this would have been the perfect way to read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, and not the way I did, snatched in bits and pieces on my iPhone. Convenient yes but just so so lacking in atmosphere, in texture, in feeling.
Because this is such a magical book. An ice queen hidden in the mountains surrounded by mythical creatures kind of magic. Witchcraft and Darkness kind of magic. For she calls them with their true name and they come. How very Ged-like.
It is a fairytale, a love story, a song of strength and power.
Its sense of antiquity begs to be given the proper treatment. To be read under the stars, by candlelight, in a tome that is passed down from generation to generation.
My reread (with many more to come) shall definitely be on the printed page. On a cold mountain. With tendrils of mist caressing each page…
A book to read today, tomorrow and ever after.(less)
Each evening the snail awoke and with astonishing poise moved gracefully to the rim of the pot and peered over, surveying, once again, the strange co...more
Each evening the snail awoke and with astonishing poise moved gracefully to the rim of the pot and peered over, surveying, once again, the strange country that lay ahead. Pondering its circumstance with a regal air, as if from the turret of a castle, it waved its tentacles first this way and then that, as though responding to a distant melody.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a gentle, slow, sweet book.
A book for savouring.
A book that I would like to read all over again – this time an actual physical book, not just the e-book the library lent me. Don’t get me wrong – I very much enjoy e-books, their immediacy, their availability, their readability (yes, readability, you read that right – with a 14-month-old in the house, reading on an iPhone is better than not reading at all! Wee reader loves to turn pages, especially those not of board books, so put one of my books on a sofa and he’ll head straight to it, patting the pages, turning them).
Anyway, back to the book. Elisabeth Tova Bailey (an alias) was travelling in Europe when she was struck by some mysterious illness that left her with severe neurological symptoms and resulted in being bedridden. On a visit, a friend brings some flowers and a snail. And Bailey is struck by this little snail, which wanders off the flower pot and down the crate at night, and as her interest in gastropods grows, she reads more about their history, lifestyle, habits, and observes her little friend as it slides and glides its way to her – and her readers’ – hearts. Who would have thought that a little book about a little creature could say so much?
“I listened carefully. I could hear it eating. The sound was of someone very small crunching celery continuously. I watched, transfixed, as over the course or an hour the snail meticulously ate an entire purple petal for dinner.”(less)
"A bowl of porridge – a hallmark of traditional Teochew cuisine – appeared. The water was just slightly milky, the grains of rice soft, yet still sepa...more"A bowl of porridge – a hallmark of traditional Teochew cuisine – appeared. The water was just slightly milky, the grains of rice soft, yet still separate and not so soft that they were mushed together, as they often can be in lesser versions. The porridge was simple and clean – a lovely canvas for the subtle dishes that would follow. A giant steamed fish came prepared with silvers of ginger and swimming in a slightly sweet broth with tinges of the tomatoes and sour plums that had been steeped in it. A crunchy beggar’s purse erupted in an avalanche of diced chicken when sliced open. Perfectly fried prawn balls were crunchy outside and hot and juicy inside. Goose legs and wings were braised in sweet soy sauce to such softness that the meat was like cotton puffs on our tongues."
Being part Teochew myself, I salivated over the many Teochew and Singaporean dishes that Tan, who lives and works in the US, consumes and learns to make from her family in Singapore. I longed for more, much more. I got some, with my fill with her tales of making pineapple tarts, rice dumplings, duck soup. But to be honest, in the end I was a little disappointed.
With a myriad of food-related memoirs out there, it’s a tough market. This book’s hook – Singapore food. A rojak of Singapore food. There’s Chinese New Year pineapple tarts, duck soup, a Malay dish, and plenty of bread baking. Reading A Tiger in the Kitchen made me think of home, it made me think of my late grandmother, whom I would find sitting in the kitchen when we visited for Sunday dinners. ‘Mama’ I would greet her and nose around the dining table to check out what we were having for dinner (of course the kids ate at the plastic table on the front porch, not with the adults at the rosewood table). I would request for her kong bah (stewed pork belly with steamed buns) and prawn fritters for my birthdays. But what I miss most are her rice dumplings, orh nee and braised duck, the recipes of which have been lost forever.
Reading this book made me think of the wonderful times spent with my mum in kitchen, helping her chop and wash and cook, helping her whack out the snowskin mooncakes from their wooden moulds. It’s been so long since I’ve had her mooncakes, her simple yet delicious quiche, her sayur lodeh (a vegetable curry). I can’t wait till August when she and my dad come to visit! Hopefully she won’t mind doing some cooking when she’s here! So in that respect, all good. A book that brings up such fond memories, that stirs up the appetite – what could be better?
But there was this sense of disconnect in A Tiger in the Kitchen. Tan’s from Singapore, but lives in the US. First a fashion writer, then a food writer. She starts out quite clueless but thanks to help from her family in Singapore, and her friends and ‘uncles’ in the US, she begins to learn to cook and bake. The book isn’t just about Singapore food, as Tan is fond of baking and breadmaking. And sometimes it’s a bit too back and forth. In Singapore, in the US, cooking Singapore food, baking bread. I mean I understand it’s not all about making mee siam and nasi padang, life in Singapore is very ‘rojak’, but it left me feeling like tighter editing might have come in handy. This book is also a story about her family. However I felt that while bits of her family are revealed, there is much more left unsaid. I can understand, Singapore is a small country, somehow it always seems like there are less than six degrees connecting each other, and I wouldn’t really want people to read about my life! So I kept having this impression that I was always just skimming the fat off the surface of the soup (yeah those food metaphors were just prepped and ready to be used). I wanted to plunge my spoon in deeper, to dig to the bottom of the soup bowl for all the good stuff, to learn more about her family, her passion for food.
I know photos can be a little overdone when it comes to memoirs/food-related books, but just to have a hint of the food in the recipes would be better, especially for those who are unfamiliar with Singapore food. And then there’s the cover. I really hate this whole ‘oriental’ rubbish. This is a book about food, so why the red cheongsam? It’s as if they searched ‘Asia’ or ‘Oriental’ and used the first image they found. Then added the chopsticks to signal that this book is not just ‘Oriental’, it is food-related. So why not a picture of food?
A Tiger in the Kitchen may have its flaws (which book doesn’t) but it did something that few books have. It made me long for home, for my family, for my food.
Oh Virginia Woolf, there is so much to say but will be left unsaid because that’s how things seem to work in your world. Things left unsaid.
For that s...moreOh Virginia Woolf, there is so much to say but will be left unsaid because that’s how things seem to work in your world. Things left unsaid.
For that seems to be how it is in Night and Day. In this London society where cupid’s arrows seem to have flown haphazardly. For Mary loves Ralph who loves Katherine who doesn’t love William who might love Cassandra and not Katherine (his fiancée).
And signals are crossed or missed entirely. And hands are wrung, sighs are sighed, walks are walked and lots of tea is made.
Things sort themselves out eventually and all seems fine and dandy except that there is an odd number in this equation. And that is poor Mary, who devotes her life to causes and who sort of becomes the reluctant counselor to all these lovelorn folks. Of course she herself is caught up in this love-line (so not a triangle or even a square or a circle because no one seems to love her back….awwww!) so she is the maker of tea and her flat the convenient drop-in place for the lovelorn and the confused. It is hard not to like her (especially her family and their amusing initial shyness with Ralph) and I just wish she were treated better.
As for Katherine, I was quite determined to boo and hiss at her, since I’m on Mary’s side and all that. But Woolf sneaks in these bits about how K has this secret love. An unspeakable atrocity as she is the granddaughter of some famous (now deceased) poet (who has a kind of cult status that has visitors calling at the house to see his writing desk and manuscripts).
"When she was rid of the pretense of paper and pen, phrase-making and biography, she turned her attention in a more legitimate direction, though, strangely enough, she would rather have confessed her wildest dreams of hurricane and prairie than the fact that, upstairs, alone in her room, she rose early in the morning or sat up late at night to…work at mathematics."
Yes, a secret love for mathematics. That makes me want to forgive all her faults – and she has many. But it is hard because of Mary and her fondness for Ralph, who’s in love with Katherine. And Katherine is one who believes that love should be:
“Splendid as the waters that drop with resounding thunder from high ledges of rock, and plunge downwards into the blue depths of night, was the presence of love she dream, drawing into it every drop of the force of life, and dashing them all asunder in the superb catastrophe in which everything was surrendered, and nothing might be reclaimed. The man too, was some magnanimous hero, riding a great horse by the shore of the sea. They rode through forests together, they galloped the rim of the sea."
As for the male characters, I didn’t think much of them. William is written as too silly and pompous a character. And Ralph too angsty.
"At one moment he exulted in the thought that Mary loved him; at the next, it seemed that he was without feeling for her; her love was repulsive to him. Now he felt urged to marry her at once; now to disappear and never see her again."
Night and Day might not be one of Woolf’s more lauded books but it was quite a treat to read. (less)
‘Richard Castle’s' Heat Wave was a fun read, a little silly since Castle is himself a fictional TV character. But it was odd how I could hear Castle’s...more ‘Richard Castle’s' Heat Wave was a fun read, a little silly since Castle is himself a fictional TV character. But it was odd how I could hear Castle’s (the darling Nathan Fillion) voice in my head as I read this book. Because it is really quite true to the TV series, just that it takes a lot longer to get through. Entertaining enough but I don’t think I will be continuing with this series.(less)