Yes, I know - me again, the unimpressed lone voice in a sea of hype.
First things first: Joe Hill is amazing writer. I plan to read his next b...more2.5 stars
Yes, I know - me again, the unimpressed lone voice in a sea of hype.
First things first: Joe Hill is amazing writer. I plan to read his next book, and the other after that, and the one after that. This has great scene-setting, a fantastic premise, and some intriguing main characters. I particularly loved all the shoutouts to other music, such as Jackson Browne, Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails. It also has one of the creepiest and most beautifully wrought scenes I've read in a book for a long time - the phone call between Jude and Danny. I got chills when Danny admitted that (view spoiler)["I hung myself a couple of hours ago", which ended with Jude poignantly urging Danny "that road must go somewhere." (hide spoiler)] (this happens within the first 30+ pages, but it's under a spoiler tag because it's genuinely one of the chilliest and best-executed moments in the novel.) I thought that Joe Hill and I were in it for the long haul then.
But, frankly, the book starts to lose something gradually. It's incredibly scary, gripping and intense for the first 100 pages or so, but as I began to sense the twist coming, I started resisting the urge to roll my eyes. I hoped for better. Heart-Shaped Box might 'solely' be an incredibly well-executed ghost story, but surely Hill wouldn't go to that particular well for motivation. This is a no-spoilers review, and it's going to stay that way, at least in the sense that I'm willing to bet you can guess the twist solely from what I'm about to tell you, but it's also in close keeping with the novel: Jude's "girlfriend", Florida (Anna), is an incredibly depressed, anorexic wreck, who is the standard sweet-but-stunted-but-haunted young girl who refuses to talk about her past, grew up with an elder sister and a hypnotist stepfather, cuts herself and generally behaves in an unstable and worrying way. She commits suicide in their house. Why did she do this? Go on, guess. Give me three guesses and I'm willing to bet you could get it immediately. I'm going to "spoil" you under spoiler tags, just so you can see how derivative this twist is:
Well, it is. And from the moment that Georgia/Marybeth, Jude's latest goth girlfriend (herself a victim of molestation) leave her house in Georgia, the engine kinda sputters out of this novel. I'm so sick of male writers who think that that's the only way to possibly motivate and/or screw up a female character. Yes, so Jude goes home to confront the demons of his past blah blah blah, with his abusive father whom he tried to escape from his whole life, blah blah blah. Between some predictable and pedestrian plotting and a pretty hokey climax, this novel kinda feels like it ends just after it starts, like Hill had this as an idea for a short story and struggled in expanding it to a satisfying conclusion, feeling that it should be both Epic, supernatural and psychological all at the same time.
Also, this one kinda failed for me in a smaller and more unfair sense, in that the scare didn't really stay with me. In using the twist to absolve Jude of basically any blame, it loses the sense of inevitability and all-encompassing terror that horror can sometimes provoke. Nietzsche's line has been much abused in recent years but it's true: "When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you." Hill creates a fine abyss but, as for the moment in which Jude must look into it, the novel coughs and dies.
Yet, for the incredibly memorable and creepy scenes in the beginning, I think Joe Hill is a massive talent. He has an incredibly interesting way of building character and scene, Jude, Georgia and Danny are all fascinating characters full of potential, well-drawn and intriguing, and Jude's empty rock star life is perfectly encapsulated in the visions of his dead band mates. He seems to introduce a bunch of Chekhov's guns that never come to very much - I was constantly waiting, for instance, for the guitar or the snuff film to have more significance that they originally had, but it never came. So I wish it could have all built to something more sustained and rewarding, but there's no denying Joe Hill's talent. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The Lincoln Lawyer is a strange one for me. My feelings towards this book can be best summed up as - well, I was enamoured with it until I wa...more2.5 stars
The Lincoln Lawyer is a strange one for me. My feelings towards this book can be best summed up as - well, I was enamoured with it until I wasn't.
This was a VERY slow one for me - I read the first 60% in about a week, then I just...stopped. I took a HUGE break and I'm not even sure why. I got into it all right, and I liked Connelly's very matter-of-fact, direct, simple style...until I didn't. I don't really know what changed, but something did. Perhaps this book is just too long? The punchy, no-nonsense style works for a very intense, dramatic book with lots of twists and turns, but frankly this book had too many pages and too few twists and turns to sustain this kind of pace. Therefore, instead of feeling quick and explosive, it was a damp squib, utterly bloodless.
Essentially, it's a by-the-numbers legal thriller. The LA setting invested me to start with, but it's not remotely palpable beyond the odd name-drop of a place - "Boulevard", "Ventura" etc. The main character is a schlub with a conscience (of course he is) and, for all the blurb's promise of him being a "sleazy defence attorney", Connelly keeps everything very black and white by making his opponent, despite being a prosecutor, also a total sleaze and ensuring that, though Mickey does his job, he does it without any relish. He also doesn't do anything particularly controversial or dramatic. There is nothing original about The Lincoln Lawyer - sleazy rich boys, platonic prostitutes, an ex-wife he still loves, a daughter he never sees. You've seen all this before, and Connelly doesn't even seem to be TRYING to add anything new.
The fact that it says "Mickey Haller, #1" up there should already give this away - there's zero sense of danger. Sure, so Mickey occasionally appears like he might be up on a murder charge or that he's pissed off the wrong person, but he's not exactly going to die, go to prison or get disbarred. This is where the punchy style totally fell flat. It should have made the pages fly and instead it just robbed the weak and unoriginal plot of any emotional or dramatic impact. For instance, when Haller figures out (quickly, so this isn't going under spoiler tags) that Roulet isn't the "innocent guy" Haller thinks he is, I don't care, because Connelly didn't give me any reason to care about Roulet's innocence or guilt. It's just a standard legal story - Haller takes a case that should be simple, turns out it's not, somebody he loves dies, gets in too deep and then pulls himself out with the help of minor characters we've seen before.
Yet I can't quite drop the rating all the way because there was SOMETHING in those first pages that kept me turning them. There are good moments and I enjoyed the minor characters like Lorna (where did she go?!), Raul and Gloria. This seems like it's crying out for a film adaptation (I'm not surprised that there was one) because it seems to be begging actors to breathe life into the paper-flat characters, deliver the quick dialogue, set designers and directors to illuminate the Los Angeles setting and a half-decent scriptwriter to flesh out the basic plot. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Connelly. (less)
I am not the person to talk to about this book. It's...okay? Blah. It's not flowery or pretentious - it just is what it is: a book of short, often swe...moreI am not the person to talk to about this book. It's...okay? Blah. It's not flowery or pretentious - it just is what it is: a book of short, often sweet stories about the different (but not all that different) lives of people in Dublin. I think my good rating might have more to do with the fact that I am insanely loaded down with work this week, and I kept looking at Joyce and thinking "uuuuugh" when I thought about reading it, because I thought it would inevitably turn out like "In Memoriam" last week - something I had no time to read and therefore had to half-read, while frantically flipping through the poem and trying to squeeze an essay out of it. But no. I sat down and read it all. Quick, riveting and pretty enjoyable. Though I can't tell if my relief is because, thank you God, it's over and I didn't have to kill myself to read it. (less)
I'm pretty sure that Gillian Flynn writes just for me.
I'm aware of how narcissistic that sounds, but hear me ou...more"Women love vulnerability. Most women."
I'm pretty sure that Gillian Flynn writes just for me.
I'm aware of how narcissistic that sounds, but hear me out: Sharp Objects is so full of things I love that it's impossible for me to properly, objectively judge it.
Like Gillian Flynn, I am obsessed with women who do Very Bad Things. Not in real life - I can't read about real-life killers - but in crime novels. This is especially difficult as crime fiction is, by and large, populated by women who are weak, spineless victims, either there to be raped/tortured/kidnapped/brutally murdered/fall in love with the troubled detective even though she is way out of his league and far more attractive and attentive than he is. If you absolutely loathe this trope, I feel confident in saying that you will like Sharp Objects. Somehow, somewhere, Gillian Flynn is linked to me and she knows that women like me exist - women who roll their eyes whenever the oh-so-hot, intelligent female lead fawns over the broken male detective and devotes herself to putting him back together/having great sex, who shudder through the pages of women being hoodwinked by killers and brutally tortured, who wince with the endless supply of misogynistic killer perspectives.
Sharp Objects is a beacon of extremely dark light in this stuffy genre. Camille Preaker, the washed-up journalist at the centre, is riddled with words that she cut onto her own skin. There is nothing attractive or aspirational about Camille's despair; though she is both pretty and broken, it's obvious that she is not one of those pretty broken women that also populate crime novels, damsels in distress for the male lead to save. There is also a cop, Richard, from Kansas investigating the murders at Windy Gap, and let's face it -- we all know that, at some point, they're going to wind up in bed together. But Flynn is no fool: there's no real blood in the relationship between Camille and Richard, they're both using each other, there are no cliches about their great sex or mad lust for each other.
Their relationship is also not particularly important. I am fascinated with dark and complex mother/daughter relationships and Flynn delivered the goods on this one, too. There's more than a hint of Southern gothic - though they're in Chicago - about the "bond" between Camille and Adora, which has become frayed and knotted by the death of Camille's younger sister, Marion, when she was thirteen, their huge rotting mansion and Camille's thirteen-year-old sister, Amma, a kind of Lolita parody. This is all about relationships between women. My favourite scenes were between the groups of women who were friends as teenage girls and have grown up into a bizarre clique of bitchy, hypocritical yet dead-on women, from Jackie and her gang of fifty-something boozers to Katie and her little group of sanctimonious, gossipy mothers. Their conversations have a superb rhythm and are full of intricacies and realism.
The best thing about Sharp Objects is the atmosphere. I love books set in small American towns - I'm obsessed with "Twin Peaks" and "American Gothic" for those reasons - and books set in less-exposed areas of America (i.e. not L.A., Boston or New York), which is why I'm obsessed with "The Killing." I also love the dusty, drab yet strangely quaint atmosphere of Windy Gap, full of totally bizarre yet realistic characters who loll around bars and big houses all day, being very cruel to one another and themselves. There is also something totally evocative yet oppressive about it, vivid and gritty. Creepy is the perfect word for Sharp Objects; it's one of those get-under-your-skin novels, and that it does. There is a kind of totality to Sharp Objects; from minor characters to the narcissistic and spoiled Meredith, girlfriend of the prime suspect, to her boyfriend (prime suspect mostly because of his un-masculine reaction to his little sister's brutal murder, i.e. crying) and the endless conversations of the little female cliques. Gillian Flynn seems totally devoted to her subject, and it's a joy to read.
It's not perfect, though. Perhaps more flawed than I'm willing to admit, because, as you can probably tell from the review, this is one of these books that hit me hard and give me just what I want. Gillian Flynn is a great writer, full of chilly restraint - (“Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom. I have known so many sick women all my life. Women with chronic pain, with ever-gestating diseases. Women with conditions. Men, sure, they have bone snaps, they have backaches, they have a surgery or two, yank out a tonsil, insert a shiny plastic hip. Women get consumed.”; "Sometimes I think I won't ever feel safe until I can count my last days on one hand.") but the plot is somewhat underdeveloped, despite the great characters and atmosphere.
The main meat of what happened to Camille's sister Marion was immediately obvious to me (view spoiler)[Munchausen's by Proxy, that is (hide spoiler)] so it annoyed me that it took Camille so long to figure out the same thing. Although Flynn genuinely surprised me with the final twist (view spoiler)[that Amma, not Adora, was behind the killings, (hide spoiler)], which was fitting and perfect. The epilogue felt rushed, with a lot of things crammed into few short pages. I would have liked to see more time spent on Camille's cutting because that was the only aspect of the novel that felt something like shock value to me - more, "oh, look how damaged my protaganist is!" than a genuine exploration of what it meant to be that damaged, if it makes sense, more like a character quirk (as though thousands of scars spelling out words were something 'quirky' and 'fun' like pink hair or hipster clothes). Still, I loved this book and it is highly recommended for anyone who is sick of formulaic crime novels.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Mrs. Dalloway is an easy book to admire, but it's not an easy book to like or - dare I say it? - love. At least, not to me.
It is a series of vignettes...moreMrs. Dalloway is an easy book to admire, but it's not an easy book to like or - dare I say it? - love. At least, not to me.
It is a series of vignettes. This is the first problem I had with it - I couldn't help but feel that Woolf tried to do so much, using a frame that was more like a series of interconnected short stories than a true whole. Was that the point? Perhaps the fragmented narrative was supposed to show the disconnection between the characters, the intense internal world that most of them inhabited vs. the real world that they were all wandering through. Still, I couldn't help but feel that that idea was best suited to a collection of short stories. I've seen a lot of people praising Woolf's insight, the way that she can encapsulate a broad range of emotions. Yet that was my fundamental problem with "Mrs. Dalloway" as a novel. The range is so broad, so sprawling, that it almost undermines the true moments of insight, such as the almost awful segment from Miss Kilman's perspective; her relentless binge-eating, as a comfort from a life of disappointments and shortcomings, is so viciously but brilliantly rendered that it had me cringing in my seat, but the impact of it felt lessened by the fact that I'd waded through 150+ pages before then of quite samey characters with quite samey narratives.
As I was saying, I liked "Mrs. Dalloway" in parts. The title is strange; it's not just a character study. Well, not one character. There are multiple characters, all of whom get quite similar moments in the limelight. The focus is more intensely honed on Peter Walsh or Septimus than Clarissa Dalloway herself. In addiiton to this, "Mrs. Dalloway" felt overlong to me. Despite being fairly short, it felt like a total slog to get through in parts. Although it takes a broad scope (the rich, the poor, the lucky and unlucky are all swept over by Woolf to a greater or lesser degree), most of the characters reflect on their predicaments in very similar. There are long memories of how their lives were; ruminations on how their lives are; loving evocation of London around them; more reflecting on the past; some unfair judgement of those around them; a brief, confusing topic shift and then a melodramatic high point punctuated by an exclamation mark!
Again, maybe Woolf is making a point about how all characters, whether rich, poor, shell-shocked or smug cycle through the same thoughts, how people really are alike all over. Still, this just felt so repetitive - the repetition is clever to begin with, showing how the same thoughts recur (Clarissa's hatred of Miss Kilman was great), but in the end, it just becomes a drag - and done in such an overlong, overheated way that I couldn't bring myself to care for any sustained period of time. Forget beating a dead horse -- Woolf pulps it. That brings me back to the scope and range of "Mrs. Dalloway": the emotions that the "Mrs. Dalloway" covers are, by nature, intense. But the length of the novel and the number of characters diffuses the intensity to such a degree that I just feel weary and irritated by it all. This is compounded by the fact that it covers a single day; the characters have thoughts that are strung together in a fairly coherent whole, but they are split up over a range of 20 pages before we return to them, which means that I can hardly remember it all.
I guess I was just too stupid for the deeper meanings of "Mrs. Dalloway."
Still, the setting of London is lovingly and evocatively told, and the final conversation between Sally Seton and Peter Walsh is lovely, a perfect encapsulation of what it feels like to meet people that you haven't seen in years, and - I imagine - what age must feel like. The book as a whole is sad but not morbid, both 'life-affirming' and affecting. The humour is fantastic - I found myself laughing out loud at some parts, but I wish it could have shown up with a little more frequency. In parts, the prose is so true that it actually hurts. My favourite section, without a doubt, is the final one:
"I will come," said Peter, but he sat for a moment. What is this teror? what is this ecstasy? he thought to himself. What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement? It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was.(less)