I wish my Mandarin were good enough to read the original. Nothing wrong with the translation as far as I'm concerned, but Lao She's descriptions wereI wish my Mandarin were good enough to read the original. Nothing wrong with the translation as far as I'm concerned, but Lao She's descriptions were skillful and eloquent, and I flatter myself that I know enough of the language to imagine how lovely it would be.
The beginning was a bit slow for me. Partly because we were introduced to our hero, Xiangzi, who was portrayed as simple and single minded in his outlook. (Story hit its stride around Ch. 8 and before I knew it, I was on 266 of 299.)
Xiangzi exasperated me in the beginning but as the story continued, he got more and more real -- in that I definitely knew someone like him, and that all these tribulations were definitely what would befall his type... and it was just so unfair.
Not that he was without faults; it was your usual life-is-unfair-and-it-can-always-get-worse-deal-with-it stuff, compounded to life in the early twentieth century in China, which was not exactly kind to laborers like Xiangzi.
To me, there was similar lack of mercy in Rowling's Casual Vacancy and Rickshaw Boy, only Rowling was brutal while Lao She was alternatingly wistful and stark.
There was beauty in the tale of decaying spirit, if only to spur us to strive for a better world. If only....more
I finished the book in a day, which was quite an accomplishment for me these days. Quite an accomplishment for an author, too, especially one I had neI finished the book in a day, which was quite an accomplishment for me these days. Quite an accomplishment for an author, too, especially one I had never read before.
Three days in I'm still searching for what is it exactly that I like about Ms Waters' work. Am still not sure how to articulate it, other than saying I am now devouring Fingersmith with gusto.
That The Night Watch started at the end and progressed backward in time was something that caught my attention early on, seeing as I actually paid attention to Table of Contents for a change. I hadn't had any opinion one way or the other about it but now that I was finished the book, I thought it was a nice choice for the narrative.
You were kept guessing at what happened that put the characters where they were in 1947 and instead of forcing events that should reveal the past, we were taken back to 1944 where Ms Waters wagged her fingers and said, Ah no, not like that. This was what happened.
And then when you were stricken with wistfulness, thinking you should be able to change something, up you went whisked back to 1941 where it all began, where it all went wrong.
I think three pages in I already knew this was going to have the same impact to me as The Flamethrowers did. What's more though, I actually cared about every part of The Night Watch.
If there was a character or two that I didn't really care about it would be Helen. And Julia. Their stories and relationship were intriguing but I didn't care for them, as individuals. I wish we knew a little more about how Kay ended up. I like how things turned out for Duncan and Vivien. Not completely satisfactory but hey, in life, what is?...more
I forgot who it was that recommended this book but I'd like to extend my heartfelt gratitude.
To get the least enjoyable parts out of the way, I'd sayI forgot who it was that recommended this book but I'd like to extend my heartfelt gratitude.
To get the least enjoyable parts out of the way, I'd say it's the technical part that slowed me down somewhat. Kushner is good in limiting exposition to the bare minimum (which is still a lot) but she did not manage to engage -- which is a shame, because I have read other writers below her caliber who can and did get me engrossed in paragraphs of purely technical stuff.
It can be argued that it is a bit convenient that our heroine happens to be documentary filmmaker, able to ski and ride a motorcycle but I'd say Kushner made them interwoven nicely, maybe even naturally, to the story that I would push aside the notion of it being too neat.
The prose though. I gave up keeping a note of beautiful quotes from the book because I wouldn't be able to enjoy reading if I kept stopping to write down my favorites!
The characters are richly drawn that I fancied myself getting a bit uncomfortable seeing people I recognized. Kushner is masterful in fleshing out people and presenting them whole and honestly and hinting at what she personally thinks about each of them.
There is abruptness in her style that I like, all jarringly contrasted with her exquisite sprawling exposition; one of my favorite is the part where our heroine was preparing to do her run on the land speed record race and then the narrative flows into an astonishing story about Nina Simone.
I can't say that I like her alternating between now and then though; the Now being our heroine story and the Then being Valera's story. I don't usually mind this narrative choice (I like being teased as much as the next person) but with The Flamethrowers I felt merely irritated because frankly, I did not care about Valera.
I love the cinematic feels Kushner throws in and she does that with flair. There was a beautiful scene in the middle of a demonstration in Rome, which she chooses to tell via our heroine's viewfinder as she filmed the whole event.
One of the things that initially put the novel in my radar was the fact that one publication I follow called it 2013 Most Controversial Novel. I am not sure what it is about the novel that is controversial other than it is powerful in its insights -- but I do think there is a passage about adolescence crush and innocence that is wonderfully written and chilling in its stark conclusion.
I have always thought that the advantage of fiction is that, when told honestly in rich details, as close as it could be to how it would be if it were real -- it leaves you with a lot to learn from. The Flamethrowers in a prime example, not to mention it gives you a lot of clues to answer some questions the novel raises in you, leaving you thinking and wondering long after you close the book.
One other thing I envy about Rachel Kushner, she managed to get away with not naming her heroine!...more
They advise writers to break the readers' hearts and man, does Ms Waters deliver.
'Fingersmith' tells the tales of two young women, thrown into a schemThey advise writers to break the readers' hearts and man, does Ms Waters deliver.
'Fingersmith' tells the tales of two young women, thrown into a scheme neither was equipped to deal with. In turns, Ms Waters taunts your sense of justice and fair play, toys with your feelings and then splashes her surprise when you barely think she has any.
I love how everyone was out for what they could get in this story, how nuances were worked into speeches and actions—all showcased in the two different narrations of the two main characters. It is wonderful to have characters you want to root for but can't, characters you don't care for and yet understand.
And still, I feel the most for two of the minor characters, Agnes and Charles—both of whom might have ended up flat but for Ms Waters' excellent execution. Mostly I think because they were shown as innocent, the only characters to have such luxury in 'Fingersmith', I should say.
The chapter where Charles showed up and became instrumental in one of the heroines' next move, I think, was one of the scariest chapters I read this year. All along I was going, "This is so fucked up, my God, what book is this!" And then Ms Waters described just how it was some people sunk into madness, not out of despair or anger or other strong emotions—but out of defeat and endless nothingness.
Such excellent writing that I had to put the book down and did some work to escape it!...more