This is the first full length Dickens that I've read as an adult--(I vaguely recall reading Great Expectations in high school but I honestly have no vThis is the first full length Dickens that I've read as an adult--(I vaguely recall reading Great Expectations in high school but I honestly have no vivid recollections of it)--and I have to say I was quite surprised at just how engaging and lively the writing is. I had resisted Dickens for so long because of a lack of interest in what I assumed would be another stodgy, over-sentimental, Victorian era writer. I have to admit, I was both wilfully ignorant and seriously misguided in my prejudging. There is very little to carp about and so much to recommend in this novel.
First, the characters, for which Dickens is justifiably renowned for. This novel exceeds in that department: with the delightful nurse, Pegotty, the comical and deeply touching Mr and Mrs Micawber, the stubborn but eminently good hearted Betsy Trotwood, the despicable Murdstones, the charismatic but flawed Steerforth, the lovable Traddles and the ghoulish Uriah Heep-the novel is veritable who's who list of iconic fictional personalities. All are expertly drawn and each have a recognizable voice in the masterful and frequently hilarious dialogue.
The story itself is biographical and chronological in nature and therefore doesn't have the natural twists and turns that a more event based story might have. But Dickens manages to leaven the title character's evolution from helpless newborn to wise, successful author with enough conflict and surprising events that it never becomes dull or methodical. Though we know Copperfield's outcome in advance, there are many periods in the story where the obstacles seem so insurmountable that the reader truly fears for his well being. This is especially true in his fraught and difficult childhood which at times is almost unbearably miserable. (No doubt intensified by Dicken's dipping into his own personal childhood history for this section.) When Copperfield makes a critical decision early on to escape this hell--and succeeds with the help of his surprisingly big-hearted aunt--it comes as a relief to the reader, though it does lessen the intensity of the storytelling from that point on.
The story then becomes more episodic in nature as we observe the character obtain the wisdom and life experience necessary to eventually mature and thrive, while still having to stickhandle through the requisite setbacks that occur along the way. Most of the major characters introduced early on make repeated appearances throughout the story which can seem overly contrived, though it may also be pointing out that Copperfield does exist in the more rarified upper-middle class of a London much smaller than it is today.
There are other contrivances, however, that do somewhat mar the potential realism for today's reader (though no doubt they were almost a requirement in the writing of that period). When David falls for his first great love, Dora, there is no sense of why he is so besotted by this rather naive simpleton. Dickens merely tries to convince the reader with lots of repetition and exclamation marks. Most of the female characters--and especially David's love interests--are rather opaque and suggest a weakness in creating viable women who aren't necessarily eccentrics like his beloved nurse or his aunt.
Another, last quibble. The big climactic storm near the end felt very much like a deus ex machina, and the sad thing is that it wasn't even necessary. Though it does wrap up a couple of the secondary character's fates it would have been completely acceptable to leave their stories unresolved since they had little bearing on the protagonist's ultimate fortunes.
In the end the good characaters are, for the most part, rewarded and the bad characters suitably punished. I didn't mind this too much as it was achieved in, for the most, a believable fashion, with the exception of the silly storm. Overall, Dicken's vaunted humanity shines through the vivid descriptions of 19th century England and the colourful dialogue of the wondrous characters.
I guess I am now a confirmed Dickens fan--better late than never. Next up: Bleak House....more
A fascinating if somewhat mind bending overview of the truly bizarre and non-intuitive nature of cosmic space-time and general relativity. This came oA fascinating if somewhat mind bending overview of the truly bizarre and non-intuitive nature of cosmic space-time and general relativity. This came out a few years after Hawking's notoriously dense Brief History of Time, and Kip Thorne--a colleague of Hawking--may have intended this to be the slightly warmer and fuzzier version that a lay-person could get through without going into mental spasms.
It is, in fact, surprisingly readable,and is stocked with helpful diagrams and illustrations to guide the reader through material that can seem incomprehensible at times. After a catchy opening on board a space ship that "time-travels" to the largest black hole in the universe, we learn about Newton, Einstein, Oppenheimer, quantum gravity, weak and strong forces, space-time, wormholes and various other juicy concepts that unite and divide Star Trek fans the world over.
There's even some small solace for those who fear the inevitable end of our atomic matter one day getting sucked into the inescapable maw of a singularity. You see, black holes also die--albiet slowly. Yay. ...more
Set in contemporary Toronto, this is a very simple, spare novel about a devoted jazz musicologist attempting to express and embody the sublime spiritSet in contemporary Toronto, this is a very simple, spare novel about a devoted jazz musicologist attempting to express and embody the sublime spirit of his favourite recording--John Coltrane's titular work--in the form of an in depth review. Along the way, the writer has a curiously evolving relationship with a female neighbour which never develops into a romance despite an unexpressed sexual tension. The witer experiences a profound spiritual epiphany during one final extended listen to the jazz piece that has become his central obsession.
I have to disclose that it was awhile back that I read the novel and I don't completely remember how it ended, and I don't own a copy. However, I kind of recall that it pretty much just ends shortly after his epiphany. I think he finishes the review but doesn't get the girl.
Overall, the story is very thin and somewhat unresolved but has a poetic resonance, a definite soulfullness and manages to convey the characters increasing obsession with the object (the music) of his review, as well as what as the personality of the music itself. There are also some nice descriptive passages of the character's College St neighbourhood in central Toronto which, as a Toronto native myself, is appreciated due to its rarity.
I would recommend this novel to jazz devotees, artsy Torontonians and writers....more
When Canadian poet and broadcaster Mona Gould passed away in 1999 she left behind 38 boxes of unsorted documents, letters, notebooks and personal minuWhen Canadian poet and broadcaster Mona Gould passed away in 1999 she left behind 38 boxes of unsorted documents, letters, notebooks and personal minutia detailing nearly every facet of her long, tumultuous life. The task of organizing this vast and intimidating jumble into a researchable collection fell into the hands of the only person who could really make sense of it all - her somewhat reluctant granddaughter and author of this work, Maria Meindl.
"Outside the Box" is the author's own journey through this Borgesian labyrinth of personal details, and the six year struggle to piece it together into a coherent and functional archive for the University of Toronto's research library. Part biography and part personal revelation, the book offers a wonderful depiction of Mona Gould's career during an eventful period, starting in depression era Canada and continuing on for the better part of half a century. We're given remarkably vivid and evocative portrayals of Southern Ontario life during this turbulent era, and a rich portrait of the enigmatic, fiercely independent, larger than life figure that struggled and (largely) succeeded in the midst of it all. Many of the poems are reprinted in their full text (some with annotations) - including her most famous wartime work, "This Was my Brother," a poem familiar to many Canadians during and after World War 2.
For the historical elements alone this book is a unique and worthy addition to Canadian literary culture. But the additional depth and intrigue is the author's own ambivalence at both the burden of having to sort the massive archives and her own changing impressions of the grandiose, perpetually yarn-spinning matriarch who had essentially groomed the author for the onerous task of preserving her proud but diminishing legacy.
Of course, many secrets were contained in those boxes and their unveiling brought about some offputting disparities for the author between the storytelling persona who was always "on" for her public and audience - even if her "audience" was a rapt youngster hanging on on every word - and the more complex, contradictory person kept largely hidden from view. The myriad juxtapositions between secrets and omissions, the real and the remembered, the acted and the actual and what it all meant for the author's evolving understanding of this beguiling and elusive character, are as deftly balanced as a Calder mobile.
There is much to praise and reflect on in these pages, not the least of which is the role of forgiveness in our regard for the departed and the author's own admiration for a life fully seized with nothing held back. ...more
I have to say I was disappointed with this one, my first foray into the catalogue of this daring, remarkably prolific, writer. Now, I realize it's hisI have to say I was disappointed with this one, my first foray into the catalogue of this daring, remarkably prolific, writer. Now, I realize it's his first novel and he's working with a high concept, sci-fi story with some pretty high-fallutin ideas about primordial dream states and global warming, but still, it should have been more engaging and richer in content. The characters are all cut-outs and precious little is ever revealed about any of them. It's just hard to care about characters when they're not much more than names followed by random actions, and/or wooden dialogue. The men are all repressed, stiff-upper lip, military types and the only female character isn't much more than a dress dummy with maybe 6 lines of dialogue in the entire novel.
Anywho, the world is flooded at some point of the 21st century due to solar activity and a small band of scientists and military facilitators are left to pick up survivors from the submerged cities and flee to Greenland where the only civilization remains. I should point out that it was written in 1962 so the idea is quite visionary and spookily prescient, even if the scientific causes are different than what is commonly imagined today. The action centres within the jungle like lagoons that have spread over what used to be London. The main character, Doctor Kerans decides to abandon his surveying mission just before the scheduled departure, and remain holed up in a makeshift hotel he has rendered habitable for at least a few months, possibly a year. His former flame, Beatrice, lives conveniently across the lagoon in a similar jury rigged set-up. Our Stoic Couple have sparse interactions that do not culminate in anything romantic, despite her alluring beauty and lots of longing gazes. (Perhaps this was brave of the author because it would have been tres predictable...)
Along the way some of the survivors have begun falling victim to primordial dream states triggered by the excessive heat and humidity and the appearance of some very large iguanas. One scientist is so overcome by this recurring vision that he flees into the surrounding jungle in order to live it fully. The military team go after him for no apparent reason, then decide to bail and hot foot it to Greenland without our Stoic Couple in tow.
After a time of relative tranquility for Stoic Couple, a gang of pirates, led by a charismatic Barnum and Bailey type demagogue, show up in a converted riverboat/floating casino, and proceed--with some help from their congregation of highly obedient alligators--to make life unpleasant. They manage to drain part of London and set to looting stores, stealing monuments and generally creating mayhem as unencumbered pirates in a lawless world are want to do. Some more unlikely stuff happens, the military returns to rescue Couple and there's a good deal of heavy philosophizing and moralizing about mankind's primeval state, how our prehistoric past is actually embedded in our DNA, and how easily it could be triggered by the right conditions. Frankly, it all comes off as bit too arch and on the nose metaphorical.
However, there's a very cool earlier scene involving a deep sea dive into a submerged planetarium, and it's easily the most vivid and poetic scene in the novel, a kind of Death and Transfiguration moment for the main character, the ultimate epiphany where something so profoundly spiritual happens that it feels like entering the vault of heaven. He survives, of course. (turns out his air hose got stuck in a doorway...) It's a stunningly beautiful moment and the clearest example of why "Show, don't tell" is the best three word axiom in the English language. Alas, Ballard spends most of the novel telling and not showing.
If not for that one scene I would have rated this 2 stars. If the whole book had been that good I would have given it 5. ...more
**spoiler alert** Certainly not the easiest novel to wade through, but it does reward the patient reader with its blend of whimsy, political allegory,**spoiler alert** Certainly not the easiest novel to wade through, but it does reward the patient reader with its blend of whimsy, political allegory, alternative/parallel worlds, dystopian satire and vivid, highly surreal imagery and crackling dialogue (with an alternative vernacular that takes some getting used to). Think John Irving and Russel Hoban filtered through the lens of Terry Gilliam.
It's a complex, sprawling, coming of age tale, told in the first person by the titular "hero", Tristan Smith, a horribly disfigured dwarf whose life we follow from gut wrenching birth to middle age. It is divided into two roughly equal halves, one for each of the imaginary countries--Efica and Voorstand--that the story inhabits. Efica feels like a stand in for New Zealand/Australia while Voorstand is an obvious, if exaggerated version of the United States. Much is made of Voorstand's cultural and political domination of the quirky island nation of Efica, with much of the action likely based loosely on real events that occurred between these two regions.
The story begins, logically, with Tristan's ghastly, painful birth to his brave, willful mother, Felictiy Smith, the creator and director of an alternative theatre community in the fictional city of Chemin Rouge, Efica. The birth itself begins appropriately enough during a performance of Macbeth and ends at hospital bedside where doctors helpfully encourage her to let them dispose of the abomination. Felicity relents, showing her defiant, combative nature, and raises the child within her insular theatre world. She is perhaps one of the great female characters in contempory literature and manages to hold this disparate world of alternative, agit-prop theatre, it's cast of unusual characters and the narrative itself. A trio of men hover around her--only one of which can be the biological father--but who all act in some way as surrogate fathers at different periods of the story. Of these three, the stage manager and sometime thief, Wally, becomes the most subtle and fully formed character and the only character aside from Tristan who appears throughout the entire story.
The book is strongest when Felicity is at the centre as she is such a radiant and magnetic figure. Regrettably she is only present in the first half, as she falls victim to dark political machinations that form much of the twisting narrative. The second half mostly takes place in Voorstand when Tristan is an adult and has recovered emotionally from his mother's abrupt and shocking death. The novel never quite recovers its balance after her loss, despite the addition of several new characters one of whom, Jacques/Jaquie is another enticing, and unusualy quirky female character.
The depiciton of Voorstand itself is remarkably original and vivid, especially its dazzling and intoxicating mass culture creation, The Sirkus--a kind of surreal hybrid of Cirque de Soleil and live 3D video games. Things get very complex and twisted by the end as a number of interwoven stories conclude in often unexpected ways. A denouement is provided as a kind of epilogue and it's not entirely satisfying as it feels a bit bland after all the fireworks preceding it.
But I have to commend the author, Peter Carey for putting so much effort and imagination into this story. He successfully creates believable, alternative societies with their own mythologies and rituals, as well as memorable, multi faceted characaters. His use of language is witty, vivid and economical. Beautiful, descriptive prose abounds, as well as witty dialogue, replete with an invented vernacular that adds to the depth and texture of the fictional worlds.
I would recommend this novel to keen readers who like to be challenged by complex material and who may have an interest in world culture, mass media, political history and theatre, as well as a taste for the surreal and the unusual. ...more
This book had me scratching my head throughout as does the mostly positive commentary on this board. The thing is, I'm not convinced that Ms Bowles caThis book had me scratching my head throughout as does the mostly positive commentary on this board. The thing is, I'm not convinced that Ms Bowles can actually write beyond a grade 4 writing composition level. The sentences are short, yet littered with comparative modifiers like "very" and "really". A hotel is described only as being "impressive" and a man's face has a "very beautiful shape". (As opposed to beautiful shape, I guess).
The book as a whole can be read as a primer on how not to write description, or authentic sounding dialogue, or characters with any kind of believable motivation. Things just happen randomly without much reason and no explanation of how or why. The two women themselves only meet coincidentally at the beginning and the very end. Their stories are never linked and there's no reason why this couldn't be two very short novellas, each called, "One Woman With no Apparent Reason for Doing All the Crazy Things She Does."
The only reason I kept reading to the end (aside from the fact it's very short) is because it was the writer's first (and only) novel, written when she was quite young, and so I held onto the false hope that she may have learned to write at the end. Nope. It's just as crude and underwritten at the end as at the start.
It would have been nice to at least seen some effort go into the writing so that once could get a sense of the labour that went into the composition. I like to have sensed that the story wasn't easily told and that some sweat and tears went into its creation.
To be fair there was one scene that I liked and made me think that the story could have been something and that writer maybe had a modicum of talent and knew what she was doing: an enchanting scene at the ocean between one of the ladies (Mrs Copperfield! a nod to Dickens? Why?)--and a young prostitute she has taken up with. Unfortunately the rest of the novel doesn't come close to this level.
I hate to be so critical of someone who had a somewhat tragic life but, really, the empress here has no clothes....more
If I had to choose one book to have with me on a desert island it would be this one. It is so elegant, dense, brilliant and thought provoking and endlIf I had to choose one book to have with me on a desert island it would be this one. It is so elegant, dense, brilliant and thought provoking and endlessly perplexing that I would never tire of re-reading it. Having to start a fire with just one page of this volume would be heartbreaking as entire worlds would extinguish in a column of flame.
The book suffers from being so beautiful to read that the action gets lost in all those precious metaphors and similes. Alas, I'm not a poet, and I doThe book suffers from being so beautiful to read that the action gets lost in all those precious metaphors and similes. Alas, I'm not a poet, and I don't have much patience for the stuff. She could use a few pointers from Elmore Leonard--the king of the unmodified verb and noun....more
Well, I've bailed after just 50 pages. Life's too short for something that's giving me constant eye strain and isn't engaWhy is the print so small?...
Well, I've bailed after just 50 pages. Life's too short for something that's giving me constant eye strain and isn't engaging or even terribly interesting. As for the information, of which there is lots, it's all on wiki in one form or another. Maybe I'll try the book on an e-reader someday, or have it directly implanted into my brain when the technology becomes available. ...more
I'm re-reading this remarkable book and have changed my rating from a 4 to a 5. This is a book that should, I believe, be re-read carefully and each fI'm re-reading this remarkable book and have changed my rating from a 4 to a 5. This is a book that should, I believe, be re-read carefully and each finely wrought sentence lingered over and absorbed into one's system the way a deep cleansing breath is used in yoga or meditation.
I'm working on a proper review but it's going to take some time to get it right. In the meantime I would recommend this book to anyone who can appreciate the beauty of masterfully written prose that tackles the big themes of life in a setting that is grim, hopeless, pitiless and cruel, but embedded with purpose....more
This is such an enjoyable and comforting book to have around the house--like that favourite sweater one always wants within reach for those drafty winThis is such an enjoyable and comforting book to have around the house--like that favourite sweater one always wants within reach for those drafty winter days.
The title says it all, and it really is the book that keeps on giving and giving. I would recommend two copies, actually--one for the washroom and one for the nightstand--because you just never know when it will be imperative that you know the mortality rate for the 1918 Great Swine flu epidemic, or how much potential nuclear energy is contained in the human body (a lot). ...more
Such a complex narrative with themes within metaphors within allegories within, well, everything that can be crammed into a 560p novel. I'll have to lSuch a complex narrative with themes within metaphors within allegories within, well, everything that can be crammed into a 560p novel. I'll have to let digest and marinate in my brain for a bit longer before coming up with a proper review....more