In "The Paying Guests," Sarah Waters broaches some provocative questions about social class, sexuality, and the role of family in shaping our lives. TIn "The Paying Guests," Sarah Waters broaches some provocative questions about social class, sexuality, and the role of family in shaping our lives. These are heavy-hitting questions for a novel that opens with a protagonist who initially appears to be genteel and uninspired at her best and wholly unsympathetic at her worst moments. As we are allowed to inch our way into Francis Wray's thoughts and emotions, we begin to discover that her life, which consists of taking care of her prudish mother and her even more dusty, decaying, garish Victorian home serves as a sort of penance for Francis' few moments of rebellion from her early adulthood, and perhaps even for the fact that she is the only child in her family to survive WWI. And just as we begin to dust off good old Francis (who is, after all, only 26 and still early in her prime), two paying guests enter the narrative and become entangled with Francis. With each interaction with this couple, who are painfully rising to the clerk class but still glaringly lower class than the Wrays, Francis begins to gain confidence and an awareness of her blood - how it courses through her veins, urging her forward to take chances and make sacrifices that jeopardize her comfort.
And just when we begin to regard Francis as a hero, tragedy strikes the Wray home and the paying guests become inextricably and horribly woven into the revelation that Francis is not as strong as she imagined herself to be.
This book is both new and old. It is intensely psychological, calling back to the Russian novelists of old, but also socially progressive in its examination of sexuality and classism. And the plot is wholly compelling. A very fine read, indeed. ...more
"Station Eleven" is just the sort of book to read when you feel like this world - our world - is too much. Too fast, too connected, too easy. Set in c"Station Eleven" is just the sort of book to read when you feel like this world - our world - is too much. Too fast, too connected, too easy. Set in contemporary times in a world that has been decimated from the romantically-named Georgian flu, the few survivors of North America quickly abandoned the big cities that they had previously flocked to and formed smaller communities that survived on simpler tasks and pleasures. Emily St. John Mandel must be something of a romantic, because she focuses her story on a traveling band of Shakespeare performers and a symphony, a troupe of travelers who preserve the stories and characters that represent the complicated nature of human relationships which are, after all, at the heart of civilization.
The plot revolves around three seemingly-disconnected characters and moves seamlessly between their stories, between their previous lives of convenience and ease and their post-apocalyptic adventures of survival and they human tendency to create connections with others. The plot moves from a Toronto stage performance of King Lear (an aptly-chosen story to reflect one character's tragic flaws) to the Great Lakes shores of Michigan where a town that cowers under the rule of a strange young prophet is juxtaposed with a nearby rural airport that features a museum of civilization. In between these places are the lives that remind us how fragile our lives are, and how complicated but beautiful survival can be.
This is an excellent read that will leave you grateful that you live in this age but will remind you that the human plight is the same as it was 600 years ago.
My initial approach to this story was skepticism. I am a fan of neither Science Fiction, nor am I likely to cheer on missionary work or applaud the stMy initial approach to this story was skepticism. I am a fan of neither Science Fiction, nor am I likely to cheer on missionary work or applaud the stripping away of native culture that it has proffered in the past. Being that those are two key elements of Michel Faber's "The Book of Strange New Things," it was only the rave reviews it received that tipped my attention into the life of a new prophet, Peter, who travels to a new planet, Oasis, to bring Christianity to the natives who dwell there.
And seriously, you should read this book.
Faber creates a planet that redefines beauty, humanity, and sustainability. Through this landscape and its inhabitants, I began to re-examine my own world and fellow humankind. What do we value? What matters most? Through his storytelling, Faber suggests that our excesses and our egos have clouded our sense of purpose. Written communication between Peter and his wife on Earth, Bea, recall Dante's journey through Hell with only the light of his Beatrice to sustain his harrowed soul. Indeed, Peter's Bea feels as remote as Dante's Beatrice was to him, her soul dwelling in the heavens, patiently watching over his misguided missteps, hoping that he can find his way to her as he bumbles his way through the unknown.
I can't divulge much more without ruining what is an excellent story. Suffice it to say that this book felt both spiritual and Sceince-fiction-esque to me, but only on the fringes, only as a complement to a compelling and beautifully written story of love and loss....more
Each time I dove into Karl Ove Knausgaard's past, I could not help but think that it was odd that I would be so compelled by his "struggle." The bookEach time I dove into Karl Ove Knausgaard's past, I could not help but think that it was odd that I would be so compelled by his "struggle." The book is loosely divided into three stages of his life, all of them which are seen through his pulsing senses, highly aware of mostly himself and the beauty of his environment. Knausgaard struggles at all three stages to relate to others and to understand himself, and so that seems to be loosely what his struggle is, but it is no less poignant or real for being so self-absorbed.
There are many reasons to read and love this book. An unforced stream of consciousness catapulted me through the writer's emotional response to mundane moments and rites of passage. Precise word choice (is this possible in translation?) created a sense of profundity at every turn - if he had an itch, I could almost feel the scratch. When he cleaned his grandmother's house, my nose tingled and hands felt raw. And at its core, the relationship between a boy yearning for independence from a brooding, unpredictable father became the central defining theme of Knausgaard's struggle.
Readers who do not dwell in a sense of urgency to find out what happens next - those who find pleasure in the moment - will surely move quickly through the first of six volumes of the writer's life. The question is, what is left once the hero has faced the father/son dragons and the stark truth of death?...more
I love Ian McEwan's writing, but this one was just an average read for me. I'm not sure that I learned much from it, nor was I particularly connectedI love Ian McEwan's writing, but this one was just an average read for me. I'm not sure that I learned much from it, nor was I particularly connected to any of the characters. Only in the last two or three pages does it become clear that this was exactly what the author intended - there is a lovely twist to the plot - but it was too little, too late. ...more
For years, the true story of the mysterious theft from the Isabella Gardner museum in Boston has compelled me, leading me to read most of what has beeFor years, the true story of the mysterious theft from the Isabella Gardner museum in Boston has compelled me, leading me to read most of what has been written about that fateful night when a couple of thieves stole priceless artworks from a totally vulnerable site. This real-life mystery has taught me much about museum security and the seamy underbelly of the black market that the mafia and many drug cartels - and how they often hold great artworks hostage as collateral for their dark dealings. "The Art Forger" added to my interest in this topic in it's careful presentation of the world of art forgery. Add to that a compelling story of a young artist who has been cast out of the contemporary art scene and has the opportunity to forge her way back into it and you have the makings of a great page-turner, a mystery in and of itself....more
As many other reviewers have written, "Brain on Fire" is compelling more for what the author teaches us about the nature of neurological problems andAs many other reviewers have written, "Brain on Fire" is compelling more for what the author teaches us about the nature of neurological problems and the frustrations inherent in diagnosing and curing those problems. In the past few years, I have been caught up in helping my mom with her subdural hematoma that almost destroyed her brain and the dementia that ultimately did take her intellect and wit from her. Reading Susannah Cahalan's honest, carefully-researched account of her virally-induced "month of madness," however, resonated deeply with me and helped me better understand my mother's impossible behavior as well as appreciate those medical professionals who are willing to work in an area that is still not very well understood scientifically and socially....more
It has been many years since I have read a book that was able to tackle history (the brutal massacre and war for independence of Biafra from Nigeri),It has been many years since I have read a book that was able to tackle history (the brutal massacre and war for independence of Biafra from Nigeri), character (the story was told from the perspective of a white British male who claims Biafran allegiance, a native Igbo boy who desires to be less native and more aligned with the educated elite, and an Igbo Biafran beauty elite who falls passionately in love with a Biafran revolutionary), and social, economic, and cultural subtleties and complexities better than Chimamanda Ngozi Adeche. I have little experience with African history or literature but finished this book with a strong sense of the cultural frustrations rooted in colonization and extending to ethnic cleansing among tribes. And yet, the story was incredibly moving and personal - I was able to inhabit the lives of the three main characters and consider the multitude of other perspectives that contributed to this beautiful narrative.
This is absolutely worth every moment of your reading life....more
Smith Henderson's first novel is a significant work that unfolds the patented preconceived notions that we fold people into. The storyline follows PetSmith Henderson's first novel is a significant work that unfolds the patented preconceived notions that we fold people into. The storyline follows Pete Snow, a rural Montana social worker whose own life is unraveling as he tries to patch other families together. You can't help but like Pete, even as he falls prey to the worst qualities in a father and husband: drunken binges, escapism through drug use, abandonment, and unadulterated adultery. But his heart is in the right place always, and he manages to save a few lives, even as he lets others fall apart.
Filled with characters who are deeply flawed, the perspective often shifts from Pete to other perspectives, allowing the reader a glimpse into the best laid plans and intentions of others. Especially effective is the use of the omniscient reporter-like interviewer who follows Pete's young teenage daughter as she spirals into seedy and dangerous territory in an effort to be loved.
Henderson's narration is comprised of a delightful mix of precise and descriptive imagery, apt raw dialect, and a smattering of arcane words (serried, anyone?) that will expand your vocabulary.
"Fourth of July Creek" is a terrific novel, let alone a first novel, filled with emotional highs and lows and surprises that drive the reader to question how our snap-judgements, grudges, and prejudices often work against our ability to love one another....more
This was Tara Conklin's first novel and it reads as such. While many authors have incorporated flashbacks and epistles to weave together the narrativeThis was Tara Conklin's first novel and it reads as such. While many authors have incorporated flashbacks and epistles to weave together the narratives of two separate characters, Conklin's two storylines and characters felt cobbled together, contrived to help her reach her ultimate goal. In fact, in reading her Q and A at the end of the text, she explained that she started with one of the minor characters, then built in the main character from the past...which reinforces my sense that the narrative frame from the present tense was more of an afterthought. And yet, this narrative frame overwhelmed the novel and detracted from some of the best writing.
The novel shifts from the detective work of Carolina Sparrow, who is sleuthing about the history of a remarkable slave house girl, Josephine, who may or may not have painted and drawn what are now deemed to be works of art that represent humanity and compassion about plantation life. Josephine may or may not have direct descendants. One of the descendants may or may not be a salt-of-the-earth rock band member who supports himself by working at a library. Lina may or may not be falling in love with him, all the while grappling with her famous artist father's possible love affairs and the memory of who her dead mother may or may not have been.
You get my point?
The best part of the book is when Conklin lets Josephine take over and live in the moment. This is when her imagery and storytelling takes on a poetic, magical quality featuring careful, purposeful imagery. This is when Conklin is at her finest....more