Okay, I did not get this book at all. It seemed something that I would totally love - fairies (the magically scary kind), a place that seems to be asOkay, I did not get this book at all. It seemed something that I would totally love - fairies (the magically scary kind), a place that seems to be as real a character as any of the human ones, "houses made of houses within houses made of time" and lots of shout-outs to poetry and mythology.
The book tries too hard, as if, like the characters that people its pages, it believes itself to be possessed of a Destiny as well, to Somehow be Mystic and Romantic and Poetic. Only, it doesn't work. The problem with Little, Big is that the characters, and by extension, the story, have no soul. Everyone is so passive, so fatalistic as if the story is happening by accident to them - and well, it is - and the reader comes across them via some sort of literary channel surfing. I couldn't bring myself to care about any of them, not even the house, not even the forests.
And Crowley's writing, while witty in bits, is often affected and self-satisfied in others. The plot is unnecessarily meandering and contrived. I quite literally facepalmed at the convoluted explanation of Sylvie's nickname - you can literally feel the author winking and nudging you, going "Get it? Auberon and Titania? See what I just did there?!" I did like Auberon (the second one, the first one was just plain creepy) and Sylvie (despite the bad Spanish and the tired Spicy Latina stereotype - which is still not the most outdated stereotype in the book; just wait till you read Fred Savage's lines) but their story panned out halfheartedly, its focus taken away by the other minutiae of the plot. The ending itself left me indifferent. The only thing I could think was, okay, well that's done now. I did not get the feeling of epicness that the author clearly wanted to convey, only a sense that he could have achieved in 300 pages what he tried to do in 600.
I might have liked this book better if it didn't wander off, if the stories were more concrete and purposeful. I find magic realism and fantasy work best when there is an underlying structure to tie the fantastical elements together. Practical, solid beams to hold up all the castles made of air. Little. Big does not live up to the wonderful potential in its story because its underlying structure is weak as smoke, and just as easily swept away from the reader's mind once the book is done....more
The beginning of this book was brilliant, and I was inclined to continue to think so when I got to the first story, If on a winter's night a travellerThe beginning of this book was brilliant, and I was inclined to continue to think so when I got to the first story, If on a winter's night a traveller, where he talks of the smoke obscuring the first paragraph. The story itself didn't interest me so much but I was willing to go on and Outside the town of Malbork was an improvement. Unfortunately, it just went downhill after that, only to be saved by the ending.
The irony is that, one of the driest parts of the book describes this. Nevertheless, when Silas Flannery conceives of a book composed solely of incipits because it is the beginning of the book that captivates the reader, he forgets that even when there are multiple beginnings, there is still going to be a middle and an end, composed of such beginnings. The issue with the book was that of all the stories that appear and disappear, I found only two really interesting - Outside the town of Malbork and Around an empty grave, which seemed like an interesting blend betyween Mario Vargas Llosa's Lituma en los Andes and Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel García Márquez. The others were either dry or were interrupted by the narration. Those two were the only stories that made me want to read more, to share the curiosity of The Reader and The Other Reader. So in the end, I can only say that I liked these stories and I liked the clever little concept and that is it....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
I started reading Perfume about five or six years back and abandoned it a few chapters into the first part, but not because of the book itself. It capI started reading Perfume about five or six years back and abandoned it a few chapters into the first part, but not because of the book itself. It captivated me from the first, right from where Patrick Süskind spends a page and some more reminding us, in a book about fragrance, of how much everyone stank.
I love the theme of the book and I love Süskind's writing. A translation isn't the best way to do that, and this one does falter at times but you can't help marvel at the sheer luxury of his words. Seriously, I wanted to read it out aloud, just to taste the wealth of nouns in it: "And so he gladly let himself be instructed in the arts of making soap from lard, sewing gloves of chamois, mixing powders from wheat flour and almond bran and pulverized violet roots. Rolled scented candles made of charcoal, saltpeter, and sandalwood chips. Pressed Oriental pastilles of myrrh, benzoin, and powdered amber. Kneaded frankincense, shellac, vetiver, and cinnamon into balls of incense. Sifted and spatulated poudre impermle out of crushed rose petals, lavender flowers, cascarilla bark. Stirred face paints, whites and vein blues, and molded greasy sticks of carmine for the lips. Banqueted on the finest fingernail dusts and minty-tasting tooth powder." I can only imagine how it sounds like in German, which has the perfect music for nouns sometimes.
I also like the way Süskind dances along the very thin line between comedy and horror in this book. Perfume is full of moments such as these: the fate of Grenouille's associates every time he leaves them, the hilariously horrifying denouement at Grasse. Grenouille himself is such a fascinating character: he commands the sincerest respect as much as he repels and bewilders. He is so utterly alien and yet one can understand perfectly his lunatic dedication to his craft. This is a Künstlerroman, because Grenouille is an artist. He doesn't do what he loves because he loves it; it is what he is: there is just no other alternative. He can't change his actions any sooner than he can change his face. And while I was a little uncertain about the ending, there was no better way to go for someone like Jean-Baptiste Grenouille....more
I started this book on a lazy Sunday afternoon thinking that it would be yet another piece of magic realism, feminist fiction with a 'Practical Magic'I started this book on a lazy Sunday afternoon thinking that it would be yet another piece of magic realism, feminist fiction with a 'Practical Magic' meets 'Cien Años de Soledad' hangover. As it turns out, there is surprisingly little magic in the story and more realism than would appear at first sight.
The author describes it as a sort of Hero's Journey and the story centres around Towner Whitney's struggle to return to tranquility, as well as her roots. The book is an easy, smooth read and I liked Barry's Salem, beyond witchcraft and haunted houses: I never knew that the ocean and islands formed such a distinct part of Salem's geographical and emotional landscape. Barry is clearly someone with a profound love for the water, and as someone who lives in a city by the sea and would miss it terribly, I can appreciate that.
Towner's self-confessedly unreliable character, is surprisingly sympathetic. However, I found her ultimate redemption as well as the incident that spurs it, to be somewhat unbelievable. I also wish that there was more actual lace reading: while I don't like authors deliberately injecting mysticism and magic into books, lace reading was an interesting concept and could have been developed beyond the excerpts ending each chapter, which I thought was a rather nice touch.
The Lace Reader is not without its flaws but I look forward to reading Brunonia Barry's next. The reason I liked this book, despite its failings, was the reason I like all my favourites: it had atmosphere. The book had the ability to make you feel the waves of the ocean and islands on a windy evening and being able to do that from my sofa made this a very satisfying read....more