Susann knows how to sink her claws into the reader. Just when things seem to get better for our women and the future shines bright in the distance, soSusann knows how to sink her claws into the reader. Just when things seem to get better for our women and the future shines bright in the distance, something happens and the tunnel closes. Then some turn of events gets you believing again, and the roller coaster starts again and again and again... The circle of life turns into a circle of dolls and resentment.
Valley of the Dolls isn't a mushy romance that sinks into an abyss of paper-tasting plastic characters, who seem to melt under a tighter scrutiny, or a glossy, emotionally simplistic, and rose-tinted fairy tale world, where predictability is a given. Instead, it actually makes you invested in the characters, although they are practically one-dimensional vehicles of psychological exploration.
Both unrealistic with its cheesy plot twists which seem to occur only for shock value, and realistic with its oh-so-common story of downward spiralling lives in the show business, the story is structurally kind of a mess, but a glorious and trashy mess. The fact that I don't mind the heap of clichés dumped on me is a testament of Susann's genius.
Like with The Best of Everything (1958), I noticed that I can digest chick lit when it's set in another time period and has some kind of melancholy or tragic events involved. A retro Mad Men-ish backdrop has so much more value in terms of atmosphere (and basically the only reason why I decided to read this). Valley of the Dolls wouldn't be what it is if it wasn't set in 1940s-60s, or if it didn't have a hilarious cat fight in a ladies' room, self-destructive women popping pills in all the colors of the rainbow, dreams crashing and burning, struggles with fame and expectations concerning private and professional lives, loads of vodka and champagne, and men who are far from dreamy Fabios.
Girly pulp that doesn't make you want to vomit, but to have a cocktail or two and eat chocolate until your head explodes. Essentially, this is the glamorous and excessive cousin of Peyton Place (1956).
"Who wants respect? I want to get laid!" - Helen Lawson...more
If Valley of the Dolls (1966) is the glamorous and excessive cousin of Peyton Place (1956), The Best of Everything is the Seconal-sedated twin ofIf Valley of the Dolls (1966) is the glamorous and excessive cousin of Peyton Place (1956), The Best of Everything is the Seconal-sedated twin of Valley of the Dolls. The Jekyll of the Hyde. Booze is flowing, but in a sophisticated Mad Men fashion. In case your blind date is a twat, just order loads of drinks in succession.
Chick lit is still a problematic genre for me, but instead of having another Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) experience, The Best of Everything was pretty entertaining. I liked the smuttiness of Valley of the Dolls more, but The Best of Everything had a relaxing smoothness to it. It's the time period and everything that comes with it, like the experiences of working women in a world of men, that instantly makes the story more interesting and the plight of the characters more engaging.
The characters, unfortunately, are less interesting. There's a lot of naiveté going around, and the moment when you realize that one of the women is clinging to her former man like she was drowning, you also notice you don't care about the women at all. Like in Valley of the Dolls, they define themselves through men, but because of the more everyday and conventional tone of the novel it gets tiring after a while.
The stories are prolonged for way too long and the underlying message against single life is the cherry on a moldy sundae. Honestly, the plot twist at the end is just terrible, because it doesn't fit the rest of the book at all. It's like Jaffe was trying to stick something scandalous in there to hammer her point home, but it destroys all credibility and ends up in the daytime soap territory.
Jaffe was clearly trying to concoct a moral tale about the dangers of a big city, but I'm not surprised that many girls were instead inspired to move there. Life in New York City might be difficult, even dangerous, and subject you to sexual harassment at the office, but it's also an adventure (at least that's what I imagine the girls were thinking). The lack of personality in the married zombies and in those who aspired to become zombies was so horrifying, though, that it's difficult to imagine Jaffe thought things through regarding character development and her audience (would the 1950s readers have been tempted to aim towards marriage and nothing else because of Jaffe's characters?).
Still, The Best of Everything is a quick and light read. It doesn't even remotely try to melt your brain, and better yet, instead of relying on a simple happy ending, the ending is kind of ambiguous and makes it seem like some of the characters have an uncertain future. The world of a working girl was tough in the 50s, and the lack of sugar coating might appeal to modern audiences, too. It's not like sexism or sexual harassment have disappeared from the working places, but Jaffe's novel definitely makes you appreciate the improvement of working conditions....more
East of Eden is a family saga, a story of fathers and sons, a tale of love manifesting in different ways and sparking different reactions, an examinatEast of Eden is a family saga, a story of fathers and sons, a tale of love manifesting in different ways and sparking different reactions, an examination of how people sometimes speak past each other without truly understanding, and really everything in between you can think of. It's a hefty tome, one that Steinbeck himself liked the most and considered his magnum opus, but also one that suffers from being uneven and not really knowing where it wants to go.
It never quite finishes all the threads satisfactorily, jumps from one thing to another, and has too much exposition (particularly regarding the Cain and Abel allegory: at one point, the characters are discussing how the Biblical story relates to their lives, as if its significance hadn't already been spelled out before) and lectures about Salinas Valley and world events. A little subtlety would have been nice, instead of heavy-handedly stretching a message with capital letters across several generations. Add to that the ridiculous name alliteration, and I'm just about on the verge of exhaustion.
Steinbeck's descriptions of most of the main characters and their struggles are the saving grace. Overall, there are no heroes and villains in the families, only deeply human emotions. Sometimes polar opposite emotions (and characters) are strongly connected and it's difficult to distinguish where each one begins and ends. The very last scene I thought was very moving.
However, the downfalls of the overall narrative exists in the characters, too. Lee, the Chinese servant, is the epitome of a Chinese philosopher with a tragic background. Although he pretends to be a white man's version of a Chinese man by hiding his perfect American English and education behind his pidgin and clothes, he still feels like a stereotype, always there to grant calm wisdoms when someone needs guidance.
Cathy's capable of fear and reflecting her actions, but she's still clearly a sociopath, which is fine. Not settling to that, though, Steinbeck stated she's supposed to represent the Devil (if it's true that she was modelled after Steinbeck's second wife, he really must have hated her). That and her actions that ooze evil through and through are again heavy-handed references to the Bible (and if that's still not enough to make readers understand, she's also described as being snake-like), and they reduce Cathy into an image of something universal instead of a real character. Abra, on the other hand, is devoid of personality and seemingly exists only to enhance Aaron's struggles.
The oversimplifications didn't help make sense of the messy structure, nor lift the characters from the pages to the realm of believability. Instead, the characters mainly carried the heavy burden of being clumsy allegories. Everything was chewed on the reader's behalf, not giving the opportunity to make one's own conclusions and observations, and I found myself gradually losing interest everytime I picked up the book. I've said before how wonderful The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is, but I now dread the day when I decide to reread it. Thing is, I vaguely remember it being just as preachy, but the societal issues might have been a slightly better platform for it. I understand why East of Eden is so well-loved, and in a sense it's not a badly written novel nor is it one of the worst I've ever read, but the more I think about it the more it ticks me off.
- - -
Dean would have turned 85 last month. East of Eden is the only film of his I haven't seen yet, and it's been patiently waiting in my watchlist, because I knew I'd want to read the book first. Not surprisingly, I liked the movie more.
The story has been simplified immensely by removing some of the characters altogether, making the plot more streamlined, and by focusing only on the second half that deals with Cal and Aaron. Usually I expect faithfulness from film adaptations, but sometimes it just isn't always the best option (often the case with big tomes). There's limited space and opportunities in a little less than two hours, but Paul Osborn's screen play is fantastic and Kazan has no trouble guiding the characters and the story forward.
The changes do cause some implausibility, like when Cal borrows money from his mother, and Cathy doesn't seem as powerful and cunning as in the book. These are just minor issues, though, because the overall story works so well on screen. The valley looks beautiful in color, too, even though most of it isn't Salinas but Mendocino.
And what about Dean? If all beginners were as good as him in their first roles, the world would burst from all the energy and talent. Dean puts his soul into his role, and sometimes it only takes a quiet smile or a slight adjustment of posture. If only he had stuck around, he'd have had great chances of polishing his skills even further....more
After an Agatha Christie reading challenge last year, I still had some steam left after my final spurt, so I just had to read some more. I'm going toAfter an Agatha Christie reading challenge last year, I still had some steam left after my final spurt, so I just had to read some more. I'm going to take a little break now from everything Agatha Christie, but The Mirror was a great story to end my trip. After two chapters, I realized I had seen the adaptation in the Miss Marple TV show and this time also remembered the murderer, but that didn't stop me from enjoying how the events and the final reveal unfolded (or how the tragedy in Gene Tierney's life fitted the picture).
The location is once more St. Mary Mead, but this time something's different:
"One had to face the fact: St Mary Mead was not the place it had been. In a sense, of course, nothing was what it had been. You could blame the war (both the wars) or the younger generation, or women going out to work, or the atom bomb, or just the Government - but what one really meant was the simple fact that one was growing old. Miss Marple, who was a very sensible lady, knew that quite well. It was just that, in a queer way, she felt it more in St Mary Mead, because it had been her home for so long."
The new supermarket represents the changing times. Miss Hartnell is bewildered by all the packaged goods and laments the trouble one has to go through when wandering around the aisles and trying to find proper unprocessed food in convenient sizes. And the long queues! One of the new villagers in turn wonders why anyone would want to grow their own vegetables when it's so easy to buy them from a supermarket.
A change in the class structure has occurred as well: the domestic helpers are now educated girls and the new housing estate called the Development has brought a new set of villagers that differs from the originals. Marple feels very nostalgic about the world changing, and it's easy to imagine she echoes some of Christie's own sentiments. However, she never comes across as bitter, more like resigned and in peace. When you get older, you're bound to see the world becoming a different place.
On the other hand, inspector Craddock reveals the downside of the quaint village life that undoubtedly hides old-fashioned views on life under its calm exterior: "'There are things that are preferable to academic distinctions[.] - - - One of them is knowing when a man wants whisky and soda and giving it to him" (referring to the domestic role of women).
A part of the spirit of remembrance and nostalgia are the references to Christie's older Miss Marple novels. The hated Colonel Protheroe, who was murdered at the beginning of The Murder at the Vicarage (1930), is still remembered by Miss Marple (I'm beginning to think she never forgets anything). Griselda Clement, the vicar's wife who appeared in that same story with her husband, sends Christmas cards every year. Gossington Hall from The Body in the Library (1942) is once more the location of a murder mystery, although a lot has changed.
Marina Gregg with her glamorous movie star looks settles down in Gossington Hall with her husband, the director Jason Rudd. It's the murder of the babbling Heather Badcock (a surname almost as tragic as her murder) that creates a splinter in the lives of the modern movie people. It's something much worse than the "[n]aked men and women drinking and smoking what they call in the papers them reefers" the 96-year-old Mr. Sampson is so afraid of. I'd be more scared of the spiked daquiris Heather had to endure. Regular ones I approve.
Once more, the solution of the mystery is dependent on taking note of what people say and if they truly mean it. It's easy to make a hasty conclusion about something, but the truth is that we all often say things that could mean so much more to someone else or are mistakenly construed as offensive. Christie knows readers have their expectations, so she never lets them believe there might be something more to certain things, until everything starts to unravel. Despite knowing the murderer, it's interesting to witness the structure Christie uses to reveal the culprit, and how she hides the clues in plain sight. You never even think about suspecting that the particular moments hide something else, because they seem so mundane and obvious.
In the end, the mystery is simple, but the novel is not. It makes very clear that kindness is not enough when you have no consideration for how others might be affected by your actions, and that the real threat doesn't come from the outside, but from the souls of humans. After all, "the human beings were the same as they always had been".
Miss Marple is also refreshingly present here, and she has even more of that familiar glint in her eye than usual. It's especially satisfactory to see how she enjoys duping her annoyingly fussy caretaker, Miss Knight, by sending her on errands to the farthest shops possible.
"A little strong drink is always advisable on the premises in case there is a shock or an accident. Invaluable at such times. Or, of course, if a gentleman should arrive suddenly".
Around Christmastime, I figured it'd be nice to start a tradition and read something light and Christmasy (but not fluffy), and Christie knocked on myAround Christmastime, I figured it'd be nice to start a tradition and read something light and Christmasy (but not fluffy), and Christie knocked on my door again. Because the collections have a confusing publication history, I noticed I had actually read some of the stories before in another collection, but I couldn't remember the murderers anymore, so a reread was in order.
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding was the only one set during Christmas, and in her foreword Christie explains how her childhood Christmases spent in Abney Hall inspired the story, and why she wanted to dedicate the book to its memory. The story does feel very nostalgic prior to things starting to get awry (the description of the Christmas feast made my mouth water), and thanks to the conclusion it's also one of the best ones. It really turns on its head all the expectations one has of a crime story.
The other one I liked was The Dream, where an eccentric millionaire needs Poirot's help, because he has been having a concurring dream where he shoots himself. Soon enough, the man is found dead. The whole case is a little bizarre and mystical, and the conclusion is fantastic. So much so, that this was my absolute favorite story of the collection.
The Under Dog is slightly drawn out and boring, but as for the rest, they're pretty decent with great twists. In all six stories, hints are spread throughout and some of them are even so obvious when you notice them afterwards, that you feel kind of stupid not to have seen them. Christie takes the idea of secrets behind one's demeanor even further, and it's a recurring theme of the collection. The tiny tidbits about the social realities of the era aren't absent either, as is evident from Poirot's ponderings about the butler:
"'This Parsons, then, he will have the characteristics of his class, he will object very strongly to the police, he will tell them as little as possible. Above all, he will say nothing that might seem to incriminate a member of the household. A house-breaker, a burglar, he will cling to that idea with all the strength of extreme obstinacy. Yes, the loyalties of the servant class are an interesting study.'"
We also learn that Poirot likes curvy women. Actually, "[h]e liked them lush, highly coloured, exotic. There had been a certain Russian countess – but that was long ago now. A folly of earlier days". Really? Tell me more. The fact that something this substantial is revealed about Poirot's past, or that he doesn't mind being kissed under the mistletoe by Bridget, caught me off guard. Is this the Agatha Christie Christmas spirit we're seeing?...more
The third installment in Dickens's series of Christmas books, The Cricket on the Hearth is perhaps not set during Christmastime, but it has the spiritThe third installment in Dickens's series of Christmas books, The Cricket on the Hearth is perhaps not set during Christmastime, but it has the spirit of Christmas. When suspicion is planted in our hearts, it can eat away your soul, especially when one fails to see that some people are motivated by negativity. The wounds caused to mutual trust can be healed, though, and - because this is Dickens we are dealing with - trust is eventually restored and the warmth of love spreads into even the coldest of hearts. Isn't this what Christmas is about? It doesn't matter whether it's celebrated because of its religious background, or because eating yourself conscious and relaxing at the end of the year sounds tempting - everyone should have a sense of peace during this time of year and the understanding that everything will eventually turn out for the better. The ones who use Christmas merely for financial gain or cause harm to others are the misers.
Not all misers will change, but although excess sentimentality usually annoys me, I appreciate the hope Dickens tries to instill in his readers. The portrayal of domestic bliss of Victorian times is an interesting peek to the family values at a certain point in history, but the characters felt more distant and the plot not as interesting as in the previous two. The poetic and song-like prose I enjoyed in The Chimes (1844) didn't appeal to me here, instead the story seemed a bit too drawn out and contrived. I think the general homeliness was what made this more flat and uninteresting, but there was a bit of rehash going on in terms of some plot devices as well. Unlike the first two, this was wordy in all the wrong places and seemed unpolished, and the plot manages to be a mess while being very simple and boring at the same time (the most ridiculously implausible turn of events at the end certainly doesn't help).
Some would consider the Christmas books as Dickens at his worst, but I believe the approach is so much more different than in his regular novels that comparison is futile. Although with a basis in reality, the magical realist elements in the Christmas books place them in a different world, a world of fairy tales where ghosts, goblins, and fairies come to change people's lives. The sentimentality, therefore, is not a negative thing to be rejected, but to be embraced as something innocent and pure. Joy, forgiveness, understanding, and the desire to make your loved ones feel as comfortable as possible belong to the hearths of homes. I may not have liked The Cricket on the Hearth that much, but at least the message delivers....more
A reference to a town called Vanity in John Bunyan'sThe Pilgrim's Progress (1678), Vanity Fair is an acerbic examination of superficial attachment toA reference to a town called Vanity in John Bunyan'sThe Pilgrim's Progress (1678), Vanity Fair is an acerbic examination of superficial attachment to money and societal position, in addition to generally parading the rotten qualities we humans have. A nightmare to those who seek relatable characters in their novels, but delicious if you're entertained by people's stupidity and by following what lengths they're prepared to go with their selfishness. I'd have hated to be enemies with Thackeray, because his poison pen stabs everyone on sight, even the most angelic of people.
There's the brilliance, though. Naiveté and passiveness aren't held on high regard, but instead they are qualities that create more sorrow and confusion. Even the snow queen would melt on the sight of Becky, and her skills of manipulation have no equal. However, Amelia's girlish attachment to unhealthy relationships and her failure to see the true motives of people don't bring her any more happiness. Granted, the mistakes of others aren't really Amelia's fault, but her overly trusting and kind nature didn't do her and another person any good.
Becky's intelligence is unquestionable, because despite her poor background she manages to climb socially far higher than would have been possible for many others. She's also talented in many areas, so the contrast between that and lacking a conscience is striking. Through Becky, the shiny and sophisticated surface of the customs and morals of the upper class are peeled off and beaten into bloody pulp (in a very refined 19th century way).
Money is an excellent motive to pretend to care about one's relatives, and it gives one strength while patiently waiting for the inheritance. If a well-raised young woman is expected to set her eyes on money and a respected position in society, is it any wonder that an environment like that breeds beckysharps, who have absolutely no scruples about getting their way?
Becky's behavior is even more disturbing when it's clear she's in no way unbalanced, just a very determined woman wanting to make it in the world, and refusing to just lie down and take the blows as they come. I didn't believe for one second she really cares about Amelia, but she's definitely a force of nature in a cut-throat world and doesn't care whether she gains genuine friends along the way. Amazingly, she isn't the least bit slowed down by the people who manage to see through her, but her (and other's) actions become increasingly worse towards the end. All that makes her one of the most interesting and refreshing characters in classic literature.
Thackeray's novel was initially published as a monthly serial, which, as with Dickens, hints it might be somewhat laborious to plough through. Honestly, it kind of is. The labyrinthine side paths occasionally make it difficult to focus on the main point, and Thackeray's instructive tone seems unnecessary.
However, it's also one of those classics that reward the reader immensely, even if you're left feeling like a wet rag afterwards. It's the kind that revels in its satire and despicable characters without being pretentious, and offers (sadly, very brief) glimpses of the London scene with its cafés, ice cream parlours, and trips to Brighton. Thackeray himself also breaks the 4th wall several times with his forceful, sharp, and cynical thoughts. He challenges and provokes, and never enters the scene without the intention to poke someone in the stomach.
Despite its few shortcomings, Vanity Fair is vibrant, and through its incredibly detailed study of human nature (details which I think are all necessary), it also reveals something about ourselves by forcing us to look into ourselves and our behavior. Unlike Becky, we're able to develop as human beings and learn from our mistakes. Thackeray's dismal view of human kind is a chance. If it feels off-putting, you can ask yourself why.
PS. One thing that left me puzzled was the portrayal of black Miss Swartz, who reminded me of Dido Elizabeth Belle. The narrative mixed with the multilayered satire and Thackeray's commentary left me uncertain about who's the real object of ridicule, and apparently I'm not the only one....more
One of those Christie stories I've seen as a (quality!) TV movie, but as per usual, I'd already forgotten the murderer. What I do remember from the moOne of those Christie stories I've seen as a (quality!) TV movie, but as per usual, I'd already forgotten the murderer. What I do remember from the movie is the suspense. I didn't get that much here, except maybe at the end. The story started in a kind of humouristic tone with the prickly but gentle descriptions of the characters, but then that subsided and the atmosphere changed into a more flat and slightly boring middle part, gathering pace when more murders started occurring. Mitzi's presence as a goofy and crazy foreigner started to get old really fast and kind of irksome and out of place, although there was briefly some potential to deal with the post-war trust issues.
The mystery itself was still great overall (albeit a bit heavy-handed and repetitious with the clues towards the end), and the second half gradually amped up the volume, making me stay up way too late and just run through the last 80 or so pages. Confusion and making things seems different than they actually are my favourite things in mysteries. What really impressed me was the identity of the murderer, though. I had a pale inkling about how things would turn out, but the way the revelation was actually handled was skillful and completely convincing. It's not easy to make a murderer like that to seem an almost pitiful lost cause who could have easily turned out differently, while at the same time also appearing to be an obvious nutcase. It's not the first time either that I've noticed Christie's acuity when it comes to human behaviour and character....more
London is enveloped by an almost apocalyptic smog that obscures everything, both physically and figuratively speaking. A murderer is wandering the strLondon is enveloped by an almost apocalyptic smog that obscures everything, both physically and figuratively speaking. A murderer is wandering the streets, searching for a way to a treasure. Albert Campion is called to help on the case, but he doesn't really do much detective work, appearing instead as a distant character mostly hovering in the background. Misleading, because the series is supposed to contain Albert Campion mysteries. Campion isn't even his real name! Allingham does a lot of dwelling with the characters' personalities and their behaviour and whatnot, but the actual crime solving is left on the sidelines, whereas psychological ponderings take up a lot of space.
I ended up feeling conflicted about the whole book, because Allingham is wonderful at describing London and the effect of the smog. The side characters obsessed with the treasure are bizarre, in a good way. My expectations just didn't click with what I got in the end, and one would have hoped the meditations on philosophical and theological issues had been more integrated into the actual story. Now they seemed disconnected, made reading a bit sticky, and stretched the plot unnecessarily (or more like halted it completely). On the other hand, Campion didn't seem to have a purpose in the story, so he could have been left out entirely without it affecting in any way to anything.
However, despite the poor pacing etc., the gloomy atmosphere and the fascinating ending won me over, so I'll continue with the series. Maybe start from the beginning to see if the novels are any different there, or if Campion is introduced more comprehensively....more
Noir. I can always trust it when I feel like reading something where it's guaranteed that things go horribly wrong or someone goes apeshit. Williams hNoir. I can always trust it when I feel like reading something where it's guaranteed that things go horribly wrong or someone goes apeshit. Williams has been an unknown to me until now, but if this really isn't his strongest novels, I'm going to be in paradise later.
A Touch of Death smells like fear, sweat, powder, lipstick, and sex, and it's the colour of sharp scissors in the evening light. Williams's prose is to the point, yet a sizzling atmosphere of passion and suppressed rage are looming somewhere beneath. The plot is unarguably drawn out and as a mere framework not that interesting. However, it sticks with you regardless like a piece of chewing gum. Scarborough seems like a sleepwalker at times, and although he understands the woman in the bikini is trouble, he's unable to turn away. Just like in a nightmare. The final scene in the car is the hottest thing I've read in a while, and the ending is like a slap in the face, although you always knew what would happen. How can anything be ice cold and burning hot at the same time?...more