When I was a teenager, I read Robinson Crusoe several times and I really liked it. So when I was in Brighton in 1994 to study English, I picked up sev...moreWhen I was a teenager, I read Robinson Crusoe several times and I really liked it. So when I was in Brighton in 1994 to study English, I picked up several books in a cheap Wordsworth edition. One of these was Moll Flanders, and although it sounded good, I mostly picked it up because of Defoe being the author. And let me just say, right off the bat, this is nothing like Robinson Crusoe. And not just because of the obvious differences in the stories. No, I thought Crusoe was a really great story – and well, I’m just not quite sure how I feel about Moll Flanders. (Sidenote to myself: I need to reread Robinson Crusoe soon!)
From the get-go I want to make it perfectly clear that, when reading this book, you never doubt that you are reading the work of a very skillful writer. You can feel the talent on every page and even though I at times felt that things ought to feel repetitive (page after page after page about Moll’s criminal career), they just never did. This material in the hands of a less skilled writer would have been a complete disaster. As it is now, I’m basing most of my 3-stars rating on the skills of the writer and thereby the inherent quality of the book, not the story itself – although one could have hoped that he could have made a better novel out of his material.
The story itself is rather simple. In the shape of an autobiographical memoir of the main protagonist Moll Flanders, we follow her life from childhood to she is in her 70s. The entire book is actually summarized perfectly in it’s subtitle: ‘Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continued Variety for Threescores Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother) Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest and died a Penitent.’ And yes – that’s exactly what this book’s about. And doesn’t it sound exciting and thrilling? Why yes, it does. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite read that way.
I think the main reason for my lack of enthusiasm for this book, is it’s main character. Moll Flanders, as she calls herself, is all in all not very likable. I lost count of how many children she had through the book but in the end, she only seemed to remember having one. She leaves several children on several occasions – never to speak of or think about them again, it seems. Even though I know she’s forced into a lot of the mischief, she freely admits that she a lot of the time only repents if she gets caught – and then she only repents of the fact that she got caught. I do get that all her bad luck comes in part from making one bad decision when very young and then having some bad circumstances thrown upon her and because she lives in a time where women didn’t have a lot of options – but still, she does come across as a woman so focused on securing her own hide that she tramples whatever gets in her way. It may be that that was the only way for her – but when reading her story, you don’t get a lot of sympathy for her character and since this novel is completely focused on her, she needs to be interesting enough to carry this. And she’s not.
I’m not sure if I’m damaged by reading John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748) and Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (also 1748) but I’m a bit tired of reading these 18th century books about ‘fallen women’, roughly put. It may be a bit unfair towards Moll Flanders since this is the first published of these three, but the best thing about Moll is that she is much more a get-goer than both Clarissa and Fanny. I rated Fanny 2 stars back when I read it in 2009 and even though I’m not done reading Clarissa yet, I’m so far planning on rating it 3 stars. So these are definitely not books I really love. Both Fanny Hill and Clarissa are rather repetitive and I think the only reason Moll Flanders doesn’t feel the same way is that Defoe is the better writer.
If you choose to see these three books in the context of the emancipation of women and see these books as showing the situation of women and how their dependence on men sometimes placed them in bad situations, forcing them to make choices like prostitution and theft, they do become more interesting. I have only a very cursory knowledge of the suffragette movement and feminism or the roots of each of these but I think books like this paved the way for the equality between men and women – and of course, that owns them a lot of favor. And in that line of thought, it’s interesting that all three books are told from the point of view of a woman – but written by men. Even more so because I think the female voice feels true in all three.
I do feel that there’s an interesting field of study here – the role of women in these 18th century novels as well as the portrayal of women as whores – and not whores as immoral beings who get punished but rather as women down on their luck who end up better than they started, and often better off because of their immorality. I think it could be interesting to read Daniel Defoe’s other novel Roxana (which seem rather similar to Moll Flanders) as well as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (although I need to finish Clarissa first and have a long breather before committing to another of Richardson’s works) and also Justine (1740) by Marquis de Sade which, however, doesn’t seem to be in favor of women’s right in spite of it having the same seemingly morale as the Defoe, Cleland and Richardson novels – immorality pays and the moral ones suffer, again roughly put.
Without having much literary scholarship to base it on, I feel that Charles Dickens is carrying the social indignation’s torch, lit by Defoe, into the 19th century. He too focused on those down on their luck and just like Defoe, his huge knowledge of the world he was living in and, especially, how the lower classes lived, is the main inspiration for the novels.
Now all these three books are on the 1001 books you must read before you die list – and my feeling about all three of them is that they are included because of their context and social importance, more than their literary merits even though the editors of the book argue otherwise …! They must find some worth in them since all three have survived all three editions of the list – and they are worth reading, definitely. I just don’t think I will read either of them again.
So after writing a review mostly focusing on the social context and literary history, I have to come out and state plainly that although I somewhat enjoyed Moll Flanders, it’s not a novel I see myself returning to and it’s more the context it was written in and the implications it might have had, that interests me, not so much the novel itself.
(And finally – don’t you just love when the books you read, compliment each other so you can have talks and discussions with them and yourself about their meaning, value, importance and so much more???)(less)
I really wanted to read a novel by Wilkie Collins after reading the Dan Simmons novel Drood where Collins is the narrator. Collins talk a lot about hi...moreI really wanted to read a novel by Wilkie Collins after reading the Dan Simmons novel Drood where Collins is the narrator. Collins talk a lot about his books and how they compare to Charles Dickens’ novels in this book so I wanted to see for myself. I choseThe Woman in White since I’ve heard a lot of good about it. So I got it from the library and I’m so glad I did. I ended up reading more than 350 pages in a day just to figure out what happened (and after having kids, that doesn’t happen often).
Collins doesn’t waste any time in this novel. The novel begins with Walter Hartright being engaged as a drawing teacher to two young women, residing at Limmeridge House. Afterwards, he walks home from his mother’s late at night and meets a strange woman dressed all in white. This woman starts the mystery in this book – on page 23. Walter helps her to get to London where she gets in a cab and drives away. He later overhears two men talking about her and how she has escaped from an insane asylum.
When he arrives at Limmeridge, he gets kind of a shock when he sees the young lady he’s supposed to teach how to draw. This young lady, Laura Fairlie, turns out to have a striking resemblance to the woman, Walter met on the road to London. Walter then confides in Laura’s half sister, Marian Halcombe, and tells her about the woman in white – especially because the woman mentioned having at one point been happy at Limmeridge House.
Now Marian isn’t your typical heroine. She has the most beautiful figure – but an ugly face with a mustache. Marian is almost masculine and spends the entire novel making excuses for her sex. My favorite one: ‘Being, however, nothing but a woman, condemned to patience, propriety, and petticoats for life /…/’ (p. 198). I’m not quite sure what Collins wanted to say about woman with this novel – yes, Marian is resourceful, intelligent and wonderful – but she’s ugly and masculine, almost a man. And Laura, her beautiful sister, is sweet and kind, but weak and without the courage to do much for herself. So his view on women doesn’t seem to be too positive – nevertheless, he created a heroine that men lined up to marry when the novel was first published.
Walter of course falls in love with Laura, but unfortunately, Laura is engaged to marry Sir Percival Glyde. Of course, Sir Percival Glyde turns out to be somehow involved with the woman in white – and in fact, she tries to stop Laura from marrying him. But there’s no proof that there’s something wrong with Sir Percival so even though both Laura and Marian feels something is off, the marriage takes place.
And now the action really goes into overdrive. Who is the woman in white and what is her connection with Sir Percival? What is Sir Percival’s secret that he’s doing everything in his power to protect? How is Count Fosco involved – besides being Sir Percival’s best friend?
I must admit that I just fell under the spell of this novel. The actual secret and much of the plot, is nothing new. But the way Collins does it, just drags you along for an exciting and excellent ride. I really loved this book. There were twists and turns and even though I did guess some of the twists, I was still intrigued enough to just read, read, read. No wonder people where queuing up to get each new installment as they were published weekly originally! I’m glad I didn’t have to wait but could just read whenever I could find the time.
This is a epistolary novel. It’s written from the points of view of various characters – some have a lot to say (especially the two main characters Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe). They write journals, diaries, letters, tombstones – and all this comes together and creates a mystery where we are constantly trying to keep up with what’s actually happening. We don’t know more than the characters do. Writing in this way, gives the character the opportunity of speaking for themselves. We are creating the story out of the various testimonies and eye witness accounts we receive.
I’ve read some review stating that there are several narrators who are unreliable. And yeah, there are definitely some narrators who don’t tell the truth as we get to know it – or at least as we think we know it. But they believe they tell the truth – they tell the truth as they saw it. They are not (all) trying to mislead, they simply don’t have all the information we do. For instance, the housekeeper thinks one of the guests in the house is all nice and friendly – and as long as he is kind to her, how should she know otherwise? I know I can’t trust all these, but my definition of an unreliable narrator has probably hitherto been that it was someone who was either deliberately trying to mislead or who was influenced by drugs, alcohol or suffering from mental illness. I guess I need to change my definition – since I definitely can’t trust all of these! One can even question to what extent it’s possible to trust Walter Hardright himself, the main narrator. He gets the chance of a lifetime to dispose of his rival – and the question is whether he takes it or not, whether he tries to save the man or not. Also, he doesn’t try to get justice from a legal standpoint. He becomes a regular vigilante and goes after what he thinks is justice. Can we trust what he says? Is he just trying to justify that he took action in this way?As a first-time reader, I at least was so caught up in the plot that I trusted Marian and Walter completely and just read and read and never looked back. I think this novel will benefit greatly from a reread where I’ll be more able to look beneath the layers of deceit and look behind all the action to try to discover what’s really going on.
In some ways, this remind me of the movie The Ususal Suspects. When I first saw it, I doubted everything about who Kaiser Soze really was – when I saw it the second time, I had no doubts. If I see it a third time, who knows what I’ll think? I think it will be the same with this one – your perception of it will change by where you are in life at the moment, you sit down and read.
For some reason, this is my year of reading epistolary novels. I read We Need to Talk About Kevin earlier this year – loved it – and I’m reading Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady right now. Both written completely in letters. I didn’t plan for this to happen but I think this way of writing a novel really works. You feel like you get under the character’s skin, you feel that you are part of their lives. I think that this way of writing is not used as much anymore – and it’s a shame, which We Need to Talk About Kevin is a perfect example of. In this novel, you really got to understand the mother’s frustration and doubt about herself when faced with her son being a high school shooter. But this was a one way communication. In Clarissa, we get letters from several parties and thereby, we get to see the thought processes of several characters. And although I’m only a little way into this huge novel, I love it so much so far. The Woman in White is another take on how to write an epistolary novel – with a combination of letters, diary entries and more with not all characters being enthusiastic about having to write down what they think and remember. Another way to gain insight.
Besides being an epistolary novel, this is also generally regarded as the first sensation novel. It combined the ‘thrills of Gothic literature with the psychological realism of the domestic novel’. (p. xiii) The scary things from the Gothic novels was suddenly present in the well-known middle-class Victorian England. Home isn’t exactly a happy place – which is very true for the characters in this novel. Home is a place where you get poisoned, drugged and insulted. It’s not a safe place.
This edition of The Woman in White has three appendixes. Two of which I didn’t find very interesting – the first was theatrical adaptions of the novel, the third was how the novel was serialized in Dickens’ paper All the Year Round. But the second appendix had an interview with Collins where he talked about the novel, how he works by first finding a central idea, then the characters. Then the incidents comes from the nature of the characters and finally, he just starts at the beginning. In this case, he was inspired by a letter he received about a real or supposed wrongful incarceration at a lunatic asylum as well as he heard about an old French trial about substitution of persons. From there, the rest came.
This appendix kind of gives a peak into an author at work which is rather rare with an author writing in the 1800s. So I found these few pages extremely fascinating.
To end this rather lengthy review, I just want to mention my Dickens-Drood thing (obsession, some might say). Now this novel doesn’t shine any additional light on the question about who killed Edwin Drood (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) but what it does do, is give additional information in the appendix about Wilkie Collins and the hints in Drood to The Woman in White gives the Simmons novel a level more. I really like how it gives so much extra when you read several books by the same author and about the same theme. I’ve really gotten a lot out of focusing on Dickens and his Drood mystery. (less)
‘To love or to have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.’ (p. 1357)
We all know t...more‘To love or to have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.’ (p. 1357)
We all know the story. Jean Valjean is sent to prison because he steals a lump of bread to ensure his and his family’s survival. But this is no ordinary prison. This is the gallows where men are worked and worked and where the smallest offense just gets them locked up some more. And Valjean is locked up for nineteen years because he tries to escape this hell hole.
When he’s finally released, he is an angry bitter man, not the least because no inn will let him stay the night because of his yellow convict passport: ‘A convict may leave the galleys behind, but not his condemnation.’ (p. 103).
But Valjean is lucky. He meets Bishop Myriel who kindly gives him shelter for the night. And just as kindly – or not – Valjean repays the favor by making off with Myriel’s silverware, the only luxury the old Bishop allows himself. Of course he’s caught – but when he is brought in front of the Bishop against, the Bishop claims that he gave the silverware to Valjean and forgot to give him the silver candlesticks. Valjean is then sent on his way with this extra loot and an awakened conscience. Unlucky for him – but lucky for the reader since it gets to be of vital significance later on – Valjean hasn’t quite quit his criminal ways yet and so he steals a coin from a 12-year-old boy.
After a couple of year has passed, we are back with Valjean who is now living under an alias as a wealthy factory owner who does good wherever he goes. One of these good deeds is helping a young woman, Fantine, who after having been a young and beautiful woman living the good life in Paris, has a child. She tries what she can to protect the little girl names Cosette by leaving her with a couple owing an inn whom she thinks she can trust. Fantine never runs out of bad luck and she sells whatever she has – her hair, her teeth – to pay for her daughter’s upkeep.
Fantine comes to live in the same town as Valjean and is eventually fired from his factory because of her having a child. Valjean meets her when Inspector Javert arrests her for attacking a man. Javert is Valjean’s evil spirit. He has been working in the gallows too but as an inspector and he knows Valjean from then. When Valjean one day lifts a cart off a man, Javert recognizes him – but Valjean escapes, together with Cosette.
Now, Valjean takes care of Cosette and is as close to being her father as it’s possible without it actually being so. But again and again, he crosses paths with Javert and of course, we will get a final showdown because Hugo is the master of chance meetings.
When reading about Fantine, I can’t help but wonder if Victor Hugo read Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Story of a Mother and became inspired by that to write Les Misérables. I know that a mother giving up everything to save her child, is a common theme but still. Fantine gives up her teeth and her hair to help her child, the unnamed mother in the fairytale gives up her eyes, her hair and her warmth to find her child and rescue it from the cold hand of death. It is possible – especially since Andersen and Hugo met each other in 1833 so at least Hugo has been aware of Andersen’s existence. The Story of a Mother was published 1845 so it was published before Les Misérables. I can’t find any confirmation but it’s an interesting connection, I think!
Hugo’s writing style is so impressive. He writes pages and pages about something and you just can’t see the connection to the rest of the novel, and suddenly there it is, and everything becomes so clear. He starts the novel writes pages and pages about the Bishop Myriel and I just kept wondering why he wrote about him when Jean Valjean is the main character of the book. But of course, it made sense. And he did that throughout the novel and even though it surprised me, even irritated me at some points, it works. He just has a way with language (or I assume that it’s him and not just the translator) – even (especially) when he’s writing about the sewers: ‘These heaps of garbage at the corners of the stone blocks, these tumbrils of mire jolting through the streets at night, these horrid scavengers carts, these fetid streams of subterranean slime which the pavement hides from you, do you know what all this is? It’s the flowering meadow, it is the green grass, it is marjoram and thyme and sage, it is game, it is cattle, it is the satisfied low of huge oxen at evening, it is perfumed hay, it is golden corn, it is bread on your table, it is warm blood in your veins, it is healthy, it is joy, it is life. Thus wills that mysterious creating which is transformation upon earth and transfiguration in heaven.’ (p. 1234-1235). At another point, he writes about what it would be like to drawn in a pit of quicksand at the bottom of the sewer – magnificently written!
It also surprised me that he was funny. Especially in the beginning, he made me smile several times and I definitely hadn’t expected that from this book. See this way of characterizing a man: ‘The senator /…/ was an intelligent man, who had made his way in life with a directness of purpose which paid no attention to all those stumbling-blocks which constitute obstacles in men’s path, known as conscience, sworn faith, justice, and duty; he had advanced straight to his object without once swerving in the line of his advancement and his interest.’ (p. 35). I love this – it’s spot on and just nails (a lot of) politicians!
Throughout the book, you can see Hugo advocating for education among other things. ‘The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.’ (p. 21). According to the introduction in my edition (Everyman’s Library), Hugo saw himself as a politician and therefore, from time to time, inserts himself into the text to talk about how he feels about Waterloo, the state of France, Napoleon, convents and gallows, and how a just society ought to be. In the end, I think he tried to write a truthful account of France as he saw her. And it’s beautiful and well worth taking one’s time with.
‘/…/ truth is a nourishment as well as wheat. A reason, by fasting from knowledge and wisdom, becomes puny. Let us lament as over stomachs, over minds which do not eat. If there is anything more poignant than a body agonising for want of bread, it is a soul which is dying of hunger for light.’ (p. 984) (less)
Sometimes while reading this book, I wondered what we would have thought of Charles Dickens, if he had been writing today. With the subjects of this b...moreSometimes while reading this book, I wondered what we would have thought of Charles Dickens, if he had been writing today. With the subjects of this book, it in some ways resembles the novels found in magazines where you read an instalment every week and have to wait eagerly every week to read the next part of the story. In fact, that's exactly what it is - as most people know, this is how many of Dickens novels were published. So would Dickens have been regarded higher if he had written today than we regard the novelist writing in magazines, both having to make their stories interesting and exciting enough for people to return week after week so the writer could earn his keep? Would Dickens' novels still be regarded as classics? I have no doubt that the answer is yes. David Copperfield is an amazing novel. It had me in tears a couple of times and although the story is a well-known one, I still had to read on and on to see what would happen to this young boy. This is a bildungsroman where we follow David from birth to well into adulthood. When David is born, his father is already dead but he has a very loving mother and an equally loving maid. However, her mother marries a very nasty man who along with his sister makes life miserable for David and his mother, ending in his mother’s early death and David being sent away, to work in a factory after first having been placed in a boarding school, ruled by a very strict principal. We see his first friendships, both with a boy in school and with a family he meets while working at the factory. Both will have huge influences on his later life. At one point, David decides to run away from the factory, to the aunt who was present on the night he was born but who left again when it turned out he wasn’t a boy. He finds her and luckily enough, she decides to take him in and from that point on, his life is changed. She helps him get an education and to find a job to start off with in life, both of with introduces him to vital persons in his life. This book is filled with memorable characters – from David himself to his aunt and Mr Dick, there’s Agnes and Dora, Emily and her family and of course, Uriah Heep, Mr. and Miss Murdstone and Steerforth. Together, these characters bring this book and this story of a life to life in such a way that you really care about what happens to some of them and truly despises others. How you feel about the characters also changes while reading – Dora for instance, I truly disliked for much of the book but she develops some insights into herself and her relationships that actually made me like her. And I adored her dog, Jip. David himself, sometimes annoyed me as well. Sometimes, I just felt he was too naïve and had to remind myself that he was still a young boy/man without much experience in spite of what he had been through at an early age. I think this was in part because of the way he talked – this book is of course an old book so David sounds older to me than he is. But overall, I liked David and I cheered for him to succeed, find love and happiness and make his aunt proud. This is my second Dickens – I read A Christmas Carol around Christmas 2010 and it’s definitely not my last Dickens. I like that you can dive into a story like this with love, romance, fraud, lovers running away in the night, shipwrecks, young girls having their reputation ruined, old-fashioned courtships, boarding schools and everything else, that make up such a story, just be so well entertained while at the same time learning a lot about how humans interact and the human condition – this truly is a classic and will be at all times. Dickens knew his trade!(less)
I recently heard an interview with Nadine Gordimer who talked about how she, when she was growing up, thought love was very simple. You met a boy from...moreI recently heard an interview with Nadine Gordimer who talked about how she, when she was growing up, thought love was very simple. You met a boy from the village, fell in love, got married and had children - and that was it. When she read Proust, she realized that love is much more complicated than that. Luckily, Proust wasn't available to Emma Rouault when she was growing up. If she had read that instead of romantic novels, she would never have become the Madame Bovary we know and love. Madame Bovary is a young girl when she's married to Charles Bovary who's older than her and it's his second marriage. He is very much in love with her but her expectations are quickly disappointed when she realizes that married life is not as it was in her romantic novels. She tries to be a good wife but is often frustrated and disappointed with her life in a small village and even though Charles really tries and even moves to another village to make her happy, he keeps failing. Living up to her romantic ideals is impossible. She ends up falling in love with someone else, she's unfaithful, she puts everything aside to satisfy her own needs and urges and ends up hurting not only her husband but her daughter as well. She singlehandedly - with a little help from Lheureux who acts as financial 'advisor' - manages to destroy all of their lives. And yet - I feel sorry for her. Right when I started reading this, I also watched the second half of The Duchess. Maybe this story of a woman living in a marriage where she was kind of the third wheel and whom I felt so so sorry for, is part of the reason why I really felt for and with Emma. I didn't get angry at Emma. I felt sorry for her. For me, Emma is a intelligent young woman who gets married to soon, she has no idea what a marriage is and she doesn't know how to live in an ordinary village away from big city life and she has no clue as to how to be a mother. She is trapped in a marriage, a life and a time where it was impossible for her to escape that same marriage and life. She tries to escape it through fiction, she tries to escape it by shopping, she tries to escape it through love but ultimately, she only has one option left when her other attempts has forced her into a corner. Her desperation is dripping palpable from every page. And she tries. She tries so hard to get her marriage to work at times but whenever she tries to love her husband, something happens that effectively kills her mood and makes him even less attractive to her. Flaubert had such an eye for - among other things - how our emotions influence how we see each other. At one point, Emma falls out of love with one of her lovers and when she then looks at Charles, she suddenly realizes that his teeth isn't as bad as she thought ... Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When you love someone, they are beautiful to you. But the opposite is also true. When you are in love with someone who's not your husband, your husband must be the most annoying person because he is in the way of your happiness. And Charles certainly is in the way of Emma's happiness - even though all he wants to do is to make her happy. By modern standards, this is a very unhappy couple. They don't talk with each other, he does things to make her happy but he really has no clue about what she wants. When she meets Leon, she meets a man her own age she can talk to - but she's not ready to do more about it at that point. But imagine, living your entire married life with a man whom you have nothing in common with. Now, I'm not saying that Charles is a bad man. He really, really isn't. He's a nice man, probably not the smartest man, but he is kind and he really tries. But their marriage is a lost cause - he can never make her happy. The best part of this book is that it's realistic, it's realism. None of the characters are all good or all bad (with the possible exception of Lheureux who really has talent for manipulation). Even though I really feel for Emma, I'm not sure I particularly like her. I can forgive her for being a bad wife because you don't choose who you fall in love with and she had no way out of her marriage. But I can't forgive her for the way she treats her daughter and I can't forgive her for how she acted and felt when her father in law died. Common human decency calls for more than what she gives in that situation. I think Madame Bovary still speaks to us because we all know how it is to feel trapped. At times, when our daily lives get to be to monotonous, we get caught up in the rut, it's hard not to feel trapped. Emma Bovary feels this more than hopefully most other people feel. Hers is not an example to follow. Don't do this at home, kids - but do read this book, love the time you spend with Emma and do learn from her. Oh, there's so much more to say about this book. I haven't mentioned the Homais family, I haven't mentioned Rodolphe, the clubfoot operation, Madame Bovary's relationships with Rodolphe and Leon and much much more. So again: Read this book!(less)
"It was true that it had not been a great marriage. It had not even been a particularly good marriage. But it had been her life." Sometimes, a lousy ma...more"It was true that it had not been a great marriage. It had not even been a particularly good marriage. But it had been her life." Sometimes, a lousy marriage is to be preferred rather than abandoning it and living on your own. And if your marriage isn't lousy but just sad and lonely, then the decision is even harder to make. Owen and Rose are a middle-aged couple living in an appartment in New York, an appartment they are about to loose. They have a son, Philip. Philip is gay and has been hiding it from his parent for a long time. But then suddenly he finds himself in love with Eliot and decides to share it with his parents since he now has something happy to show them. Unfortunately, Eliot breaks up with him before Philip can introduce him to his parents and this throws Philip into a period of heavy grieving and sadness, only matched by the sadness experienced by his parents, struggling with their own problems, both with their appartment but especially with Rose's slowly realisation that Owen is gay as well, a fact that Owen has lived with all his life and concealed for Rose. This is a beautifully written book about relationships between family but also between friends and how it's sometimes (often) easier to share your innermost feelings and longings with strangers, rather than with the people who are supposed to be the closest to you. It's also a book about coming out and how different the coming out experience can be. Eliot - who only had to come out if it was to come out straight. Jelene - who came out and was disowned by her family. Philip who comes out to his parents and throw their entire existence into chaos. Philip's coming out scene is just so heartbreaking that it's almost unbearable. Leavitt has a profound ability to write real characters facing real life problems, living in sad and nostalgic circumstances and having to make choices. Most of all, this is a book about loneliness and how to come to terms with it, learn to live with whatever life has brought you - but also that happiness can be achieved and sometimes found in the most unlikely places. This was also my first experience reading gay fiction. Well, maybe it's wrong to call it gay fiction. Yes, there are men having sex and details of this are explicit. But this isn't something out of the ordinary in the lives of these people (well, except in Rose's) and the life experiences are of course mostly the same, whether you're gay or not (except for the coming out of course, and some straight people have to come out as well). If you are a duck, then you model your behaviour on the first thing you see. If it's a human, then that human is momma duck and you try to behave like that human does. If you're a poor lost boy with no decent parents, then you do the same. And if the only thing you have to model, is a crane, well, then you become the Crane-Child - and what you shared with the cranes will forever be lost when you are taken away from the cranes. The Lost Language of Cranes. Now what does this mean? Does it mean that being gay is something you mimic? At least that's true to the extent that you learn from what you see. But even though both Eliot and Philip have gay fathers, I don't feel like that's Leavitt's point. What he's trying to do, I think, is show all the faces of being gay. And also in some ways the history of being gay. How it has evolved from being something shameful you had to hide to something that is just as normal as every other form of human existence. I think he is trying to show how the attitudes toward gays and being gay has changed, well illustrated by the enormous difference in Owen's and Philip's situations. The Lost Language of Cranes. A perfect example of how things that are perfectly normal to one person, seems weird and maybe even wrong to other persons. Now I'm not saying that being gay is the same as being a poor little mistreated boy who thinks he's a crane - just that he was happy being what he was and when others interfered, he became unhappy. So although I'm not at the moment able to completely express what it is I think Leavitt is saying - or at least not express it very eloquently - basically it all comes down to this: Let others find their own bliss, be supportive of their choices and first and foremost - be open! I really liked the book - I think Leavitt is a very powerful writer in conveying emotions (sadness, loss, bewilderment etc) and I really felt for these characters. Although Philip at times just had me shaken my head for his way of handling his relationship with Eliot - but we've all been there, haven't we, been so much in love with someone and making a fool of ourselves to try and get them or keep them even though we know deep down it's never going to happen ... I really felt sorry for Owen - living his entire life with this secret and being more and more unhappy and lost, trying desperately to find a way to lead a tolerable existence. I'll stop talking (writing) now and if the above didn't make sense, just go read the book. It's amazing!(less)
If you read books from a list others have put together, you are bound to find both some lousy reads and also some great books you wouldn't have heard...moreIf you read books from a list others have put together, you are bound to find both some lousy reads and also some great books you wouldn't have heard of otherwise. This falls mostly in the later category. It's not a book I would have picked up if it hadn't been for the 1001 books list. I'm glad to have read it although it wasn't quite what I expected - and definitely wasn't a cheerful read. If you're looking for that, this is not the book for you. This is a story about a fall from grace. Ambrosio is probably the most honored man in Madrid. He is a monk, has been living in the monastery since he was child and has always lived secluded from the world, never having been outside the Abbey walls. He is the leader of the monks, the most holy man in all of Madrid. When Ambrosio discovers that one of the monks is in fact a woman, hiding in the monastery. Matilda tells him that she's entered the monastery to be Ambrosio's friend, to be close to him, talk to him and share his thoughts. Because she threatens to kill herself if he tells on her or throws her out of the monastery, he allows her to stay, sure in the belief that he can't be tempted. But of course he can't. She seduces him and after he has fallen once, he enters a rapid unstoppable fall. A parallel story to this which slowly end up being bound together is the story of the nun Agnes who disappears from the convent and her relatives is told to be dead by the prioress. All in all, there are three couples pursuing different goals: Don Lorenzo and Antonia, Don Raymond and Agnes - and the monk Ambrosio pursuing first Matilda and then Antonia. Ambrosio has a hand in everyone's fate. He is the main player, he is kind of like a spider sitting in his web sending out his threads and interfering with everyone's lives. I don't think I've ever seen anyone fall so quickly - he certainly was quick to learn vice! This is a sad book in many ways, a tragic books. But it's also unintentionally comic at points. And not just when the monk is spying on Antonia and a bird - never mentioned before or after - comes flying and hides between her breasts. I think the sheer amount of gothic elements along the way became a bit too much. We have nuns, monks, ghosts, castles, cemeteries, catacombs, mistaken identities, midnight escapes, love lost and found, old cruel practices, dying babies, the Wandering Jew and more. It was great in the beginning but it became a bit much in the end. Another thing that became too much was the long, long poems interrupting the story. They were all very long - and some of them was (intentionally) bad as when one young boy presents his poem to his master and has it critiqued by him. Did this poem really need to be that long? Luckily the horror of the story was engaging enough to keep me interesting in finding out what happened to the characters - even though they felt a bit (a lot) one-dimensional. The good guys were all good, the bad guys all bad through and through. Even Ambrosio who is supposed to be the purest of all, is revealed from the beginning to be not so good - suffering from pride among other things. So - when thinking about what I have written in this review so far, this book doesn't actually sound like a 4 stars read. But even though it had some major flaws, it was an engaging and very compelling story. I just wanted to reach the end to find out how it all came together, who made it and who didn't. And it made me cry at one point at a mother's love for and sorrow over loosing her baby. But I don't think it is a book I could read again. When you have read it the first time and know the outcome, know how it all ends, who live and who dies - then I think the huge mass of will be too much. I think this is book worthy to spend time on - but only that one time. This is one of those books that demands a bit of context. Of course you have to read the book and give your opinion on your own terms but sometimes knowing a bit about the context it was created in, can add or subtract from a work. In this case, it adds to it's value to know that the author wrote this in 1794, when he was just 19 years old - and that he wrote it in 10 weeks. That's impressive! Of course, you could also argue that if he had spent a bit more time on it, it would be a book worth reading twice... In either case I enjoyed my stay in the dark and smelling catacombs under the monastery in Madrid as well as my excursions out into the city and the few travels I also got to take with these people, all cursed by knowing the monk.(less)
In November 2010, my father died. He had been sick for years and then one day in November, he got sick in the night, was taken to the hospital and die...moreIn November 2010, my father died. He had been sick for years and then one day in November, he got sick in the night, was taken to the hospital and died later in the day - totally unexpected. My mother had been taken care of him and always put herself second. She called me and told me about how their life was, but although I felt bad for her, although I listened to her and tried to help her, I don't think I ever really got it. I don't think I ever understood how hard it was for her - not only having to take care of him but also feeling somewhat good and especially relieved when he was finally put into a nursing home. I was reminded of all this when reading this book. This is a book about the Lamberts, Enid and Alfred and their three grown-up children, Gary, Chip and Denise. Each of these has their own issues they struggle with. Enid and Alfred still live in the home where they raised their children even though it's slowly falling apart and to big for just the two of them. Alfred is struggling with early Parkinsons and maybe dementia, making it a real chore for Enid to take care of him. Enid is desperately trying to keep her family together. She's old-fashioned, has strict rules for how people ought to behave and is not always proud of the choices her children make. She comes across as a typical woman, set in her ways and determine to present herself to the neighborhood as having the perfect home and family. This is a story of a mother and wife, desperately fighting to have her family together in her home for one last christmas. Enid lives a life where she has to have something to look forward to to be able to make it - a cruise, the family christmas - but when you pin all your hopes on one thing, you are disappointed more often than not.Her children each struggle with their own problems - and neither of them are really living up to their mother's expectations. Chip is the intellectual, he's a struggling screenplay writer after he was fired from his job as a professor after having a relationship with one of his students. This not only lands him in a position where he owes his sister a lot of money but also makes him take a rather questionable job in Lithuania with his ex-girlfriend's husband. Gary is the eldest brother. He lives with his wife and their three boys. Gary wants to be in control. He's desperately trying not to admit that his life maybe isn't perfect - in that way, he's a lot like his mother. He's fighting what seems to be a depression and is having a power struggle in his marriage, especially since his wife can't stand his mother. Denise might be my favorite character in the book. She's working hard to be what she wants to be. She's an amazing chef and after a failed marriage, she suddenly get the opportunity of a lifetime to be the chef of a new restaurant where she gets to do whatever she wants and where the owner has money enough to support her no matter what. Denise, however, is struggling with her identity and sexuality and this is making her life rather difficult. Both Denise and Chip are having issues in their professional life because of their sexuality - something that's rather hard for their mother to accept and come to terms with - while Gary is the know-it-all who thinks he pretty much should be in charge of everybody. But it's so much more than this. This really dives into the relationship between parents and children and between siblings. It's about children feeling more in the know than their parents ever were, it's about all the things happening in a family beneath the surface - but sometimes bursting throughs in ways you least expect. This was an amazing book - especially because of the way it's written. On the surface, it's the story of an elderly couple struggling with getting old and sick while their kids are trying to find their way in life, not always having time for their parents. But because of Franzen's masterly command of language, there is so much more in this book. It's by no means a dysfunctional family - or at least not a more dysfunctional family than all other families. It's a perfectly normal and ordinary family fighting with the issues every family faces. And that's what makes it into such a wonderful book. I can't say enough about the excellency of the writing. Not only is it beautiful, it's also surprising. He uses a lot of words to describe a person - like Gary - and then in just one line, he sums up the totality of Gary's relationship with his wife. Or at one point in the book, I expected something to happen - it didn't happen, we switched viewpoint and a couple of pages went by and then it happened anyway and I got so surprised ... I noticed a lot of reviews are calling it a sad book - and it is sad what they are going through. A family with a sick father who's slipping away is a family desperately trying to find it's way. Franzen manages to make his characters so real, their struggles so real, their thoughts feelings and fears so very real that maybe it becomes too much for some readers - but I could identify with these people and recognize parts of my family in them so I felt right at home. Sometimes, we want literature to take us away, sometimes we want a fantastic journey into an unknown reality where we can forget and just sigh with wonder. But sometimes, we need to learn about our own existence, learn about how the people around us are coping, by reading books that strike right at home. This is such a book.(less)
"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing...more"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." (p. 96)
This book started out as a 3 stars book for me. I liked it but it felt like it was just so very slowly building up to something. Then the trial happened - and it became a 4 stars book. And the ending - well, this is definitely a 5 stars read. The books start out with introducing us to siblings Scout and Jem and their new friend Dill. We get to spend a couple of lazy summers with these kids and thereby Lee really sets the mood of this town with this slow start and by slowly letting Scout and Jem's father's job become more and more influential in the children's lives. It turns out that Atticus, their father, is defending a black man who is accused of raping a white girl. Atticus is called to defend this man - but he choose to really try defending this man and therefore he is suddenly looked down upon by almost the entire town. His children are teased in school and have a hard time accepting what other people say about their father. This small family is just the perfect family in their imperfect ways. Scout is a tomboy and loves her big brother and has a hard time accepting it when he starts to grow up and doesn't want to play with her and hang around with her like he used to. Along with the portrait of a peaceful town torn by racism and the portrait of a single father trying to balance the most important case in his work life with his home life, the book paints a portrait of a boy and a girl growing up and trying to come to terms with the world they live in. Atticus is a perfect father in so many ways. He understands his children, he doesn't always reveal everything he knows about what they have been up to, he is straight with them and is very focused on being the kind of Father they can look up to and be proud to because he did what he believed in and what he felt like he had to do. Everyone in this book just comes across as so very real. Their actions and emotions are spot on and they just jump off the page. I felt really drawn into this book and was so saddened by the way people can be towards each other just out of ignorance and fear. How hatred grows because of irrelevant differences like the colour of your skin. I work in a troubled neighbourhood and I work with integration and with helping people in getting to know each other and get along. The racism that surrounds this neighbourhood and the people in it are sometimes so shocking to me because I feel people should know better by now and not judge others because of the way they look. But then I see the people in the neighbourhood from the different ethnic groups just get along and I feel better. But the moment a conflict arises between two people from different ethnic groups - or different groups within the same ethnicity - it's like people gang up on each other and even though one of the persons involved is a person you dislike normally, you suddenly is on their side if the adversary is from another group. This is also what happened in this book - a respected black man has to go up against a white girl from a very low-life family and it is very clear who should be the winner in this trial. But to take the word of a black man against the word of a white woman and her family takes a lot of courage - and the question is whether the jurors has that courage. This was a powerful book. It takes place in the 30s in the South in the US - but it is unfortunately still relevant today. In some ways, it's sad that Harper Lee didn't write anymore books - on the other hand, if this was the one book she had in her, it was definitely worth it!(less)
"/.../ wherever I sat, /.../ I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air." (p. 196) The thing about depressed people...more"/.../ wherever I sat, /.../ I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air." (p. 196) The thing about depressed people are that they are so annoying. You just want to shake them and tell them to get a grip and lighten up! Now I know it's not that easy, I know that when you are depressed you simply don't have the ability to just shake it off and move on with your life - but that doesn't chance the fact that depressed people are annoying to be around and talk to. What's so annoying is that you can be on the outside and see all what they have going for them and how little it seemingly would take for them to get out from under that bell jar - but what so frustratingly is that the person itself just can't see it. Sylvia Plath does an excellent job in portraying the inner side of this. I found Esther, the main character and first person narrator, so annoying for a big part of the book - but I was aware of why I found her so and therefore I was able to appreciate Plath's writing skills. We follow Esther from the early stages her depression through an attempt at suicide and then various treatments. Esther seems to have it all with a scholarship, an internship at a Magazine in New York with everything paid for, straight A's and a boyfriend studying to become a doctor. But since her father's death, she hasn't been able to find happiness in anything and has lost all sense of direction and has no clue as to what she wants do with her life in a time where a lot of women just end up marrying and then servicing husband and children. Esther doesn't want that but has no clear alternative and feels her strengths are in doing well in the school system and nothing else. So she cracks. I liked a lot of this book on an intellectual level but it wasn't a particular enjoyable read. It gives no clear answers to why some people end up depressed and the treatments descriped in the book are of course old-fashioned but still I think it gives a a very valid picture of how it feels to be depressed and I recommend it because of that (less)
I read The Little Prince several years ago and just loved, loved, loved it. Then I re-read it today in one sitting and well, it was still a good book...moreI read The Little Prince several years ago and just loved, loved, loved it. Then I re-read it today in one sitting and well, it was still a good book but just nearly as good as I remembered it to be. Especially since it's always mentioned as this deep insightful book. Maybe I shouldn't have read it right after finishing The Brothers Karamazov... Anyway, this is the book about Saint-Exupéry who goes down with his plane in the desert in Africa. He falls asleep and when he wakes up, a small boy is asking him to draw him a sheep... This is the story about a very lonely boy who used to live on his own, very small planet together with his two active volcanoes and a passive one and a flower. He goes on a journey and travels to several planets - on each lives a lonely adult with various issues: a king with no subjects, an alcoholic, a business man etc. Besides Saint-Exupéry himself, the only one the little prince likes is the guy who turns the lights on and off each sun-up and sun-down - because he is the only one who cares about something besides himself. This book is about how to live, how to care about the small things and in some ways it's kind of a Peter Pan-story, not that it's about a boy who don't want to grow up, but that it's a book about what happens when boys do grow up - and are no longer able to see whether a drawing shows a hat or a giant snake with an elephant inside it's stomach. My favourite part of the story is the part with the fox. The prince meets a fox who asks him to tame it. The fox teaches him that creating a bond is what makes someone special - and that's what makes the single rose on the prince's home planet stand out even though there are billions of similar roses in the universe. You have to spend time to get to know something to have it really mean something to you. In a very cliché way of putting it, the fox teaches the prince that it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Even though the fox knows the prince will go away again, it wants the prince to create that bond between them because of this. I simply loved this part - the way the entire world changes because of your love for another being. Things take on whole new meanings because they remind you of your loved one, you cherish the anticipation of being with your loved one - and only just made more beautiful by it an animal expressing it. But even though I liked this part - and several other parts as well - the book in it's entirety didn't impress me as much as I'd expected. Maybe I've just grown up to much since first reading this ... Maybe I'm only able to see the hat ...(less)
At some point in most children's lives, they end up parenting their parents. This is most certainly the case for Vera and Nadia when their eighty-four...moreAt some point in most children's lives, they end up parenting their parents. This is most certainly the case for Vera and Nadia when their eighty-four years old father falls in love with a young woman from Ukraina. Valentina enters their lives with a whirlwind of trouble, accusations and domestic issues that the old man is no match for. Rather quickly it turns out that Valentina comes with her completely own agenda and she and her supposedly prodigy son turns out to be more than what the father expected and he is in no way capable of standing his ground. I felt for the old man who in his naivety actually thought that the young blond woman with the very big boobs would actually want a intimate relationship with him and that she wanted more than just getting into the West, that she also actually wanted to take care of him while he grew older and more feeble. I really liked this book while I was reading it. I was completely drawn in from the very beginning and really felt for these sisters trying to protect their father from this golddigger, still trying to come to terms with the death of their mother and also working on their relationships with each other which has been rather estranged after some inheritance issues after their mother's dead. It's a book about relationships - between fathers and daughters, parents and children, sisters, between new wives and 'old' daughters. And I thought the author did a remarkable job with these complex issues while at the same time keeping the book very light and easy to read. It felt so easy and went by so fast that you almost end up questioning whether it was as good as you felt while reading it or if it was just too breezy. All the cover blurbs are stressing the fact that this is a funny, enjoyable comic feast - but to me, it felt a lot more tragi-comic than comic. In the end however, I liked it a lot and I'm looking forward to reading more by this author. And don't even get me started on the father's book about tractors in Ukraina!(less)
I have owned Orlando for years and been wanting to read it for even more years but Virginia Woolf is a bit intimidating to me. Even after having read...more I have owned Orlando for years and been wanting to read it for even more years but Virginia Woolf is a bit intimidating to me. Even after having read – and really liked – To the Lighthouse, I still find her a difficult author to read. But since Orlando is so short, I thought it would be a rather quick read and decided to bring it and read it on our summer holiday. Well, I was wrong about it being a quick read but I was right to bring it with me on holiday because I have quite a bit of time to read when we’re on holiday and this book just needs that you give it some time. At least it does for me. It’s one of those books that forces you to read slower to grasp it all. Not only is it written in a way that makes you go more slowly, my edition also came with a lot of notes that I had to read because they – or at least most of them – actually added to my understanding of the novel. And add to this that I took quite a bit of notes while reading this, of course it will take several days to read these less than 300 pages. Now who is this Orlando? Orlando is a young man born during the reign of Elisabeth 1. Or at least he is a young man for the first 200 years or so of his life because after that, he suddenly wakes up a woman. Already now, you should know that this is not a novel – or rather, a historical biography – to be read literally. This is in fact a long love letter to Virinia Woolf’s friend Vita Sackville West and at the same time, it’s a book about history and how it’s dominated by male figures. It’s about gender roles in general, about the genre of biography – and it’s absolutely wonderful. Yes, it’s difficult going and yes, this is one of those books that you really need to work at to really get – and I know that I didn’t get anything near to all that is to get in this novel. One thing I really liked is, how Woolf plays with time in this book – and with how we perceive time and how we relate a life. Seemingly huge life events in Orlando’s life are only hinted at or maybe just mentioned in brackets and I like that, because it’s not always the so called big events that are the most important to us. But these events are the ones the biographer focus on because they are the documented ones and so, the biographed life gets a bit twisted when compared to the real life. And some people live lives filled with experiences while others are seemingly dead on their feet. ‘The true length of a person’s life /…/ is always a matter of dispute.’ (p. 211) Oh, and Woolf’s funny too. I love how she got rid of an unwanted suitor by dropping a frog down his shirt! She had tried to get rid of him in a lot of other ways but he just kept on forgiving her because she was just a weak woman and they were alone so no one had to know that she cheated at games for instance. Or this quote: ‘/…/ of what nature is death and of what nature life? Having waited well over half an hour for an answer to these questions, and none coming, let us get on with the story.’ (p. 49) Or this one explaining why Orlando’s writing style has changed: ‘Also that the streets were better drained and the houses better lit had its effect upon the style, it cannot be doubted.’ (p. 77) The best thing about this book is, that it really makes me want to study, to learn more about Virginia and Vita to be able to understand it more, to get more from it. It makes me want to read and read, to be an intellectual and a snob and go to fancy dinner parties with other people who cares about this book, who wants to spend hours talking about love, time, aging, biographies and how funny Woolf really is. It makes me want to take a class on this author, this book, and learn everything. And it makes me want to read her other books. It’s a sort of treasure map to the promised land, an unspoken guarantee that the more I know the more I will get from reading this – and this will go on forever. Few books makes me feel this way – although The Great Gatsby did recently – and it truly reminds me how diverse and wonderful literature is and how lucky I am to be a bibliophile.(less)
Could've interesting to read Julian Barnes George and Arthur<\i> after this. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (including the stories A Scandal...moreCould've interesting to read Julian Barnes George and Arthur<\i> after this. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (including the stories A Scandal in Bohemia, The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, A Case of Identity, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Five Orange Pips, The Man with the Twisted Lip, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, The Adventure of the Speckled Band, The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb, The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor, The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet * "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches) are part of the 1001 books you must read before you die.
Everything that rises must converge The actual event part of this short story is very brief. Julian takes his mother to the gym for her weight loss cla...moreEverything that rises must converge The actual event part of this short story is very brief. Julian takes his mother to the gym for her weight loss class. They go on the bus and talk to other people on the bus and have a brief encounter with an African-American woman and her child. But below the surface it's a story about accepting the way things change and how hard it is for children to accept that their parents get old and can have trouble with accepting the new times. And even more than that, it's a story about racism.
Greenleaf Mrs. May lives on her farm with her two grown boys and her caretaker Mr. Greenleaf and his wife. One of Greenleaf's best qualities is that he doesn't have the initiative to steal and when he has been told to do a thing three or four times, he generally also does it. Greenleaf has two boys who have a farm and he's very proud of them and consider them far better boys than Mrs. May's boys because her boys are 'only' a businessman and an intellectual. The story is about a bull belonging to the Greenleaf boys but run astray on Mrs. May's property.
A View of the Woods "Nobody was here and nobody beat me and if anybody did I'd kill him!" This story is about an old man who believes in progress. He believes so much in it that he sells off parts of his land. It doesn't hurt either that each time he sells of part of his land, he annoys his daughter and son-in-law who live on his land and take care of it - but who doesn't live up to the old man's standards. The only one he does love is his youngest granddaughter, Mary Fortune, whom he has groomed to be exactly like him. The two do everything together and only problem with her that he have is that she never stands up to her dad when he beats her. But one day, granddad decides to sell the lawn to put in a gas station. Nobody else like the idea - especially not Mary Fortune - and in a dramatic scene, granddad decides to beat her into submisison. But Mary Fortune will not be beat ... Loved this story!
The Enduring Chill After trying to make it as a writer, Asbury returns home to die. His mother tries everything to make him better - even calling a Jesuit priest for him. Asbury wants a priest to have an intellectual discussion about James Joyce and similar subjects but he gets quite a bit more than he bargained for. Another story about the different viewpoints each generation have - and again racism plays in when Asbury earlier tried to write about Negroes and therefore wanted to work together with some working at his mom's dairy. This story did not do much for me.
The Comforts of Home If you are to listen to your dead father's voice in your head, either do so all the time or blank it out completely. Don't start listening when the situation is already way out of hand... Thomas lives with his mother. One day she visits a young girl in prison and decides to help her. When she brings her home to live with them, things start to escalate and when Thomas tries acting like his dad would have, things go seriously wrong. This one didn't do anything for me either.
The Lame Shall Enter First I have nothing to reproach myself with. I did more for him than I did for my own child. Repeat this line a couple of times and imagine being a father saying this about a boy he's desperate to help while being disappointed with his own child. And then wait for realisation to set in... Why exactly did you do more for this strange boy than for your own child? Why did you ignore him after his mother died? Flannery O'Connor masterfully repeats the above sentence in a way so the meaning of it changes slightly each time the father says it until he finally realise what he's been missing all along - that he had a child worth saving right there but still went out looking for someone else and in finding another lost cause, lost both boys. I think these lines will haunt me for some time. This desperate tale of a man who has lost his wife and is striving to do good by volunteering/working each week at a reformatory as a counsellor. Here he meets Rufus Johnson and tries to save him while ignoring his own son, Norton. I'll leave you with these few lines from the early pages of the story: When his wife was living, they had often eaten outside, even breakfast, on the grass. He had never noticed then that the child was selfish. Now I feel like hugging my baby girl!
Revelation Mrs. Turpin is a nice lady. She and her husband owns a small piece of property with some cows and hogs on it and a bit of cotton. Mrs. Turpin has always been grateful that the Good Lord made her just as she is, a little of everything, and a good disposition besides - and not a nigger or some white trash. But one day after being assaulted by a college girl who had enough of listening talk about her good fortune in life, she realises that for the Good Lord, we're all equal. I liked this one, mostly because I'm so deeply impressed with Flannery O'Connor's ability to write characters and moods and to write so much into just a few pages. I think I need to check out her novels since I like her writing so much but am a bit bothered by the format of the short story.
Parker's Back Parker's life moves in leaps. The first leap was seeing a tattooed man and deciding to get tattoos himself, the second was joining the navy - and the third was marrying his wife. But things don't go smooth for Parker and when he has a near-death experience, he decides to get a religious tattoo all over his back - even though he's not religious. Afterwards, he is sure that his wife will love it. Even though she has hated all his other tattoos - but she is a Christian and therefore she must love this one... Again - love her writing, not too fond of the story.
Judgement Day Old Tanner moves to New York City to live with his daughter - and to escape having to work for an African-american. Tanner dislikes New York - and he doesn't understand how an African-American couple can move in next door. He tries making friends with the new neighbour - but his calling him Preacher and trying to show him that he is the clever one fails. Tanner decides to leave the city when he hears that his daughter plans to bury him in NYC - but leaving isn't easy for an old, frail man. This was another story of the difficulties people have in adapting to new times and new customs.
Overall, I like Flannery O'Connor's writing a lot. When she's good, she's really excellent. Not all these stories touch me but I'm convinced that she had something interesting and still relevant to say and would like to check out some of her longer works, her novels.(less)
I've been avoiding this book for quite some time. A evangelical Baptist takes his family to the Congo to be a missionary ... I thought it would be pre...moreI've been avoiding this book for quite some time. A evangelical Baptist takes his family to the Congo to be a missionary ... I thought it would be preachy and I just really didn't want to spend my time reading a book trying to convert me to anything. But I was wrong. I came to this book with very low expectations and it got me from page 1. I was drawn in and loved the book for most of it. Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist preacher, takes his wife and four daughters to the Congo to spread the light in the darkest of Africa. He is not a man to listen to anybody's advice and so he leaves for the Congo because he wants to - even though he is advised against it by the church. Price is a very decisive determined man and his wife and daughters live under his rule and have nothing to say when they arrive in Africa - very badly prepared with the cake mixes and similar stuff they deemed necessary to their survival in the jungle. But Africa is a special place. It changes people and the hardship the family endures facing life in a village not especially interested in their American Christianity and in a country trying to absolve itself of the Belgian domination and becoming a independent nation, changes the children and the mother while the hardships make the father even more strong-willed and unbending. Most of the book builds up to a tragedy. We know from early on that one of the four girls will die in Africa but which one and how is revealed quite late in the book. I did try to guess which one it would be - but couldn't. The girls are very different. Rachel, the oldest, is a teenager with focus on her looks and she hates Africa. One of the twins, Leah, is still trying to come to term with being the cause of her twin sister Adah's handicaps, sustained in the womb, while experiencing friendship and first love in Africa and fighting against the traditional gender roles. Adah keeps to herself and is in some ways the most rebellious of the girls but because of her non-speaking ways, she keeps out of trouble for the most of the time. Somehow she escapes her parents radar a lot of the time and therefore she's able to do things that she would not be allowed if they knew. And finally, Ruth May, the youngest, only five year old when they arrive in Africa and a beautiful resilient little girl with all the energy and spirit of her age. The book is divided into seven parts. For six of these, the first part of them are seen from the mother's point of view and then we jump between the four girls and experiencing it from each of their unique points of view, we get different accounts of the same things and get to know these girls really well. Kingsolver nails the differences between the girls really well and I appreciate this way of telling the story of both a family and a nation falling apart. But Africa touch the lives of the entire family and their lives are forever changed by what they experienced in Africa and what happened to one of the girls. Some parts of the book especially stayed with me after reading it. The clash between the native belief system and the modern American Christianity was interesting and how the villagers constantly watched to see if the American family did better. Whoever was better off when crisis struck, had the most believers. A very disturbing scene is the big hunt where the villagers light a fire around an area, thereby trapping all the animals inside and letting them choose between trying to escape the fire and then being shot (and skinned before they stop kicking in some instances) or being burned alive, as some of the female monkeys chose to do with their babies. This was a heart-breaking scene to me - and made even more so by the aftermath. Also, the night of the ants where the village is 'attacked' by ants that eat everything in their way so the entire village have to escape and the mother chooses to save the youngest girl while letting the disabled twin fight for herself is very illuminating for each character's sense of self and their place in the bigger scheme. However - towards the end we follow the girls as they are growing up and getting older (since the book spans three decades). But these later parts didn't quite feel as interesting and intimate as the first (and biggest) part of the book spend with the family in the first couple of years in Africa - probably because the jumps in time are too big. If this had been on level with the first huge chunk of the book, it would easily have been a five star read. But since I slowly lost interest towards the end, I will settle for a four star rating.(less)
Well, well, well. Jane Austen redeems herself with this book. After starting my relatinship with Miss Austen with the amazing Pride and Prejudice, I h...moreWell, well, well. Jane Austen redeems herself with this book. After starting my relatinship with Miss Austen with the amazing Pride and Prejudice, I had very high expectations for the rest of her books. However, I really felt let down by Sense and Sensibility. But in Emma I again found the humor and irony as well as the high amount of romantic entanglements and emotional distress that I have grow to expect from Miss Austen.
Emma is the story of a very fortunate and very spoiled young woman. She's a bit naive which leads to her misinterpreting the intentions of the gentlemen in her neighborhood, leading to all kinds of trouble and heartache. Especially in a time where a girl's family and social standings mean all. Emma befriends a young girl, Harriet, from a lower social class, a girl without any connections, and imagines her to have a chance of marrying into a higher class and selects what she believes to be a fitting gentleman. However, he might not quite agree with that and when Emma later believes herself to be in love, all may not be what she thinks it to be. However, a constant through all her imaginations is Mr. Knightley, a close neighbour and friend of the family, who through all her youthful ideas is a constant advisor and rational voice.
A very interesting thing about this book is the focus on class and social status. Emma is very aware of her own place in society and do charity work for the less fortunate. She is also well aware that she cannot possibly socialise with people from lower social classes. But no matter how aware of this she is, she still fails to see that the gentlemen around her are not interested in marrying a young girl without any family connections.
I really liked the way Austen described Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse, with all his hypochondria and careful misgivings about everything and constant worrying about even the most minor details. He worries about whether people can stand the rich food served at his table and denies them the food if he can get away with it, he promotes the value of eating gruel etc and swears to his personal physician who calls almost every day. Austen manages to describe him in a way so we laugh a bit at him, but mostly smile affectionately, especially when we read about how he takes care to talk with every young woman at a party and how he really cares about the people around him.
And even Emma, who is thoughtless in the extreme, still comes across as a very real character, a real human being, a girl we all know and - despite all her flaws - see as a very likeable person.
The thing is, about Emma (the book, not the person), that when you talk or think about what it is really about, it's all just silly - who likes who, who wants to marry who, who is good enough for who. The only difference between Emma and a romance novel is that Austen is such a superior writer so even when the content may seem rather shallow, it is still written so well and with so much finess that it is well worth the time. (I still don't like Sense and Sensibility however!)(less)
This is one of those books where you kind of fight your way through the first many pages and wonder if this one will be worth your while - and then, w...moreThis is one of those books where you kind of fight your way through the first many pages and wonder if this one will be worth your while - and then, when you finally put it down after working your way through all 781 pages, you miss the people you have become used to visit every day. It's a long, hard and very dense read but I already miss Dorothea, Dr. Lydgate, Rosamund, Mary, Fred and Mr Ladislaw. These people became so real to me because they are written so well, crafted to be true humans, not just words on a page. They truly stand out from the pages of this book and become flesh and blood, real human beings with flaws, hopes and strong beliefs - that are not always right.
Dorothea and her sister Celia live with their uncle close to Middlemarch, the city all these people's lives evolve around. Dorothea falls for an elderly man in the neighbourhood, impressed by his education. They marry but their marriage is not what either of the two expected and when Dorothea befriends her husband's nephew, problems really start to appear. Meanwhile, Dorothea's former suitor settles for her younger sister. The siblings Fred and Rosamond Vincy from one of the most important families in town make very different choices as Fred pursues his childhood love and Rosamond tries to land the new and exiting doctor in town.
But marriage is never easy and Eliot shows this better than anywhere else I've seen because of her incredible ability to show how humans are, how they think and feel. The courtship of Mary and Fred is so real, how Mary teases him and will not give in to him before he shows himself worthy of her love and trust. The marriage of Dorothea and Mr Casaubon is a beautifully written example of how unhappy a marriage can become if you are too different and not able to find a common ground. I loved this quote about Dorothea: "She was always trying to be what her husband wished, and never able to repose on his delight in what she was. The thing that she liked, that she spontaneously cared to have, seemed to be always excluded from her life; for if it was only granted and not shared by her husband it might as well have been denied." (443) And then Rosamond with her unrealistic expectancies to life and how a marriage is and how a husband is supposed to behave and all the difficulties she make for her husband when he is not able to earn enough money to support the lifestyle she is used to and not able to live without - or even to grasp how it could be possible that she should do without anything she wants. At times I just wanted to take Rosy and shake her, maybe even slap her, to make her face up to reality and not just live in her own world and keeping on without ever acknowledging that another and less expensive way of life could be just as good, just in another way. But then I remembered how she was brought up and what kind of school she went too and felt sorry for her (and her husband!) instead because she was never taught to be anything else and more than a pretty girl and woman, leading a proper life with dinner parties, music, entertaining and pretty dresses. She might be shallow - but she was never expected to be anything else - in fact, she was the perfect girl. But perfection is no guarantee for happiness, unfortunately.
The twists and turns of this book, especially the shock of Mr Casaubon's will, is the like that any good romance novel would be proud to contain. But because of Eliot's superior writing skills and ability to get inside her protagonists and show how they feel and why they act like they do. This is a story of all the small things that make up human lives, the joys and the sorrows, the real and the imagined, everything that makes a person - neatly wrapped in 781 pages of great writing (or nearly 781 pages of great writing - the first 100 pages or so are rather hard to get through. But stick with it - it's so worth it!)(less)
After reading and enjoying Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, I was looking forward to reading Sense and Sensibility. But I must admit that this one d...moreAfter reading and enjoying Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, I was looking forward to reading Sense and Sensibility. But I must admit that this one didn't live up to my expectations.
Two sisters are the main characters and they are the 'sense' and 'sensibility' of the title. After their father's dead, the two sisters along with their mother and the third sister move away from their home into a cottage on Sir Middleton's estate. One sister leaves behind a man she loved - the other sister falls in love in their new home. But both men seemingly have other plans and happiness doesn't seem possible.
I must admit I didn't really care for it. I didn't find it as ironic or sarcastic as Pride and Prejudice was in parts (I love the father in that book!), Marianne seems to be a bit of a drama queen to an extent that I didn't really care for her, the other sister, the sensible Elinor, are a bit too much of a know-it-all, the men are all rather bland - I had trouble keeping some of them straight - and the entire book just left me rather uncaring.
Willoughby, who is one of the suitors, gets excused in the end - both by his own attempt at explaining but also by Elinor's/Austen's attempt to describe why he is that way: "Her thoughts were silently fixed on the irreparable injury which too early an independence and its consequent habits of idleness, dissipation, and luxury, had made in the mind, the character, the happiness, of a man who, to every advantage of person and talents, united a disposition naturally open and honest, and a feeling, affectionate temper." (p. 324 in my edition and it goes on...). So it really wasn't his fault that he treated Marianne that way ... I do realise that Austen use this as a critique of society and that Elinor later on sees less kind on him - but still. It bugged me that because he had become independent early one, he wasn't to blame, not really.
And I didn't like the ending. It didn't feel right to me the way it all was tied together. Marianne, who always speaks her mind, is honest and outright, is seemingly the less deserving sister, it seems. Elinor who spent the entire book covering up what she saw as Marianne being uncivil, ends up as the lucky sister. The way both sisters end up, seemed wrong to me. And then why were there a third sister? Elinor and Marianne has a third sister, Margaret. She is not really part of the plot, she seems so unnecessary and took so little part in the book that I forgot she was even there. She didn't add flavour to the book like the two extra sisters do in Pride and Prejudice.
So this one didn't meet my expectations and I am sorry it didn't. To me, it lacked the charm of Pride and Prejudice but it also had less of a plot and less interesting action and dialogue. In the preface, it states that Austen wrote it over several years and maybe that's why it lacks something.(less)
So if you’re looking for a book detailing the logistic issues of genocide, this is your book. 983 pages about the genocide of the Jewish people during...moreSo if you’re looking for a book detailing the logistic issues of genocide, this is your book. 983 pages about the genocide of the Jewish people during World War II told from the point of view of SS-officer Maximilian Aue. Yeah. What’s not to like?
Actually, quite a bit. But not as much as you would think with it being a book about an SS-officer being involved in the destruction of the Jewish race. And that was one of my issues with the book. But now, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a step back and look closer at the book itself.
Even though this is not so much a book you summarize as it is a book that makes you think, I still wants to give a quick idea of what the book is about. Maximilian Aue is a young man, working his way up in the army. He struggles to get a break but finally succeed, not least because of powerful friends. We get to follow him to Stalingrad, Auschwitz, Berlin in 1945 and other places of importance, Babi Yar for instance. Before reading this novel, I had never heard of Babi Yar which is apparently probably the largest two-day massacre during The Holocaust. It took place in a ravine close to Kiev on September 29 and 30, 1941 and 33.771 Jews were killed on these two days – and later they killed other victims too at the ravine (source: Wikipedia). It was interesting to learn about this, however, even though the book featured scenes like Aue taking a little girl by her hand, leading her down in the ravine, getting her to lay down on top of corpses and letting others shoot her, it was written in a way that didn’t move me in the least. I tried to explain this with Aue being without empathy and somewhat of a psychopath, but the problem is that Aue does appear to feel remorse at some points and to see that what he is participating in, is wrong. And since other of the soldiers participating in Babi Yar are breaking down because of what they have to do, I as the reader should feel something too. Maybe the intention is to show that the killing of the Jews became just another chore, causing a lot of logistic issues, that it all became just another new normalcy but it was too early in the book for this – as readers we need to be shocked at scenes like this and it’s a problem, if the author can’t get us to feel anything at scenes like this.
There’s a lot of questions we don’t get answered in this book, most of these because Aue is such an unreliable narrator. Delusional even. He experiences things and narrates things that can’t possible be true. And then, it turns out they are. Other things we believe to be true, but we never get confirmation. We just have to make up our own mind about Aue’s actions, his relationship with his family and his experiences – and especially about who he is. The book also raises questions about memory – how far can you trust your memory? You think you remember something, yes, but is it actually true?
Would this book be more powerful if the narrator had been a normal person, just caught up in the Nazi war machine instead of a delusional man with sexual feelings for his twin sister? Instead of a man who always resented his French mother and idolized his absent German father and therefore of course works for the promotion of the German Reich? Yes, I think it would. I think this unreliable, sick and delusional man is to easy to see as a nasty perpetrator. It’s too easy that a man like this would take his issues out on an entire people if given the chance – and Hitler’s delusions definitely gave him and others like him the chance. However, the people who was in charge of the Concentration Camps were not all twisted people like Maximilian Aue. Of course some of them was. But not all. And I think it’s a bit easy to have a man like Aue as your main protagonist and narrator when most people participating in making Hitler’s dream for Germany come true, were just ordinary people. Would it have been more horrifying then? Yes, I think so – and more true. I think his actions are to easy to dismiss because of his childhood issues and deviant sexual desires (and just to make it clear, I’m not talking about his homosexuality although that of course was deviant in the eyes of the Nazis). It would have created a whole other set of moral issues and complexities if the protagonist of a book like this, had been a completely normal man, maybe even a father, and to detail how he could justify – or at least live with – his actions.
This is one of those books which most people either love or hate. I, however, fell squarely in the middle. There are parts of it that are disgusting and parts of it that just seem wrong or too much but other parts are fascinating and it does tell the story from a point of view I at least haven’t read before. Is it a good book then? Well. For the first 350 pages or so, I really didn’t like it. Too much going back and forth between commanding officers, too much stating of military ranks. Just plain boring. And there are some linguistic parts that are so dull. Littell does gets props for mentioning Kant’s Categorial Imperative though. However, when Aue got himself to Stalingrad, it improved somewhat and it was better for most of the remaining 600 pages. Will I recommend it to others, then? Not sure. It’s not for the weak-hearted, definitely. It is interesting if you are interested in the World War II, in what makes people able to perform atrocities. But it’s not a good book so don’t expect that. It has created a lot of controversy so it can be worth reading to know what the fuzz is about too.
There are so many accounts from the point of view of the victims, especially the Jewish victims. And that is exactly as it should be. But it’s good that there are books written from the other point of view as well, I think. Attempting to give us the point of view of the perpetrators of this series of horrendous crimes, maybe trying to explain how it got so far out of hand, how ordinary people were able participate in or at least secretly condone these atrocities.
Does the novel then give an answer to this? Well, yes and no. It does suggest an explanation as to why and how ordinary men turn into monsters in order to deal with what they had to do to men, women, children. But it doesn’t really explain it – probably in part because of the narrator – but how could you really? Of course, the book raises some interesting questions. Would we have condemned the Endlösung as much if Germany had actually won the war? I definitely think Littell has a point here because victors are never wrong. And maybe that’s the whole point of the book, that as long as you are on the winning side, you can justify anything. Were the Germans all war criminals then? No, not according to Aue. (I don’t know if he speaks for Littell too, on this point.) Aue plainly states that there is no such thing as inhumanity, just humanity and more humanity (p. 589). The people performing these war crimes, were just unlucky to be born in Germany at this point in time and really, had no choice. If they wanted to live, to feed their families, some things were necessary to do. He freely admits that some people lost their heads but he also removes the blame from a lot of the people who performed unspeakable acts. But again, Aue is not a good representative for the German people. He is too twisted and the novel looses some of it’s power and importance because of this. So ultimately, we don’t get an answer to how Hitler managed to seduce so many people, to tap into a already existing hates and distrusts and make it grow. Or really, much of an answer to anything.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the poop … lots and lots of poop … (less)
An un-sentimental book about an otter - and about hunting otters.
In this remarkable book, we follow Tarka the Otter through his entire life. We are th...moreAn un-sentimental book about an otter - and about hunting otters.
In this remarkable book, we follow Tarka the Otter through his entire life. We are there from his first to his last breath, through the joys and trials of his life, struggling through the harshest of winters, his life alone and with other otters, as a cub and as a grown otter with cubs of his own.
This is a hard book to rate. It follows the life of an animal but without trying to explain the animal with human feelings while still recognising that animals can feel happy about seeing each other, can protect their cubs and grieve when they loose one and how they play with each other - but it also shows how a female otter just leaves her cubs without another thought when they're old enough and an interesting male passes by. Even though our sympathy clearly lies with Tarka, he never feels truly known - he plays with his cub, but we get no descriptions of father feelings. He is truly a wild animal. There is no anthropomorphism in this book - and it stands the stronger because of this.
The book vividly describes how men and dogs hunt otters for hours on end, how men use traps to catch otters (and other animals) and how animals can bite off limbs to escape from traps. It's not a nice book to read - as exemplified with this sentence about a female otter caught in a trap in the water: "Iron in the water sinks, and however long cubs call her, a bitch otter cannot swim with three legs for ever."(191) It shows how man is cruel and nature is harsh and although it was unpleasant to read about otters dying in many different ways, it was still a very good book. Only thing dragging it down is a bit too much description of the nature and especially birds and their feeding habits, otherwise I would have given it 4 stars - even though I have no intentions of ever reading it again. It should be required reading for hunters! (less)
Some authors can write books where they reveal huge parts of the plot or the entire ending long time in advance but still manage to keep you intereste...moreSome authors can write books where they reveal huge parts of the plot or the entire ending long time in advance but still manage to keep you interested and reading on. Pamuk is one of these authors. Not only does he have a way with words, he also knows how to write a story.
This entire book is told by a man looking back on three days his now deceased friend Ka spent snowed in in a small city called Kars, investigating his life afterwards in Germany and trying to figure out who killed him. This narrator is in no sense reliable as he himself is the first to point out since he can’t know everything about Ka’s experiences in Kars or about his life beforehand or afterwards.
The man spending these three days in Kars is a poet and he goes to Kars to investigate a series of suicides committed by girls who were forbidden to wear head scarves. Or – that’s the official reason. Really, he goes there to try to reclaim his youth and to try and make it with the girl of his dreams.
What he’s getting into, is so much more. While he’s there, a live theatre show is transmitted to the entire city. This is the show where soldiers start shooting the audience and in a sense takes the entire city as hostages – at least until the roads are cleared again. So much happens in these three days. In a way, Kars becomes Turkey and everything that goes on in Turkey politically, goes on in Kars in these short three days where the city is separated from the rest of the country. There’s terrorists, peace talk attempts, religious conflicts, shootings and more.
Even though you know the way it all ends for Ka, Pamuk still keeps you enthralled throughout the book. You know he is shot in Germany, you know he lives there alone and never makes it with Ipek. But still, you want to read on and find out what happens. And in the end, you don’t know a lot more about Ka since his identity is only coming through via some notebooks, stories from people he met in Kars and the few people he knew in Germany.
This book is so beautifully written. Pamuk uses the snow that surrounds the city and cut it off from the rest of the world so extraordinary. This is one of my favorite quotes about the snow: “It was as if he were in a place that the whole world had forgotten; as if it were snowing at the end of the world.” (p. 10). So beautiful.
And not only does he write so beautiful about this, he also manages to write an interesting and insightful book about religion, politics, faith and secularism and about life in Turkey. He dives into identity and the question of how well we can know each other and the author/narrator’s role: “How much can we ever know about the love and pain in another’s heart? /…/ So it is when Orhan the novelist peers into the dark corners of his poet friend’s difficult and painful life: how much can he really see?” (p. 266).
I love how Pamuk hints at the relation between fiction and real life, how he inserts himself as a character in the story and refers to both himself and a later published work (The Museum of Innocence) directly in the text – while continuing to assert that he is not an all-knowing narrator. So there’s a Orhan in the book trying to figure out what happened to his friend Ka and an Orhan writing a novel about what happened to a man named Ka. How do fiction relate to reality, what can we learn by reading a novel, can a novel change anything?
This is a political novel. Pamuk wants to show us his Turkey. Since we’re the West and therefore never can see Turkey as a Turk does – which is made even more difficult by the fact that there are more one point of view but the Turkish Government see all people living in Turkey as Turks and doesn’t recognize that some of them have other ethnicities which is a leading cause for many of the conflicts. Anyway, this is Pamuk’s attempt to show us Turkey and what’s going on in it with regard to the relations between the various groups, the inner conflicts in the country between religion, faith, political views and more.
This book really got Pamuk high up on my list of authors to read. Not only is his language amazing, his story are so interesting and what we need to be reading to learn about the world, ourselves and each other. I have one other book by him on my shelf – The Museum of Innocence: If all his books are this good, I’ve found another favorite author.(less)