A grown man reflects on how he felt abandoned by a grandfather/uncle character when he was a teenager, and that grandfather/uncle character agonizes oA grown man reflects on how he felt abandoned by a grandfather/uncle character when he was a teenager, and that grandfather/uncle character agonizes over all the people he abandoned during the war.
This book was worth finishing for its vivid descriptions of London during the Blitz (and 8000 people living in caves to the east of London). I also liked the teenager's eagerness to find a hero figure who fought back against the Nazis, the questions lingering in the minds of the pilots who dropped bombs on Hamburg, and the observations about fiction v. memoir. Finally, the hippie rabbi character was amusing, and the overall writing appealed to me.
So why only 2 stars? I just didn't connect with either character. Nothing in the story helped me really get in the head of a teenage boy who makes such big life decisions because he's so conflicted about women's sexuality. Plus the falling in love with a prostitute thing--why did she have to be a prostitute? The story would have worked just as well if Francoise were a woman who made her living some other way (and Poxl, in yet another fit of immaturity, ran away for some other reason). Both narrators annoyed me....more
A coming of age story with some very sweet moments, and others that made less sense to me. Rumi's awkward moments and social missteps are touching, anA coming of age story with some very sweet moments, and others that made less sense to me. Rumi's awkward moments and social missteps are touching, and probably would have happened even if she hadn't been pushed so hard to study. Her father's friend, Whitefoot, had some good scenes, and was the only character to bring out the human side of her father.
I think this book wanted to be about the parents, Mahesh and Shreene. They both had more inner conflict than Rumi would have realized. Mahesh probably thought he was being very enlightened by encouraging a girl to study math. Shreene had been forced to give up her own dreams and live an isolated life without any real friends. I found them both sympathetic, and funny at some of their irrational moments (such as when Shreene doesn't want to have the sex talk with Rumi, so she yells that sex is something that only white people do, that Rumi came into existence because her mother prayed for her).
But when Mahesh and Shreene exploded into bullying behavior, they made as little sense to me as it would have to their kids. And as far as we can tell, neither one of them reflected enough on their behavior. I ended up feeling unsatisfied with them as characters, characters who were given their own chapters to tell in their own voices....more
The beginning had a slow pace, with lots of interesting details about daily life in London (such as the nightly rituals of putting out the milk cans aThe beginning had a slow pace, with lots of interesting details about daily life in London (such as the nightly rituals of putting out the milk cans and turning the gas light in the hall down). Things pick up in a page turning way, and the trial at the end could be used in a Law & Literature course. Excellent writing. ...more
An interesting voice. Pretty descriptions of the farms and her daily tasks (bread making and apple picking and lots of things that are trendy in the fAn interesting voice. Pretty descriptions of the farms and her daily tasks (bread making and apple picking and lots of things that are trendy in the food world now). Plenty to unpack about gender and class and violence and empowerment. Think of "Precious" set in 1830s Yorkshire.
So at an analytical level, it's more like a 4-star book, but at an emotional response level, it's more like 2 stars. I didn't really connect with any of the characters--Mary herself felt remote, in spite of the first-person voice. It's a short story about a very young woman who suffered because of others' selfishness. Sad....more
The parts about cleaning and personal grooming were interesting. The Victorians had more effective stuff, in some ways, than I realized. The purportedThe parts about cleaning and personal grooming were interesting. The Victorians had more effective stuff, in some ways, than I realized. The purported science behind some of their beliefs was fascinating in that it sounds so much like some of today's wacky corners of the internet.
I had to stop when it came to the chapters about how hungry and uneducated most people were, especially children. Sure, Dickens told me about a lot of this already. Still rather grim reading (and perhaps too many parallels to today). But kudos to the author for being clear about how differently the upper-class and working-class lived.
And kudos to her for wearing corsets. I got sympathy pain just reading about it....more
A coming of age story, with lots of detail about the ups and downs of a hormonal teenager. Johanna starts out as a 14-year-old goofball, always makingA coming of age story, with lots of detail about the ups and downs of a hormonal teenager. Johanna starts out as a 14-year-old goofball, always making jokes with references that nobody around her understands ("We must away, to pastures new"). By 17, she's still not fooling anyone about her underlying goofiness, but now she's very sexually active. (extended descriptions of the sex; except for a bizarre episode of cystitis (??), it's pretty funny reading.)
Her sexual escapades make her seem sort of liberated (she rejects partners who live too far away from the train station, all the easier to commute home in the morning), and sort of low-self-esteem/martyr-ish-pleaser-girl. On the plus side, she never feels guilty or gets mopey about any of these encounters.
Curiously, Johanna does not have any relationships at all with women. Her mother is a half-presence, because she's deeply in post-partum depression. Johanna's other relationships are with her father, her older brother, the music critics she hangs out with, and a musician she falls in love with. Whatever the feminist message is here, it's not the "sisterhood is powerful" type.
The plot is a little predictable, but I enjoyed many flashes of interesting writing, especially about England's working class.
"In later years, I can always recognize someones else who received this shot of fear at an early age--other kids from frangible houses: kids who felt the sand collapsing under their feet; kids who sat awake in the dark, imagining their whole families burning down, and planning planning planning who to save first from the future, and the flames. Children raised on cortisol. Children who think too fast."
"All my life, I've thought that if I couldn't say anything boys found interesting, I might as well shut up. But now I realize that there was that whole other, invisible half of the world--girls--that I could speak to instead. A whole other half equally silent and frustrated, just waiting to be given the smallest starting signal--the tiniest starter culture--and they would explode into words, and song, and action . . . ."
"[N]ow I've lost my virginity, I use it as the springboard to go on what is basically a massive Shag Quest. I wish to be like James Bond, who never leaves a party without either shagging someone or blowing something up. That is my role model here."
"[T]he [posh people at the country house party] come and ask you to play in paradise, but you do not know how to board their caravel, and you do not know how to ride their swans. They call out their names--"Emilia! Will! Sophie! Frances!" Names that do not have to bear heavy weights, or be written on benefit application forms--pleading. Names that will always be just a joyous signature on a birthday card, or check--and never called out in a room full of anxious people."...more
I have no idea why I picked this up expecting some charming, heartwarming dog story. It's not, at least not for the first half. But I stuck with it anI have no idea why I picked this up expecting some charming, heartwarming dog story. It's not, at least not for the first half. But I stuck with it anyway b/c I liked the writing and b/c I like when a book so strongly conveys a sense of time and place. Then I put it aside, b/c I didn't feel like reading about depression, and never got back to it....more
This is cute, with no real plot or character development (though Mary-Kay is a fascinating woman-of-few-words presence"Mardy" is my new favorite word.
This is cute, with no real plot or character development (though Mary-Kay is a fascinating woman-of-few-words presence). But there's lots of funny dialogue. It's an easy read that transported me back to a time when you had to explain what cous-cous were and roasting your own red peppers was a big thing....more
Made me laugh enough to bump up a star. A band-of-brothers story about the rough world of restaurant kitchens, specifically, the kitchen at the Swan.Made me laugh enough to bump up a star. A band-of-brothers story about the rough world of restaurant kitchens, specifically, the kitchen at the Swan. I couldn't quite picture the Swan--seems like a kind of upscale place in a downscale part of London? But I definitely could picture the chaos of its kitchen.
There is a parallel story about the main character's relationship with his good-for-nothing father. I enjoyed the kitchen world aspects more, even when the plot became a little implausible, because the writing was so fun and lively. These are the (stereotypical) used car salesmen of chefs. Makes me wonder how many of today's polished celebrity chefs started out in places like the Swan....more
Another 3.5. I loved the writing, and many aspects of the book (I love a book where the setting is itself another character). But the ending was suchAnother 3.5. I loved the writing, and many aspects of the book (I love a book where the setting is itself another character). But the ending was such a bizarre mush, and the supernatural/hallucinatory bits seemed so out of place, that I'm left kind of scratching my head. The author is either paying homage to Dickens et al or skewering them--not sure which. The book feels very much like a 19th century London tale with all its melodrama (mists and fallen women and downtrodden poor) and morality lessons (about love, greed, power). Question is: does that fit in today's world?
At the beginning of the book, the boys' mother abandons them, and they're left to raise themselves while their father works night shifts and drives long-distance trucking routes. You'd think, from people you know who've had tough childhoods or simply from the cover of the book, that this would be a story of the brothers helping each other along through life.
But no. There are at most two scenes where all three brothers appear together. For most of the book, they pretend not to know each other. But because of London's unique mysteries of interconnectedness and chance, they keep popping up unexpectedly in each others' lives.
One of the brothers becomes a Cambridge academic. Plenty of scenes of professors being insecure, jealous, hypocritical, pompous, etc. If you like academic satire, this is not quite it. But it's entertaining in a caricature sort of way.
The two older brothers are far from sympathetic characters. At first, I liked that they were flawed but still vulnerable. But after a while, they became more like cartoon villains. The youngest brother was hard to figure out. For most of the book, he seemed to suffer from some mental illness that made him delusional. Then for no apparent reason, he became the wise man, a sort of enlightened boddhisattva type.
So I felt like the characters were jammed and wedged into the plot, instead of the plot evolving from characters who change and grow more organically. And that may have been exactly what the author intended. Maybe one of his points is that the London of Dickens doesn't exist anymore (and the literary style of that era doesn't exist anymore), and if it did, look at how silly it would be....more
3.5 stars really. The writing is gorgeous. Sentences like the following went over well with me, maybe because I was reading them during a kind of hect3.5 stars really. The writing is gorgeous. Sentences like the following went over well with me, maybe because I was reading them during a kind of hectic time:
"Slowness was needed, so as not to alarm the bees and make them swarm, as was patience. . . . She felt not much could go wrong in a world that was slow and patient."
And there's a sense of place, specifically far western Wales, between WWI and WWII. "Popping their clogs" is a euphemism for death. A tree half on fire and half in full leaf is an image from an ancient Welsh book (but seems like a Zen koan).
And the characters are enjoyable. Reminded me a lot of the "All Creatures Great and Small" series that I loved as a kid. But with some much more serious dynamics in the background....more
Good enough to make me interested in the Plantagenets, but not good enough for me to read more than halfway through. This is fine as a beach read (I jGood enough to make me interested in the Plantagenets, but not good enough for me to read more than halfway through. This is fine as a beach read (I just wasn't in the mood for a beach read).
"We're descended from a water goddess"--apparently not a weird thing to say back in the Middle Ages. ...more