This book was such a curate's egg. The writing was lovely, almost tactile. The very first scene in the book stood out right in front of me as I read iThis book was such a curate's egg. The writing was lovely, almost tactile. The very first scene in the book stood out right in front of me as I read it, I imagined it all candlelight and winter shadows. Most of the characters are well written and I like the touch of the unreliable narrator that Cathy has.
However, there is little of the promised gothic in this apart from that. Rob is strangely featureless and bland, despite his importance in the story. The second half of the book is where the story derails. Characters return, weakening the impact of their departure; others permeate the pages but remain indistinct even when brought back into focus. The ending in particular is weak and does not tie in with the course of the story in my opinion. I think I'd have rather read about Harry and Liza Callan.
I initially picked up this book because of my interest in the period of history in which it is set but there was very little to tie it to the world outside, even WWI passes through the insularity of the story and the characters with only a ghost of an impact. Still, that might be an intended feature of a story that seems to explore the different shades of isolation.
Should the author take to writing poetry, though, I think I should like to read it very much....more
I've been seeing quotes from this book all over Tumblr for years (the "I was drizzle, she was a hurricane" one seems especially popular) and I was conI've been seeing quotes from this book all over Tumblr for years (the "I was drizzle, she was a hurricane" one seems especially popular) and I was convinced that this was yet another one of those novels where boring boy meets quirky and conveniently hot girl who turns his life upside down and everything is buttercups and balloons ever after. I've never liked the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, whether in fiction or in real life. And then I read about John Green's assertion that this book was a deconstruction of the trope and that intrigued me.
The book was better than I expected but it still lacks in places. Part of the problem is that Miles is such an utterly unlikable protagonist. I don't think he ever really lets go of his idea of !Alaska versus the real girl. My favourite character in the book was the Colonel and I felt that his no-nonsense honesty, his relationship with his mother as well as his friends, and his strong sense of his own convictions were one of the few genuinely enjoyable elements of the book.
I didn't like Alaska but I was surprised to find that I understood her. She seemed completely unbearable at first, thanks to Miles' irritatingly oblivious judgement of her. Of course she manages to be both thin and amply endowed. Of course she's smart without being boring. Of course everyone wants her. And yet, I have to admit that I can relate to her in some ways - when she's moody, when she's rude, when she's ranting. I've said plenty of the same things she has - including venting about the need for gender equality in porn :P I just wish the reader could see more of what she really was like, without Miles' wet dreams getting in the way.
I didn't care much for the shenanigans the main characters get up to and honestly, the plot itself is fairly boring. To be fair, this kind of human drama which doesn't touch upon larger things isn't really my favourite genre. But I liked the writing enough to want to read more of the author's work....more
I'd been looking for this book for almost year since a friend recommended it. When I finally started reading it, it was on a chilly day after work, wiI'd been looking for this book for almost year since a friend recommended it. When I finally started reading it, it was on a chilly day after work, with three blankets and the beginnings of a prodigious flu attack. So I don't know if it was the fever but I knew I was going to like this book when I burst into tears a few pages in, on reading Fielding's gorgeous and heartbreaking description of old Newfoundland:
"After it rained, the schooners would unfurl their sails to let them dry, a stationary fleet under full sail, the whole harbour a mass of flapping canvas you could hear a mile away. How high those sails were. If they had not been translucent, they would have cast a shadow in the evening halfway across the city. Instead, in the evening, in the morning, the sun shone through the sails and cast an amber-coloured light across the harbour and the streets, a light I have not seen in twenty years."
I've noticed that whenever I read books that span years and decades, I like the beginning more than the end, as if I were nostalgic for the past myself. I did like the first few sections of this book more, although there wasn't anything in the end to particularly dislike. I liked the beginning simply because I liked the younger Smallwood more than the older one. The Smallwood of the early chapters is the perfect underdog that you can't help but root for, even admire. His determination, the way he navigates his believably volatile family life, the compassion he feels for the whalers - you can literally see him as he is being built.
Unfortunately, Smallwood loses some of his charm for me after the New York arc, mainly because of his bad decisions; whether it's his spinelessness with Squires and his poor judgements once he assumes the reigns or his decision to make a loveless marriage of convenience while continuing to be fascinated by another woman. But this is merely my personal attitude to Smallwood - I have the terrible habit of treating fictional characters as real people and feeling disappointed when they make bad decisions and proud when they make good ones. The story remains engaging and I understand why Smallwood would act thus and certainly his decisions do move the story forward. Besides, based as the story is in actual events, I understand the constraints on the author. It's just that the younger Smallwood was someone I would want to be friends with, the older one was not.
Interestingly, it was the opposite when it came to Fielding. I didn't like her at first, and I don't know if I can say I likeed her in the end, but she became more and more engaging as the book progressed. Fielding is surly and somewhat uni-dimensional through Smallwood's eyes - it is only through her journal and her columns that she comes alive. They contained some of the best writing in the book, acidly funny and intelligent at the same time and yet underneath all that, strangely sentimental. Her Julius Caesar pastiche of a counterattack to Smallwood and Prowse was genius; it made me laugh out loud - as did most of her writing - but the strong emotional core of the piece was evident.
At the same time, there are lapses in the storytelling. The plot can get weak at points with convenient coincidences scattered around. And the riddle about the letter and Hines' melodrama at church took away from the story. While Smallwood and Fielding's relationship is the heart of the book, I thought it could have been told better; it was trite in parts and difficult to understand in others. The last few chapters were hurried and I would have liked to read more about Smallwood's actual ascension to power after all that buildup.
And yet, the book shines because of its writing, which perfectly complements the land it writes about, equal parts beautiful and stark; whether it is Fielding's memories of ships or Smallwood's journeys through the remote islands and lost lands of Newfoundland. Johnston combines dry humour with wit and heart, and this is what made this book such a great read. That, and his talent for creating believable, nuanced characters and scenes that stay with you after the story is done....more
This was given to me by a friend (I adore hand-me-down books! It feels like you're reading them with a friend beside you and I like wondering how theThis was given to me by a friend (I adore hand-me-down books! It feels like you're reading them with a friend beside you and I like wondering how the previous owner would have reacted to this or that part of the story).
It was the cover that attracted me at first though, not the book. The cover is delightfully reminiscent of Lego and a read in itself - I had a great time, discovering all the little stories in it - the cheeky, the cute and the plain weird. But along with the superfun cover, I ended up enjoying the book itself way more than I expected to.
I'm not a big fan of pulp/noir/hardboiled detective fiction and their variants, mainly because they slip into narm territory so often. I prefer cozy country house murders and psychological mysteries. But I liked City of Tiny Lights because it takes familiar tropes (femme fatale walks into the office of hard drinking detective with A Past, for one) and then adds in all these layers to the story. It also helps that Tommy Akhtar is a pretty likeable protagonist. While I found his narration a little grating at first, as you delve into his story and that of the city around him, it becomes less a jumble of argot (thank God for all the 70s British sitcoms my parents watched when I was a kid; I hadn't heard the word "shtum" since Mind Your Language) and more of a unique voice guiding you around a unique city.
I liked that Patrick Neate managed to write about an ethnic character without resorting to the awful stereotypes that books with Indian characters are peppered with (even when so many of them are written by Indians themselves!). Neate treats his characters as people - you get the idea that Tommy and the others are who they are also because of themselves, not just because of where they come from. In fact, most of the characters in the book, regardless of ethnicity and importance, are better fleshed out than I would expect. I also liked the book's treatment of Islamic fundamentalism (Farzad wouldn't like that - maybe I should say Islamic opportunism instead?). It avoids the boogeyman/monster-under-the-bed approach of a lot of fiction - and non fiction - and instead chooses to portray a complex issue in a more nuanced manner than usual. It was this blend of pulp and realism that made this an engaging book to read. I also like the London of this book. I think places in a book, whether houses or entire cities, are as important as the human characters and I love stories that make them come alive.
On the other hand, the ending was quite disappointing. I don't mind the occasional loose end that leaves the reader intrigued but this felt unfinished, as if there was a chapter or epilogue missing. Tommy's decision to involve Avi, while crucial to the climax, was uncharacteristically bad, despite the lampshading and its aftermath wasn't explored in as much detail as I thought it required. The pace of the book starting from the climax onwards was quite hurried and out of sync with the rest.
I did like the book on the whole and I wish Mr. Neate would hurry up and write another Tommy Akhtar mystery. This was an interesting complement to Cuckoo's Calling. I think modern detective fiction set in London is a genre I will enjoy exploring....more
I didn't really enjoy this except as a vaguely interesting history textbook. The whole Mount Shiranui subplot that takes up much of the second volume,I didn't really enjoy this except as a vaguely interesting history textbook. The whole Mount Shiranui subplot that takes up much of the second volume, while a shade more entertaining than reading about company politics felt out of place within the larger narrative. I could not see much of a point to it - why was the author trying to inject Indiana Jones and the (Japanese) Temple of Doom in a book about a shipping clerk? Enomoto (and the whole cult for that matter) was so ridiculously over the top that I found it hard to take that subplot seriously.
Jacob, Orito and Ogawa are all pretty likable characters but Jacob comes across as a fool more than a romantic, to be honest. I cannot really fault the writing, even when it gets a little melodramatic and calculatingly sentimental. I especially liked the part when Magistrate Shiroyama observes, "This world... contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself." The ending is a little too overtly sentimental for my taste, and did not erase away any doubts as to what the point of this whole book was. ...more
This is another book that I originally wanted to read as a teenager, after discovering Bukowski's poetry. However unlike the others, I think I actuallThis is another book that I originally wanted to read as a teenager, after discovering Bukowski's poetry. However unlike the others, I think I actually would have liked this much less had I read it seven years ago.
I can't honestly say I *like* it even now. At first Henry Chinaski seemed like Holden Caulfield all grown up, but Chinaski is Holden with the hope - and pretty much everything else - scoured out of him with a rusty cheese grater. Maybe I should have read Ham on Rye first because without a backstory, he and the book itself are easy to dismiss. Chinaski might be a complex man but all you can see is a self-destructive alcoholic, often repugnant, sometimes witty. The only time I see flashes of something other than an indolent caricature is when he talks of writing but that is too little to give him any depth (there are literally five lines talking about his writing).
I found the sharp, short chapters that focus on Chinaski's external world interesting - they really did feel like flashes from a drunkard's head. But they also ended up making Chinaski a half-baked, unfinished sort of character without a beginning or an end and with pretty much two words to describe him - lazy and drunk. I understand that the whole point of the character is the lack of ambition, of anything to move him but I don't want to end a book feeling like the protagonist is pretty much still in the same place as he was in the beginning. That makes the whole story feel like a long-ish chapter in a bigger novel rather than a book by itself.
On the one hand, I can understand the feeling that I think this book wants to portray - of knowing that you're defective and broken in some way and watching the world as it moves along without you. On the other, this makes for a pretty dull story. It's like watching a flower pot break again and again in a loop. As someone who spent two years actively avoiding gainful employment (not counting dropping out of grad school a few years before that), I should be able to empathize with Chinaski, but I don't. Or perhaps, I understand his words but I just personally dislike the character so much that I can't bring myself to sympathise with him, at least not completely.
It is the writing rather than the characters or plot (there isn't one to be very honest) that saved this book for me. For all his repulsiveness, Chinaski can be pretty insightful and honest. I guess I liked the book because it was a change from most fiction where even pain is a thing of beauty. If nothing else, Factotum tells the reader that the world can be ugly and people can fail deliberately and there will be no justice or reason to the whole thing. It's a refreshing reality check to have, in small doses. And at the same time, it's a strange sort of relief to read a book like this because you realise that while you are wonderfully messed-up, at least you aren't "trying-and-failing-to-steal-a-cucumber" messed up.
I liked Bukowski's poems when I first discovered them because they had a brutal, honest sort of beauty to them. The ironic thing is that Factotum is nothing if not brutal and honest. But it's a flabby, blemished sort of brutality, a stained truth that you'd be better off forgetting about. Or maybe Bukowski as a ten line poem has the right balance of grit and light, anything more and he becomes overwhelming. In any case, I think I'll go with the poetry next time....more
I rather like Agnes Brontë's naturalistic style, compared to her sisters' more romantic writing but I do wish she were less cynical about the human chI rather like Agnes Brontë's naturalistic style, compared to her sisters' more romantic writing but I do wish she were less cynical about the human character (and this coming from me!).
I liked the opening chapters of the book, the bucolic English setting as much as the intrigues of the characters. When the narrative shifts to Helen's journal, however, the tragedy is unrelenting. For starters, I really cannot comprehend why Helen chooses Huntingdon in the first place if she already guesses at his moral paucity, even if she plans to reform him. The only possible explanation can be his physical charm (and I have to say that he doesn't come across as particularly handsome) but even that can't justify such a bad decision. I liked that Helen rescues herself, that her strength is not yoked to someone else but her quasi-masochistic piety is often painful to read, even if Ms. Brontë succeeds in making the reader appreciate the travails of being a woman in that age.
Practically every male character - and many of the female ones - are visibly flawed. Even Gilbert is far from perfect: he is often self-centred, more concerned about his chances with Helen than sympathy for her troubles and given to violent theatrics. All of this of course, goes to making the characters more believable and the lack of affectation or romanticism is refreshing. However, this also means that this book isn't exactly comfort reading. All the same, coming from such restrictive times, I suppose it is a brave piece of work....more
I had really liked David Vann's Legend of a Suicide earlier this year, so I was looking forward to see what his second novel would yield.
On the whole,I had really liked David Vann's Legend of a Suicide earlier this year, so I was looking forward to see what his second novel would yield.
On the whole, I'm rather disappointed with the book. It has the depressive harshness of his first novel (and the central plot is reminiscent of Sukkwan Island) but it has none of the depth. The book is more or less uninteresting, with bland and often entirely unnecessary characters and elements such as Carl and Monique or the subplot with Jim. Entire chapters are devoted to Irene's Kafka-esque headache and her unhappy marriage to Gary but the denouement is simplistic and predictable. If the author believed that mere tragedy and bleakness are sufficient conditions for meaningful writing, he was mistaken. The only part of the book that I found poignant or even interesting were the first and last few lines. I sincerely hope that Vann's next will be better....more
I discovered Sherman Alexie on the Never Ending Book Quiz here on Goodreads (it's becoming a good source of new books for me). I wanted to read The LoI discovered Sherman Alexie on the Never Ending Book Quiz here on Goodreads (it's becoming a good source of new books for me). I wanted to read The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven but since I couldn't find that book, I decided on this one instead.
Reservation Blues had me hooked from the start, when Robert Johnson and the devil (in his guitar) walk onto the Spokane Indian Reservation and meet Thomas Builds-the-Fire. My favourite thing about the book were the characters. Finally, real people with real hopes and fears, virtues and vices. Not antiquated, Hollywood-approved versions of themselves. Mr. Alexie refers to the restraining power of this farce throughout the book: "Indian men have started to believe their own publicity and run around acting like the Indians in movies". I like the fact that the characters seamlessly blend universal experiences - I could definitely relate to them in a lot of ways - with their Indian identities. It was also interesting to read of them as distinct tribes with their own distinct cultures, such as when Father Arnold wonders why the Spokane aren't hunting buffalo: "... Indians were always hunting buffalo on television" and is told "It was those dang Sioux Indians. Those Sioux always get to be on television.". I loved Thomas; he is such a genuine, decent man and I loved the way his relationship with Chess Warm Water develops: "Thomas smiled at her. He had just met the only Indian who told stories like his". But I also found myself caring about Victor Joseph and Junior Polatkin and their friendship. It's a testament to Mr. Alexie's skill in drawing believable characters that he can create bullies with depth - not just Victor and Joseph, but also Michael White Hawk. I also liked the minor characters: The Man-Who-Was-Probably-Lakota (I have a feeling I'll meet him again in another of the author's books), the backward driving Simon, Mr. Alexie's version of Robert Johnson, Big Mom, even Thomas' dad during his impromptu basketball match against the tribal cops.
The magic-realist tone of the book is rich and absorbing - whether it is the music that sets fire to everything, the Fed Ex guy, Thomas' stories, the character's dreams or the horses. I found the latter a frightening, fascinating element in the story and the scene in the beginning of the book with Big Mom and the screaming horses is powerful and chilling. Even the ironical names of some of the characters - Sheridan and Wright, Betty and Veronica - give an oddly phantasmagorical feeling to the book, especially towards the end. I liked the unsettling humour and the way the fantastic throws reality into even sharper relief - which after all, is the sign of magic realism well utilised (and a relief from the superficial acid-pixie nature of many books in the genre).
The book doesn't gloss over all that isn't pretty: the poverty and alcoholism on reservations, substandard government rations and unemployment, the hopelessness experienced by so many young Indians and the duplicity of mainstream culture which is willing to accept Indians - as long as they're not too Indian. The ending - or at least, the events leading up to it - gave me the blues, naturally, but it was well-written and it felt real. What happens to the band's music deal is more common than imagined: Indians and non-Indians alike can discover that artistic integrity and music industry turnovers don't go hand in hand. Thomas' reaction on receiving Betty and Veronica's letter is moving, especially when you note the contrast between their lyrics and those of the band's that start off the chapters. Junior's fate: how many times has it already happened to Indians on reservations across the country? But for me, the most heartbreaking - there really is no other word for it - was the scene with Victor in the end: "That little explosion of the beer can opening sounded exactly like a smaller, slower version version if the explosion that Junior's rifle made on the water tower." When I first read it, it seemed ominous but perhaps his "Fuck it, I can do it too" is more optimistic than I imagine? I sincerely hope so; that there is some hope for him in the end, too. I liked the tone of the last words, optimistic without being complacent. They say that yes, life is hard, tragedies happen but sometimes, you just got to be happy you survived and try and make it better.
I don't know how much reservation life has changed in the sixteen years since this book was written, but Wikipedia tells me that reservation Indians are more likely to live in poverty than any other demographic, even now. There's still high unemployment, suicide and alcohol and drug abuse. I think in that case, books like Reservation Blues, books written by American Indians themselves become all the more important: so that the people in the statistics can become real and their problems discussed with logic and dignity....more
This is the kind of book you want to start again right after you've turned over the last page. Few books have made me feel that way, since the books oThis is the kind of book you want to start again right after you've turned over the last page. Few books have made me feel that way, since the books of my childhood anyway. And for me, this is where the magic of the book lies: it makes you a child again.
To Kill a Mockingbird reminded me why I love reading. There is so much real humour in it, the writing so gentle and yet so straightforward and the musical Southern language everywhere. When Scout says, "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." I could relate immediately because that is exactly the way I feel about painting. Words and scenes stay with you long after the book is done: Scout's first day at school, Atticus and Tim Johnson, the children's artless disarming of the mob, Boo Radley's first and final appearance.
Scout, Jem and Dill reminded me that I had a few golden summers myself, growing up. And their fear and fascination for Boo Radley was more familiar than I expected. When I was little, I would go visit my grandmother in the summer and there was a Boo Radley-like lady who lived next door. No one in the world had scared me before and no one has ever since. When I was no longer six years old, I realised that what my siblings and I were terrified of was only an old lady with more tragedy than witchcraft in her poor life.
Harper Lee's characters are her greatest strength. Atticus Finch is a gem of a character. He is a good man, he simply cannot exist in this world but he is believable. And then you have Mr. Dolphus Raymond who shows a curiously reversed sort of courage, choosing to fight hypocrisy with cynicism.
I LOVE Little Chuck Little and his chivalrous handling of Miss Caroline. I wish he had a bigger part in the story. It's the little things about being a child that Ms. Lee captures so well, such as Jem telling Scout about the "Dewey Decimal System" in force at school and the way she readily believes her big brother. At the same time, Ms. Lee doesn't patronize the children - or the reader - by making them bland and infantile. She recognizes the fact that children can be as cruel or as kind as adults. Sometimes they make the same bad judgements. Sometimes they recognize what is wrong and why before the adults do, like Dill did at the courthouse. Sometimes they feel helpless in the face of wrong and like adults, they use anger to mask it, like Jem did.
It's not just the obviously likable characters that are drawn with depth. Even people like Mrs. Dubose or Mayella are more than simple antagonists. They remind you that there are few true villains in this world: you can't be perfectly bad any more than you can be perfectly good. There are narrow-minded and bigoted people in this world; their actions cannot be justified but they may have redeeming qualities. It is easy to forget this fact. Mrs. Dubose is downright vile at times but she shows courage in the face of weakness and I can respect that. Mayella shows none, but one cannot help but feel sorry for her. The red geraniums seem a trivial fact but for me, they were a powerful depiction of Mayella's state. Is it very much better than that which comes to the innocent man she accuses?
I like the basic decency that runs through the book but honestly, as a crusader for equality, I wish Ms. Lee would have made more of an effort. The black characters are mostly uni-dimensional victims. Even Calpurnia doesn't break the "contented slave" mould. The bulk of the argument - at least on part of the grownups in the book - for treating everyone equally is because it's kind or virtuous, not because it is logical. Even Atticus - unimpeachable in almost every other regard - says that it's more of a sin to cheat a black man because of his "ignorance". I think that when you treat someone equally, it means you don't differentiate against him, whether positively or negatively. So yes, while I believe the book has its heart in the right place, there may be better treatises on equality and discrimination.
To Kill a Mockingbird itself is so sincere, however, that it is easy to set aside one's doubts. In any case, I think the chief lesson in this book is not only standing up for what you feel is right but more importantly, doing it when your friends and family don't agree with you. That itself requires a great deal of courage, moral or otherwise....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
One of my favourite words is saudade and I could not help but think of it here. The two stories that make up this book are different in their subjectsOne of my favourite words is saudade and I could not help but think of it here. The two stories that make up this book are different in their subjects but both dwell on change and a longing for the past.
In Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell, a generation later than Jane Austen writes of the things the latter does not, or could not: of the wars that left behind villages full of women, of poverty and of loss. Miss Matty might have been an Austen heroine who wasn't swept off her feet and carried off into the sunset; Mr. Holbrook her lost love. It is rather gloomy at times to read of a village full of aging women trying to hold onto a decaying elegance. However, the tragedies of every day life can be beautiful as well. The chapter where Miss Matty and Mary Smith read and burn old letters was one of the most moving scenes I have read in a long time.
I found it a little difficult to really like the characters. They are elderly, often narrow-minded women bound by strict guidelines and a somewhat outdated morality. And yet, they are generous in their kindness. They might look with disdain on Frenchmen and "Red Indians", they might kowtow to aristocracy, but they often go out of their way to help their neighbours whether it is Captain Brown who shocks the good ladies by openly discussing his poverty or the mysterious Signor Brunoni, or even the lame postman of Cranford. There are touches of gentle humour here and there: the literary contest between Miss Jenkyns and Captain Brown over Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson, Mrs. Forrester's lace eating cat, Miss Pole's faltering bravado at facing a phantom.
Cousin Phillis is a short novella that subtly intertwines the changing country landscape with a short-lived romance. There isn't much by way of action here but both the Phillis of the title and her father Mr. Holman are engaging, well-drawn out characters: hard-working and rustic and yet well-read and thirsty for knowledge. One can see a slight similarity to the Goethe quoting Mr. Holbrook in Cranford with his alphabetically labeled cows. Phillis, with her love of Greek and her attempts to read The Divine Comedy in Italian is at the same time a naive, isolated country girl and her painful journey to emotional growth forms the crux of the story. Mrs. Gaskell paints a striking picture of the old way of life slowly giving way to the new with harvests and railways, farmer-priests and engineers.
I liked the down-to-earth, unpretentious tone of both stories and the clarity of Mrs. Gaskell's writing is a delight to read. She manages to convey tragedy without dragging down the tone of the book and her humour never escalates into farce. This is a simple, elegant book, like the times it longs for....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
An astonishing book indeed. It's a pity that it has been labelled "Young Adult" when it would do a lot of full grown adults a lot of good. I decided tAn astonishing book indeed. It's a pity that it has been labelled "Young Adult" when it would do a lot of full grown adults a lot of good. I decided to read it based on the interesting plot and protagonist. At the time, it seemed like a steampunk account of the Revolutionary War but as it turns out, there isn't much fantasy and whimsy here.
The protagonist, Octavian, is captivating but not the only one in a book filled with people of all shades - of skin colour as well as character. His upbringing is surreal but as the author states in the afterword, not as removed from historical fact as it appears to be. He depicts Octavian's strange, experimental life and his confrontation with the reality faced by people like him without sappy sentiment. I found Bono a particularly engaging character, his own awareness of the ugly reality and his moral ambiguity a foil to Octavian's initial naïveté. However, the other characters are equally striking, whether it's the inscrutable Cassiopeia, Mr. Gitney, caught between cowardice and curiosity or the rest from Evidence Goring to Lord Cheldthorpe to the various named and unnamed bit players whose diaries, letters and advertisements are part of the narrative.
Like I said, there is little whimsy here. This is no quaint period piece. The novel is as raw as the times it is set in. You know about the War from school and you took for granted that the revolutionaries were ethically superior to the British, even though you know that no one can be easily sliced into "good" and "bad". Anderson reminds you of that fact with no prettiness, whether he describes the brutal tarring and feathering of a royalist customs officer or the Redcoats shooting a child watching them march by. There is violence everywhere, whether in Bono's macabre scrapbook of torture devices designed for slaves or the horrors of the pox.
Anderson offers an unemotional and yet paradoxically moving look at slavery and its inevitable presence in the history of man - Grecian slaves who spoke of poetry and philosophy, Britons enslaved by Romans who would one day, in a new world, enslave Africans. Neither can slavery be put down simply to racism - Anderson also mentions "indentured Irishmen", only slightly better off than the Africans or Native Americans. He seems to want to prove that no man is above cruelty - the British oppress the colonists, the colonists oppress the slaves. The scene where Octavian's company, including the idealistic Evidence Goring, slaughters livestock is another subtle reminder that even those professing to be egalitarian are not completely innocent.
The language strays into parody at times, especially in the letters, but on the whole, I couldn't complain about it. There is a sort of brutal poetry in Anderson's language - "You must learn fear. I do this for your own sake. Fear is like happiness, but the smile is wider." Bono's words stayed with me long after I finished the book but his weren't the only ones. Dr. Trefusis' solipsistic musings -"All that is there now is the eye of God." He shivered. "The pupil is black, and as large as a world." and Octavian looking at slaves sent to war in place of their "patriotic" masters - "...they were like ranks of white men's deaths". Anderson excels in creating jewel-bright scenes, that are sometimes horrifying, sometimes touching, sometimes both, like Cassiopeia's quoting of the Psalms or her death, which he leaves dignified and free of mawkishness - "And then, this she offered to me, my one truth: “Our language,” she said, “is not spoken, but sung.... Not simply words... and grammar... but melody. It was hard... thus... to learn English... this language of wood. For the people of your nation, Octavian, all speech is song."
This book isn't perfect but it is an extremely admirable effort. Anderson does not try to hide the horror of the events he describes but the book doesn't fall prey to white guilt either. He writes without romanticism but this only makes the book's effect on the reader stronger. I am glad I read this book despite the misleading YA tag and I look forward to reading The Kingdom on the Waves....more
This is yet another book that makes me wish Goodreads wouldn't label the rating system with something as simple as "liked it" or "really liked it". IThis is yet another book that makes me wish Goodreads wouldn't label the rating system with something as simple as "liked it" or "really liked it". I would give this book four stars, despite the somewhat theatrical language and implausible revelations. But did I "like" it, subjectively? Will I read it again? No.
The book succeeds in its purpose as a well-written Gothic novel. It's not Diane Setterfield's writing that I have a problem with. Apart from the occasional theatrics, her language is engaging and perfectly suited to the tone of the book. In the scene where Margaret visits Angelfield for the first time, her atmospheric writing brings to life the dead house. Although the twists and turns of the plot get a little hard to believe towards the end, for the most part it is engaging.
The reason I won't be re-reading this book is probably because Setterfield might have done too good a job of telling the story. Decay and tragedy seep out of the pages. The reader is sucked into the story and the mystery, but also the loss and hopelessness. From the very beginning, the book gave off a "Flowers in the Attic" meets "The Turn of the Screw" vibe, even before the latter was named in the book itself. However, the most unsettling creatures in this book are not the hinted-at ghosts, they're the humans, rotting in the glorious wastage of their lives. The determination of the inhabitants of Angelfield House to let go and crumble, reflecting the decay of the house itself, leaves you with a desolation that even the various happy endings cannot completely assuage.
I started this book at night and read it in less than 24 hours; reading almost unceasingly not only because I wanted to know the answers to all the questions, but also so that I could finish it and leave all the unnecessary tragedy behind.