This memoir is probably a brilliant book -- it does have a uniquely vivid and realistic narrative voice -- but it wasn't one I enjoyed. It felt like aThis memoir is probably a brilliant book -- it does have a uniquely vivid and realistic narrative voice -- but it wasn't one I enjoyed. It felt like a never-ending parade of self-indulgent tangents. Granted, the stream-of-consciousness style was intentional, but I was fed up with it long before the book was finished. I kept waiting for it to go somewhere and it didn't. That would be fine if it was actually funny or (dare I say it?) heartbreaking, but it rarely triggered an emotional or empathetic response in me. (That probably makes me a terrible person, since it is ostensibly about real people.)
I'll give Eggers credit for being daring, absurd, and honest. I suppose I feel the same way about AHWOSG as I do about serialism in music: I recognize that there is skill involved and that it appeals to some people, but I don't particularly want to spend my time on it. When I got to the end, my first word aloud was "Finally!"
P.S. I thought the preface/acknowledgements was the best part. I should have stopped there while I was ahead....more
Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the story of a perfectly ordinary man whose spur-of-the-moment decisionBoth heartbreaking and heartwarming, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the story of a perfectly ordinary man whose spur-of-the-moment decision turns into something extraordinary, while also forcing him to evaluate his relationships. The plot begins when Harold learns that an old friend is dying of cancer. Walking to the post box to mail his response, he just keeps walking and soon becomes convinced that his (completely non-religious) pilgrimage across most of Britain to visit her will save her life.
The story is told mostly in vignettes centred around the stages of the journey, people Harold meets, flashbacks to his past, and his wife's experiences at home without him. I quickly grew to care about Harold even though he often takes a backseat to the more colourful characters he meets on his journey.
The book is easy to ready and draws the reader in from the start. There were enough hinted-at secrets and unfinished business that I was kept interested until the very end, and the characters are real and likeable enough that I was practically desperate for everything to work out.
I will put my biases on the table and admit that I have always been drawn to the pilgrimage/journey genre. It's a great way to keep things moving and it gives the characters plenty of time to wrestle with their inner demons. The demon-wrestling can get a bit heavy-handed at times and on rare occasions the story verges on the sentimental, but mostly the book is understated and quiet. The redemptive power of walking is also a powerful theme, and it's one that I'm particularly fond of.
(Side note: I was probably even more disposed to like this book because of the parallels with one of my heroes: Terry Fox, whose famous cross-Canada run was also aimed at beating cancer, albeit in a more traditional way. Okay, the parallels are basically limited to "long-distance trek" and "cancer", but I won't let that rain on my parade.) ...more
This is one weird book. But I was swept along with it every step of the way. It's an original, vivid, and memorable story that is really hard to fit iThis is one weird book. But I was swept along with it every step of the way. It's an original, vivid, and memorable story that is really hard to fit into a genre. I've heard "magical realism," but it's really a story of a family from the trying to find its place in the world with a focus on the coming-of-age of the kids. While that sounds fairly standard, Swamplandia! is set in a bizarre world of alligator wrestling, charmingly tacky theme parks, ghost boyfriends. The prose is lush and brings the exotic settings alive. It's completely off-the-wall and there's a frequent sense of almost surreal other-worldliness, but there are enough familiar elements that the reader can identify with the characters' experiences. The book gets some very dark moments towards the end, but I won't go into that to avoid spoilers. It manages to find the the humanity in dead-end jobs, the disappointment in growing up, and the hope following tragedy. ...more
Depicting the arrival at the Mughal court of a foreign stranger with a dangerous tale to tell the Emperor, The Enchantress of Florence is a disappointDepicting the arrival at the Mughal court of a foreign stranger with a dangerous tale to tell the Emperor, The Enchantress of Florence is a disappointingly empty book. It's beautiful at times, with its exotic depictions of Renaissance Florence and the Mughal Empire. But there is almost no plot except for what is depicted in the stories told my the characters, and so even that may not have actually happened. On top of that, the characters -- either the ones in the novel, or the ones in the stories told in the course of the novel -- are not remotely interesting.
And Rushdie keeps bringing in ideas of the self, morality, and God. That's fine. If you're going to try and talk about deep issues in your novel, that's great. But please, please, please actually talk about it instead of just throwing ideas out there, and please don't make it boring. I so not particularly care about half-formed philosophical and theological ideas in the context of the self-indulgent musings of characters I don't care about.
I didn't know where the book was going, and frankly for most of it I wasn't interested. There were a few redeeming qualities; some of the episodes in the story-within-a-story held my attention, and the prose is often exquisite. But overall it took me so long to read this because I wasn't motivated to finish it. And when I did finally reach the last page, still hoping for some kind of epiphany that would make it all worthwhile, I was left feeling empty and disappointed. Still, I'll give this two stars because of the prose and because it did convey the world of Renaissance Florence and the Mughal Empire quite well.
I'm sorry, Rushdie. If I want to read a literary-historical-fantastical novel with an unreliable storyteller and adventures in exotic lands, I'll read Umberto Eco's Baudolino instead. At least that was entertaining. ...more
Truman Capote, where have you been all my life? The prose in this novella is phenomenal. At several points, I actually stopped paused to bask in a welTruman Capote, where have you been all my life? The prose in this novella is phenomenal. At several points, I actually stopped paused to bask in a well-turned phrase, and then went back and read the paragraph again so I'd remember it better.
And of course, there's the famous Holly Golightly (seriously, with a name like that how can she be anything but memorable?). She's a country-girl-turned-socialite who hides her fears under a whole lot of nerve. I am incredibly intrigued by her despite being shocked and appalled by pretty much everything she does, maybe because there's just enough vulnerability there for me to feel for her.
I refrained from giving this five stars simply because it's too short. I know it takes a lot of talent to write something self-contained and brief, but I wanted more: more answers, more details, more narrator backstory, and more Holly....more
I don't know what to make of this book. Parts of it are excellent (a main character who can't die and who has lived for centuries, a look at early tweI don't know what to make of this book. Parts of it are excellent (a main character who can't die and who has lived for centuries, a look at early twentieth-century attitudes towards mental health, etc.) and parts of it are really self-indulgent. There are also a lot of loose ends that are never addressed. So I'm splitting the difference and giving it three stars.
Also, it's a pet peeve of mine that people in historical fiction books almost always happen to run into the most significant figures of their time, usually forming close relationships with them. I don't mind so much when it's a simple historical fiction novel (novels about the fourteenth century England are probably more marketable if Chaucer shows up, after all), but having Pilgrim either meet or actually be so many historical figures over the course of the centuries is pushing it....more
It's been over a week since I finished it, and this book still won't leave me alone. My soul is ripped apart and I am heartbroken, but also strangelyIt's been over a week since I finished it, and this book still won't leave me alone. My soul is ripped apart and I am heartbroken, but also strangely heart-warmed... in short, just wow....more
In terms of literary merit, I can't work out whether this book is brilliant or terrible. But it's a courageous effort, and it hit me emotionally in aIn terms of literary merit, I can't work out whether this book is brilliant or terrible. But it's a courageous effort, and it hit me emotionally in a way that very few books do.
What is this book "about"? It's about... writer's block. Truth and lies. Fiction and history. The Holocaust. Creativity. Humanity's relationship with animals.
Some of it I was less than thrilled with -- the overly long Flaubert quotes, for one -- but most of it was enthralling. The discussion of fact and fiction is beautifully done, there were passages that made me laugh out loud (in the library, no less!), the prose is delightful, and the ending is appropriately shocking.
I'm pretty sure that I'm scarred for life after reading this book... with both positive and negative scars. Beatrice and Virgil tends to polarize people, judging from the reviews I've read, but for me it's the most powerful novel I've read in a long time....more
On the surface this is a story about Audrey Flowers, who goes home upon the death of her father, only to have to come to terms with a lot of other issOn the surface this is a story about Audrey Flowers, who goes home upon the death of her father, only to have to come to terms with a lot of other issues from her past. But it is so much more than that.
How do I love thee, Come, Thou Tortoise? Let me count the ways... -You're hilarious and quirky, but not in a self-conscious way and you never feel forced. Reading you is like being inside the head of someone who has a unique view on the world. -You introduced me to Audrey, whom I loved from the start. She just walks onto the page fully formed as a woman who mixes childlike and adult perspectives on the world. She's a refreshingly genuine character, with all her little quirks that are wonderful and weird but taken for granted, in the same way that everyone has wonderful and weird things that they do without thinking that they are anything but ordinary. -You're full of puns and wordplay. And I do love wordplay. -Every once in awhile you are narrated by Audrey's pet tortoise, who is snarky, erudite, capable of expounding on Shakespeare, and terrified of being abandoned. And somehow it works. -You made me desperately want everything to work out for Audrey, her strange-but-lovable uncle, the hilariously keen Jewish-atheist Christmas light designer (it makes sense in context), and even the tortoise. You made me care about a tortoise. -You are steeped in Shakespeare and Gilbert and Sullivan. I think we can be friends.
One thing I will point out is that this book doesn't use question marks or quotation marks. Initially this threw me off, but soon I felt that it replicated the characters' inner monologues (or dialogues) more accurately, and it stops being intrusive quickly enough. In short, this is an unusual book, but it is all the more entertaining, touching, and memorable for that. ...more
I don't know to class this book, but I've loved it for years. It's a bit other-worldly, a bit raw, and a bit mysterious. It juxtaposes ordinary teenagI don't know to class this book, but I've loved it for years. It's a bit other-worldly, a bit raw, and a bit mysterious. It juxtaposes ordinary teenage experiences with alchemical experiments -- long before Harry Potter made sure that every kid had heard of the Philosopher's Stone. The parallels between the lives of Cass and Mr Magnus are expertly and sutbly executed, and they are worth looking for while re-reading. There's also a focus on obsessions, whether they are about old movies, William Blake, or the search for eternal life. It's a pity that this book isn't better-known. ...more