I should start off by chronicling exactly how I went from avowedly avoiding Jane Austen to becoming enchanted with her books. Perhaps some other time.I should start off by chronicling exactly how I went from avowedly avoiding Jane Austen to becoming enchanted with her books. Perhaps some other time. For the moment, suffice it to say that one should never be afraid to admit when one is wrong.
I think the reason it took me so long to appreciate Ms. Austen's writing is because I need to be able to "see" the books I read. She doesn't waste much time on adjectives and descriptions, her chief talent is in subtle observation and dialogue. She caters to the mind more than the eyes. Besides, my general misanthropy sometimes extends to books; I like reading about solitary characters and individuals while Ms. Austen's world is a social one: her characters are defined by their relationships. And then, she steers clear of grittiness - poverty, war and moral tragedies are all gentrified. Still, the luminous writing manages to placate the tiny part of me that is still mildly annoyed at the constant ball-attending and marriage wrangling. Sense and Sensibility is dignified and subtle, and never descends into affectation, except when a character demands it. And then there is the wonderfully restrained quality to her words. I think this is the reason why the humour, though subtle in itself, stands out.
What first struck me about Sense and Sensibility was the character of Marianne Dashwood. She resembles me to a frightening degree, down to her often theatrical assertions. Some of her words could have come, verbatim, from my own mouth only a year or two ago (I'd like to think that I've mellowed down somewhat since then). Maybe it is precisely because she is so much like me that she is not my favourite character. Her follies remind me painfully of my own. I can't help but admire Elinor, whose chief virtue is not so much sense as self-control. It would have been easy to turn her into a horribly good Mary Sue but Elinor is human. She feels despair, jealousy, pettiness and passion - she simply chooses not to show it. When she finally does, the effect is magical. I also loved the Palmers and Mrs Jennings; they're probably the funniest characters I've come across in Austen. I like that the men, even the minor characters, aren't resigned to caricatures among the women - they have more than one dimension to their personalities and are as memorable as the female protagonists. Also, Colonel Brandon totally pwns Mr. Darcy (although I have to admit that I'm biased because I kept picturing Alan Rickman everytime).
If comparisons may be made, the book is a more refined version of Pride and Prejudice. Mrs. Dashwood is a less hysterical form of Mrs. Bennet, Willoughby a nobler Wickham and Marianne a more sophisticated version of Lydia. I only wished Marianne and the good colonel's relationship had been developed further. It is a neat ending where the more emotional sister makes a practical choice and the composed one allows herself to be swept off her feet. However, Marianne's unthinking disdain for Colonel Brandon's affections seems too hastily converted to love. I wish Ms. Austen had allowed a little less sparseness in the writing here, even if we couldn't get a nice swashbuckling duel between Colonel Brandon and Willoughby which is alas, only alluded to. The colonel seems to love Marianne mainly as a reflection of his first love and we are only to take the author's word that Marianne grows to love him as much as she once loved Willoughby. But these are minor nitpicks in an otherwise impressive novel.
I like to listen to completely anachronistic music when I read (I read Anna Karenina during my trance phase). I find that it helps me concentrate on the words better. I started off with a nice selection of blues and rock for Sense and Sensibility. The Ramones are a great band but my iPod wouldn't go beyond Chopin. Even if it is a generation younger, I found the same harmony in his music that I did in Jane Austen's words. The tranquility of one only strengthened the other....more
Of all the books in the series, Mockingjay seems, at first to be the slowest. While I'd rather that the love story not take centre stage, the truth isOf all the books in the series, Mockingjay seems, at first to be the slowest. While I'd rather that the love story not take centre stage, the truth is that the Katniss-Peeta dynamic is one of the more memorable elements in the story. However, while Katniss and Gale's relationship here lacks the chemistry of the former, it is necessary and an useful reminder of how relationships might change. And this book is probably the best of the lot, exploring themes of conflicted idealism, whether war can be ever just, the roles heroes play when they're useful and what happens when they are not.
I found Collins' treatment of war, particularly as Katniss fights it, interesting. I don't know why but I seem to find many YA books lacking when they write about war (I remember reading an awful one last year that had an invading army show up in SUVs. Unironically). I suppose it does make sense, given the Games, that the Capitol and Panem as a whole might respond to propaganda as much as military strength. The portrayal of the rebels and of District 13 was more layered than I would expect and drives home the point that the line between good and evil, and hero and villain is a murky one. Indeed, by the end of the book, the lesson seems to be almost nihilistic - there may be no good and no evil, but at the same time, it suggests that perhaps there is hope.
I know many people have a problem with the ending, but I was relieved by it. I cannot imagine that another one would be possible. My one grouse is that despite everything, I do not see Katniss come into full control of her life. Her character development is rather shallow as well, and as a factor of other people, rather than herself. All three victors, in fact, are more or less the same as when they started. They intensify, rather than grow. Johanna and Finnick on the other hand, show more layers between the last two books than the protagonists.
On the whole though, I did enjoy this series a lot and despite the flaws, can say that this might be a new favourite....more
This is again one of those books I almost didn't read because of the hordes of fans insisting how great it was. However I changed many of my ideas aboThis is again one of those books I almost didn't read because of the hordes of fans insisting how great it was. However I changed many of my ideas about reading and art since 2011, and one of them was to actually give bad art a chance so that my misgivings have some basis in reality. So far, I have to admit, I have always managed to find something to like, no matter how small.
The central plot of The Hunger Games is shaky. It is clearly inspired by Battle Royale, even if the name Panem seems to hint at Romans and their blood and popcorn matinees at the Colosseum. However, I think that such an audaciously cruel theatric involving underaged children fighting to the death is not the best recipe for stability of draconian rule. What easier way to fire up a rebellion than the death of an innocent child? This was one of the reasons, I preferred the movie to the book. While still following the same idea, the movies allow the reader to understand the Capitol's reasoning, however, faulty, behind such a death match. The books on the other hand seem to say "okay, you just gotta accept that these Games happen and people haven't completely demolished the Capitol over it yet it because this is going to create an interesting story for my heroine." Would it not have been more effective if the Games involved adults fighting to the death? That would give the masses the desperate hope and ensuing relief if a tribute escapes without the outrage that the murder of something vulnerable and innocent would cause. Either the Capitol has some serious muscle to squash rebellions or its citizens too passive to care, but the book does not make that clear.
I still, however, liked the book. It was well-written and well-paced. Its strongest point is the characterization, which is surprisingly nuanced for something in this genre. I thought Katniss would be another one of those perfect, action chick heroines but she strikes the right balance between a slightly larger-than-life heroine and a real, conflicted and imperfect girl. Peeta again, could have been the one dimensional, pretty boy hero but he is an interesting mix of goodness and guile. I also liked Haymitch but I felt that the Capitol citizens, including Cinna, were rather flat.
Despite my misgivings about the actual point of the Hunger Games, its clear parallels with the current obsession with reality TV was interesting enough to let me suspend my doubts and allow myself to be carried on with the story. The emotionally charged, lurid, 4 colour world of the Games, complete with publicity and rabid fandom is a striking contrast to the rest of Panem and the Games themselves, and Ms Collins manages to portray them well. ...more
I decided to read this because it reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road, which is a book both my parents love and I grew up reading. The Guernsey LiterI decided to read this because it reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road, which is a book both my parents love and I grew up reading. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, apart from its delightful title, manages to capture the same humour and sincere love of books.
What I liked best about this book was the honest way it captures the magic of reading. There are no high brow pretensions here and the readers themselves are no intellectuals: a farmer who discovers Charles Lamb, a valet immersed in Seneca, the local witch entranced by Jane Austen. Eben Ramsey's first letter to Juliet captures this beautifully: "We took them from Mrs. Maugery’s shelves fearful we’d spoil the fine papers." And when he writes about Shakespeare: "Do you know what sentence of his I admire the most? It is 'The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.' I wish I’d known those words on the day I watched those German troops land, plane-load after plane-load of them—and come off ships down in the harbor! All I could think of was damn them, damn them, over and over. If I could have thought the words 'the bright day is done and we are for the dark,' I’d have been consoled somehow and ready to go out and contend with circumstance—instead of my heart sinking to my shoes." I love the way the author captures the genuine way literature, like any art, can touch ordinary lives.
There are some funny moments - Dr. Stubbins running amok at the Sigmund Freud Society, Cee Cee Meredith's poems to tomatoes and his mother's indignation at Guernsey's status as a tax haven ("IT MAKES ONE WANT TO SPIT!"). Incidentally, I think Meredith and Mother are Ms. Shaffer's creations: I can't find any reference to them outside the books - at least on Google - which is a pity since I would have loved to read A-Tramp in Guernsey.
Though the tone of the book might seem comic at first, it actually has a lot more sombre moments. Some of them are very finely balanced between comedy and tragedy such as when Mrs. Clara Saussey decides to read one of her cookery books at the society's meetings. Isola Pribby offering to hex Mrs. Saussey's saucepans and Will Thisbee's dire warnings that she would burn like cherries jubilee are funny until you realize that she has been describing roast suckling pig and five layer cakes in loving detail to a group of starving people.
I also like the little details Ms. Shaffer adds that make the war come alive. Like the evacuation of the children from the island: "Two little girls, all dressed up in pink party dresses, stiff petticoats, shiny strap shoes—like their Ma thought they’d be going to a party. How cold they must have been crossing the Channel.", the pets left to go wild after their owners died or fled, the first sight of the invading Germans - shopping and buying sweets for children. I like that the author manages to humanize "the bad guys" like the starving German soldiers, risking execution to steal food or the women who consorted with them so that their families could eat well. At the same time, while she points out that individuals are often not as much to blame as their misplaced ideologies, she doesn't shrink away from describing the horrors inflicted by them - Himmler's Death by Exhaustion or the women's prison in France. The writing is often poignant when it talks of the Islander's lives through the war and occupation: "...visitors offering their condolences, thinking to comfort me, said 'Life goes on.' What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on."
I really liked the first part of the book but the second part seemed to lose something. It became more trite, the humour more forced and the story could have done without Juliet's love triangles (even if Dawsey is rather fanciable). The writing could have been better at times; it isn't always consistent with the epistolary format adding details that wouldn't really be seen in letters. The voices too, often sound alike. Will Thisbee's letter while funny, sounds more like Juliet than the "antiquarian ironmonger". Besides, all the letters are well-written and more or less witty. I find it hard to believe that there are no awkward letter-writers even in the 1940s. Most of the characters are a little too idiosyncratic and quirky which somewhat dilutes the effect of having a colourful set of protagonists. Elizabeth as the invisible focal point was interesting in the first part but not in the second when she is practically deified. And there's a lot of unnecessary slapping and righteous anger going around.
On the whole, though, I really enjoyed reading this book. I found out about the author half-way through. I think the fact that Ms. Shaffer was an amateur contributes to the honesty in the book. I wish she had lived longer to write another. Perhaps the book wasn't perfect but any effort to follow one's dream is admirable....more
Jane Austen manages to surprise me again. Or is it surprize?
I started this book determined to dislike Fanny Price, if not the novel itself. She's weakJane Austen manages to surprise me again. Or is it surprize?
I started this book determined to dislike Fanny Price, if not the novel itself. She's weak, self-effacing to the point of masochism and thinks the theatre is the work of the devil. But then, I wondered if Ms. Austen meant for her to be that way. In any other novel, she would be a minor character, an object of ridicule or maybe even of comic relief. I'd like to think that with Mansfield Park, Ms. Austen tried to make a heroine out of an unlikely character and I think she succeeded.
Yes, Fanny is weak: physically, maybe emotionally but never morally. Here, I must clarify that "morals" for me, do not signify societal mores as much as loyalty to one's principles. Fanny suffers, she cries but she never betrays her idea of what is right and what is not. She may give in to everyone but not at the cost of her beliefs. "We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be."In that, she shows admirable strength.
While her constancy and loyalty to her beliefs as well as to the people she loves are evident right from the start, it is not very easy to like her for them since they are played out against her moral indignation against Mr. Crawford's dalliance with her cousin, Edmund's infatuation with Ms. Crawford and the play the company wants to put on. While the first case can be somewhat sympathized with given that Maria Bertram is engaged, in the second case it is frustrating to watch Fanny merely suffer from the sidelines. The play of course sounds terrible but from the aesthetic point of view, rather than the moral. However, I suppose one can commend Fanny for not giving in the least to the demands of her fellows, something even the otherwise upright Edmund is not immune to. It is true that it's not very easy to like Fanny at first but once you look past her timidity and submissiveness, you see that she has courage, intelligence of mind and sensitivity of soul. She stands up to peer pressure, her clarity of thought makes her a good teacher for her sister Susan and she sees the beauties in nature few others around her do.
Fanny (and the book itself) really started to engage me about halfway through, after Maria and Julia's removal from Mansfield. For one, there was less torture by the sisters and Mrs. Norris to read about. Mainly, it was Fanny's reaction to Henry Crawford's wooing. It is easy to be steadfast when it is other people indulging themselves, less so when one is tempted oneself. Accepting Henry would have been easy - He is charming, well-off and genuinely in love with her - but Fanny never does it. I would have been inclined to think her distress weak had I not remembered that it is often easier to be rejected by someone you love than to reject someone who loves you, even though I am not half as considerate as Fanny is. The scene in the east room with her uncle reveals her character: she snivels and sobs and is petrified of her uncle but even under his harshest words, she never wavers.
The characters are all complexly drawn and act as foils to each other. If Fanny is an unlikely heroine, Mary Crawford is equally an unlikely rival. In theory, she might have been the ideal Austen protagonist - witty, beautiful and accomplished. But just as Fanny's weakness can hide a virtue, Ms. Crawford's talents give way to her own weakness. Fanny may be a pushover but she is also brave while Ms. Crawford may be clever, she is also callous. Edmund is kind and righteous but he is less faithful to himself than Fanny. He is easily swayed by Mary even when he sees her defects but Fanny never gives in to Henry even when she recognizes there is good in him. Henry Crawford and Maria Bertram are impulsive, inconsiderate, faithless and yet one cannot help feel some sympathy for them. Similarly, Sir Thomas is an arrogant, self satisfied slave owner but he can be genuinely caring and generous. Mrs. Norris is malicious and petty and yet she seems to want to do good but her weakness prevents it. The physical indolence seen in her less malignant sisters manifests itself in her spiritually.
I liked Fanny and Edmund's relationship built as it was on nobler foundations than mere physical or emotional attraction. At the same time, I wish Ms. Austen had indulged her readers by giving us more insight into Edmund's love for Fanny. It is all hurriedly done with in the last chapter. I would like to be less frivolous but I must confess that even I'm not above deriving a vicarious, guilty pleasure from seeing the underdog triumph, romantically or otherwise. But Ms. Austen confirms my belief that her writing is devoid of mush or sloppy sentiment and very calmly tells us that: "I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion, that every one may be at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of unconquerable passions, and the transfer of unchanging attachments, must vary much as to time in different people. I only entreat everybody to believe that exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny as Fanny herself could desire."
In this novel, Ms. Austen comes as close to poverty as I've read in her books and her description of Fanny's Portsmouth home and the emotional indifference of her parents is at odds with the elegance and affection most of her other heroines grow up with. Yet, the poverty is described with disdain. There is no grittiness or empathy to the Price's situation. Indeed, seeing that Ms. Price can afford to complain of her maids, they are still better off than many others would have been at the time. And it would have been more admirable had Susan remained in her humble, chaotic home and still flourished through strength of character than be removed to Mansfield. The slave trade aspect does make me uncomfortable. There is hardly a mention of it beyond Fanny's questioning of it to her uncle. As he is not always righteous in his behaviour and beliefs, I can understand - if not justify - his having indifferent views on slavery. I would like to think that Fanny has a clearer condemnation of the practice. However, as Ms. Austen rarely touches on such socio-political issues, one can only hope she knows what is right and what is so thoroughly wrong.
I hesitated between three or four stars for this book but decided to go with four. I think I will like this book more on further reading. In any case, it shows the author's gift of making an unlikely protagonist likable and of crafting multi-faceted characters. The book makes you think on the complexities of personal ideologies and their practice and gives you enough to meditate on even after you have finished and that is a true accomplishment....more
I loved the overall honesty of the book and Hardy's lyrical descriptions of rural 19th century England that reflect the same. The lines dedicated to tI loved the overall honesty of the book and Hardy's lyrical descriptions of rural 19th century England that reflect the same. The lines dedicated to the description of nature and rural life were some of the best parts of the book, especially those in the second chapter. While my favourite character was Gabriel Oak, for his truthfulness and constancy, I found that I could relate to Bathsheba as well, at least as far as her flaws were concerned! Although it is somewhat sombre a book, I was pleasantly surprised to find instances of gentle humour in it as well, particularly with the exploits of such characters as the entertaining doofus Joseph Poorgrass, the maltster and the other farm folk. I think this book could very well be a new favourite....more
I'm not a summer person. And while I often lapse into daydreams of leaving it all behind and running away to the countryside, I would choose the PacifI'm not a summer person. And while I often lapse into daydreams of leaving it all behind and running away to the countryside, I would choose the Pacific Northwest over Provence any day. I almost didn't buy this book: I had gone into my neighbourhood bookstore to get get another copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to replace my tattered one. How glad I am that I did (and also that it was ridiculously cheap).
I loved this book the way I love biscuits dipped in a cup of tea after a nice afternoon nap. Yes, the eulogies to food and the sleepy pace of life described at length in this book are that infectious. I read this book slowly, giving it a few pages each evening in between other books. This is a comfort read.
I loved the simplicity of life in Peter Mayle's Provence; I loved the food and the landscape, both natural and manmade. Most of all, I loved the people. They had a tendency to become one dimensional caricatures but they were endearing people, people you would love to know. What I loved most about the book was the kindness of the Provençaux, whether it's Faustin and Henriette, the melon millionaire or the cheerfully undependable workmen. I've been a big city girl all my life and it was with a mix of incredulity and emotion that I read of M. Sanchez's gift of wild mushrooms to the Mayles, even though they had only met the day before, even though the mushrooms were only mentioned in passing.
The book is a treasure chest of humour and I had to fight the urge to grab a marker and highlight every second page. Whether it's M. Menicucci and jeune, the irascible Massot, Fructus of the "vibrant socks" or - my favourite - the mason who broke his arm "playing football on a motorbike" they're all quaint, simple delights.
I realise, with some sadness, that this book was written in 1987 - the year I was born, incidentally - and that Provence today might be a different place. All the same, the moment I read the last page, I knew that this book was going to become a favourite, to be opened at random and read ever so often when life becomes a little too fast and furious, to add a touch of simplicity and calm....more
I prefer the kind of magic-realism that transforms everyday worlds into something new and exotic to the kind of fantasy that creates whole new ones (mI prefer the kind of magic-realism that transforms everyday worlds into something new and exotic to the kind of fantasy that creates whole new ones (mostly cause I'm tired of all the Tolkien expys). However, this came highly recommended by a friend and the name was intriguing enough to make me want to check it out.
I loved the central themes of the book. I'm particularly interested in stories that talk about other stories, about how myths and legends are born and this is a fine book for that. I enjoyed reading about the folklore of that world, its heroes and villains, and its songs. The magic system in the book is an interesting take on sympathetic magic, and I enjoyed reading about it, despite the info-dumps.
I think Kvothe was made to be a deconstruction of the fairytale hero but he's just too damn talented and too damn lucky. If Rothfuss wanted to show how pride and overconfidence can get in the way of native talent, he doesn't really succeed because Kvothe ends up looking like an insufferable Mary Sue instead. I am also not sure about Denna and why exactly Kvothe is so fascinated with her. I liked Elodin, despite the tired Cloudcuckoolander stereotype and Auri; Kvothe's other friends are pleasant but forgettable.
The best part of the book was in its humour and readability, though, and for that alone, I look forward to the next in the series....more
The Bridge of Birds is one of those utterly magical books that make you feel the way fairytales did when you were a kid.
It has colourful characters wThe Bridge of Birds is one of those utterly magical books that make you feel the way fairytales did when you were a kid.
It has colourful characters with just the right touch of quirk and other-ness that establishes heroes in a fairytale. It has humour that manages to be witty and bawdy, even a tad slapstick at times but in the best tradition of an old beloved yarn. And it has a pleasantly convoluted plot that ends in one of the best denouements I've read since Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I had an idea of the ending but it still left me amazed. It could only be described as epic. I could almost hear the click of the puzzle coming together, and as soon as I finished, I wanted to go back to the beginning and read the whole thing over again, and watch out for the little hints everywhere.
Definitely a new favourite and one that lends itself perfectly to multiple reads. ...more
When I first started to learn Japanese, the language seemed so stark to me and yet, capable of conveying so much in a syllable's worth of sound. It inWhen I first started to learn Japanese, the language seemed so stark to me and yet, capable of conveying so much in a syllable's worth of sound. It intrigued me that words like "ma" or "sa" could change the tone of a sentence, mean more than just one simple thing.
This book made me feel something of the same. The cleanliness of Kazuo Ishiguro's prose tells a story with layers of meaning and draws up such vivid scenes. One of these is the protagonist's confrontation with his father over his art and the scene with his mother, conversing in the dark of an ill-lighted house from the early part of the last century. The meeting with his master that follows many years later is interestingly analogous. I liked the themes of memory and its fallibility, of honour and ideologies, of the changing meaning of good and evil and of simple change itself. Masuji Ono makes for a gently engaging protagonist. You never truly find out if Ono's past is dark or light, and his inner duality conforms to the duality of the world outside - when is war "good" and when is it "bad"? When do patriots become war criminals? Should art and politics, such disparate worlds, ever meet? All the different layers in this book merit more than one read.
When I first found this book, I bought it because of the title, hoping to read more about ukiyo-e and Japanese art. The book doesn't go into details, but uses art as a contrast or complement to the life of the artist. As it turns out, the floating world here is not one of Edo tea houses and geisha and kabuki actors but of buildings arising from the rubble and war-scarred young men and the blurring of ideals. Not a world of evanescent beauty, but one of an ephemeral morality perhaps. ...more
Alright, so Hemingway may not have been romantically impoverished in Paris. Paris itself may not have been very romantic to begin with. Yet there is sAlright, so Hemingway may not have been romantically impoverished in Paris. Paris itself may not have been very romantic to begin with. Yet there is something about this book that drew me in, like Hemingway does every time he writes of himself, and of real stories that may or may not be true.
This book is set in one of my favourite eras - the 1920s - and that might have something to do with it. I liked the beginning and I loved the middle and was less enthusiastic about the ending. I loved the chapters from Ford Madox Ford and the Devil's Disciple to An Agent of Evil. They are funny, straight-forward and clear - all that I love about Hemingway when I love him. I especially liked Ford Madox Ford and the Devil's Disciple, at first for its description of the Closerie des Lilas and its clientele - "...and I watched how well they were overcoming the handicap of the loss of limbs, and saw the quality of their artificial eyes and the degree of skill with which their faces had been reconstructed" - and then for its hilarious denouement (for me, the joke lay not in the identity of "Hilaire Belloc" but Hemingway's "'Sorry,' I said.").
I was somewhat indifferent to the chapters about F. Scott Fitzgerald, probably because I haven't read him yet and partly because they stretch on too long. At the same time, his eulogy to Fitzgerald is moving: "His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly's wings... and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless." I like how poetic Hemingway can get sometimes, the clarity of his words and his "distrust" of adjectives somehow combining to create a rough music.
The best thing about this book, for me, was the imagery; the people and places. The cafés and the racetracks, Paris in the winter, second-hand book hawkers, Monsieur Dunning est monté sur le toit et refuse catégoriquement de descendre, substituting lunch for the Louvre, the kindness of Ezra Pound, opium in jars of cold-cream, underground poker with the captain of the gendarmerie. I wanted to imagine everything golden brown and dappled by the shadows of afternoon foliage (that's how I always see anything between the 1910s and 1940s). I'd like to be cynical and say that this is just pretentious tosh and that every artist wants to be miserable if it makes them look good. But Paris in the Roaring Twenties has an inexplicable magic and I can't help but want to be there when you could be "very poor and very happy."...more