Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of Antoinette Cosway who becomes Bertha Rochester, the crazy lady in the attic, the first wife of Mr. Rochester in JaneWide Sargasso Sea is the story of Antoinette Cosway who becomes Bertha Rochester, the crazy lady in the attic, the first wife of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre. Rhys, troubled, as she should be, by the handling of Bertha in the novel (she remains a wild woman who never speaks and eventually sets the house on fire) here gives us Antoinette’s story growing up a Creole in Martinique and narrates the marriage between her and Mr. Rochester (who remains unnamed throughout Rhys’s novel).
I confess that I love Jane Eyre and, like most people, rooted for her in her love of Rochester, and yet I’ve always been annoyed by Bronte’s use of Bertha as a mere plot tool to deepen Jane’s plight and make readers all the more heartsick when she (and we) learn Rochester’s terrible secret. So I was eager to read Rhys’s novel and surprised by how different it was from what I expected it to be. For one thing, I didn’t expect to get so much of Rochester’s story and voice—he narrates nearly all of the second part. I also didn’t expect it to be so rich and complicated in the world that it presents. It’s not just Antoinette’s story and a story of an unhappy marriage; it’s also a meditation on race, colonialism, and the line between sanity and insanity.
It’s also a nearly perfect book—poetic, intricately written, and full of complex characters. Rochester is far from the villain one might expect given that the marriage was mostly one of financial convenience, and then, you know, that whole thing about the attic. He is someone who is made afraid because of the fear he is surrounded by in a colonial, post-slavery land, and this fear doesn’t allow him to love Antoinette, who, though Creole (and therefore white) is of less fine breeding than the wealthy former slave owners in the West Indies and is someone who is intimate with the blacks of the island. He desires her but never feels like he can know her. This is a story about the distances between people: Antoinette is hated by the blacks because she is white, hated by the whites because she is poor, and suffers because she has no real place, the result of colonialism. Rochester too feels this distance. He says of the West Indies, “I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know…Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it.”
I say it’s a “nearly perfect novel,” not perfect. The first part feels underwritten to me. I had to rely on footnotes to understand some of the context (and then many of the footnotes (in the Penguin edition) felt unnecessary and distracting—I know what a cockroach is!) and I wished that the story had stayed with Antoinette as a child longer. But once we get to part two and the marriage, I was wrapped up. Rhys spent a great deal of time crafting her language, and it’s obvious; I found myself as in awe of the poetry of the prose as I was the complex story she’s telling. And finally Bertha’s telling of her life in the attic is affecting, heady, and dream-like. ...more
Oppose and Propose! is a beautiful little book about the radical organization Movement for a New Society and its eventual end. The book draws lessonsOppose and Propose! is a beautiful little book about the radical organization Movement for a New Society and its eventual end. The book draws lessons both from MNS's successes and their struggles. Cornell discusses the pros and cons of consensus decision making, why nonviolent action is crucial for social change, what leadership could look like in radical organizations, and how progressive groups can work across race and class lines. Oppose and Propose! includes commentary and interviews with original MNS members and some of their original documents as well as insightful commentary by Cornell, an educator and organizer....more
A warning to authors: If you give your protagonist a powerful amulet that makes everything they wish come true, well, there's just not really any confA warning to authors: If you give your protagonist a powerful amulet that makes everything they wish come true, well, there's just not really any conflict. Of course what The Neverending Story does best is create a fantastical world (literally called Fantastica) full of quirky, interesting, and outlandish characters. However, with little story to hang these characters on, the book quickly wore on me. The movie The Neverending Story you grew up with in the 80s with the adorable Luck Dragon, Falkor, tells only half of the book. That half perhaps is the best, as it's the allegory of the power of stories and imagination, and there truly is some suspense about how human Bastian will intervene in the world of Fantastica to save the Childlike Empress. The other half finds Bastian romping through Fantastica with his powerful amulet defeating great fighters just because he wills it and surviving any scary obstacle he encounters. Not until the end does he face any real obstacle: His own hubris and sense of self. Here the book becomes interesting again, but I was very ready to be done with it about 150 pages prior....more
Ghostwritten is the precursor to Cloud Atlas: a series of loosely interconnected short stories about themes of fate and chance. I didn't love Cloud AtGhostwritten is the precursor to Cloud Atlas: a series of loosely interconnected short stories about themes of fate and chance. I didn't love Cloud Atlas (though I realize I'm in the minority here), but I definitely saw the artistry of it. At his best, Mitchell is a sublime wordsmith; his ability to create engrossing, realistic distant worlds and his own vernacular is unparalleled in Cloud Atlas and the, in my opinion, far superior Black Swan Green and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. However Ghostwritten doesn't have the incredible language of the aforementioned but does have the same problem I saw with Cloud Atlas--the stories feel incomplete; the connections are tenuous and, frankly, not that compelling. It's more a collection of short stories than a complete novel, and whatever connections exist simply feel gimmicky. Add to that a kind of ridiculous ending, and I found myself disappointed by this novel. I have enjoyed some of Mitchell’s novels enough that I’m willing to take my chances on the last of his I haven’t read, but, if you’re new to him, I recommend starting with Black Swan Green....more
I’ve loved other novels by Murakami, loved them despite being maddened by them; novels like his most famous The Wind Up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on theI’ve loved other novels by Murakami, loved them despite being maddened by them; novels like his most famous The Wind Up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore are riveting and compelling while being obtusely fantastical with no attempt to tie anything together or explain the unreal happenings.
Norwegian Wood is a completely different book: It is a realistic love story (there is not a single fantastical event), but it is also riveting and beautifully written. Norwegian Wood is a coming of age novel. Its protagonist, a somewhat solitary, thoughtful young man, Toru Watanabe, lost his closest childhood friend to suicide at the age of seventeen, and so he moves through his life with caution, afraid to open himself up too much, unsure of the direction his future should take him. The novel is a flashback, told eighteen years after Watanabe’s nineteenth year, and it recounts his love and social life during his first and second years of college.
What makes this a successful novel is how beautifully written the characters are. Watanabe is in love with a young woman, Naoko, the lover of the childhood best friend; she is equally damaged by his suicide and struggles to make meaning of her life. And then Watanabe meets Midori, who, in less masterful hands, could end up becoming a stereotype of the liberated young woman, but Murakami also paints her with complexity and thoughtfulness. Even a more minor character, an older woman Watanabe meets, is given a rich back story, (the title comes from her playing the Beatles’s “Norwegian Wood” on the guitar for Naoko and Watanabe), and her perspective, in some ways, is the heart of the story: “If you don’t want to spend time in an insane asylum, you have to open up a little more and let yourself go with life’s natural flow…”
Norwegian Wood is sexy, sad, moving, and beautifully written. It invites us in to get to know its characters, and, despite its simplicity, it lingers long after you’ve finished reading.
There's an appropriate meta-experience a reader of this collection of essays by David Foster Wallace encounters. On one hand, much of Wallace's writinThere's an appropriate meta-experience a reader of this collection of essays by David Foster Wallace encounters. On one hand, much of Wallace's writing is laugh-out-loud funny--I certainly embarrassed myself a few times reading on public transportation. Wallace also comes across as broad-minded, sharp, and full of humanity, which is why it's impossible not to be aware, while reading, of what it means to be reading the work of someone who took his own life at such a young age. I couldn't help but wonder the whole time I was reading how someone who seems so aware could not figure out a way to keep living. Thus, at the same time that these essays are so enjoyable to read, there is also a sadness to it.
Wallace is probably best known for his huge, sprawling novel, Infinite Jest, but these essays, ranging on topics such as prescriptive versus descriptive grammar, the art of the sports autobiography, the porn industry, and his personal reactions to September 11, 2001, while much smaller; have a depth that is equal to Infinite Jest. Part of the reason for this depth is that Wallace is so good at asking questions about his subjects and allowing the discussion that unfolds around those questions to shed light on his own curious thinking. The best essays in this collection are those that admit to Wallace's own ambiguity and delve into the difficult questions behind that ambiguity. His essays read much like someone's thoughts; he generously uses footnotes, sometimes footnotes to footnotes, as a way to capture the different levels of his thinking, and, for some readers this can feel tedious or pretentious. But I think it works simply because Wallace comes across as so thoughtful.
I was first introduced to Wallace's non-fiction when I read his 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College, which was recently published in the small volume entitled This is Water, and which can still be found online at http://www.kyleriedel.net/teach/docum... If you haven't read Wallace, or if you have but haven't read this speech, it's worth taking the time to read it. And then, if you like it, I recommend these essays. Some of them are dense; some of them are intellectual, but all of them will challenge you to think and maybe even make you laugh....more
This is a novel that it's better not to know too much about, so avoid the dust-jacket if possible; allow the story to unfold as you read. The narratorThis is a novel that it's better not to know too much about, so avoid the dust-jacket if possible; allow the story to unfold as you read. The narrator is five year-old Jack, and he's precocious and clever, and it's a delight to read the world through his narrative. He describes life in "Room" with his Ma, and, despite the bond between the two and all the incredible, engaging ways his mom has devised to raise him to be thoughtful and intelligent, it soon becomes clear that something about their life is not quite right. Seeing the world through Jack’s eyes gives us insight into what it means to be social creatures, how much we take for granted, and how important love and care are for healthy development. It’s also a commentary on modern media and commercialism; though it’s never didactic. Emma Donoghue's novel is highly engaging, emotional, and gripping....more
Saturday is McEwan at his finest. The novel begins with Henry Perowne waking earlier than usual on a Saturday morning to witness a strange sight out hSaturday is McEwan at his finest. The novel begins with Henry Perowne waking earlier than usual on a Saturday morning to witness a strange sight out his window. The narration follows him through to his very late falling asleep at the end of that Saturday. This "day in the life" echoes Virgina Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, and, like Woolf, McEwan's novel is filled with the complex and human inner monologue of Perowne, a neurosurgeon, as he goes about his day contemplating a world on the brink of war with Iraq and the relative nature of good and evil. The novel would be excellent even if nothing happened as it displays how rich all the happenings of a single human life are; however things do happen. Dramatic events unfold, and the Perownes are faced with their own mortality....more