The finest opening paragraph in literature bar none.
It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of ha
The finest opening paragraph in literature bar none.
It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the foothills. I was wearing my powder blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
Worthy of a dissertation.
If you know of a better opening paragraph (or even just a good one), let me know....more
Alec Leamas lives in a world of government functionaries, shabby offices, and amoral colleagues. The forces of democracy and communism face each otherAlec Leamas lives in a world of government functionaries, shabby offices, and amoral colleagues. The forces of democracy and communism face each other in a dangerous cold war. Each side claims moral superiority. Their intelligence services play a game of cat and mouse; placing agents, turning agents and losing agents. These intelligence services measure their worth not by principle, but by practical success. In doing so, they betray their own people, themselves, and their ideologies. This is the world of Alec Leamas and le Carré immerses the reader in it.
The central theme of this world is betrayal and le Carré creates a story of manifold betrayal; it pulls the reader along. The reader thinks he knows what's happening, just as each of the characters thinks he knows and each character knows something different.
The characters are well developed; we know their psychological motivations; we know why each does what he does. Some of these characters, on both sides, are, for all their flaws, inherently decent and the reader identifies with their struggle to do their best or to do at least one clean thing in a very dirty world.
The prose is economical and well crafted. There is enough story to carry the words; le Carré does not dilute it with irrelevant digressions. There is ultimately in this story a betrayal of principle, but le Carré is never preachy. Control offers Leamas some advice on the conduct of his mission; le Carré followed that advice when he wrote The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. ...more
A wonderful read and yeah, I've seen both movies, so I already knew the story.
"Well, if you already knew the story, the read must have been a bit antiA wonderful read and yeah, I've seen both movies, so I already knew the story.
"Well, if you already knew the story, the read must have been a bit anticlimactic."
I couldn't put it down, read it in a single sitting; I was hooked from the first sentence:
"People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day."
It is the story in a nutshell and joins the famous first sentence from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Raymond Chandler's opening paragraph from The Big Sleep in my pantheon of great openings.
And with this sentence, Charles Portis begins his take on the western dime novel. For those of you who have never encountered one, a dime novel is a ripping good yarn featuring unimaginable feats of derring-do, marksmansip, horsemanship and braggadocio. But Charles Portis has done much more. True Grit, as the title suggests, is a novel of character.
It is written in the guise of a first person memoir from the 1920's by an old woman, Mattie Ross, concerning events that took place in the 1870's. And Mattie Ross is not just central to the story, but central to it's telling and this is the genius of the novel.
In describing several US Marshals operating out of Judge Parker's court in Fort Smith, the Sheriff comes to Rooster Cogburn: "The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn. He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don't enter into his thinking." This is also a fairly good description of our narrator, Mattie Ross. She is a humorless woman, double-tough, and doubt don't enter into her thinking.
Although Mattie is humorless, she is the 'unintentional' source of much deadpan humor. She is a woman endearingly blind to her own flaws and Portis has a good deal of gentle fun at her expense.
Mattie introduces us to Cogburn by way of a (court) transcript quoted at length. It is a wonderfully funny exchange between Rooster and lawyer Goudy who is representing one Odus Wharton. At one point Cogburn is asked which direction he was moving when backing up: "I always go backwards when I am backing up." And much more in the same vein. The point of lawyer Goudy's questioning was to suggest that Cogburn shot dead two members of the Wharton family without so much as a warning. Mattie ignores the humor and inconsistencies in Cogburn's testimony and dwells instead on how dangerous Odus Wharton looked.
Portis has more fun with Mattie and the double (and sometimes overly long) titles of dime novels with Mattie's rejected magazine article: "You will now listen to the sentence of the law, Odus Wharton, which that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead dead! May God, whose laws you have broken and before whose dread tribunal you must appear, have mercy on your soul. Being a personal recollection of Isaac C. Parker, the famous Border Judge."
And so it goes from Mattie's dealings with Col. Stonehill to her inital meeting with Ranger LaBouef to Cogburn's humorous bouts of drunkeness (which she treats merely as a cautionary tale).
True Grit is filled with wonderful dialog. Portis, through Mattie, has flavored that dialog with that peculiar late nineteenth century stiltedness, but not to excess. It is a fine balance and Portis has achieved it.
Yes, the denoument is breathless in the finest tradition of the dime novel although it seemed to me the weakest part of a novel of unrelenting strengths. But I protest too much; I would lamented its absence if he had left it out.
Someday, college English courses will quit discussing plot, symbolism and character and instead dwell on how a skilled author manages to use the tools of his craft to construct characters larger than life but somehow seem real, create a captivating voice in a dark story leavened with a necessary humor, and keep his readers engaged from the first sentence to the last.
Yeah, take that, Thomas Hardy!
An American classic, True Grit deserves a place along side Gatsby and Mockingbird....more
"It was long ago, centuries. A quivery mirage of a thirteen-year-old's summer, like a million other girl summers, were it not for Evie, were it not fo"It was long ago, centuries. A quivery mirage of a thirteen-year-old's summer, like a million other girl summers, were it not for Evie, were it not for Evie's thumping heart and all those twisting things untwisting."
And so begins Lizzie's first person, present tense account of that summer, that space between girl and woman, between naive romance and real danger, between boys and men. I would happily read it again.
I almost passed up reading The End of Everything because of the low average Goodreads rating. But the lower ratings were a lot like Anke's two-star review. Anke stayed up way too late to read the book in one go, because she couldn't put it down, but felt more than a little uncomfortable with certain aspects of the story.
I had a similar experience with Lolita. Nabokov wrote so wonderfully about a deeply repellant subject. Worse yet, he tells it from Humbert Humbert's point of view and net even Nabokov could make Humbert Humbert a sympathetic character. Abbot has the good sense to tell her story from a more sympathetic perspective, that of Lizzie, Evie's best friend.
A wonderfully crafted story with several story lines that echo and reinforce one another: Mr. Verver's innocent relationships with his daughters Dusty and Evie and also with Lizzie, Lizzie and a friend of her brother's, Dusty and Bobby Thornhill, Lizzie's mother and Dr. Aiden, Mr. Shaw and Evie/Lizzie.
Told in almost poetic prose filled with images fresh and unexpected. The present tense is artfully used to give a compelling sense of immediacy. So very well done.
Paced like a thriller (as Anke might agree). The slow trickle of revelations swells to a torrent toward the end.
A relatively short read at 246 pages. Just the right length for the story. It often seems that so many authors 'pad out' their novels to 400, 500, 600, 700 pages of unnecessary digressions. This only dilutes the impact and cheapens the craftsmanship.
With The End of Everything, Megan Abbott has proven herself an artist....more
This is the first Tom Piccirilli I've read. The more knowledgeable Goodreads reviewers haven't been as enthusiastic about November Mourns; I bow to thThis is the first Tom Piccirilli I've read. The more knowledgeable Goodreads reviewers haven't been as enthusiastic about November Mourns; I bow to their superior wisdom, but...
Reading is an intensely personal thing and somehow for me this was just the right book at just the right time. Good prose, good characterization where needed, good atmosphere, good story, and a wonderful ambiguity to it all.
What does it all mean? I ask myself that every night between drinks. I'm not likely to find out; just pass the moon.
I would/will read November Mourns again and that gets it five stars any day of the week....more
Yeah, I gave it five stars - I would be willing to read it again.
Why? Let's go down the checklist:
Theme: Yep, got that. Betrayal. And it's comprehensiYeah, I gave it five stars - I would be willing to read it again.
Why? Let's go down the checklist:
Theme: Yep, got that. Betrayal. And it's comprehensive. Count them. It's Megan Abbott's cheerleader version of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.
Story: Plenty of story to embody the theme. Structured to keep our interest, to keep us guessing. Enough story to justify the page count.
World building: Yep, got that. Cheerleaders, high school girls, and the environment they swim in. But a noir world uniquely Abbott.
Characterization: Yep, got that. The whole story turns on character, that is to say every character's action is understood by the reader. If the story needs to take a turn to better embody the theme through the actions of a character then Abbott makes sure that we understand that character's motivation for that action. Everything seems natural, just the way we like it.
Pacing: Pacing can be a difficult thing. Though the story begins sooner than we think, it doesn't start in earnest for us until about a third of the way in. It is the central story that propels us along, links all the little scenes and episodes. I wanted it to begin a little sooner, but .... oh what the hell.
Prose: Wonderfully poetic. Forceful, ecstatic, apocalyptic, colorfully unrestrained. No Standard Prose for Megan Abbott. None of that stripped down, just the facts ma'am stuff for her. There were times when I just wanted to spread the book upside down and shake it to watch the glitter play in the sun. And this isn't necessarily a good thing. When the prose is just so strikingly wonderful, it can lift you out of the story, make you aware that you are reading, reading, reading. It took me three-fourths of the way in to begin to ignore the awesomeness of Abbott's prose and stay submersed in the story.
One last thing.
If you are looking for a YA novel, this probably isn't it. Yes it has young adult characters, but it is distinctly an adult transcription of a young adult experience for an adult audience. Don't be surprised if Megan Abbott's young adult characters speak in wonderfully adult ways about adult things.
If you are looking for a literary novel, you have found one.