I don't really have time to write a full review (in fact, I'm waiting until I finish reading another book--Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn--because I tI don't really have time to write a full review (in fact, I'm waiting until I finish reading another book--Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn--because I think it'll make an excellent joint comparison), but here are some stray thoughts.
So I was pleasantly surprised by "A Thousand Splendid Suns." Hosseini sidesteps and even irons out a lot of the faults that were so glaringly evident in his renowned "Kite Runner." The melodrama that plagued "Runner" vanishes here, for the most part, and not only does that do justice to the incredibly important story he has on his hands, but increases the realism and effectiveness of it. His sporadic tonal shifts in "Runner," were incredibly jarring for me, especially as they grew more frequent towards the falling action. But "Suns" is nearly seamless in that regard, flowing well.
"Kite Runner" has actually grown on me over time... I'll get to that, too.
The relationship between two women in this novel anchors it, the heart of the story. Miriam was the standout character of the group.
Hosseini has a gift for prose-- it sparkles. He also brings Middle Eastern culture into the literary mainstream, which is a powerful thing.
The theme of home settles over the pages with deft, poignant, grace... an especially meaningful thing for readers with immigrant parents. ...more
Cute. Really, really cute. Very realistically depicts coming into your own, eliminating fear as you gravitate into adulthood, and the fandom-friendlyCute. Really, really cute. Very realistically depicts coming into your own, eliminating fear as you gravitate into adulthood, and the fandom-friendly core should prove really appealing to millenials... I found the Harry Potter-esque Simon Snow to be hilarious, right down to the "homoerotic subtext." One tiny thing that irked me was that Harry Potter itself was mentioned, even in passing... because Simon Snow wouldn't survive in a Harry Potter world; in fact, it would probably have been sued for plagiarism. My favorite part of the book is its dismissal of several YA/NA (if NA is still even a thing) tropes. For one thing, it doesn't succumb to the whole virginal heroine/bad boy/evil succubus cast of characters. It was likewise pleasant to see strong female characters who are simultaneously unabashed in their vulnerabilities; very refreshing. I found Eleanor and Park, Rowell's previous novel, slightly overrated, and the same might be said for Fangirl-- but it's a pleasant, unoffensive, and fairly enjoyable read. ...more
I love The Oatmeal and was mildly amused by this. It lacked the poignancy of "The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distance" and the infoI love The Oatmeal and was mildly amused by this. It lacked the poignancy of "The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distance" and the informativeness of "Why the mantis shrimp is my favorite animal," but it was funny. ...more
Exhausting, frustrating, and built of prose that's polished to the point of impenetrability, this much-lauded novel is also consuming, immersive, andExhausting, frustrating, and built of prose that's polished to the point of impenetrability, this much-lauded novel is also consuming, immersive, and occasionally-- shaking off its pretentiousness with a rousing twitch of the head-- indelibly profound. This is a tough nut to crack, but it works better if you view it as a series of novellas compounded into a whole, as a veritable, contemporary Proust. The novel is also bound by intertextual devices that it wields proudly, from the sophistication of Proust and Dickens (the latter especially, the book wears the skin of Great Expectations) to the vices of Fear and Loathing. The book is exhaustive, running on for a good 300 pages that it doesn't need-- the prose is beautiful, sure, Tartt's writing is lovely to read; however the gloss provided a glare that proves distracting for about the first half of this book, in which the protagonist is still an adolescent. The descriptions of New York especially are lovely and Las Vegas contrastingly and necessarily dry-- the novel is quirk of juxtapositions, the separate facets not always gelling together smoothly, dragging on as Tartt doesn't reach a discernible "point." The last fifteen pages or so feel tacked on, almost like the transcript of a graduate student defending a thesis, but work to shed some much needed light. Tartt, frustratingly, keeps us at a distance from her characters and relishes in unnecessary tangents that almost make the work feel episodic, but for the right kind of reader, it might be worth it (especially art lovers). There's a lack of intimacy, a sense of distance here, but for the type of reader who doesn't require building an intimate relationship with the author of the work--much like an art lover who appreciates a painting simply for what it meant for the hand that created it--this should prove a (lengthy, time-consuming) treat. ...more
Lockhart's style is extremely lyrical and takes considerable narrative license with a style that borders on free-verse poetry--the execution works outLockhart's style is extremely lyrical and takes considerable narrative license with a style that borders on free-verse poetry--the execution works out in that it creates a haze-like atmosphere that suits the narrator, but it didn't so much engage me as it does detach. What else? Lockhart's statements about wealth aren't exactly bold, but those about tragedy, especially those towards the end, were fascinating. She kept me turning pages, and alright, I swallowed the twist at the end. I'll buy it, although I couldn't help feeling like she cheats with her narrative at some points to make the twist feel more surprising. It's interesting, and other than the typical teenage characters who think they know everything, I'd say it's on the highbrow side of YA-lit. My biggest problem with the novel is that I never really cared about the characters I was reading about, and while it's hard to care for characters in a book that deals with greed so heavily, it's not impossible, and it was hard to become emotionally invested in any of them.
Overall, a smart, readable novel for the YA set. ...more
Reading J.K. Rowling’s writing for adult audiences reminds me irresistibly of bumping into grade-school teachers on the street. There’s the obvious coReading J.K. Rowling’s writing for adult audiences reminds me irresistibly of bumping into grade-school teachers on the street. There’s the obvious comparison, of course, which is not having to pretend that sex and crass language don’t exist anymore, realizing your former educator is an actual human being, an experience, for some, that can feel surreal. If you’re really lucky, of course, you make friends with your old teacher, have coffee together. You start to view them complexly. Now that you’ve made it to the other side you realize that you quite like the aging pedagogue’s sense of humor. They’ve got depth to them.
And I think that’s a better mindset to have then others seem to, which, from the much more lauding critic’s perspective is that Rowling is “evolving” as a writer, and to the distaste of fans, that she’s “changing.” Not really. I think that she’s always been like this, not that she’s always demonstrated the other shades of her as a writer with Harry Potter, just as a grade school teacher wouldn't as a person—she’s an author with a taste for wry, satiric overtones, dark humor, twists on classic styles, and a nasty predilection for writing about bad people, very bad people. And that’s not such a terrible thing, because this book has got one or two good people that keep you turning pages. Rowling is an author with a masterful command of pathos, for drawing people in, her antihero just heroic enough and her mystery just traditional enough to hook readers, who are then subjected to creative and occasionally inspired workings of her mind.
A lot of people don’t like the style of this “new Rowling,” and I can get why. But I feel fortunate to be among those who genuinely do. Her writing is incredibly cozy—a lot of complaints are towards her prose, which is definitely wordy. But it’s fun to get lost in, in the same way a Dickens novel is. It’s very bookish; her writing reminds me why I love reading. But it’s Dickens for a contemporary audience, which is actually a lot better in practice than it sounds in theory. Her style is Dickensian, alright, and utterly literary, but it’s edged subtly with a very black, very frank sense of humor. In the hands of a less-apt writer it would come off as circumlocutory; but Rowling knows her syntax and revels in every turn of phrase, the result being really satisfying to delve into. Her satiric flair is really highlighted by her writing style—her descriptions of people are deliciously fun to read, because like I said, under the eye of Rowling, no type of person is safe from her critical and observing eye.
And that gets us into the plot of this model—murder. Murder you'll find in any mystery, the screen versions much sexier, but harking back to the classic mystery novel from the days of Christie and Poirot, Rowling weaves a story that goes above and beyond the conventions of the genre. The mystery is not only meaty, twisty, and complex, but it’s also as strong a satire as it is a work of detective fiction. One of the things I talked about in my review of The Cuckoo’s Calling was just how much I enjoyed the socioeconomic backdrop of the book; the contrast between the exploration of high society as well as that of the impoverished class, the homeless, the destitute, and the not-so-glamorous. The dynamics explored were a lot similar to the ones in The Casual Vacancy, which wasn’t as successful, and that made me nervous as I wondered if it would be the same in her follow-up. It wasn’t—isn’t.
And it’s a lot better than I could have hoped. Rowling knows what it’s like to be poor, and what it’s like to be rich and among socialites and Hollywood big-shots, but she also knows quite a bit about the colorful characters of the publishing industry. This isn’t an area that’s explored that much, either because existing writers lack the skill to do so, or considering the irony of the industry that’s publishing it, the bravery, but Rowling is Rowling for God’s sake and does so not only fearlessly but with aplomb. The thing that I can see this series being known for in the future—well, the other thing, is the fact that it’s characterized by such a deep exploration of different worlds, this one of publishing. One writing skill that Rowling doesn’t get to show off much is her one for world-building, but her argument is, apparently, why need to? Since reality holds such delectably vicious worlds for her to unmask. And some of the characters here play with that adjective a lot. The archetypes, such as those of agent—played here by the cold and chain-smoking Elizabeth Tassel—are interesting, but even more fascinating is that of writer.
This book earns itself a lot of positive praise—exceptional, fun, witty, dark—but I’m reserving “brilliant” in the area where the book really deserves it, and that’s in Rowling’s commentary on what it’s like to be a writer. The writers in this book are self-absorbed, egotistical, prone to dramatics but not so much decent writing. Rowling really has fun in her dissection of these different caricatures of what could only be people from personal experience. Bombyx Mori is the title of Owen Quine’s unpublished last book—the victim of the novel’s central murder—and the end death scene mirrors his own grisly killing. Quine himself thinks more of his writing than his sales (or reviews) warrant, and is overly fond of symbols. I found Michael Fancourt to be the novel's most enjoyable character to read about, perhaps due to the fact that he represents the “famous writer,” something Rowling undoubtedly knows a lot about being. It could be said that he’s her alter-ego, in regards to his thoughts on being famous and criticisms, status and writing; if anything, he was a great conduit for some of Rowling’s more nasty, more clever, thought processes. I found one character’s commentary on his work (“Fancourt can't write women…he tries but he can't do it. His women are all temper, tits and tampons.”) to be an amusing jab at male writers trying to write from female perspectives. Rowling has no trouble being in the flipped situation; Cormoran Strike is such a fully-realized protagonist that I think she could have hid under the guise of Robert Galbraith had she pleased. Rowling isn’t particularly nice to these different types of writers that we encounter. Any character unfortunate enough to stick around for more than a page or two can’t dodge her scrutinizing gaze, Rowling’s sharp and entertaining irreverence. I’m going to reiterate another thing that I brought up in my review of this novel’s predecessor, which is that we’re not meant to like these characters, Cormoran and Robin being the exceptions. The thrill of Harry Potter is loving the characters as much as the world, but that’s not on Rowling’s—or at least Galbraith’s—agenda. Rowling makes some challenges to the publishing industry at large as well, ones that I think are pretty relevant, most notably that of the lack of respectable representation in modern lit. Why don’t we see more transgendered characters, for one? Why don’t we see any transgendered characters?
Rowling loves to inundate her work with a look at the various trappings of human morality, going deeper here, one surprisingly contemplative chapter catching onto a thread left by the last book, Strike dealing with the aftermath of an unhealthy relationship, which was well-explored there and can occasionally grow wearing here. It builds on the revelations of the other characters (Strike recalls what Fancourt touts earlier in the book, that “love is a mirage, a chimera”), mulling on the toll that love takes on identity in a surprisingly bleak and thoughtful manner. Rowling is a writer with the observational skills and the prowess to toy with the reader’s emotion in whatever way she wishes; but she’s a plot-driven writer, and from the way she sees it, writing is a lot more than attaching your readers to your books by a mere manipulation of pathos—that’s the skill set of a much less artful writer.
And while it’s a rule of thumb that you should never have to explain your work, Rowling almost does just that here. "Bombyx Mori" literally translates to “the silkworm,” whose silk, the book points out, isn’t retrieved by the web-spinning some lovingly and falsely misconceive into public knowledge. Silkworms are boiled. It’s meant to be a metaphor for the plight of the writer, that they must go through great pain and suffering before something beautiful can be produced. It’s a hell of a metaphor; Rowling goes beyond that and studies what’s wrong about modern writers (“with the invention of the Internet, any subliterate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani”)—suggesting these flaws can seem like a conceited thing to do, but when you’re as so obviously not-subliterate as Rowling is, it’s legitimized. Especially when it’s as entertainingly done as it is here. And it really emphasizes what a phenomenal writer she is. Rowling really immerses herself in the craft of writing—she doesn’t just spit away unbridled passion onto a page. She takes her love of the medium and creates a well-made novel. This one in particular really emphasizes what a phenomenal writer she is. Three-dimensional characters, flawless prose, on-the-nose genre details, and a thought-provoking question here or there. It’s highbrow and it’s not highbrow. It’d be an insult to call her a mix of Dickens and King, as she’s so sincerely Rowling. Or Galbraith. This name-game is growing tiring.
Working for the highbrow side of things is the incorporation of Latin phrases and verse, quotes from classical plays and stories that remind us that modern tragedy is only modern because it occurs in the present, and that’s the sort of perspective that to some degree makes Rowling feel like the time-travelling author. Then, working for the not-so-highbrow (and perhaps I only note the distinction because this book is as satisfying as a guilty pleasure) is the riotous humor, contrasted so starkly by the black and tongue-in-cheek. Rowling knows how to keep us turning pages as well—there’s not a dull moment in the book. I mentioned “cozy,” meaning that the reader is given a chance to relish the novel unfolding before them, and that’s a difference that I can’t emphasize enough, which a more novice writer would have trouble not making dull or slow. These pauses are varied by hands-clamped-to-seat-edge-level moments (who knew that Rowling could write car chases? I mean, swap car for broomstick and you’ve got your answer). Filling the pauses is the sweet, growing relationship between Strike and Robin. This isn’t a stilted relationship, the biggest flaw of the episodic novel. It grows professionally, it grows in terms of their friendship, and it’s compelling. It’s funny. It’s not overtly complex, but it’s a welcome relief from the cast of unlikeable characters that permeate the rest of the book.
There are twists, there are turns, and there will be vocalized gasps—with a mystery as layered as this one, the seasoned mystery reader may be able to guess some developments, but Rowling is killer with a red-herring and you’ll doubtlessly emerge from the pages with your brain tried and tested. It’s a genuinely good mystery that plays with social dynamics adroitly. Say what you will about Rowling’s writing, I can’t imagine someone giving up in this book without dying to know what happens. Personally, I prefer the big reveal at the end of Cuckoo’s Calling a bit more, but there was more high concept there, as well as camouflage. But that doesn’t detract from the thrill of the way events unfold here.
This, this is the kind of book that reminds me why I love reading. It’s not fervor-inducing, the type of literary fire that creates by-the-billions fanbases. J.K. Rowling showed me, long ago, the astronomical limit to which a person could love a book, and with this, she’s reminded me why I love doing it more than anything else, with a warm, curl-up by the fire kind of read. In a culture that has recently been swept up in a visual mania, as evidenced by the recent Golden Age in television, this is a phenomenal reminder of why books do a better job of getting us to escape than any other medium, to get us to empathize, to get us to think—when they’re done well of course. My hope is that Rowling keeps showing me again and again why I love to read (and I’ll be here, waiting for the assuredly good third Cormoran Strike novel), and if the day should ever come that she realizes that she misses her wand and broomstick, or anything in the fantasy world at all, I don’t think I’ll be the only one highly anticipating the reminder....more