This was a strange read for me, because it was a pretty firm 3 stars and overall kind of "meh," as it was often pretty heavy on the schmaltz and the pThis was a strange read for me, because it was a pretty firm 3 stars and overall kind of "meh," as it was often pretty heavy on the schmaltz and the protagonist was ridiculously naive at times. But it was also oddly compelling. I work at a veterinary hospital and was on PM shifts the entire time I was reading this, often getting home around midnight and then staying up waaaaay too late reading this book, until my eyes closed involuntarily and I dropped it on my face.
I think most of why I loved it is that it predominantly takes place in a lazy beach town, everything happens in the 1930s, and there is a hurricane. Those are three of my favorite things....more
“It was a story of guilt. And of blame. Misplaced blame.”
This is going to read less like a review and more like a clumsy, gushing love lett“It was a story of guilt. And of blame. Misplaced blame.”
This is going to read less like a review and more like a clumsy, gushing love letter. I loved this book, I truly did, and the story is going to stay with me for a very long time. When I finished reading, after my eyes quit feeling like they might start leaking at any moment, I never wanted to let the book go. Like Rose and Jack in Titanic am I with The House of Special Purpose, except I am totally willing to move over and make some space for this masterpiece on my piece of floating door. Even when I buy my own copy, I will not be satisfied unless I’m constantly carrying it with me, preaching about it to all the unconverted.
And now I shall struggle to do this book justice.
One mark of a very well-written story is how compelling it is even when you know exactly how it will end. The story of the Romanovs is well-trod ground, and even though Boyne takes some liberties with it in this novel, it’s still fairly predictable: From nearly the beginning I knew who Zoya was, and of course I knew what would happen to Russia and the fate of the Tsar and his family. But the way Georgy’s story unfolds is just too captivating for that to matter.
Boyne opens with Georgy preparing for the death of his beloved wife to ovarian cancer in 1981, and the story is told through a series of flashbacks of both his life with Zoya and his time with the Romanovs as a guard for the Tsarevich. The setup is very artfully done, with hints dropped and details given in such a way that knowing the outcome of the events and of some lives doesn’t remove any of the need to keep going; rather, it makes the flashbacks—a moment with Arina, a conversation with a beloved friend—all the more poignant and tragic. And while most Romanov–centric stories focus solely on the children, Boyne has made the Tsar come to life. It sounds so cheesy, I know, but he really has. If you have read your Russian history, it’s hard to think of Nicholas’s attitude toward the changing political situation as anything but willful ignorance. But Boyne’s portrayal of the last tsar really puts you inside his head, and even though you know that of course this isn’t actually Nicholas talking it is so easy to get where he’s coming from and to forgive, if not accept, his decisions. By all accounts the tsar was very dedicated to his people, but he was easily led and made many poor choices, and his perception of the Russian people’s needs was so skewed. Boyne captures it all with heartbreaking accuracy.
While the love story is central to the plot, it is more tragic than romantic. Georgy and Zoya are bound by their lifelong love, yes, but also by fear, secrets, and resentment. The fear of being found out and the fear of being alone; the secrets they carry, together and apart; the resentment anyone might have for someone you feel chained to, even as you are sure you can’t live without them at your side. At times they have betrayed their families, friends, and each other. They are two people who have survived against all odds and stay together because being bound to someone who knows what darkness lurks inside you and what monsters chase you is better, safer, than being alone or trying to open up to someone new.
And I think this, more than the multitude of sufferings in their lives, is the most tragic element to their tale. There is very little actual affection to be seen in the stories Georgy tells of their marriage; even though they speak to each other of their love, the impression I got was of an inability to be alone, the need to have someone at your side who knows your sins and your secrets, who truly knows you. They seemed happiest when in the company of others—their daughter, their grandson, their friends. There is love between them, yes, but not the bright, sweeping, simplistic sort you find in a Nicholas Sparks novel. Georgy and Zoya’s love is in turns complacent, aching, tolerant, tender, furious... It contains the whole spectrum of human emotion.
Their story is hard to read—both of them are far from perfect, and while Zoya’s imperfections are perhaps more understandable and undoubtedly more interesting, Georgy’s periodic admissions of his own failings kept the narrative feeling relatively honest. He gives off a somewhat biased vibe without taking it into “call me Ishmael” territory. I never felt like he was trying to get me to absolve him of his sins, though at times he rationalized behavior that seemed beyond the pale. I always felt Zoya deserved more from him, but at the same time how much more could he give? Zoya’s motivations are for the most part a mystery, and as much as I yearned for more insight into her psyche, this story couldn’t have been told any other way. And god, can you all please read this so we can share in the aching beauty of those last lines? The sorrow and the relief conveyed in so few words? I read the last four paragraphs probably six times once I’d finished and they never lost their impact.
That being said, I couldn’t bring myself to give a full five stars. It’s a page-turner, to be sure, and the prose is just beautiful. But some parts were just too convenient, like (view spoiler)[Georgy’s involvement in the death of Rasputin (hide spoiler)]. On the whole, though, this is truly one of the greatest, most well-constructed novels I have ever read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough....more
1. Historical fiction set in 1920s – ’40s 2. Manhattan 3. Chocolate bars 4. F. Scott Fitzgerald 5. Atmospheric proseHere is a short list of things I love:
1. Historical fiction set in 1920s – ’40s 2. Manhattan 3. Chocolate bars 4. F. Scott Fitzgerald 5. Atmospheric prose which borders on poetry
I love other things too, of course, but Rules of Civility doesn’t have tequila or dogs so I’m leaving those off my list.
More than a love story between two people, this is a love story for New York City. Amor Towles has written a novel that makes me homesick for a time I can never visit and a place I’ve never lived. I’ve only been to New York City once and it was for a weekend, but I fell in love with it, and Towles has managed to capture exactly why. New York City, especially in 1938, has everything. It has Chernoff’s and the 21 Club. It has Brooklyn and Park Avenue. It never sleeps. It is always breathing, living, changing. And in the middle of this city is a girl who is just trying to make it on her own.
As Eve would say, doesn’t New York just turn you inside out?
So much—from the characters to the situations to the prose—is reminiscent of a Scott Fitzgerald novel that I feel like it is only fitting I finished reading Rules of Civility on his birthday. At more than a few points I was reminded of The Great Gatsby. But this is also an outstanding novel by its own merits. Katey and Eve are no shrinking violets. These girls aren’t out to secure a man; they are out to have fun and make themselves. We follow Katey from boardinghouse to Condé Nast, enjoying her wit and wisdom as she slowly moves her way up the social ladder, and her relationship with Tinker, though affecting her relationships with others, is more of a side plot than anything else.
And the prose! Oh, the prose. Say what you will about Fitzgerald, but he’s one of my favorite authors and a great deal of that is owed to his poetic way of writing. Amor Towles did not disappoint me, with bits like this:
—Most people remember the phoenix for being born from the ashes, he said. But they forget its other feature. —What’s that? I asked. —That it lives five hundred years.
In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions—we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.
—That’s it, he says. Any interest? —What’ll it cost me? —According to Thoreau, nearly everything. —It’d be nice to have everything at least once before giving it up. He smiled. —I’ll give you a call when you’ve got it.
For however inhospitable the wind, from this vantage point Manhattan was simply so improbable, so wonderful, so obviously full of promise—that you wanted to approach it for the rest of your life without ever quite arriving.
I have no doubt that they were the right choices for me. And at the same time, I know that right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss.
I wish I could write a review half as amazing as this book, but this will have to suffice....more
Before there was James Cameron’s Titanic . . . there was Candice F. Ransom’s Nicole.
Spoiler alert: The boat sinks!
I never read any Sunfire books beforBefore there was James Cameron’s Titanic . . . there was Candice F. Ransom’s Nicole.
Spoiler alert: The boat sinks!
I never read any Sunfire books before this. I’d never even heard of Sunfire (I guess it was about ten years before my time) and I only came across this book because of Karen’s review of Who Cares About Karen?, which made me wonder what books were out there with my name in the title. A few minutes with the Goodreads search engine and I had amassed a list of four books. This is the least erotic one I found and holy crap it’s also about the Titanic!!!! So I promptly ordered it off Amazon.
It’s not a great book. I’m not going to rate it based on littry merits because it doesn’t really have any. Even when I was twelve I probably wouldn’t have been crazy about this book because the whole “torn between two lovers” bit is resolved very early on and at no point in my life would I ever have thought, Well, they’ve had a two-minute conversation and they’re wildly in love, that sounds pretty logical! I liked Pierce better than Karl, purely because he seemed more interesting, but we Nicoles are a mysterious, flighty breed. Who can say why we make the choices we do?
Anyway, it gets three stars because it’s about the Titanic, it’s a cheesy ’80s teen romance, and my name is on the cover.
And yes, the description of the ship going down made me tear up. Don’t judge me....more
Sometimes I read Christian fiction. But really only if it involves Russians or Amish people.
This series was okay. I mostly liked it because I'm such aSometimes I read Christian fiction. But really only if it involves Russians or Amish people.
This series was okay. I mostly liked it because I'm such a Slavophile. I didn't like the sixth book as much as the others. I also wasn't a fan of the fact that it was basically a constant shitstorm raining down upon one family. Seriously, after a while it's just like, How many more things can possibly go wrong in your lives?...more
I've been a Titanic nut since I was nine or ten. Initially I just jumped on the James Cameron's Titanic bandwagon, but soon it turned into something mI've been a Titanic nut since I was nine or ten. Initially I just jumped on the James Cameron's Titanic bandwagon, but soon it turned into something more. Sixteen years later, I have a fascination with the catastrophe. So I was very, very excited when I found this on my library's Fortunate Finds shelf circa the 100th anniversary of the sinking.
The novel begins in Cherbourg, when Tess is picked up by Lady Duff Gordon and given passage on the Titanic. Tess is a maid with the ultimate goal of becoming a dressmaker. And who better to help her attain that goal than one of the most eminent designers of the time? But we all know the story of the ship even God Himself couldn't sink. Somehow Tess survives and makes it to New York, where she becomes caught up in the Duff Gordons' world of wealth and deceit during the Senate hearings meant to determine what really happened the night the ship sank.
I put this on my "strong females" shelf mostly because of Pinky, a plucky Times reporter making less than 50 cents an hour trying to be the next Nellie Bly. She's also supporting an ill father most people assume is dead. I wouldn't call Tess weak by any means, though, especially given her determination not to live her life for anyone else.
The sinking is covered quickly, which disappointed me initially, but Alcott makes up for it later with the survivors' testimonies and a few flashbacks. The biggest problem I had with the book was the lack of character development. Though much of the novel is centered around the Senate hearings, Tess and Lady Duff Gordon are supposed to be the Ones to Watch. Yet Alcott doesn't spend much time making them, or the others, people. For example: Why is Lady Duff's relationship with her sister so weird? Why is Pinky so upset over Tess's treatment of Jim? Is it because she likes him? You know, not likes him, but likes him likes him? Or is it just because she believes him to be a genuinely good person? I can theorize and research until the cows come home, but I'd like to be shown some things.
The romance plotline was lackluster. I didn't find Jack worth swooning over and don't think enough was said about Jim. (Additionally, I don't think much of Tess for canoodling with a married man just because he is going to get his divorce finalized "soon." In my experience, a guy who's seeing you at the same time he's with someone else is not much of a catch.) Also, I never can muster any sympathy for a heroine who is overwrought because two guys like her. I wanted to smack her like some fluttery ingénue in an old timey film: "Torn between two lovers, my arse. Snap out of it, Ms. Collins!"
But though I found the character development shoddy and thought there should've been more of Molly Brown and the Countess of Rothes, I applaud Alcott for this: No one is really painted as definitively good or bad. A lesson from history (and something pointed out a few times in The Dressmaker) is that everyone wants clear-cut villains to blame but often there are none. Even the heroes (coughcoughLowe!coughcough) aren't outright heroic.
Overall, I'd give the book three stars*. But the testimonies (from actual transcripts of the hearings), the depictions of how people were affected by the sinking (the cook's wife on the Carpathia gave me goosebumps), and the descriptions of the ship going down made me pretty emotional and I found this book hard to put down at bedtime, so four stars it is!