To Kill A Mockingbird has been standard reading for Year 10 (fifteen year olds) in the state I went to school for as long as I can remember and was my...moreTo Kill A Mockingbird has been standard reading for Year 10 (fifteen year olds) in the state I went to school for as long as I can remember and was my first introduction to this book. Now school had an awesome habit of giving us extremely boring texts to read and then dissecting them until our disinterest turned to utter hatred. Year 10 was the first time we were really split up in English classes and my class was supposedly made up of the students that did very well in the subject. And for the first time, our teacher had our interest with this book. We all liked it – for the first time we had found something set to be interesting. I’ve always remembered that – the one book from school that has stood the test of time and the only one I’ve ever bothered to re-read over the years.
Now it’s been a while – so long in fact that when my online book-club nominated this as its read, I didn’t even bother to look for it until about 2wks out from the deadline because I knew we owned it and didn’t notice until then that our copy had…gone. Loaned out and never returned or perhaps lost in 3 moves in 3 years, packing and unpacking of boxes and boxes of books. So I immediately bought another one (the Vintage version pictured here) and set about reading it. I had intended to take it slowly but that ended up not happening at all. How had I forgotten just how utterly brilliant this novel is?
Unless you live under a rock, then at least the basic story line is familiar – told through the eyes of Scout Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird revolves around the summers she and her brother Jem and their friend Dill spend trying to make Boo Radley, their reclusive neighbour, come out of his house. Scout and Jem’s father Atticus, a defense lawyer, is handed the impossible case – defense of a black man of a crime against a white woman in 1930s Alabama and Scout and Jem learn some real lessons on racism, class divide, the mob mentality and tolerance in a Deep South small town.
The problem with reviewing a book like To Kill A Mockingbird, which was published 52 years ago, is that what can you find that’s new to say about it? It’s probably been reviewed millions of times over the course of that time, every word studied and analysed, every character dissected, every lesson learned. What I can say is how glad I am that my book club chose this and I read it again as a 30 year old. Whilst I liked it at 15 and understood it, I’d say it didn’t make me think as it does now. Atticus was perhaps my first ‘adult crush’ that I remember – even at 15 I thought he was amazing. But now, I truly appreciate what a character he is, the unique way in which he parents Jem and Scout. He’s a single father in an era that would probably have been very unusual for the men to parent hands on. The society in which they live is traditional and very strict in its views but Atticus, in his own gentle way, preaches acceptance and equality and attempts to pass this onto his children, be it about Boo Radley and their attempts to make him “come out” or about Tom Robinson, the black man charged with attacking a white woman. Even whilst discrediting the young white woman on the stand, Atticus is faultlessly polite and does not seek to humilate her (although he could). To be honest, I think all my feelings about Atticus can be summed up in one line, which is a direct quote from the book and one that totally stood out to me when I read it this time:
“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Yer father’s passin’.”
At one stage in the book, both Scout and Jem lament that their father is old and can’t do anything, unlike the fathers of their school friends. He sits inside and reads books, he doesn’t go shooting or fishing or play sports. Scout is perhaps too young to really intimately understand a lot of the ins and outs of what is occurring at the trial but I think at that moment she grasps that her father is truly an admirable man, someone that she should be deeply proud of. His manner and defense of someone that many believe shouldn’t of even had a defense, but also the manner in which he conducts himself, is a beautiful eye opener, but in the right way, for the children when so many other things their eyes are opened to within the community are negative. That line, spoken to Scout by the Reverend Syke’s, the black pastor at the conclusion of the trial, is powerful enough to make tears come to my eyes!
Like Jem and Scout do about their father, as a student I lamented everything we read being so old. I wished we could study just one contemporary text and forego the oodles of Shakespeare, Keats, etc that we were lumped with in later high school. I’m not really connected to the curriculum these days so I’m unaware if they’re blending equal amounts of classic and contemporary, but I do believe that this is a book that should never be removed from the curriculum. It has lessons that never seem to go out of fashion, unfortunately – the acceptance of people who are different, equality for races, social classes, the importance of civility.
I’m so glad that my online book-club gave me the excuse I needed to revisit this one – I have so many new books to read at the moment that re-reads (which I used to do a lot) have fallen by the wayside. Sometimes it’s nice to sit down and just re-immerse yourself in something that still has something to teach you, even after 15 years.(less)
Nick Carraway is a young man recently returned from the war when he decides to go to New York City and do what other young men his age are doing in dr...moreNick Carraway is a young man recently returned from the war when he decides to go to New York City and do what other young men his age are doing in droves – learning the “bonds” business. His family agree to fund him for one year and he takes a house on the West Egg of Long Island, directly opposite the more fashionable East Egg, where Nick’s cousin Daisy lives with her wealthy husband.
Nick finds himself living next to Jay Gatsby, who throws fabulous parties. Everyone who is anyone finds themselves rolling up to Jay’s house and partaking in the fabulous liquor on offer and the socialising. Having watched from afar several times, Nick finds himself in attendence one night with a friend of Daisy’s, even though he admits that he like most people, has no idea who his host is – in fact, he’s never set eyes on him. There are rumours abounds about the mysterious Gatsby and it seems that no one really knows him. Something that he mentions in passing to a man at the party, only to be informed that the very person he is talking to is indeed, Gatsby.
Nick and Jordan learn that Gatsby knows Daisy from before the first World War – in fact they were in love. But Gatsby was nothing and Daisy was from a wealthy and respected family and ended up marrying her rich, former football-playing husband who now has affairs. Gatsby asks Nick to set up a meeting with Daisy, desperate to see her after all these years. It seems that everything Gatsby has done, his attempts to secure money and raise his profile, has been in an attempt to find people that know her so that he can reconnect with her. Through Jordan, he has finally found someone at his parties who can introduce him to Nick who can give him what he wants. And that sets the characters on a course for mostly heartbreak and tragedy.
I never read The Great Gatsby for school, it wasn’t part of our curriculum. I’ve never really had a huge interest in reading it either, but I did add it to my list of 50 Classics for the Classics Club for a few reasons: firstly, we own it. Neither my husband nor I are quite sure how this came about, he thinks his brother left it at his house at some stage. Also I know people that absolutely adore it and others that loathe it. I wanted to see where I fell. It encompasses an era that I usually enjoy reading about but actually haven’t read too much of, the 1920′s.
As most people know, The Great Gatsby is told through the eyes of mostly a mere onlooker, Nick Carraway. He’s not particularly central to the story other than serving as a way to bring back together Gatsby and Daisy, which sets in motion the events that lead to tragedy. It’s unusual to read a book from the point of view of such a character and it did often work, because you received a more complete picture than had it have been told from the point of view of Daisy or Gatsby but sometimes it didn’t, because you felt like that you were potentially missing a lot of things that were occurring when Nick wasn’t around.
I don’t tend to like books with morally bankrupt characters and there are a lot of unlikable people here, none more so than the selfish and vacuous Daisy and her equally hideous husband Tom. Daisy is thin and brittle, seemingly rather unhappy – and who wouldn’t be with the abusive, philandering Tom? Daisy gives off the whole aura of trying far too hard, presenting an illusion of how happy she is in her huge house with her rich husband and her wonderful clothes and the never ending supply of alcohol and fun. Tom is hypocritical and repulsive, one of those types that crushes your hand in a handshake to prove how alpha he is. He has a lover on the side that he makes no secret of – he takes Nick to see her, even though Nick is Daisy’s distant cousin, which I found to be crass.
Gatsby is an enigma, a presentation of apparently old money and an Oxford education that turns out to be false. He’s perhaps the one character in this farce that I felt for (in a small way) because I do believe that he loved Daisy and thought that they would find some way to be together. In that it seems he gave Daisy more courage than she possessed and his attempts to cover up for her at a later date lead to his downfall. I vaguely sympathised with Gatsby’s need to reinvent and better himself in order to feel like he had something to offer but in the end, I severely question whether or not Daisy was worth it at all. Perhaps that’s the great tragedy of this novel, that he tried so hard to be something that he thought she would go to and in the end, his love for her wasn’t enough and the fact that even after that he still covered for her. I found myself wondering what happened to Daisy after the events at the end. Did she care? Did anything from the latter part affect her at all? I would suggest not.
I struggled with what to rate this one. The story isn’t to my liking and as I mentioned, the characters are mostly loathsome or I was ambivalent about them, in the case of Nick and Jordan. But I did like the writing – I think the writing is quite amazing.(less)
Although I often have a somewhat strained relationship with classics, one exception to that rule seems to be Jane Austen. When I was 18 I read four Ja...moreAlthough I often have a somewhat strained relationship with classics, one exception to that rule seems to be Jane Austen. When I was 18 I read four Jane Austen novels for a literature class I took during a course for entry to university - Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park. My university days led to a love of Emma and the BBC adaptation of P&P. On principle I haven’t even bothered to see the film version that was done a few years ago with Keira Knightley. However one novel and adaptation that has constantly escaped me has been Sense & Sensibility. I’ve nearly seen the movie several times, including once earlier this year. I recorded it to the hard drive but then deleted it because I wanted to read the book first. Well, I’ve finally gotten around to reading the book.
The story line is well known: Mr Dashwood passes away and due to the family estate being entailed, it all goes to his son by his first marriage. Having only daughters by his second, he pleads with his son to please do right by them but his son’s selfish wife talks him out of any assistance he may have offered. Mrs Dashwood and her three daughters Elinor who is sensible, Marianne who is romantic and the youngest Margaret take a cottage offered by Sir John Middleton, one of Mrs Dashwood’s relatives and they become integrated into the social lives of the Middletons. There Marianne meets and falls in love with the charming Willoughby who then later jilts her, leaving her heartbroken. Elinor, whilst caring for her devastated sister, is hiding her own pain at learning the object of her affections has been engaged in secret for years so the sisters are both possessed of little money and little prospects. Or so it seems.
I always love the characters in Austen novels and this one was no exception. Elinor is mature and sensible, always correct in her actions and noting of propriety. She has fallen in love with her sister-in-law’s brother and does believe her affections to be returned (indeed, everyone does) but she is often chastised by Marianne for not showing her feelings enough, particularly after it is discovered that Edward Ferrars has been secretly engaged some five years. By contrast Marianne is younger in spirit and impetuous, running on emotion and feeling rather than good sense. When she meets Willoughby, who is very charming, she throws her entire self into the beginnings of a relationship with him and it is generally believed by the locals and family that they will announce their engagement soon. They spend afternoons together alone and it seems that Mrs Dashwood encourages Marianne, rather than advising her to rein herself in. Elinor does wonder at the danger of this behaviour and it seems her fears are not unfounded when Willoughby takes his leave, rendering Marianne devastated with grief. Got to hand it to the girl, when she does something, be it love or heartbreak, she does it with her whole being. She ends up making herself ill and nearly succumbs to a fever later in the novel, due to not taking care of herself.
In her single-mindedness about Willoughby, Marianne overlooks Colonel Brandon, a friend of Sir John Middleton’s who falls in love with her when he sees her. In his mid-thirties, wealthy and unmarried and also intensely honourable, Marianne considers him too old and too boring but Colonel Brandon never wavers in his steadfast devotion to Marianne, always on hand to lend assistance after her heartbreak. He has his own reasons for disliking Willoughby, painting him as even more of a victim than the reader first assumes to Elinor, with whom he chooses to confide. I’ve seen people mention that they believe that the novel should’ve ended with Elinor marrying Colonel Brandon and I think I see some of the point but I do disagree. Marianne is a stunning romantic for sure and she seems like she needs someone who gives her strength and stability as well as undying love and who won’t disappear in search of richer options. I enjoyed watching Brandon continue to remain by her side and although the book doesn’t give you too much about her change in feeling towards him, I could put most of it together in my head. I think that Elinor and Brandon make great friends but ultimately I always believed he was made for Marianne.
There’s a scene in this book where Willougby confesses to Elinor that he did always love Marianne but he had to make a choice about his future and although that is now secure, he isn’t as happy as he feels he would’ve been, had he married Marianne. Willoughby is an enterprising sort of character, the type who uses good looks and charm to always come out smelling like roses even when he has done the most abominable things. I didn’t really feel all that sympathetic towards him because he doesn’t really address with any satisfaction the way in which he treated Brandon’s ward and his only justification for leaving Marianne was money, which was common in those days but still makes him seem like a cad. Especially when you compare his actions with those of Edward Ferrar’s who was willing to sacrifice all of his generous income to fulfill a promise he made years ago to someone he no longer loved, never mind someone that he did love. Maybe I’m just never going to like characters like Willoughby – all charm and little substance. Give me Colonel Brandon anyway, particularly after seeing the 1995 movie version!
In a sea of “classic” books that often make me feel stupid or tired as I struggle to analyse the themes and write a review, I think I can always at least rely on Austen to provide me with a read that entertains me even as she critiques society and its whims. I love her wit and her character observations and interactions. Next up on my Austen list is a re-read of Persuasion and I’m so looking forward to it. It’s been probably 13+ years since I read and I’ve only read it once so it’ll be pretty much like reading it for the first time.(less)
Jacob Jankowski is 23 years old and in his last year of a veterinary science degree at a good college when he gets the tragic news that his parents ha...moreJacob Jankowski is 23 years old and in his last year of a veterinary science degree at a good college when he gets the tragic news that his parents have been killed in an automobile accident. He has to go home, identify their bodies, organise the funerals, etc and in the course of the events that take place during this time, he learns that basically, there is no money left. His father, the town vet, hasn’t taken a cash payment in close to two years, taking eggs, beans, whatever his clients could afford to offer him. They’ve also re-mortgaged the house to fund Jacob’s degree and everything has to be sold to pay back the bank. During his final exams Jacob finds he cannot write anything on the pages at all and he walks out.
Having nothing to lose he jumps aboard a train. Jumpers such as Jacob are usually thrown off but a couple of the men take a liking to him and get him assigned to odd jobs around the circus until the owner, Uncle Al, hears that Jacob was only one set of exams away from having a vet degree from a very good university. He stays on with the circus, The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth in the position of vet to the larger animals, particularly the horses. This puts him in close proximity to the beautiful Marlena, who works with the horses. She is married to the violent and unstable August, who is head trainer of the animals. August cultivates a strange friendship with Jacob, keeping him close even though he is increasingly suspicious of Jacob and Marlena.
And with good reason. Jacob is falling in love with her and trying to figure out a way that will free her of the crazy August. Uncle Al however, does not want two of the people that help his circus run smoothly at odds and he threatens Jacob. If Jacob doesn’t help reconcile them, Uncle Al will redlight (throw out of the train at the next crossing) Jacob’s two bunkmates, one of whom is almost paralysed and the other who only knows the circus and performing life. And Jacob discovers that these are not just idle threats. Jacob will have to decide what his priorities are before someone he cares about gets seriously hurt.
There was something about this book. It’s not perfect, and there were a couple of things that didn’t strike me as being easy to believe (and I will talk about those a bit later) but it was compelling. It sucked me in from the very first page – Jacob at 90 or 93, he can no longer remember his proper age, in a nursing home reflecting back on his life. The way in which the story unfolds is beautiful and it’s so utterly enjoyable. This is the 30s and it’s the Depression and there isn’t much money and the circus life isn’t portrayed as the glamour that the punters no doubt think it is, but let’s face it, there’s a little bit of ‘run away and join the circus’ in all of us. Jacob lives that sort of dream that’s not unfamiliar to people, even if they replace the circus with something else. There are heroes and villains, exotic animals, colourful characters and even the cramped setting of the circus train seems romantic.
Jacob is immediately drawn to Marlena but I always felt like the reader wasn’t given enough of an insight to her. She isn’t a huge part of the novel, her interactions with Jacob are very brief in the beginning and it almost seems like they never talk except a few sentences here and there and nearly all of the time August is lurking around clapping people on the shoulder and pouring scotch and wavering between manic and insane. I would’ve liked to see a little more depth to the developing relationship between them, to get an idea that there was more to Marlena than beauty and the way she handled her horses. Quite a few of the other relationships between characters are better fleshed out – for example Jacob and the friendship he develops with his “room mate” or bunk mate Kinko, a dwarf, is far more skilfully done.
I also had a little problem with the ending – given that Jacob was 90 or 93 in present time. If he’d been a bit younger I’d have been more accepting of it, and would’ve found it more plausible but given how old he was and that he had trouble even walking down a corridor, it just seemed like no one would actually offer him the position he is offered. But I could mostly overlook it because it was such a lovely ending to the book.
Water For Elephants is an amazingly good story that sucks you in and takes you along for a wonderful ride of 1930′s Depression era America. It really is deserving of all the praise and excellent reviews out there. Anyone who hasn’t read it and has been meaning to – don’t put it off as long as I did!(less)
Every now and then, one of those novels comes along. Something that’s different from anything else you’ve ever read before. It might not be the most b...moreEvery now and then, one of those novels comes along. Something that’s different from anything else you’ve ever read before. It might not be the most brand new, unique idea in the world, but it’s new to you. That is what The Gargoyle was like for me. I loved it, from the very first page. It is not really the sort of book I could see myself loving (for reasons I shall explain) but it proved me wrong upon pretty much every level.
Our narrator is never named, so I’ll just refer to him from now on as The Narrator. The book opens with a reflection upon his accident. He’s driving in a car, bottle of bourbon between his legs, when suddenly, he sees (or more importantly, thinks he sees) a hail of flaming arrows coming at him. He swerves, stuff happens, he goes down an embankment/cliff type thing and whoosh! up goes the car in flames. The bottle of bourbon provides a lovely accelerant and The Narrator turns into a crispy critter. Only the car tipping into a nearby creek saves his life. But he suffers absolutely horrific burns (some classified as ‘fourth degree’) to most of his body and if you’re of faint heart, you may want to skip the next few pages. It is rather graphic in its description of his injuries and the treatment and I have to admit, my stomach flipped a couple of times, especially during the description of using some sort of razor to slough away dead flesh and the agony that inflicted but anyways. That bit is really just filler.
The Narrator was beautiful before the accident, something he is preoccupied with, as he is a mess of charred and scarred flesh now. He’s now a monster, grotesque. His physical perfection is nothing but a bitter memory. He is missing fingers, toes and more importantly, his penis. Given that he was an actor in pornographic films, he is of the opinion that his life is over now and his days are spent constructing elaborate fantasies of the perfect suicide, which he will put into practice upon his release from hospital. His friends from the porn industry fall away, he has no family, no significant other. There’s no one he is close to. His life really does seem quite hopeless and pathetic, when one day, in hospital, he has a visitor.
Marianne Engel is a little different, from the beginning. She’s dressed in a hospital gown, her hair is wild, she talks like she knows him. She tells him “this is the 3rd time you have been burned” and that she (and him, really) are both 700 years old. She’s dressed in a gown, but not the ones the visitors wear in the burn units – she’s a patient and her wrist bracelet ID’s her as a psychiatric patient.
From the appearance of Marianne, the story changes and the book centres around her visits to the burn ward. She comes often, even after she is released from the psych ward, and when she’s not working ‘freeing the gargoyles’ – sculpting little creatures from blocks of solid stone. She tells him stories, love stories, from Viking Iceland, Victorian England, Japan and of course, ‘their’ own back story – how they met in 14th century Germany after he was burned ‘the first time’ and while she was being raised in the famous monastery Engelthal, and all that followed after that.
The way this novel unfolds is second to none. The story telling (the actual novel itself and Marianne’s stories within the story) is superb. I was sucked in from the first page. I’m not much of a mystic – I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell, I don’t believe in re-incarnation, or God’s work, or anything like that. If I’d known more about this book than I did, I probably would never have read it. I tend to avoid novels that deal with God or mysticism, or faith, in any capacity. And yes, I know I probably miss some wonderful novels that way, and indeed, would’ve missed this one. But I didn’t know enough to avoid it and I’m all the richer for that! This novel deals with God and faith in that Marianne talks a lot of the time she (supposedly/apparently) spent in the monastery and the faith she had at that time, and faith indeed is a long running theme. Faith in love, faith in trust, faith in what will be, will be. And even though religion was a major theme in this book, and in the stories Marianne tells, I didn’t find that detracted at all from anything. The stories Marianne tells The Narrator are incredible – compelling and touching and wonderful. And so is the overall story wrapped around the tales.
Is Marianne insane? Is all of this an elaborate fantasy of hers, lived out in her mind? Is she drawn to The Narrator because of his burns and how ingrained burns are in this fantasy? Or is she for real – were they tragic lovers so long ago? I think the book gives you plenty to decide for yourself, whether you choose to believe in the impossible, or revel in the fact that it’s the fantasy of a paranoid, deranged, mentally ill woman. Although her diagnosis remains fluid The Narrator reads up as much as he can on both schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder to better try understand this woman he becomes so intimately entwined with. We only have his narrative to go on and he makes no secret of the heavy amounts of morphine he’s using at the time, and that he’s not entirely in his own right mind. I found the way The Narrator’s depression was written was awesome – although the end was a little too heavy handed for my tastes.
A really wonderfully written piece of literature. This is why I read books – to escape in the full, whole hearted way into other worlds that I did whilst reading this novel. If you like your novels a little off kilter, a little different and your imagination allows you to suspend some disbelief (and you’re not easily nauseated), read this book. Read it now!(less)
I stumbled across this quite randomly in Kmart one day, which pleased me. Kate Thompson is an Irish author who has written quite a few ‘chick lit’ boo...moreI stumbled across this quite randomly in Kmart one day, which pleased me. Kate Thompson is an Irish author who has written quite a few ‘chick lit’ books, a lot of which involve primarily, and then secondarily, one of my favourite couples, Deidre O’Dare and Rory McDonagh. Starting with It Means Mischief and kind of concluding with Love Lies Bleeding, Deirdre and Rory have been tortured enough I suppose, as they haven’t appeared in her last 2 books, which have contained new-and-connected characters: The Kinsella Sisters and now The O’Hara Affair.
The O’Hara Affair takes us back to the village of Lissamore from The Kinsella Sisters where a Hollywood movie about Scarlett O’Hara’s father Gerald is being filmed. A lot of the village is involved, be they cast as extras, catering to the massive movie set, involved in production, set design, etc. It’s a big boost to the village in a time of global financial crisis. The crisis is a recurring theme throughout the novel, as everyone is feeling the pinch.
The book primarily concentrates on 3 main female characters: Fleur O’Farrell, who we heard of briefly in The Kinsella Sisters, a French ex-pat who followed her ex-husband to Ireland and stayed. She runs a boutique in Lissamore, stocking beautiful, fashionable, expensive clothing and accessories. She’s also conducting an affair with a (quoting the book) Mr-Big type: rich, dynamic, sexually charged businessman who has sunk mega bucks into the movie.
Second is Dervla Vaughn, nee Kinsella who was a major part of The Kinsella Sisters, being one of the titular characters. She’s now married to wine expert Christian and they’ve bought their dream house which they are quickly running out of money to renovate. No one is buying expensive wine (global financial crisis and all) and Dervla is trying to finish a book she’s been commissioned to write on selling your house. Adding to their problems is Christian’s mother – 85 and in the grips of dementia, she requires constant care. When her carer has two weeks holiday, Christian and Dervla cannot afford to put her into a nursing home, nor does Christian want to, even for the two weeks so Dervla agrees to do the job herself. And boy does she not know what she’s gotten herelf in for.
Thirdly is Bethany O’Brien. Eighteen, shy, lacking in self-confidence but dreaming of being an actress. Used to being ridiculed, particularly for her dreams, Bethany is too timid to do anything about them. She needs a gentle push in the right direction – luckily for her, there’s a fairy godmother about to come into her life.
This book makes use of the world of social networking in a way I haven’t seen outside of a gaggle of teenage girls. Everyone is on facebook and everyone is talking about being on facebook constantly. Bethany joins SecondLife where she gains more confidence, meeting the wonderful avatar Hero. But is Hero really what he seems? It’s hard to tell in a virtual world. Everyone is fiddling on their blackberries, texting on their latest Nokia’s, snapping pictures with their iPhones. Facebook is used as a tool to gather information on people when Fleur agrees to tell people’s fortunes at the annual Lissamore Village Festival which allows her to “accurately” state things about them.
I take my hat off to Dervla. Although she at first decides to care for her mother-in-law because she thinks it’ll be simple, and allow her to get some work done while Christian is in France and the normal carer is on holidays, she soon finds out that she’s very, very wrong. Daphne, her mother in law, requires constant care with everything. Dervla grits her teeth and gets through it, even though she feels like she’s slowly going insane. It would be an extremely hard job and when she goes to look at prices for care, she’s gobsmacked. 5000 euros a month, which is a lot in anyone’s language. She’s even more depressed by what she sees in the nursing homes – all the residents look as though they’ve one foot in the grave already. Even though Daphne suffers from dementia, she still enjoys life. Dervla is determined that there is a better way. She just has to think about what it is and how to go about it.
This book had really likable parts. The main characters were warm and interesting although I think more time could’ve been spent in Bethany’s voice as most of the time when we were with her, she was hanging around SecondLife waiting for Hero. I would’ve liked a bit more time spent fleshing out her Real Life persona, especially as she gained work on the set of The O’Hara Affair as an extra. Fleur was funny and sensual, although I found it hard to believe that after 20 years in Ireland, she didn’t know what several English phrases are, including ‘a penny for your thoughts’. She must’ve heard that one many many times over the past 20 years, as it’s a very common phrase. That’s a mistake that’s sometimes made with foreign characters, where they either fumble for the correct word in English and use their native one instead (usually with a ‘how do you say?’ thrown in there) or they don’t understand little phrases like that one. That one is really quite self-explanatory. If the author wanted to have her be confused, she could’ve picked a more obscure one. Dervla was admirable in the way she dealt with a situation she knew nothing about going into, and the patience she acquired in doing it. She may’ve slowly been going insane but the way she was with her mother in law was wonderful. I’m not sure I could’ve showed that in her position. I know several people that worked in aged care and their stories both horrify and sadden me. I freely admit it’s not something I could ever do as a career choice.
Unfortunately there was one event in this book that I really didn’t agree with, personally. And it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as I regarded it as a betrayal of several characters. It’s a personal moral issue with me, and I felt that my respect for that character diminished after that event. It did detract from my overall liking of the book, but just a little. I thought that it could’ve been better handled, or occurred in a different part of the book and it would’ve been more acceptable.(less)
A world renowned opera singer is singing at the birthday of visiting Japanese guest Mr Hosokawa. The President and government of the host country are...moreA world renowned opera singer is singing at the birthday of visiting Japanese guest Mr Hosokawa. The President and government of the host country are hoping they can persuade Mr Hosokawa to build a factory for his electronics company in their country to create jobs. Mr Hosokawa has no intentions of building the factory and at first refuses the invitation to his birthday dinner until they announce that Roxane Coss will sing. An unabashed opera fan, Mr Hosokawa cannot resist the urge to see her in such an intimate environment. As the lights go off for the final song (before the encore), they stay off as a band of terrorists enter through the airconditioning ducts, taking the entire group hostage.
Unfortunately for the rebels, the one man they actually wanted to take hostage, the President of the country is not in attendance, having pulled out at the very last minute in order to stay at home and watch his soap opera (wtf?). The rebels cannot believe it and although they mistake several men for the President, it soon becomes clear to them that he is in fact, not there. They’ve done all this for nothing and so they must try and turn the situation around to their advantage. The following morning they release all the women and children (except Roxane Coss, who may be of some value, being world renown as she is) and several men who are elderly or ill. To further get the hostages down to a more reasonable number for them to manage, they release anyone who is not considered to be rich or important enough.
The bunch left include the Vice President of the country (in whose house this event takes place), Mr Hosokawa and his personal translator Gen, Roxane Coss, a local priest who stayed voluntarily and a mish-mash of German, French, Russian and local businessmen. Luckily Gen speaks about 733 languages and proves himself to be very handy ensuring that the rebels can communicate with the hostages and with the Swiss Red Cross agent sent in as a liason, and that the hostages who don’t speak the same languages can communicate with each other.
Although terrified at first and unsettled by an accidental death in the first 48 hours, the hostages soon learn that the rebels have no intentions of actually killing anyone and as the days go by, a sort of routine is settled into. The rebels make outrageous demands of the government who in turn make their own demands and no one moves an inch and the whole thing just marches on. The Swiss Red Cross agent, Joachim Messner, continues to visit, tries to get the rebels to surrender but continues to bring them food and the things they require, like soap and detergent. Whole months go by.
As that time goes by, the author starts to flesh out the rebels and you learn about them, to distinguish them. Most of them are little more than children, teenagers, who have been sold into the service of the rebel group, or signed up because they had little else. The Generals of the rebel group are tougher, coarser and a bit more aloof but even they seem to provide no real threat or fear to the hostages and after a while, one of the Generals and Mr Hosokawa meet for regular chess games. Mr Hosokawa speaks not a word of the local language and the General speaks not a word of Japanese but they do not need words for their game and work out a method of declaring check and another for declaring checkmate, playing in comfortable, companionable silence.
While all this is going on, two very unlikely couples are falling in love and learning their way through their new feelings and the complications of their relationships.
This seems to be a common complaint of mine recently, but I adored this book right up until the ending. After about 300 pages detailing the hostage situation, the developing relationships between the rebels and the hostages in varying degrees, and the hostages with each other, the end is abrupt and stilted. Although to be quite honest, I didn’t entirely expect what happened (I didn’t google Peru hostage situation until after I finished the novel) I really wasn’t able to be utterly blown away and shocked by it because it was written in such a swift and must-wrap-up-now! sort of way. And the epilogue at the end is the biggest load of what the fuck? I’ve ever seen. I had no idea why that is even there and it should’ve been left out because not only does it really make no sense, but it detracts from the entire novel and two of the relationships in particular. The pages wasted on that should’ve been devoted to the actual end of the novel, fleshing it out more and devoting the time to it that it deserved. The whole ending felt rushed, like she had a 320 page deadline set in stone and she got to page 317 and then thought ‘oh shit! I have to end this in 3 pages! How the heck can I do that? Oh, I know!’ and away she went.
Which is a shame, because the rest of the novel is fantastic. Although I didn’t quite understand how everyone in the entire novel just about fell in love with Roxane Coss, I suppose it’s not entirely implausible as people fall in ‘love’ with famous people every day without even seeing them or meeting them. So being in the same room as her, and hearing her sing, and feeling her presence and charisma (which apparently, she has loads of) maybe it could happen. Her magnetic presence aside, I did love 99% of this book and really enjoyed the writing. Maybe I’m just hard to please regarding endings? It seems like I’m always complaining about them, but I shouldn’t let this one detract too much from my enjoyment of the novel. The further you get into it, the more you realise that the chances of sunshine and rainbows at the end are slim as the hostage situation continues without any progress for months. I think the interaction was well written, because as there was no real violence shown from the rebels to the hostages, other than on the first day, and only once, the hostages settle into a comfortable sort of existance that isn’t a Stockholm Syndrome, but more like a sympathetic agreeableness and you find yourself wishing they could all just stay there, living together, forever.(less)