I enjoy doing jigsaws and I'm fascinated by historical overviews of everyday household objects, so I was expecting to enjoy this book, which had caugh...moreI enjoy doing jigsaws and I'm fascinated by historical overviews of everyday household objects, so I was expecting to enjoy this book, which had caught my attention when I leafed through it at a friend's house. I also hoped that it might give me a 'way in' to the world of Margaret Drabble, whom I've frequently tried to read but without success as for some reason I simply don't relate to her writing. I found the subject matter and the stories of her aunt Phyl very appealing, and read it with enthusiasm, but also a considerable amount of frustration.
There is a wealth of detailed information in the book, which I'd have been interested to follow up, but I am surprised that Drabble, a rigorous and academic writer, chose not to include an index, and not to organis her bibliography in an easily searchable order. I kept finding myself searching in vain for a previous mention of a person or topic I knew I'd already come across and it It occurred to me that maybe this was a deliberate attempt to make the format of the book echo its subject - you know you've seen a jigsaw piece somewhere, but when you get to a point where you know where it would go, you can't find it any more.
And, like an earlier reviewer, I did almost unconsciously pick up the tinge of depression in Drabble's outlook, and am sad that she is still burdened by a difficult relationship with her sister, which couldn't help but come through.(less)
Unlike some of my fellow readers, I loved the intricacy of the plot. The book is such a page-turner that I was glad of the necessity to go back and ch...moreUnlike some of my fellow readers, I loved the intricacy of the plot. The book is such a page-turner that I was glad of the necessity to go back and check out references to incidents or references I'd missed first time round and tie everything together pleasingly.
But two of the characters raised questions for me: Wetherby and Philip, Daniel's father.
I'd like to have had more information about what might have led up to or explained Wetherby's behaviour, which seemed gratuitously destructive.
And as a 61-year-old, I was less than convinced by the portrayal of Philip, whom I calculated to be only 66 or 67 years old (10 years old on 6 June 1954, therefore born on 1943 or 1944) as an old man with liver-spotted hands and a smell of urine about him. It became obvious that he was seriously ill, but there's a difference between illness and very old age, and he was portrayed more like an 80-year-old, at least. I concede that Philp comes across as mentally very acute. but I hope it will take me a little more than 5 years to attain this level of physical decrepitude.
But all in all, this was a moving and thought-provoking book, which I can recommend.((less)
This book has attracted many very complimentary reviews here, and there's no need for me to add much more, but I thought I'd share what made a particu...moreThis book has attracted many very complimentary reviews here, and there's no need for me to add much more, but I thought I'd share what made a particular impression on me. Most importantly I was fascinated by relationship between the private history of the author's family, the Ephrussi, and yet much more public history made familiar by literary and artistic figures in both Paris and Vienna. I know much more about Paris and French art and literature than about Vienna so I was particularly struck by the mentions of Goncourt, Proust, Monet, Renoir and even Oscar Wilde seen from another angle, and not as heroes of their own stories, or as celebrities. I learnt, for example, that Proust based his character Charles Swann on Charles Ephrussi, and it's as though fact and fiction are fused together, giving each an extra dimension. In just the same way, it was a revelation to see how true to life Richard Strauss's opera Der Rosenkavalier was - people really did live like the characters, and this book has brought a long-departed world into sharper focus.
I read this book very soon after finishing Margaret Drabble's The Pattern in the Carpet, which also combines family history with an appreciation of books artefacts, in this case jigsaws and children's games rather than fine art and literature. But for me The Hare With Amber Eyes succeeded better in making the intertwined subjects blend perfectly together, and infusing each with real beauty and poignancy. (less)
Whoever said this book was very long and heavy was not exaggerating - it took me five weeks to read and I had to rest it on a cushion to read it. I fo...moreWhoever said this book was very long and heavy was not exaggerating - it took me five weeks to read and I had to rest it on a cushion to read it. I found it a worthwhile read, and had no trouble persisting despite these challenges !t had the merits and drawbacks of an official biography; on the one hand Philip Shawcross had access to a huge amount of documentation so that the story was well backed up wit references, and I felt I was getting a fair picture of what she did. But at the same time he did not, and probably could not, allow very much serious opinion or character analysis to come through, and the 'juicy details' of QE's relationship with Wallis Simpson and response to Princess Diana's death, for example, were not addressed. At times I felt like a child who isn't allowed to hear family stories that the grown-ups feel are unsuitable. I'm sure the actual details are not as juicy as the tabloid press will have made out, but I find it hard to believe that QE had no opinions at all.(less)
I read this book immediately after reading the official biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother by William Shawcross, and I was struck by the ve...moreI read this book immediately after reading the official biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother by William Shawcross, and I was struck by the very different approach taken to the recollection of historical figures. Maybe that's why it took me a while to 'get into' the book, which recreates the story of a small area of Paris, the Latin Quarter, through the impressions of various of her forebears as well as through her own memories. But I was soon gripped.
Instead of a chronological account of one person's life, copiously referenced and focusing on actual events, we are given a rich mixture of historical fact, topographical descriptions and individual impressions, both through the medium of the characters' own words in diaries and letters and through the author's own imagination. Gillian Tindall is a novelist, not primarily a historian, but is also rigorous on her research, and the reality she brings to life is subjective, yet rooted in precise as well as perceptive observation of place and period. She brings the Latin Quarter to life in the way that a history book or a tourist guide cannot begin to do, anad at the same time sheds some light on her own family history.
I always enjoy the TV programmes Who Do You Think You Are, and like them, this book gives insights into so much more that than the subject's ow family tree - the personal and particular is fascinating, and also sheds light on the shared experience of humanity.(less)
I have spent three days trying to write a review of this book and have ended up feeling as though I have a difficult essay to write. I could have writ...moreI have spent three days trying to write a review of this book and have ended up feeling as though I have a difficult essay to write. I could have written pages and pages, but found myself tangled in the different threads of reflection that I’d been trying to weave into a coherent whole. So I won’t try. Frustrated by my inability to come to a straightforward conclusion, I read some other reviews (something which I usually try to leave until I’ve formulated my own ideas), and was struck by how many of them there are (231 pages at the last count), and how many of them are very long. Others have made skilfully and fluently covered pretty much all the points I might have, and I commend their reviews to you; I particularly related to those by Richard Hartzell, Rob and Jillwilson.
The Finkler Question has been a paradoxical read for me.
I was initially attracted to the book because I resonated with its theme of the exploration of Jewish identity through the eyes, initially, of a non-Jew who yearned to be Jewish. In my teens I had envied the sense of group identity and of belonging which I perceived amongst my many Jewish friends, and wanted to be one of them, Yet it was made clear to me by them that I could never be a ‘proper’ Jew because I could not share the history which had shaped their culture and their lives, and could therefore never understand what it was to be Jewish. I was expecting to feel a sense of recognition and identification with Julian Treslove, the non-Jewish protagonist. So I was disappointed to find that I couldn’t relate to his personality. In fact I couldn’t get a grip on his personality at all. And I felt excluded by the other characters, just as I had felt excluded by my teenage Jewish friends – the book aroused painful rather than comforting resonances from the past. And the fact that the author focuses so much on male friendship and on the world seen through masculine eyes – the women are observed from the outside and only in terms of their relationships with the male characters – increased that sense that I, as a non-Jewish woman, had no business even to attempt to identify with the world of the characters.
This sense of alienation was such that I didn’t ‘enjoy’ the book and could only continue with it because I was determined to meet the challenge head-on.
Yet the paradox is that this book has raised all sorts of trains of thought which have absorbed and energised my mind throughout the past few days. I wonder if what I’ve seen as my own confusion over what to write in my review actually reflects the sense of confusion and rapidly shifting viewpoints of the characters. Is my impression that the plot goes nowhere really a reflection of the fact that the movement in the narrative takes place not through action, but within the characters’ minds and hearts? Is the reason that I can’t get a grip on Treslove’s character a reflection of his essential illusoriness? Even his job demonstrates his lack of identity – he works as a celebrity look-alike, and those celebrities are often actors who themselves make their living by being someone else.
I have grown to appreciate the enormous complexity in this novel, which works on so many different levels. For example, Howard Jacobson explores almost every permutation of possible relationships to Jewishness, in minute detail, focusing on every twist and turn of the characters' own, often obsessive, analysis of their shifting thoughts and emotions, so that he is able to exemplify a huge range of attitudes in the persons of a relatively small cast of protagonists.
Language is used to tell the story, and in turn the story concerns the way in which people use language to represent mental constructs such as ‘Isrrae’ and ‘Israyel’,where two pronunciations are spelt out to represent two different responses to the concept of Israel. The novel is less about Israel, for example, than it is about the characters’ responses to the idea of Israel. And language is used too in a more poetic and playful manner – it cannot be a coincidence that Treslove’s non-Jewish girlfriends all have names beginning with J, unlike the woman he has an affair with thinking she is Jewish and the Jewish woman he grows to love, whose names begin with T and H respectively.
Finally, I’ve been struck by how much this book has prompted reviews in which people focus, as I have done, on how their own life experiences have influenced their relationship with it. So many books reviews simply summarise the plot and record whether the reviewer thought it was ‘good’. But this book has got under people’s skin, and their response to it seems directly related to the extent to which its subject has played a role in their own lives. If it hasn’t, the reviewer will tend to have disliked the book or even failed to finish it. If it has, they will tend, as I have, to value it even though it hasn’t made for comfortable reading. (less)
Pure escapism - mysterious, atmospheric, well plotted with attractive main characters as well as a good mixture of less prominent cast members - they...morePure escapism - mysterious, atmospheric, well plotted with attractive main characters as well as a good mixture of less prominent cast members - they were all clearly differentiated, though, and all had a pivotal part to play. Initially I was frustrated by the frequent changes of viewpoint, with three characters in different periods alternating their stories, but as the novel progressed I began to appreciate the gradual building u of the complete picture, rather as a jigsaw gradually slots into place to create a whole.
Ive given te book five stars because I loved reading it and found it enjoyably gripping, but I doubt if it will make the same long term impression on me as more 'literary' novels have done. The more reviews I write, the more I'm aware that I'm not comparing like with lilke, and am sometimes giving mre stars to a 'lesser' book, simply because it's a good one of its kind.(less)
Like several other reviewers I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I’d hoped, and the plot and characters failed to come alive for me, despite the autho...moreLike several other reviewers I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I’d hoped, and the plot and characters failed to come alive for me, despite the author’s impeccable credentials (she’s Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia). I found it hard to engage with the book even though it has plenty of winning elements, which have worked well in other novels. There’s the Paris coming of age novel in which a young man comes to Paris and falls in love with an older woman (Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education is one example). There are echoes of Les Miserables: criminal viewed with sympathy who has depth and strength of character, the wily and determined Paris policeman whose pursuit of the criminal is a central motif of Hugo’s novel as well as in The Coral Thief , and who have very similar names (Javert and Jagot), an underground chase (sewers in Les Miserables ; catacombs in The Coral Thief). Wilkie Collin’s Moonstone also comes to mind, in which a central feature of the plot is the recovery of a lost diamond of great value.
Add to this the gripping and well-researched story of the ‘evolution of evolution’ (or at least of the understanding of the theory) and of the political turmoil of the time, and the book should be guaranteed success. So why has its reception been lukewarm, judging from the average star ratings and the sentiments expressed in other reviews?
For me there are several factors. I wonder if the novel arose more out of the author’s academic interest in the qualities of a good novel and in the need for historical fiction to be well researched, and less out of creative impulse. I had the impression of a meticulous collecting together of the various elements and devices of a successful novel, which are then impeccably arranged just like the carefully catalogued and classified collections of species in the museums of the collectors in the period in question. Everything is in place, but the life force isn’t in it, any more than it is in a collection of stuffed birds, however much it can teach the observer. Victorian women loved to make scrapbooks, and this novel has the feel of a scrapbook, put together with love and care but no substitute for the life the women were perhaps missing.
I have to admit, too, to being put off by books which are published with reading groups in mind - wit a list of questions for discussion. I love to discuss books with others, but I am less than comfortable with being given such obvious pointers to what I 'should' be looking for - a touch of post-adolescent resistance creeps in, even decades after my teenage years have disappeared
Finally, I wonder if anyone has noticed what seems to be the writer’s debt to George Eliot’s Middlemarch, some of whose characters’ interests echo those in The Coral Thief – like Lucienne Dorothea Brooke is an intellectual young woman (though her circumstances are very different, and Daniel Connor has something in common with Tertius Lydgate – not least because he settles eventually in Derbyshire and makes his career there. He even marries someone called Celia, in whose father’s library he was permitted to browse. Last, but not least, there’s a description in The Coral Thief on page 37 of a woman in the Louvre of ‘a woman dressed in grey seated nearby. Her long cloak, fastened at the neck, was thrown back from her arms, and one beautiful ungloved hand pillowed her cheek. Her white bonnet made a halo around her braided dark-brown hair. She was not looking at the paintings; her large eyes were fixed dreamily on a streak of sunlight that fell across the floor.’ Compare this with the description of Dorothea Casaubon in Rome, in Chapter 19 of Middlemarch, ‘… a breathing, blooming girl, whose form … was clad in Quakerish grey drapery; her long cloak, fastened at the neck, was thrown backward from her arms, and one beautiful ungloved hand pillowed her cheek, pushing somewhat backward the white beaver bonnet which made a sort of halo to her face around the simply braided dark-brown hair. She was nt looking at the sculpture, probably not even thinking of it: her large eyes were fixed dreamily on a streak of sunlight that fell across the floor.’
This cannot be a coincidence, but it’s hard to tell whether Rebecca Stott inserted this description of a woman who plays no part at all in the plot as an ‘in-joke’ for literary readers or for members of reading groups, or whether she is herself employing a ‘scrapbook’ approach in which cut-out figures can be positioned anywhere in one’s composition. Either way, my attention had been caught by this description, which had more life in it than the text thus far, and I was disappointed to find that this woman did not feature further in The Coral Thief. It was only because of the Middlemarch connection at the end that it crossed my mind that the woman might be meant for Dorothea. A bit of checking revealed the uncanny similarity. And maybe it was a subliminal awareness of the change of style from the rest of The Coral Thief that was the trigger for my interest in this woman. No doubt about it – George Eliot wrote well! (less)
As far as I'm aware,this is the edition I read - the cover is the same. However the ISBN is different, and I was interested to see that the synopsis o...moreAs far as I'm aware,this is the edition I read - the cover is the same. However the ISBN is different, and I was interested to see that the synopsis of the book is in French - I read it in English. Maybe mine is a recent reissue.
This book was a pleasure to read, both because the North Berwick, Edinburgh and London settings are all familiar to me, but because I loved the way the multiple viewpoints and the non-chronological structure helped to build up a picture of the whole story in such a way as to focus the reader's attention closely on the 'pieces' of a story as one does on jigsaw pieces when doing a puzzle. The fact that you can't just zip through the story is a way of encouraging the reader to examine and savour small episodes and vignettes closely so as to be able to make sense of them. For me, the effect was to create a series of small close-up pictures of a scenario or even a tiny, fleeting emotion, which mirrors my experience of life.(less)
I’m in the UK and that affected my rating - I’d have given this book five stars if I were American, but as it was, and understandably so, I had to do...moreI’m in the UK and that affected my rating - I’d have given this book five stars if I were American, but as it was, and understandably so, I had to do more work than Gayle Sulik’s compatriots to research the companies and charities she discusses. Nevertheless the scenarios she describes are very recognisable even in the UK, and it’s only because our National Health Service is structured and funded differently from the US health care system (at least for the moment … ) and that pharmaceutical companies aren’t permitted to advertise prescription-only drugs directly to patients, that the parallels aren’t even stronger. (In the UK it’s doctors who are the consumers, not patients, though of course patients are frequently well informed and do influence their treatment).
That said, I was gripped by this book, which shed a clear light on why I have felt so uneasy about and turned off by ‘pink culture’ despite having been treated for cancer myself (not breast cancer, and despite the fact that many of my friends and acquaintances have had a greater or lesser brush with breast cancer themselves. Gayle Sulik examines the way social, cultural and gender issues have influenced ‘pink culture’, and how the needs of business have driven its development.
The book is ased on Sulik’s PhD thesis and I see that this was a turn-off for some fellow reviewers, but I appreciated it, since it ensured that the book was extremely well edited and that the index and citations were accurate and helpful. I was easily able to use the index to track down earlier passages when I needed to refer to them, and the citations have ledme to a wealth of new reading, all impeccably referenced.(less)