First off, this book has THE most awesome cover EVER (or, the most awesome of the ones I can recollect off the top of my head right this minu3.5 stars
First off, this book has THE most awesome cover EVER (or, the most awesome of the ones I can recollect off the top of my head right this minute, in any case). The absence of a prettily dressed lady traipsing through wilderness is particularly encouraging.
This read very much like one of those Guy Richie/Tarantino/Coen Brothers tales of morally reprehensible but still somehow lovable thugs on a rollercoaster ride of mindless violence, quirky characters, absurd happenings which are taken in stride and abrupt twists all set in the midst of the 19th century California gold rush.
Our narrator, Eli Sisters, is one half of the infamous duo of vicious killers, the Sisters Brothers, who are sent off to California by their employer, the Commodore, to eliminate one Hermann Kermit Warm for, allegedly, thieving something from the Commodore. But all Eli really wants is some love and kindness and a peaceful life tending a store somewhere. Whereas his brother Charlie… Well, Charlie likes the things that give spice to life – violence, money, whiskey and sex (not necessarily in that order).
Like the cover, the book is bold and fun but it is also very readable and full of outstanding characters, each with their own story to add to the overall picture. Like I said, it seemed very cinematic in vision, so I am certain it will be coming to a theatre near you very soon. Oh, and I still can't stand westerns. ...more
I needed something starting with A to read for the A to Z book challenge and this has been sitting on my shelf since I went through a frenzy of buyingI needed something starting with A to read for the A to Z book challenge and this has been sitting on my shelf since I went through a frenzy of buying booker shortlisted novels several years ago, back when I was still keen to impress myself and fellow commuters with my reading choices.
The books starts with a funeral of Molly Lane, a member of that happy breed of fabulous women who has a horde of ex and current lovers with all of whom she remains friends. We never learn much else about her but she is not important, since she is merely a plot device and the people who matter are the three ex-lovers who attend her funeral. Every single one of them is a self-absorbed, self-aggrandising selfish snob and they set on their course towards a resolution which is both hilarious and tragic.
I was surprised, because I enjoyed this quite a lot more than I thought I would. I settled on three stars but it's somewhere in between three and four. I didn't expect it to be funny yet it was. Not in an obvious laugh out loud kind of way but the more I think about it the funnier it is. It's a great example of an enjoyable read about despicable people and it's under 200 pages long. ...more
Despite having seen a number of good reviews for this book, I was fully prepared to hate it. This is clearly based on a number of recent widely publicDespite having seen a number of good reviews for this book, I was fully prepared to hate it. This is clearly based on a number of recent widely publicised cases of sexual enslavement such as those of Elizabeth Fritzl and Natascha Kampusch and I have always found the fascination people have with those sorts of crimes extremely distasteful. Yes, it is important that we know about them but the length that the media go to is borderline voyeuristic and you can't help but feel that the victim is being raped all over again through the public portrayal and endless replay of their ordeal for the titillation of the masses.
Yet, somehow, in this book, Ms Donoghue has managed to do the almost impossible and produce a very sensitive and heartbreaking account of the truly horrific. For which all respect to her, as it is not easy to walk that thin line between empathy and fascination with the macabre territory. It has taken some tremendous writing skill and a very unique narrative perspective.
The story is told through the eyes of a five year old boy who is the son of a woman kidnapped at nineteen and trapped in a reinforced garden shed for eight years. It is in this that the author's outstanding talent as a writer is most apparent because throughout the book the narrative voice was entirely convincing as the voice of a very young child. In the confined space of an 11x11" Room that is Jack's world, every object has a name and meaning to the point of being almost sentient. These things are real in a way that TV, mirror images and drawings are not and in a way that makes them very real and heart wrenching to the reader who can see and understand things that Jack cannot.
This was a very worthwhile and challenging read. The subject matter does mean that this would never be my favourite to read and come back to again and again (hence the four stars) but that in no way detracts from the merit of the book, one that is very welcome among the media frenzy and shock factor hype that typically surround these stories....more
Have you ever done one of those big 5000+ piece jigsaw puzzles, ones that can take weeks to complete? When we were younger, my sister used to love theHave you ever done one of those big 5000+ piece jigsaw puzzles, ones that can take weeks to complete? When we were younger, my sister used to love them and I inevitably got suckered into helping her, on occasion. It was engrossing but not straight away. It was a bit frustrating and tedious to begin with, and then all of a sudden you'd find that several hours have passed and you've forgotten to eat but you can't stop, you just need to find that one next piece. This is what the experience of reading this book reminded me of. Completing a jigsaw puzzle, except without the helpful picture that is usually provided with a jigsaw to tell you where the various pieces are supposed to fit, so instead you see the picture emerging very slowly bit by bit and you are not quite sure how the various pieces fit together until the very end.
I was a bit apprehensive about the structure to begin with. All this book within a book within a book nonsense just sounded too convoluted and I didn't expect to enjoy the experience. There are, in fact, at least 5 different narrative strands interwoven in this book. There is the story of Iris and Laura Chase, two sisters growing up at the beginning of the 20th century between the two world wars as told by 83 year old Iris. Then there are descriptions of Iris' present life. I was quite surprised by those. I didn't expect to enjoy descriptions of day to day goings on of an old woman, attempting to do laundry, walking to the cemetery and the doughnut shop and reading the scribbles on the walls of public lavatories, yet I did end up enjoying them a great deal because those passages are so dry, so self-deprecatingly hilarious and reveal so much about Iris as a person. There are also extracts from Laura Chase's novel "The Blind Assassin", published posthumously and describing an affair between two lovers meeting in secret and, within that novel, the lurid fantasy/science-fiction story set on planet Zycron, told by the hero to the heroine, of a blind assassin and a mute sacrificial virgin who fall in love. And finally, there are extracts from obituaries and various other newspaper articles concerning the newsworthy events in Iris' life.
I am still ambivalent about whether this complicated structure works better than a more simple straightforward narrative would have. I did find the story a bit too fractured at times but, perhaps, this is a story that can only be told in this way. Perhaps, that's what gives it its punch. We essentially end at about the same place we start. The narrative is circular and the circle is used as a symbol:
"She’s the round O, the zero at the bone. A space that defines itself by not being there at all. That’s why they can’t reach her, lay a finger on her. That’s why they can’t pin anything on her. She has such a good smile, but she doesn’t stand behind it."
The story that Iris tells is the circle of rock and mountains that she imagines surrounding her, the round dome of the fake sky that suffocates her.
The writing is exquisite. I truly believe that this may well be the most beautifully written book I have read, ever. Atwood has an amazing ability to say something really profound in very few words. This is not a book to be raced through just to find out what happens. Don't expect to be able to finish it quickly, you need a bit of patience, time to pause and to think to truly appreciate this book. There were so many passages that I read and re-read so many times just for the sheer pleasure of reading them. And every so often you come across a paragraph that is so startlingly beautiful, it is almost painful.
"Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence. Time and distance blur the edges; then suddenly the beloved has arrived, and it’s noon with its merciless light, and every spot and pore and wrinkle and bristle stands clear."
"There’s a lipstick heart on the cement, surrounding four initials. An L connects them: L for Loves. Only those concerned would know whose initials they are—that they’ve been here, that they’ve done this. Proclaiming love, withholding the particulars. Outside the heart, four other letters, like the four points of the compass:
F U C K
The word torn apart, splayed open: the implacable topography of sex."
"When I look in the mirror I see an old woman; or not old, because nobody is allowed to be old any more. Older, then. Sometimes I see an older woman who might look like the grandmother I never knew, or like my own mother, if she’d managed to reach this age. But sometimes I see instead the young girl’s face I once spent so much time rearranging and deploring, drowned and floating just beneath my present face, which seems—especially in the afternoons, with the light on a slant—so loose and transparent I could peel it off like a stocking."
"The French are connoisseurs of sadness, they know all the kinds. This is why they have bidets."
"When you're young, you think everything you do is disposable. You move from now to now, crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away. You're your own speeding car. You think you can get rid of things, and people too - leave them behind. You don't yet know about the habit they have, of coming back."
I could go on and on and on.
And then there was Iris. She is so drily amusing and snarky, just the kind of character I usually love. Yet she is so flawed and frustrating at the same time. She seems spineless, she accepts and crumbles. There is no resistance, no spine. Yet, perhaps, this is really a strength rather than a weakness. The strength of grass which bends to the wind and survives where trees are uprooted and destroyed by the hurricane. Does s/he who survives the longest win? Can subsequent actions truly atone for choices and mistakes made? I wonder whether my inability to forgive Iris has to do with the fact that I saw too much of myself in her or the opposite. I don't know. I was never faced with her choices. I would like to think that I would have had the backbone to stand up not just for the people I love but for myself and my own dignity. But would I really? I have pretty much always done what has been expected of me and I do quite often choose the path of least resistance. The only difference is that I grew up in a different time and environment and things that were and are expected of me are quite different to those that were expected of Iris and Laura. When the hero of the Blind Assassin, the novel written by Laura Chase, asks the heroine to leave her home (not quite with him but to wait for him) and she responds with "But I wouldn’t have any money… Where would I live? In some rented room, all by myself?", it is quite easy for me to despise her. But would my own response really have been any different given the same upbringing and social environment? In the end, I don't think Iris really needs our forgiveness. Atonement through the act of writing is not, in my view, what this book is about. It is much more complex than that.
Overall this was a very contemplative and melancholy read. Not easy or quick but very rewarding. A book to fall in love with, word by word and sentence by sentence. Beautifully written, with complex interesting characters, engaging plot and some interesting explorations of the writing process and the motivation behind setting pen to paper. Not for everyone, perhaps, but it is going straight to my favourites shelf. I intend to re-read it when I have a bit more time on my hands as I think it is one of those books that needs to be read more than once. I expect I may even enjoy the second reading more, as I already know what is going to happen and can appreciate the little clues and significant details much better. ...more
This book is fantastic. It has that rare combination of gorgeously rich language and a complex engaging plot full to the brim of diabolical schemes, vThis book is fantastic. It has that rare combination of gorgeously rich language and a complex engaging plot full to the brim of diabolical schemes, villains, thieves, madhouses, violence, lesbians, murder, love, betrayal and the kind of twists that will make your head spin.
It is a story of two girls, Sue and Maud, whose destinies are indelibly linked, though layer upon layer upon layer of deceit will need to be stripped away before it is revealed exactly what that link is.
Sue has been brought up among thieves, though she has been largely sheltered from the harsh realities of life in the poor part of Victorian London by the kind care of Mrs Sucksby, who earns her living by "farming" infants. Sue's life changes when she is drawn into a plot by Gentleman, Richard Rivers, to help him convice Maud Lilly, a rich but simple-minded heiress living in a gloomy country manor with her "scholar" uncle, to run away with him to marry, whereupon Maud would be stripped of her inheritance and deposited in a madhouse for safekeeping.
So the story begins but before too long you find out that practically nothing that you see in the first part is what it seems and there are lots of layers to peel away before we get to the root of it all.
The characters, including the secondary ones like John Vroom and Dainty, the servants at Briar, the nurses and other inhabitants of the madhouse and so on are vividly drawn and fascinating. Really, I do not have enough words to praise this book highly enough, suffice to say that all the glowing reviews (on this site and elsewhere) and accolades that this book has received are richly deserved and if you have not yet read this, you are in for a treat. ...more