‘Hobbies involved preferences and preferences had to be avoided; preferences excluded people. One had no preferences. Her job was to take an interest,‘Hobbies involved preferences and preferences had to be avoided; preferences excluded people. One had no preferences. Her job was to take an interest, not to be interested herself.’ (location 38-44)
As most people probably can guess, I like to read. And because of this, I also like to read about other people reading. So when I heard about a book where the English Queen finds a mobile library while searching for her corgis and then feels obliged to borrow a book, I was hooked. She borrows the book and when she returns it, she takes another book out – and ends up promoting a boy from the kitchens she met at the library to help her with her reading lists and with acquiring new books. And then she starts to read. And read. And read. And suddenly she starts getting bored by her official duties, she starts bringing books with her when driving anywhere, she starts cutting meetings and audiences short – she just wants to read. And then everyone starts working against her. Her employees hide her books and they get rid of the boy who was helping her. And some even suspects her of suffering of a beginning senility: ‘/…/ the dawn of sensibility was mistaken for the onset of senility.’ (location 647-53). But a love of reading is not so easy to stop and so she keeps on reading until she has read a lot and starts feeling a need to not only be passive but be active. Do something herself. Like writing… I loved how Bennett shows how she grows as a reader – and as a human being. How at the beginning she finds some books difficult and for instance has trouble understanding the differences in and importance of social status in Jane Austen’s novels because she is so high above everyone else that the subtle differences between the characters in Austen’s novels are lost on her. At first. But she learns. ‘Books did not care who was reading then or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included.’ (location 233-45) Oh, and it was funny. When someone recommends Harry Potter to her, her answer is a very brisk ‘One is saving that for a rainy day.’ (location 336-42) And when her staff sends her off on a long trip to Canada and makes sure her books are not packed, she meets Alice Munro who kindly enough gives her some of her works. Which she loves, of course, which is quite fitting in this, Alice Munro’s year of winning the Nobel Prize. Even though this is not a biography and the characters are not truly the persons they are based on, this book still made me think favorably of the English Queen. And I guess that’s what’s the issue with books like this, loosely based on real people. Even though it’s fiction, it reflects on the people the characters are based on. In this case, it’s favorably – in other cases it isn’t always. I absolutely loved the ending. And it really makes me want to read Proust!
‘One reads for pleasure,’ said the Queen. ‘It is not a public duty.’ ‘Perhaps,’ said Sir Kevin, ‘it should be.’ (location 349-55)...more
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
What a strange book. Or well, maybe it wouldn’t be all that strange if it wasn’tThe man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
What a strange book. Or well, maybe it wouldn’t be all that strange if it wasn’t because this book is written by Stephen King – and it really doesn’t feel like a Stephen King novel.
But let’s start with the beginning. In his introduction, King writes that a lot of people who have read lots and lots of his books, still have never read The Dark Tower series – and that’s true for me too. I’ve read It, The Stand, Gerald’s Game, The Green Mile, Carrie, Under the Dome, Christine, Rose Madder, Bag of Bones and more, but even though I’ve been a King fan for maybe 20 years, I have never read this – or even attempted to. As a young teenager, I looked at the first volumes at my local library. I think I thought that the rest of the series was always rented out – or that the library hadn’t bought them or something. Years later, I realized that King actually hadn’t finished them. And then the car accident, and then he started writing them again. Still I didn’t read them. My boyfriend and I talked about buying the series for several years and finally he got them. And he started reading them – even though he’s not really a King fan. But then this read-along came and I thought, here’s my chance. And now I’m reading them!
This post is my review and my responds to the read-along questions, all cozily mixed up. I’m trying not to spoil anything but with this being in part a read-along post, there might be some spoilerish comments.
In The Gunslinger, we follow Roland, the last gunslinger, who’s traveling in pursuit of the man in black. Initially, we don’t know much about either of them. However, since I have read The Stand, my immediate reaction is that the man in black is Roland Flagg and therefore, evil incarnated. However, as we read the book, Roland is the one doing all the bad things and for me, this gave the book a very interesting twist. We follow Roland and sympathize with him – but he commits some really horrendous deeds and even though these are blamed on the man in black, it’s still Roland’s doing. This actually gives us two villains in a way – even though it’s hard to feel any negativity towards Roland. If anything, the man in black comes across as the tempter or trickster who somehow creates these scenarios for Roland which forces his hand. However, we mostly have Roland’s words for this so throughout the book, we’re left wondering.
As the novel progresses, however, we get more glimpses into Roland’s life, especially his childhood. We learn of his growing up and being trained as a gunslinger, how his father became a cuckold. It seems that Roland grew up in some sort of chivalry system where he was trained – and where at one point, every boy has to stand up to his teacher. Roland does this at a very young age – forever separating from his friends by doing so and in the way he does it, he shows he might have more cunning than raw physical power.
One of the most interesting things for me in this book, is a boy, Roland meets along the way. The boy, Jake, actually saves Roland – but he seems lost and he keeps having memories of New York, although they are slipping away. He clearly comes from another world and Roland is fascinated by this. Jake, however, seems to be a pawn in the power play between Roland and the man in dark – and again, it seems unclear who the real villain is. And I guess that’s kind of the point – the world isn’t black and white, there are more to it and sometimes, if you want to overcome great evil, you have to do great evil yourself.
The world this takes place in, seems like an Old West kind of world with small towns with saloons with piano players in them and a gunslinger academy. At the same time, there’s another world, the world Jake comes from, which is more like our world. It seems strange that this more technologically advanced world feels like it’s the past, that the world of the gunslinger has moved on from this. I guess that will become more clear in the volumes that follow.
As I mentioned earlier, King’s writing style in this is very different from normal. He usually starts his books of with a bang – something happens and you just have to read one to figure out exactly what happened, who did it or why it happened. This one kind of feels like it never really gets started. We follow Roland traveling across a landscape, a desert, and then across mountains. There are a few high-paced action scenes but it’s a slow moving novel, compared to King’s other novels. This weird alternate cowboy fantasy universe also feels very different from King’s other works that for the most part takes place in our world, the present day world at the time the novels were published. This is so different – but so far, I’m intrigued. Especially by the strong hints about what’s to come – some kind of crossover between our world and Roland’s world. I can’t wait to see how Roland will act if he arrives in our world!
I seem to remember that King sees the Dark Tower series as one huge novel and this novel definitely feels like a slow start to a huge novel with an incredibly rich storyline. I’m really looking forward to seeing where King will take me in the next books!...more
Sometimes on white nights, as the sunlight crept in beneath my curtains, I tried to recall what it felt like to sleep in sync with the sun. How strangSometimes on white nights, as the sunlight crept in beneath my curtains, I tried to recall what it felt like to sleep in sync with the sun. How strange and peaceful it sounded to dream every night in the dark. (p. 237)
What would happen if the world started to slow so that the days slowly grew longer, first by only a few minutes, but then by hours – and the days just continued growing as the earth slows down?
Well, at first it might sound absolutely wonderful. Who hasn’t dreamt of adding a few extra hours to the day, hours that could be spent reading some of the many, many books on my to-read list and wish-list!
But when the days just keep growing longer, it has huge influences on many things. The birds start dying, the whales beach themselves and die, the crops can’t live and grow with the prolonged periods of light – and especially dark. And of course, the people are feeling it too. If the sun shines for 72 hours, how do you cope?
For Julia and her parents, their day to day life is hugely changed after the earth slowed. Of course, they are growing scared and insecure because the future is suddenly unknown and life as they know it, have changed completely. And their family unit as well as Julia’s friendships are threatened. But – and this is definitely one of the book’s strengths – Julia questions how much of the changes are caused by this disaster and how much is caused just by normal human life, always changing.
The book is told from Julia’s point of view which gives it an interesting dimension. Because, yes, Julia is worried about what’s happening and wonders why her father works so much, but she worries even more about the cute boy in school and about her best friend having to go away. Which of course makes perfect sense for a teenager to care about these things, worry about being teased by the others and generally care more about these everyday aspects of life than about the bigger issues.
What’s interesting about this type of dystopia is, that we never get an explanation about why the earth slowed. We’re just told it has, that the days keep getting longer and longer and that people are struggling to cope, that conflicts between those who want to keep living in 24 hour days and those who want to live in accordance with the sun are erupting – but no explanation. The question is: do we need such an explanation? For parts of the book, I really wanted to know. But then I realized that that’s not important. The important thing is how people react, how easily we turn on each other when we are scared and see others as being different – and that life goes on, no matter what. That even though the world is slowly grinding to a halt, life is still being lived.
And I guess that is what is fascinated about such books. How we the people react and how even such drastic events in some ways get old and the more pressing things of every day life becomes more important – especially when you are a teenager. I also really liked how she showed how different people tackled the event and how the dominant faction, the ones continuing to live 24-hour-days, started persecuting the ones trying to live their days as the sun dictated.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. I thought the premise was extremely promising and that the novel for the most parts delivered. It’s not necessarily a novel that stays with you after you finish it but it is a fascinating idea – and an extremely capable debut novel....more
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 sevWhen 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???)...more
So I’ve had this fantasy trilogy on my to-read list for a while now. It’s written by Lisa Shearin and looked like a great series with lots of action,So I’ve had this fantasy trilogy on my to-read list for a while now. It’s written by Lisa Shearin and looked like a great series with lots of action, fighting and fun. A nice easy fantasy read. I decided it was perfect to try for my first audio books in several years. I started listening and after listening a bit to the first one, I checked out the author’s homepage – only to find out, this isn’t a trilogy. I don’t know why I think that fantasy books always come in trilogies (or, I do – I blame it on the way Lord of the Rings was published). Anyway, I just assume this. I did it with Adrian Tchaikovsky’s brilliant Shadows of the Apt series. I bought three volumes, excited about this fantasy bug trilogy – only to discover that it’s supposed to be in 10 volumes…! And now this Raine Benares series – not a trilogy, no, so far there’s published 5 books with the sixth installment being published later this month…
Anyways. Enough of me ranting. As I've written earlier, I decided to listen to this book because I needed something fun and interesting to distract me while gardening. And it certainly did live up to my expectations. So much that I didn’t only listen to it while gardening – I also listened to it while cleaning the oven. And … I actually want to be in my garden pulling up weeds, something that has never happened to me before. But I want to listen to the book and so, I pull up weeds.
This is the story of Raine Benares, a Sorceress and Seeker. When Quentin, one of her friends, takes on a job to rob a necromancer’s house, Raine decides to watch over him to make sure he gets through it alive – without him knowing. Raine’s cousin Phaelan tacks along and suddenly the three of them find themselves fighting goblin shamans appearing out of nowhere. The trio makes it out alive but when Quentin goes to deliver the retrieved object, he finds himself in trouble again. With more goblins.
For Quentin’s protection, Raine has taken over the object he stole. It turns out to be a very old silver medallion – with a mind of it’s own. It doesn’t want Raine to take it of, it enhances her powers – and it makes everyone look for her. And not everyone nice. See, this medallion isn’t just an ordinary medallion – but what it is, exactly, is hard to find out for Raine. And when she does find out, it’s from highly unlikely sources. How to get rid of it again, is even harder to figure out. In her attempt to rid herself of it, her loved ones are endangered more than once as she is herself. But her possession of the medallion also introduces her to new – and rather pleasant – acquaintances.
There is a bit of a love triangle that doesn’t improve much on the overall storyline, in this novel at least – maybe it will in the sequels. It doesn’t get in the way of the story though so it’s not a real irritation (it just seems that love triangles are all over the place, see Twilight and Hunger Games).
This is a great fantasy ride. It’s got lots of action, not a lot of slow parts. It keeps a fast pace and really moves the story along. It does this in a great way and it makes it a perfect light fantasy read. What I really appreciate about this book, is the amount of humor in it. There is, though, a bit of repetitiveness in the way it’s written – she clutches things in her white-knuckled hands several times in a few pages. It feels like the author wanted to write a certain something and wasn’t quite sure where to write it – and then missed deleting these repetitive sentences while editing. Overall, the writing flows easily and gets the story told in a good way.
So with this being an audio book, I of course have to comment on Eileen Stevens, the narrator. For the most part, I enjoyed her. I liked her reading voice and the sound of her voice is the sound of Raine Benares to me. However, I didn’t feel she did the male voices very well – they all sounded a bit alike. That being said, I didn’t need her to do more than she did for me to enjoy this listen and to be able to distinguish between who was talking.
Overall, I highly recommend this book as a light, easy and very entertaining fantasy novel that works perfect for the audio way of ‘reading’. I had a really good time listening to it and I’m looking forward to listening to the next in the series, Armed & Magical...more
I have reached the end of this series! And there was much rejoicing! Now, don’t get me wrong. It has been an allright experience but it hasn’t been moI have reached the end of this series! And there was much rejoicing! Now, don’t get me wrong. It has been an allright experience but it hasn’t been more than that and the books feel very similar. Except for specific plot details, I feel like I should just quote my review of the fifth book in the series, Con & Conjure, because I’m not sure how much new I have to say about the series as a whole or the narration of the audio books.
So things have never looked more grim for Raine Benares, the spunky seeker. After having been bonded to the Saghred, a soul-stealing stone, since early in the first book in this series, things have been cumulatively going from bad to worse but now, things are really bad. Sarad Nukpana, psychopath par excellence, has finally succeeded in getting the Saghred and after a goblin attack on Mid, Raine, her boyfriend Mychael, her former umi’atso-bound friend Tam and others decides to head to the Goblin capital of Regor to get the Saghred back from Nukpana and put the renegade prince Chigaru Mal’Salin back on the throne as well as reunite him with his girlfriend who Nukpana intends to marry. But to get there, they have to rely on Raine’s arch enemy Sylvanus Carnades since he’s a mirror mage and the only one who can get them to Regor and back safely.
Only issue – or not really only – but one of the big issues is that Raine has lost her magic. The Saghred has shut her down. She tries to hide this and it is actually rather helpful for sneaking around in Regor, but of course she can’t hide it for long and that of course creates a whole new host of problems.
The trip to Regor gives Shearin the chance to let us meet more of Tam’s family as well as Nukpana’s mother, Tam’s former teacher Kesyn Badru and more. Several of these are quite interesting although not quite as interesting as cousin Mago or Nachtmagus Vidor Kalta, who’s probably my favorite character in the series – him or Imala Kalis, the head of goblin security.
I missed Vegard a bit in this book. The big guardian is left behind on Mid to be stand-in for Mychael and make sure that the student population is not killed by the goblins – together with Raine’s pirate family. It makes sense to the story line, but I still missed Vegard’s attempt at keeping Raine safe – including sitting on her – and her flamboyant cousin Phaelan.
So the Saghred is of course hugely important in this whole series. And I have some issues with that. This rock seems to have a consciousness – at least it bears a serious grudge against Raine. I’m not sure that the idea of consciousness in objects really works in this world and parts of the plot hinges on that. I know it’s minor issue if you’re just able to suspend disbelief, however, it did mean that the final showdown didn’t quite work for me, even though it was otherwise very well executed.
This novel marks the end of the story arch that has been developed through all six books in the series. This doesn’t mean that this series is necessarily over. Lisa Shearin does leave room to take the characters up again and write some new adventures for Raine and Mychael on Mid so for people really enjoying this series, there’s hope. I’m not sure I will read another Raine Benares novel but I might read another Lisa Shearin novel. I think there’s a lot of potential in her writing....more
It’s actually really hard to write reviews of this series since they all just seem to blur together. Yes, I know I start listening to the next one asIt’s actually really hard to write reviews of this series since they all just seem to blur together. Yes, I know I start listening to the next one as soon as I finish one but they are all so similar that it’s difficult to separate them.
This of course is the Raine Benares series. It consists of six books, taking place over a rather short amount of time. In the first book, Raine helps a friend steal a necklace with a stone. She puts it on – and is instantly bonded with the rock which turns out to be the Saghred, a soul stealing nasty thing that can destroy whole kingdoms and normally, turns it’s wearer, it’s bond-servant, insane. However, Raine is able to wear the rock without getting insane and the rest of the series is spend with Raine trying to get rid of the stone and find a way to destroy it as well as trying to avoid the psychopath Sarad Nukpana who wants both her and the rock. Luckily, Raine has help from not only her friends but also from new friends like Paladin Mychael Ellisor and archmagus Justinius Justinius Valerian.
As per usual, this one starts off with a bang. The conflict between the goblins and elves is slowly escalating and when the Goblin prince Chigaru Mal’Salin arrives to Mid, things gets moving. The prince is wanted dead by almost everyone so before he even sets food on Mid, several assassins try to kill him. Luckily, Raine is there to save him – even though not all the goblins see it that way.
While the elves – or at least some of them, led by Sylvanus Carnades – is trying to get their hands on Raine, having a specially prepared cell ready for her with magic-reducing manacles in the cellars of the elven embassy, the Goblin king and Sarad Nukpana is preparing to attack the elves – and just being nasty as usual.
It seems to me that the new characters being introduced in these last books in the series, are rather more interesting than some of the ones who have been in all the books. In this one, we’re introduced to Raine’s cousin Mago, a banker, who’s of course still in the family business of sneaking, stealing and other sorts of criminal activity. He’s the prince’s banker and is of course in an excellent position to help Raine. Also, we have Raine’s ex-boyfriend and former fiancé who is a most skilled assassin who’s of course after the prince. And maybe others? Someone at least is taking shots at Mychael.
So when you listen to a whole series, it’s hard to come up with something new to say about the narrator for each book. However, when you have listened to a whole series and the narrator suddenly starts saying something in a different way, it does distract from the listening experience. For some reason, in this book Eileen Stevens has started saying ‘the Saghred’ in a different way.The Saghred is mentioned a lot and every time, she says the word in this new way, I start wondering why she has changed it and it takes me out of the listening experience and ruins the flow of the story for me.
Other than that, this is just like the other books in the series. Plenty of action, very fast pace, some things are repeated over and over etc. If you’ve come this far in the series, you know exactly what you get. It’s decent light fantasy. It’s quite entertaining when you read it/listen to it but nothing more. I do admit that at a few points in this one, I really didn’t want to put it down but just to keep on listening but normally, I don’t think about it when not listening to it. I’m actually looking forward to finishing this series so I can try out other audiobooks and see if my lack of enthusiasm is because of the book or the medium I experience them through....more
‘You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and‘You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words.’ (p. 499) Back in June 2012 I bought The Night Circus. I had been desperate to get it for some time and the first time I saw it in a store, I just had to get it. So I did. And then promptly put it on my shelf and waited 1,5 years to read it. Not because I forgot about it – no. It was more like I was scared. See, I kept hearing that this book was amazing and I kept building it up in my head. So much, that I was afraid to start reading it because I didn’t want it to not be able to live up to my expectations and as long as it was just standing safely on my shelf, I could keep on believing it was good. But finally I decided that that wasn’t the proper way to handle a potentially amazing book and so I decided to read it this year. When I started it, I did feel like it didn’t live up to the hype I had created for myself about it. But I read on and just got more and more intrigued by the circus. I recently read someone writing about how Lord of the Rings was more about the setting for them, the world Tolkien created, than it was about the characters and the adventure. And to a certain extent this was how I felt about this book. I loved the circus. This amazing black and white wandering circus filled with the most intriguing tents, each more wonderful than the next with beautiful scenarios, extremely talented artists and just pure magic. I loved reading about it and about the new tents that pops up from time to time. The circus is the background for a magic competition. Two men competes with each other about which school of thought about magic is the best when they are working within the same environment. Celia and Marco are the two children who are taught to create things in two different ways and then pitted against each other in the wonderful Le Cirque des Rêves. Both are extremely talented at creating various illusions but the problem is that of course every action has consequences and this means that more and more people get involved in the circus – and none of these seem to age. And that’s just one of the consequences of the circus. Well, except the twins born on the first night of the circus, Poppet and Widget. The twins grow up in the circus, the only ones who seem to grow. These two red-haired kitten training twins are only two of the amazing characters in this book. Others include Prospero, the Enchanter, Celia’s father, and Alexander, the man in grey who trains Marco. Tsukiko the contortionist. Bailey, the boy who loves the circus. Herr Thiesen, the amazing clock maker who becomes the first fan of the circus and starts a whole movement of people following the circus around. Which is difficult since the circus arrives with no warning and with no announcements preceding it, only being open from sunset till sunrise. It just appears out of the blue somewhere close to a city and immediately draws people in. And I would really want it to show up here. I don’t particularly like circuses – they have clowns, they travel around with animals who don’t belong in a circus – but this circus doesn’t appear to have any clowns or mistreated animals. Just amazing sights, illusions and cute performing kittens. The Night Circus is a beautiful and fascinating books with endearing characters who just grew on me even though I started out just loving the setting. It is a beautiful fairytale set in a city resembling Victorian London. It’s a lovely fantastic ride which I will definitely return to – sometime after sunset when the circus is in town.
‘”Don’t look at me like that,” he says, “as if you think me inhuman.” “I can see through you,” Celia snaps. “It is not particularly trying on my imagination.”‘ (p. 392)...more
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 hiI 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. ...more
Let me start of by saying that I absolutely loved this book so if there’s an inappropriate amount of gushing in the following, you have been warned.
I’Let me start of by saying that I absolutely loved this book so if there’s an inappropriate amount of gushing in the following, you have been warned.
I’ve had this on my shelves for a couple of years, just waiting for me to get ready to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. I said in my review of that book that I didn’t recommend it except for die hard Dickens fans and the like – but I was wrong. Everyone should read The Mystery of Edwin Drood just to read this one afterwards since this book makes more sense if you have read Dickens’ novel. If you have read Dickens’, you will get the hints in Drood – in fact, Drood then reads as a introduction to how an author gathers inspiration. Simmons have taken parts from The Mystery of Edwin Drood and then used them in this book in the most clever way. One small example is how in the Dickens novel, there’s a girl nicknamed Pussy and a lawyer who thinks Pussy is a cat. Of course, Simmons then has a cat named Pussy. Dickens has one of the main characters be a opium addict – in Drood (at least) one of Dickens’ best friends is a opium addict and suffers terrible consequences because of it. John Jasper’s secret visit to the crypt is here, we have Deputy and so much more. I love this aspect of it – how you can imagine Dickens living his life and seeing inspiration all around him.
But I digress. I haven’t even started talking about what’s the book about yet. This is the story of the last few years of Charles Dickens’ life and what he did after being in a terrible railway accident in 1865 and till his death in 1870. The story is told by his friend, the author Wilkie Collins. Wilkie experienced firsthand much of what Dickens did and experienced in those last years – and Dickens was busy. Not only with his work but also with various investigations and experiences in the less familiar parts of London, the part where the opium addicts frequent, the parts where the lowest classes fight and struggle for survival each and every day.
Dickens was not an opium-user – but at the railway accident, he met a man, a certain personage named Drood. This Drood hunted the rest of Dickens’ life and as a expert mesmerizer, Drood made Dickens do what he bid. Dickens was extremely fascinated by Drood in the beginning but realized later that Drood was a murderer, a man so versed in the ancient Egyptian beliefs that he was able to resurrect himself and was more an apparition than a man.
Because of Dickens’ connection to Drood, Wilkie is slowly dragged into this as well and experiences first hand a nasty Egyptian ritual involving a scarab. Wilkie becomes a sort of spy into Dickens’ life to inform a private detective, working desperately to catch the sinister Drood.
This is what the book is about. This is the extremely exciting story Wilkie Collins relate to us. Only thing is – Wilkie is not only an opium-user, he also self-medicate with laudanum in extremely high doses, several glasses at a time. So the question becomes – is Wilkie a reliable narrator so we can trust what he tells us about Dickens’ last years or is this rather one man’s descend into opium-induced madness? I’m still not sure.
Or maybe, it’s all something that Dickens invented – a kind of joke that got too far and was primarily fueled by Wilkie’s abuse issues and Dickens’ abilities as a master mesmerizer.
This is also a book about jealousy. There’s no doubt that both in their time and in our time, Dickens is the greater novelist. I haven’t read anything by Wilkie Collins yet so I don’t know if it’s fair but both back then and now, Dickens is the best one in the eyes of the public. And we love to read his books. We love to read about his characters. They are almost real. And Wilkie was – at least according to Simmons – very jealous because of this. And – for most of the book – doesn’t think it’s fair. (I do think that this book also would benefit for having read a couple of Wilkie Collins novels…)
There’s no doubt that Simmons is a master writer. The way he handles all these various possible ways to read the book, all the research he has in this without at any point making it boring or like someone is telling us something because we need to know to understand what’s coming. It’s marvelous. And I have a sneaking suspicion that if you look at how Dickens or Collins tell their stories and then compare it to Simmons, you will find similarities that are not just coincidences.
I love this quote about how Dickens’ write: ‘pulling characters out of the air (often based willy-billy on people in his own life) without a thought as to how they might serve the central purpose, mixing in a plethora of random ideas, having his characters wander off into incidental occurrences and unimportant side-plots having nothing to do with the overriding idea, and often beginning his story in mid-flight /…/’. (p. 264)
My favorite quote though, is one that I’m not sure whether to attribute to Dickens or to Simmons. The aging Dickens, after having lost so many of his family and friends, says at one point: ‘/…/ my heart has become a cemetery.’ (p. 578). I find this such a powerful sentence because it’s true. At some point for most of us, our hearts will become cemeteries because the ones we have loved, are dead. And what a tragedy when you reach that moment. And what a beautiful way to express it.
Now, I of course have to mention the way Simmons see the end of The Mystery of Edwin Drood – told from Dickens’ own lips, although not necessarily something you can trust (like so much else in this novel). But according to this, Edwin Drood is dead, murdered by John Jasper – who turns out to be his brother, and who are suffering so much from opium abuse that he has an alternate consciousness, Jasper Drood. And Jasper Drood is a master mesmerizer. As is Helena Landless and to some extent her brother Neville. But someone has mesmerized John Jasper/Jasper Drood to kill his brother – and who this person is, is never revealed by Simmons. So the mystery is intact…
In it’s way, this is a tribute to Charles Dickens. I haven’t done much research into who Dickens actually was as a person, but it seems that Simmons has and that he has worked hard on this novel to create a fair picture of Dickens. Even though Wilkie is the one telling it, and Wilkie hates Dickens for parts of the book, there’s no doubt who comes of as the most sympathetic. Despite the way Dickens treated his wife, despite his ‘secret’ mistress. But then again, we only have Wilkie’s – not necessarily very reliable – words for this, don’t we?...more
If you saw someone perform something that seemed to be a miracle, would you believe it to be a miracle or would you try to find some rational way of eIf you saw someone perform something that seemed to be a miracle, would you believe it to be a miracle or would you try to find some rational way of explaining it? When days, weeks, months had passed, would you still be convinced you had seen a miracle or would you instead think that you must have been mistaken?
Patrick is dying. He has been sick for a very long time and now, the doctors have given up on him. He is lying in Jack and Franca’s house and Franca is taking care of him while trying to come to terms with the new woman in her and Jack’s life. But more on that later. Patrick is sick because he has been cursed. By Marcus, an old … friend.
Ludens, another one of this group of friends, have taken it upon himself to find Marcus. He was always very impressed with Marcus and luckily, he’s able to locate him. When he visits him, Marcus and his daughter Irina are living in a small cottage and Irina is more than willing to leave the place. Marcus comes, sees – and he brings Patrick back from the (almost) dead.
Or does he? Even though a lot of this group of friend saw him do it, they are not all sure about what they really saw – or what he did. Did he cure a physical disease? Or did Patrick so firmly believe that Marcus had cursed him, that he almost died from this belief and did Marcus lift the curse and thereby bring Patrick back to life?
Afterwards, Ludens goes to live with Marcus and Irina and desperately tries to grasp what Marcus thinks because he is convinced that Marcus has found a great truth. He begins a relationship with Irina but is constantly struggling with finding his place. The other main storyline is focusing on Franca’s marriage to Jack and his insistence on having affairs with other women – and finally, on actually marrying one of these other women while stile retaining his relationship with Franca.
It feels strange trying to sum up this book by talking about what happens. Because that’s not really what’s important. At least not for the most part. Towards the end, it does become somewhat important but for most of the book, the talks and discussions between the characters are what matters. How they react to events, what they think and feel, why they feel compelled to do certain things – not what really happens. And then again. This is a strange book, hard to come quite to terms with. It’s definitely not a book where everything is tied up neatly with a pretty bow. You are somewhat left to decide what really happened – and what will happen. Did Marcus really bring back Patrick from the dead? What will happen with Jack and Franca? How will Ludens go on? And what about Irina? Irina is a character who I never really got a hold on. The entire novel through, she confused me. I never really knew what she really felt and wanted. After finishing the novel, I’m still a bit confused about her. And that fascinates me. I’m still pondering why she made the choices she did – and that’s a big compliment to Murdoch’s writing. She lets her characters live on even after the book is closed, by not concluding their lives but by leaving it open-ended.
Overall, this is a book about relations. Relationships not only between lovers or married couples but also between friends. How far do you wish to let yourself be pushed by the one you love? How much will you accept? All the characters in the book are searching for some king of meaning, for love, for faith – and they are all unsure about what to do. And the book is like this too. There’s no easy answers and even though it does come to a very satisfactory, you are still left with questions. As you are in life.
Iris Murdoch was a British author and philosopher. She wrote her novels in longhand – and they are printed as is, without being edited! She wrote both non-fiction and fiction but her fiction is heavily influenced by her philosophical thinking – which for me makes it even more interesting. With her focus on the importance of inner life on moral action, it is clear why she – at least in this novel – chooses to focus so intensely on the thoughts and feelings and not so much on the actions. As she does in this novel, she apparently often writes about intellectual men caught in moral dilemmas and about enigmatic male characters, who swipes other people along with them and convinces them of the truth of things – even though this might not actually be true. Jack is such a person. Charismatic, artist, persuasive. Marcus, although powerful, seems to be more just swept along of events, searching so after some kind of meaning that everything else fades – with Ludens at his side as a eager puppy, desperately trying to grasp the meaning of what Marcus says and does, and through that get a sense of meaning in the world and his life.
Although I really felt for Franca and her attempts to continue to love her husband no matter what, even when he wants to live in a committed menage a trois relationship with her and another woman, Ludens and his struggle to find meaning in the world by both listening to Marcus and persuading Marcus to think and talk and by his relationship with Irina, is the tragic hero of the novel. A man lost without past, a confusing present that constantly leaves him frustrated and without a sense of direction for his future. And yet, he has to go on.
I guess that’s how it is for all of us. That we each have to find our own meaning in life, our own purpose. And just go on....more
So what would you do if you could remember something happening but you were just about the only one who could? And even if you went to old news papersSo what would you do if you could remember something happening but you were just about the only one who could? And even if you went to old news papers or on the internet, there wasn’t any information about it?
Well, that’s the situation for several of the characters in this book. Not all though. The main character, Old Chen, is a happy man. He’s happy about his life, the world he lives in, everything. But then he meets a woman he was in love with when they were both young, Little Xi. Little Xi is not happy. She is a former lawyer who very quickly found out that she was not cut out for handling out death penalties for every offense committed. So now she supports herself by various means while her main focus is on discussing political issues on the internet, using ever changing pseudonyms.
When Old Chen meets Little Xi again, he decides to try to woo her and does so by pretending he’s not the same as all the other happy people but is discontent just as Little Xi. Little Xi is frustrated. She spent some time in a mental hospital and when she was released, everybody had changed. Nobody wanted to talk about what happened on June 4th, 1989 or about the Cultural Revolution. It was as if they didn’t remember anymore: Certain collective memories seemed to have been completely swallowed up by a cosmic black hole, never to be heard of again. (Location 1081-82)
Old Chen introduces Little Xi to another old friend of his, Fang Caodi. Fang Caodi is not happy either but unlike Little Xi, he actually knows he’s unhappy. Fang Caodi remembers that there was a month where the country was in great inner turmoil – or more precisely, 28 days. 28 days from the day when the world economy went into a huge crisis and to the day where China’s Golden Age of Ascendancy officially started – but it seems that these 28 days are missing from everyone’s memory. As well as missing from newspapers, books and more. How can that be?
Fang Caodi suspects that this collective amnesia can be related to the vaccination for the bird flu that everyone got the same spring but he’s not sure. He also has an idea that anyone suffering from asthma is not affected for some reason but he can’t confirm either suspicion initially.
After helping Little Xi remember what happened in those 28 days, Fang Caodi and Little Xi decides to kidnap a government official to force him to tell them why nobody remember any of the bad stuff that has happened in recent Chinese history. But in doing so, they involve Old Chen more than he wished to be.
This novel takes place in a near-future version of China – in some ways, a China that already exists. Some of the issues discussed in the book, have already become reality. I find recent Chinese history fascinating and the idea of a government somehow manipulating the entire population is intriguing – and something you can easily believe could happen in China (and in some ways have happened already, many times). But I don’t think the plot in this novel is entirely convincing. I think the answer to the question ‘how?’, is not persuasive. And I think the author ran out of ideas too because not only doesn’t he explain everything, he has a lot of promising minor characters that could really have been interesting to develop further (Little Xi’s son among others) but they are just introduced and then almost forgotten.
Of course, China is very different from the country I live in and I do know that it’s dangerous to assume that other people think and react like I do – especially when we come from different cultures. But I still have a hard time buying how the plot is developed and that because people fear chaos more than dictatorship, the Chinese government just had to wait for the people to come running scared when things got out of hand in those 28 days, and then the government could step in and impose stability like another Leviathan (I still don’t believe Thomas Hobbes was right about how we humans act if we have no sovereign).
And more important than that – the last 25 % of this book is so boring. In essence, it’s consists almost entirely of one very very long speech or treatise on first economic and then politics. It just go on and on and on: Twenty-five per cent of the balance of every National Bank savings account was to be converted into vouchers for use in China only. One third of these had to be spent within ninety days, and two thirds within six months. Beyond that time limit they would no longer be valid. The Chinese people’s excessive savings were one of the reasons for insufficient domestic demand. Personal savings equalled more than 20 per cent of the nation’s annual GDP, and business savings were more than 30 per cent. (location 41114-20). This was just a short example. It just continues like this for page after page. Suddenly, the book stopped being fiction and became non-fiction. And I didn’t enjoy the novel after that.
In the afterword, the translator states that this lengthy monologue is how the president addresses the people and he claims that Most liberal ethnic-Chinese scholars living in China and abroad regard the last section of the work as very dramatic and the most important part of the book. (location 4962-68). The key word here is scholar. Since when do you write novels to please scholars? Isn’t papers, essays, non fiction books more suited if you want to address scholars? In my opinion, at least, this is a pure defense for a very in-appropriate way to end a story.
One top of that, there was also a serious error at this point. The author forgets that one of his characters is tied up and can’t move and then let him walk freely to the bathroom – only to remember that he’s tied up a few pages later and then makes a point of his captors not having any intentions of unleashing him … Serious editing needed there!
I do believe there’s a lot of interesting discussion points in this book. Old Chen at one point ponders how much freedom the Chinese people have – if it’s maybe 90 or 95 per cent. He compares it with the West and thinks it’s a little less than in the West but as he correctly points out, Western nations also have restrictions on freedom of speech and action (his examples are how Germany restricts neo-Nazi organizations and how some states in the United States deny homosexuals the freedom to mary). And I think he has a good point here. However, there’s a difference between having freedom where you actually know that some things are not allowed and having a freedom where you’re not aware that things are being kept from you. The Chinese government is still restricting it’s citizens (just recently, my friend Jun Feng was in China and he was so happy that he had a small program that allowed him to access Facebook while he was there (Facebook of course being un-available in China)). And therefore, I don’t think the points has that much value – if you don’t know your freedom is being restricted, then you are less free than if you do know. At least, that’s what I think.
For the great majority of young mainland Chinese, the events of the Tiananmen Massacre have never entered their consciousness; they have never seen the photographs and news repots about it, and even fewer have had their family or teachers ever explain it to them. They have not forgotten it; they have never known anything about it. In theory, after a period of time has elapsed, an entire year can indeed disappear from history – because no one says anything about it.
It’s is argued that the young Chinese have never heard of the massacre on Tiananmen Square in 1989 and that it has hardly been mentioned in the official discourse since then and that people avoid talking about it because they don’t want to get in trouble. First of, if these things are true, it just adds to my argument that the Chinese people are less free because people in the West would not let the official discourse just brush over something like this. Secondly, I don’t think that people who have experienced what happened back then, would just forget it. I still remember vividly the images of the tank driving into and over that young man. Of course, you can’t remember if if you have never known it. But if it is true that it has been forgotten just by being not spoken about, I find that truly scary.
I was at times unsure whether the author did in fact support the Communist Party or not – or at least very unsure about what his intentions were with this book. But he does come out and has a character state that since June 1989, /…/ the Chinese Communist Party no longer has any ideals. As a Party-state regime with a total monopoly of power in China, the Communist Party rules only to preserve its own power. ((location 4598-4600). It is also stated in the afterword that China isn’t really a fascist state anymore because it hasn’t an ideology or a great leader anymore and that The Party leaders have no dream of utopia, only a dream of amassing more wealth and power for themselves and their dependents, while suppressing all malcontents in the name of national stability. (location 4950-52)
As it can be seen, this novel inspires a lot of thought. I love when fiction does that. But fiction can’t be judged solely on the ideas and thoughts it gives us – it has to be judged on it’s own merits as a novel. And on that, I think this novel fails. There are too many characters introduced where one think they will play an important role in the plot later – but they don’t. The plot itself is not completely satisfying and then the author lets one character go on a far too long speech towards the end that accomplishes nothing else but make you forget the merits of the first 75 per cent of the book, as well as start skimming to have it over with. This novel could have been so much – unfortunately, it failed to even be a novel for too many pages.
But between a good hell and a counterfeit paradise, which one will people choose? No matter what you might say, many people will believe that a counterfeit paradise is better than a good hell. They know perfectly well it’s a counterfeit paradise, but they don’t dare expose it. As time goes by, they will even forget that it is a fake paradise. They start arguing in defense of this fake paradise, asserting that it is actually the only paradise. But there’s always a small number of people, even if they are only an extremely small minority, who will choose the good hell no matter how painful it is, because in the good hell at least everyone is fully aware that they are living in hell. (Location 2106-11) ...more
We are all here, our voices said. This is our home, our turf, our valley. We have peed all over it, slept all over it, dreamed all over it, renamed it
We are all here, our voices said. This is our home, our turf, our valley. We have peed all over it, slept all over it, dreamed all over it, renamed it. No one is here except all of us. (p. 108)
When I first heard of this novel, I thought this would be something of a 1001 Nights story where the people of a small village gather together and tell each other stories to fend off the impending doom. However, that was not quite a correct impression. Instead, it’s in some ways a retelling of the creation story from the Bible with chapters called The Beginning of the World, The First Day, The Second Day etc.
In a small village in Romania in 1939, war is slowly getting closer. When a mysterious strange woman is washed up on the riverbank and tells about how her village was attacked by solders and how she watched her family being taken away, into the forest, the villagers feel an impending doom closing in on them. The villagers’ Jewish ancestors have been forced to move to escape numerous times and the villagers don’t want to do that again. They have no where to go, no place to run: ‘When there is nothing left to do, and there is nowhere else to go, the world begins again.’ (p. 24). And so they make a deal with God:
Dear God, We did not start again because it wasn’t beautiful before. The world we make will be much smaller and less glorious than the one you made. Ours will have none of the strange, wild animals – no elephants or tigers, no parrots or blue frogs. It will have none of the exotic spices, no sea, no lakes. We are content to accept this small circle of land as our entire universe, so long as we are safe here. (p. 29)
So the villagers start over. They create a new world with their imagination. Two wives switch husbands – and the couple who have never been able to have a child, gets one. In this new world, they no longer have to be childless. The 11-year-old girl, Lena, who is the book’s narrator, has to say goodbye to her family and becomes a new family’s child. But she’s not a baby and the mother is so very much in need of having a baby, so they make an agreement that she is a baby but that she grows a year every few weeks. However, she doesn’t stop growing when she reaches her own age, according to her new mother, so it doesn’t take much time before Lena is ready to be married and move out on her own – and become a mother herself.
The village stays untouched by the war but of course we all know that it’s only a matter of time before reality overrules fiction and imagination. This separates the book into two sections – the first being the villagers creating their new beautiful dream of a life in peace, and the second following Lena, trying to protect her two young children by taking them on the run, away from the village.
I do not wonder why we were left alone as long as we were. Why our village was skipped by marching Romanian soldiers with orders to send all Jews and Gypsies to the other side of the border for the Germans to deal with. What aches in every part of my body is that we did not hear their cries, the lives ending. Death by machine gun, death by starvation, death by sadness. Along we went, our lives day to day, morning to night. A million mothers, a million fathers, a million sons and daughters screamed at once, and all we heard was the good wind shake the trees out. (p. 143)
I didn’t quite buy the premise of this book, the idea that so many adults in a village would get in on this and go through with it. That in a blink of an eye, women are ready to switch their husbands – or maybe I believe that, but I had trouble believing that everyone in the city went along with the fantasy that peace could be achieved like that, by starting over. Still, I liked the book. I really liked it. The story is beautiful and the idea of creating a new world like that is so pure in it’s naive simplicity.
And it did get me thinking about identity and the power of the mind over reality and faith versus knowledge. I guess it all comes down to perception, what you perceive is reality. How much reality do you need in order to believe in something? And what happens when what you believe in, turns out not to be true? When your carefully constructed reality shatters? And if you just keep on believing in something stubbornly enough, does it actually take on a reality of it’s own?
This is a very atypical World War II book. It follows in the tradition of Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful which is about a father trying to protect his son from the harsh realities of a Nazi death camp by creating stories. But even though the focus is in some ways more on the way people handle tough situations and extreme crisis, it has the heart-breaking moments you’ve come to expect from any World War II story on top of the struggles Lena goes through as a young girl, having to completely rethink who she is and what her story is.
I haven’t seen many reviews of this book. I don’t think a lot of people have been reading it and even though I have some issues with it, I still enjoyed it a lot and it made me think. It touches upon subjects that are interesting for us all, I think, and I really hope that more people will pick this book up and give this first-time author a chance.
What do we have now, he asked himself. If we die, every single one of us? The story, he thought, remained. Once told, it does not ever go completely away. It has no throat to slit. (p. 231)
I’ve had a strange time with this book. At first, I was disappointed. I had been looking so much forward to it because I loved the idea of the words oI’ve had a strange time with this book. At first, I was disappointed. I had been looking so much forward to it because I loved the idea of the words of children becoming toxic to their parents and all adults. But the novel felt a bit strange, it was difficult to quite grasp what was going on and it felt like Ben Marcus maybe wanted to do much. But then I had time to just sit down and read for several hours and the novel really got under my skin. It was a quiet evening, the girls were sleeping and my boyfriend was also reading a book. At one point, I began having a strong aversion towards the thought that he would start speaking to me. I finished the book in two more sittings and each time, I got the same aversion against speak. I felt like I needed people around me to be quiet – otherwise, I would fall ill. Just like Claire and Sam.
Claire and Sam live together with their teenage daughter, Esther. Slowly, Claire and Sam are getting more and more sick while Esther thrives. After a while they realize that it’s not just them but rather, the entire grownup population who is suffering. It is discovered that they are being poisoned by the words of children. Not only their own children, but all children. This condition really alienates parents and children: ‘We’d grown so accustomed to hiding our feelings around Esther that it seemed easier to just not have those feelings in the first place.’ (p. 102)
Their condition gets so bad that they have to leave their home and leave Esther behind in the neighborhood which is turned into a kind of camp for kids with fences and loudspeakers to keep the adults out. And pretty soon, Sam is on his own, having been forced to leave the much more sick Claire behind.
It’s a book about the power of language. If you imagine how much words can hurt – and then imagine that it manifests itself physically, then you have an idea of what this book is about. Especially since the sickness that these words spread, are hurtful enough to make parents leave their children behind, hardly without a second thought.
I was a bit torn about Esther. Marcus writes that she seems concerned and yet, when she is asked to limit her talk, she starts talking whenever they can hear her and she joins a gang where she runs around shouting – and thereby hurting – adults. Yes, I know she’s a teenager but wouldn’t she care just a little bit that her parents were suffering?
Likewise, I was confused by the Jewish cult, Claire and Sam are members of. They attend sermons in a small hut in the forrest where it is transmitted through cables in the ground. It’s dirty and muddy and often difficult to hear the sermons. They are the only one who know about the hut and they are not allowed to talk to each other – or to Esther – about the sermons and I just didn’t quite get what these parts were all about – although this underground network becomes very important later in the book.
When I began reading this book, I was very confused about the title. What is the flame alphabet? I had never heard of this before but apparently, the flame alphabet is the word of God, written in fire. It’s the Torah. It’s words are all variations on God’s name. But you are not supposed to say God’s name and since all words in this alphabet are variations on God’s name, then that means that this alphabet is off-limit. You are not allowed to use it and this new disease is making sure you don’t go around forgetting that!
Words and language become so dangerous that you can’t even think in words. I don’t believe that you can have a inner life without language, I don’t believe you can even exist if you can’t use some kind of communication – and in this book, every type of communication ends up being hurtful. But still – I’m so impressed and interested by this book – and I love the idea of being able to commit suicide by language or to die by reading – so I’m ready to forgive things that I in a novel of lesser merit and importance would be very annoyed by.
I’m still asking myself whether this is just a discussion of the power of language, an allegory for the condition we all face with information overload in this information society, a critique of religion – or all three? I’m not sure but it’s definitely a book that will cause any reader to think. It feels like such an important book, a book that has something very significant to say about our relationships with each other and our language and communication.
This is a book filled with words, telling the story of how much words can hurt you. It draws you in to it’s own reality so you feel the beginning of the same panic, that Claire and Sam felt when it all began. And this is masterfully done. It is so worth reading. Go read. And read it in as few sittings as possible!
‘To refrain from storytelling is perhaps one of the highest forms of respect we can pay. Those people with no stories to circle them, can die without being misunderstood.’ (p. 265)...more
So there’s no chance of me spoiling this for anyone since really, nothing much happens. Folket i Klippehulerne aka The Shelters of Stone is of courseSo there’s no chance of me spoiling this for anyone since really, nothing much happens. Folket i Klippehulerne aka The Shelters of Stone is of course the fifth book in the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel. Since The Clan of the Cave Bear we’ve been following Ayla on her journey from part of a Neanderthal clan to finding people of her own kind, the Cro-Magnons. We’ve followed her living on her own, befriending various animals as well as meeting and healing Jondalar, the first Cro-Magnon man she’s ever seen. She and Jondalar then set off on their journey, first living and experiencing serious relationship trouble in the camp of the Mammoth Hunters. And then, they set off for Jondalar’s home.
After the boring journey across the plains in book 4, I was kind of apprehensive about the fifth book. I was hoping that the 12 years break was used by Jean M. Auel to get back to the quality of the first books in the series. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
This novel takes off when Ayla and Jondalar has arrived at the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, Jondalar’s home. Arriving on horseback, together with a wolf, they of course cause quite a stir. After Ayla is introduced to the family and the rest of the people in the cave, she starts trying to fit in. Most people are very impressed with this beautiful and amazingly talented woman, Jondalar brought back. However, not all are quite so happy. One of these is the girl, Jondalar was supposed to marry who is not exactly happy that he brought Ayla back and therefore, she decides to humiliate her. The plan doesn’t go quite as expected, instead it rather backfires and makes Ayla more popular with most of the people of the cave – although even more unpopular with a few.
Besides Ayla’s attempts to fit in, this novel focuses on Ayla’s pregnancy and her and Jondalar’s mage ceremony. Throw in a couple of hunts, some sex scenes, explanations about how things worked, everyone presented having extremely (ridiculously) long titles and Ayla being amazing at whatever she does – and you have yourself a book.
Unfortunately, not a very good one. It seems that Auel has more focus on the research she has done for the book than on the actual story the research should be the background to and this makes the book rather slow-moving and unbalanced. On top of this, Auel repeats herself over and over and over – I’m convinced that in at least one place, she simply copy-pasted from the first of the books – and even presents the same things as new information several times as well as recap all major events from the first 4 novels, and you can see some of the issues with the book.
But unfortunately that’s not all that bothered me about the book. So far, Auel has seemed rather progressive when it comes to sex and relationships between the sexes but in this novel, not so much. For this tribe, if a young woman has sex before her first ritual, it’s a great shame and people look down on her – but not on the man who did it with her, even if he’s an older man who persuaded her. Also, it’s the woman’s responsibility to keep the man happy by having sex with him – if not, he’ll probably leave her… This is some of the things Ayla are told before the mate ceremony – and it doesn’t seem that Jondalar is told anything similar to this. And I don’t like that.
Auel also has a tendency sometimes to step back and talk about how some invention or new thought, will evolve through the coming centuries and what it will come to mean and why Jondalar and Ayla thought of it. This way of stepping back breaks the rhythm of the story and ruins the pace.
I read a translation of this novel so I don’t know if the clunkiness of the writing and the sometimes very old-fashioned language is the author’s or the translator’s fault. I do know that the spelling and translation mistakes are the Danish editor’s and the translator’s fault!
The greatest issue with this book however, is how accomplished and amazing Ayla is. She is simply the best at everything. She’s the perfect woman, she’s beautiful and is able to create amazing clothes. She can tame animals. She is a fantastic healer – who on top of that, always is on hand when someone gets injured. No one gets injured in this book without Ayla being right there, ready to treat. She can solve social issues in minutes: issues, that have bothered everyone else for years. No wonder she annoys some of the people in the cave! I know she has had opportunities no one else has had and all that, but it just feels too much now. She is simply too accomplished for it to feel real in any way.
I went back and forth between giving this 2 or 3 stars. I actually think this doesn’t deserve more than 2 stars and if I had read the series closer together, I would probably have been so annoyed with the constant repetition of both the earlier books in the series and even of this very book, that it would have been difficult even to give it two stars. But since it has been 15 years or so since I read the first 4 in the series and so the repetition bothers me but not as much as it could have – maybe should have.
I really, really liked this series when I was younger. The first three books were really good – or at least, that’s how I remember them. But after the disappointment with both the fourth and fifth book in this series, I’m not sure if these books were any good or if it’s because I read them maybe 20 years ago when I was in my teens - and wasn’t as sophisticated a reader as now. It’s sad to start to question books you used to love, because the later in the series simply don’t live up to your expectations. So far, I’m convinced that book 4 and 5 should have been one book – and I’m not having very high hopes about book 6…...more
So yes. Here we are. I’ve finally finished the entire Earth’s Children series. And – really, I’m not sure how to put this but – this was bad. This wasSo yes. Here we are. I’ve finally finished the entire Earth’s Children series. And – really, I’m not sure how to put this but – this was bad. This was really, really bad. The Land of Painted Caves takes what started as an excellent and fascinating series about a young Cro-Magnon girl who is adopted by Neanderthals, later forced out, finding her own way in the world, falling in love and being accepted by other Cro-Magnon people – it takes all this promising material and brings it to an extremely bad finish that throws such a bad light back upon the rest of the series that I’m not sure I will ever read any of these books again, even though I really liked the first three (The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Valley of the Horses and The Mammoth Hunters).
This final book in the series details Ayla’s training to become a Zelandonia, her Donier tour and relationship issues with Jondalar as well as Ayla being Called to become a Zelandonia. There’s an earth quake and as always, Ayla does amazing things. The plot is divided into three separate parts with jumps in time between each. I really don’t know what more to say about it as nothing much really happens.
So what makes this book so bad? First of, it’s extremely boring. Ayla visits one painted cave after the other and in every single one of them, we get details of the layout of the cave as well as details of all the paintings in the cave. She goes on and on and on and on about painted mammoths, horses, cave bears and red dots. And hand prints. The first one was interesting but when they just travel from cave to cave without much otherwise happening, it really gets annoying to get these descriptions. Yeah, I get that Auel visited these caves – but we don’t need or want to read her travel diary! If she at least had given some plausible explanation to why these artists painted these caves, it might have been worth it, but nope. That was too much to hope for. All we get is, that they felt like it…!
As if this isn’t bad enough, Auel lets one of her characters do something that is so out of character that I almost lost all interest in finishing this book when I read it. It just felt like Auel had realized that she needed some drama to engage her readers (and wake us up!) and so, she just wrote the first thing that got into her head – never mind that it was so out of character that it was unbelievable. I lost all interest in her characters after that and really, just finished the book because that’s what I do. I finish the books I start. I don’t think I can find words to describe how disappointed I was with this plot twist. And to add insult to injury, the actions this provokes, is equally unbelievable. You can’t write 5.5 books about characters and then expect us to buy something that is completely out of the question. He would never do that – she would never do that. I could write so much more about this and I really should so because it wouldn’t be spoilers, it would be a favor if it kept people from reading this book and wasting their time.
I don’t know if anything can make this worse but the one thing that could, is that Auel hints at many interesting plot points she could have explored. Ayla is working hard to become a Zelandonia, a spiritual leader, and the conflicts with doing this and raising a family could have been explored more and been much more interesting. As it is now, this little girl that Ayla really wanted, is just sent off all the time with other people so mom has the time to do more interesting stuff. Again, this is something that doesn’t make any sense since we’ve been told over and over that all Ayla ever wanted was to have a mate and a child – now she has it, and doesn’t seem to care all that much about her little girl…
Add to this, that we get the Mother’s Song repeated over and over and over again and it’s even part of one of the (few) major plot points because Ayla in a trance gets to hear another verse that explains how babies are made … Which of course is an interesting thing since it changes the whole world view from being a society revering the mother to also start understanding that men play a part too when children are conceived – of course Auel doesn’t use it for anything interesting…
It feels like Auel is repeating some of the plot points from her earlier books. Like Ayla again taking the drug from The Clan of the Cave Bear or Ayla and Jondalar again not talking like in The Mammoth Hunters. It’s like it isn’t enough for her to repeat things over and over – again in this book, we get the Mother’s Song repeated again and again, we hear about Ayla’s accent so so so many times, people introduce themselves with long names and she retells everything from the five former novels – but we also have to live through her rehashing scenes from the other books and pretending it’s something new.
I still think that the last three books of this series should have been edited down to one book. I think that would have helped but I’m not sure that the original content in these three (very long) books is enough to actually make one decent novel out of it. I can’t recommend the second half of this series. It’s really sad to see such a great series come to such a lousy and underwhelming end!...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 t‘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) ...more