It's not very often that one comes across a book with more to say than the words it contains. And though it's been out of my hands for a few days, TifIt's not very often that one comes across a book with more to say than the words it contains. And though it's been out of my hands for a few days, Tiffany Reisz's The Siren hasn't stopped talking.
The Siren was my introduction to erotic literature. Although I suppose that's not entirely true; The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by Anne Rice (writing as A. N. Roquelaure) passed through my hands many years ago. I say passed through because I only remember them fleetingly. I think my tender brain forcibly forgot the sentences as quickly as I read them. I remember some vague images, and being shocked, oh how shocked at such depravities! ...and intrigued. But I never picked them up again. I didn't understand that world, and didn't want to. I've toughened up a bit since then. And it takes much more to shock me than a beauty forcibly awakened from her sexual slumber.
So The Siren is really better classified as my introduction to modern erotica. And I admit to some anxiety over opening up this new chapter. Because just as I have changed, so has the genre. What new depredations were in store? How much further would I be pushed? I knew the pushing was inevitable. Probably some whipping as well. Could I stand it? Or would I be broken? There was only one way to know. In I dove.
I was instantly confused. Um, the air quality in London during the Industrial Revolution? Smoggy and sooty do not smutty make. Where were the deviants? Where was the sex? I should clarify something at this point: I LIKE being confused. I LOVE it. I can't get enough of authors who refuse to give me what I think I want, who, with a few words, can destroy my expectations and say "Nope. You don't get to figure this one out in advance." Here it was, page one, and instead of floggings I was given foggings. From that moment, I was all in.
That's not to say floggings didn't happen. There's plenty of punishment and an arousing abundance of naughty adventures. Reisz has described her work as "literary friction," which seems almost benign at first. It's a play on words (for which she has a delightful knack) that gives a sense of familiarity to her own particular brand of brashness. But beneath the clever turn of phrase lies a startling truth: The Siren is nothing less than a profound work of art.
Reisz gathers together art, shame, pleasure, religion, regret, sex and pain to craft one of the finest arguments for love that I've ever read. The persuasion doesn't come from a particular sentence, or character, or event: it lives and breathes throughout the book like a sentient creature. It's not the kind of love that exists in fairy tales, or dusty tomes of courtship. Love in The Siren is a bloody, vicious thing. It is also radiant and selfless. And there it is, what The Siren sings to me: that love is all these things. It is as concrete as a smack on the ass, as insensible as breath on the back of a neck. It is what strengthens us, and what makes us weak. It is what destroys us, and enables us to survive.
And the characters in the book need every tool in their kit to keep going. Each one is broken in some way. Some are seeking redemption; others seek revelation. And the road they take to get there, indeed, if they get there at all, is nothing but rough. But that's as it should be. Reisz is as stern with her characters as she is with her readers; and in the end, we can do nothing but ask for more, please.
That's not to say that The Siren is all brooding and no bantering. The dialogue snaps with electricity, and Reisz has truly created a heroine for the ages with the saucy Nora Sutherlin. Reisz knows that we don't have to understand a character to love them; in fact, often what connects us to them is the mystery that lies just out of reach, beckoning us further. And Nora is a master (or rather, mistress) of temptation. Her motives aren't always clear, and her actions don't always make sense, but we are caught up, knowing the payoff, when it comes, will not only make sense of Nora, but ourselves as well.
This is perhaps the greatest gift that The Siren gives: it illuminates us. It heals us. And ultimately it leaves us better than how it found us. A daunting task for any author, but one that Reisz achieves with brutality, sensitivity and grace. Oh, and her little red riding crop, of course.
Captivating and compelling, The Siren is as many-colored and deep as a bruise in full-bloom, rising from the page and burning hot. It has left its mark on me, and I can't wait to get my hands on the next book in the Original Sinners series, The Angel.
Or should I say, let it get its hands on me....more
Caution: The following review contains spoilers. I think. ____________________________________________________
There are secrets I cannot bear. There arCaution: The following review contains spoilers. I think. ____________________________________________________
There are secrets I cannot bear. There are silences within that can only be filled with unspoken words. And when my secret silences threaten to push me apart, when I am stretched tight and sloughing off the skin of outside voices, growing larger than I can keep contained, I open a book and open myself, burrow into the spaces between words and find comfort in compression into the lives of those who reside only on the thin edge of the page.
I steal their life, their words, their insides; I can fit myself into them and am fulfilled in the reduction. I become the air they breathe, the regret that rises in their throat, the weariness that stings their bones, their surfeiting of hope and surfacing of joy. Transported, transformed, the best of books lets me live in them awhile, lets me leave a part of myself behind and marks me when I emerge again, somehow more whole without so much of me to hold onto anymore.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, has taken a part of me, never to return it, and I am made better by the loss. A story of such ferocity, of such fear of passings and pains, stricken paths of lives half-lived and nearly-formed and barely-understood, and yes, a kind of uneasy truce with life and with ends that seem almost too much to be borne.
From the start I am Liesel Meminger, her iced breath, her chilled fingers and numbed head as she steals her first book; The Gravedigger’s Handbook. It is an accident, a darkly glorious happenstance that writes the rest of her story in a moment. Liesel can’t read, Liesel doesn’t care; it’s the thing itself, the life contained within the covers, which makes the truth of her brother folded into the ground, beneath the snow, always cold and covered and small beneath her, lay not so hard upon her heart.
Motherless and lost within herself, she turns to this slightly macabre book and her sternly soft foster parents, Rosa and Hans Hubermann, for a way back to warmth and life. She learns to read, and she learns to love, and in them both she finds strength and solace, a place to set herself and see beyond the specter of her brother who always appears, who refuses to fade. Liesel also soon finds a thieving accomplice in Rudy Steiner, who is always looking for a good scheme, a stolen kiss and a way to run beyond his future. But just as Liesel is beginning to settle into herself and warm to the world, prisoners begin marching and bombs begin dropping. This is Germany and this is the war, where kindness is rewarded with cruelty and where no secret is safe, even when it’s hidden in the Hubermann’s too-shallow basement of hope.
Narrated by Death, spoken in words of wonder and worry and a perverse desire not to care too much because he knows how the story always, always ends, he is grudgingly taken by this girl he glimpses in the grim visits that bring him closer to her. He tracks her through the years, keeps her near to him, nearer than the others, perhaps, because surrounded by all of it, the fear and the dying and the hate, stubbornly she reads, she lives, and takes books like he takes lives; as gently as possible, bearing them up to a nobler state, holding them close and seeing in them what no one else will, giving them their purpose at last.
As well as being Death’s diary of sorts, Zusak also manages to make The Book Thief a handbook of how to tell a story with both passion and tenderness, a story that pulls you along by the gut while floating itself into your soul. When he breaks your heart it seems a necessary thing; you don’t begrudge it, you welcome it, as he makes sure to do so with a final kindness and a last breath of joy. Zusak has left his own heart behind here, cracking it open with gentle fingers and letting it pour down the page, so that it is not just ink that stains our fingers. He gives us one last gift; he lets us see our own face always appearing, refusing to fade in the spaces between the words. ____________________________________________________
Special thanks must be given to Nathan Dunbar, bookseller, word-shaker and recommender of this book. Without him, and others like him, the word-addicts and truth-delvers, this world would be a much smaller place. ...more