I was thinking, on this second read, about how people often react in two ways to Dorothea: 1) her marriage to Will at the end is a waste of her. Of course, Eliot is pretty straightforward about this, including it in the Finale (!):
Many who knew her, thought it a pity that so substantive and rare a creature should have been absorbed into the life of another, and be only known in a certain circle as a wife and mother.
And, 2) "Wouldn't Dorothea have been much better suited to Lydgate, though?"
And these two reactions aren't mutually exclusive - I think people often have them together.
I'm not at all sure either of these reactions speak to me. I'll admit, I have a visceral horror at the idea of Dorothea marrying Lydgate, and not just because 1990s Rufus Sewell. (Will is blond in the book, which is maybe the only bad idea Eliot ever had, for one thing.) But really, Dorothea and Lydgate wouldn't have been well-suited, and I think their marriage might have been even worse than her marriage to Casaubon because Casaubon dies so soon, yay - but also, Dorothea would have engaged in the same kind of self-abnegating practices that she attempts with Casaubon and Lydgate would 1) have let her do that and 2) have thought it was precisely his due. He thinks wives should behave like Dorothea thinks wives should behave (at least, when they marry Miltons and Hookers - let's be honest, Lydgate totally thinks he's on par with Milton and Hooker). Now, Lydgate's ambitions are of a higher order than Casaubon's, I think, so maybe Dorothea would have got quite a lot out of it. But she had £700 a year, which is actually kind of a lot - but not enough to be a Patroness. Just, you know, enough to support your young doctor husband.
Even if they wanted to marry each other, which they don't.
And that first reaction makes a good point, but also had the invisibility of women's labor in the home problem. (It's also hard for me to avoid reading it as a Confucian text, which is totally not fair but, hey, this is literary criticism of the lowest order anyway.)
Rosamond is actually kind of great.
I mean: she's terrible. But there's something so wonderful about her monstrousness.
She's like an unlucky Lorelei Lee, right? Imagine how dangerous Rosamond would be if she had a sense of humor! She would have been fatal with a sense of humor and a dollop of self-awareness. (Would she have been happier? I don't know: she might have died young of syphilis, but she might also have fucked more princes. The intersection of Eliot and Colette.)
She's like Betty Draper, but again without the luck (though Rosamond's second marriage is better than her first, too) or the wit, or the repressed lesbian desire. "You've just listed everything characteristic about Betty Draper." No, no, it's the role, you guys. They have the same role. A trophy wife for your first marriage?! Come on, guys.
And I really like that Eliot is so frank about money. We know how much Dorothea has each year, and from where. We know how much Lydgate is in debt for, and what his house costs (£90 a year! jealous!). It's interesting.
I've read some biographies of E. M. Forster so I have some idea of how much Dorothea's money would have grown as the 19th century wore on. It makes her "sacrifice" to Ladislaw less of a sacrifice.
And back to Dorothea: I'm not sure she ever realizes anything?
This actually troubles me a lot.
But I have to go to a party now . . . (many hours and beers later) By this I mean: I'm not sure it ever dawns on Dorothea that her marriage to Casaubon was really a Terrible Idea and it was a Bad Marriage (it is Pinterish in its badness, no, it is worse than that). And this, I think, is the saddest thing about Middlemarch, that Dorothea doesn't definitely realize the depth of her mistake.
You can make a case for her realizing that Casaubon (I can spell Zhuangzi and Nietzsche right on first try, but not Casaubon or restaurant) was unworthy of her. I'm not sure you can make a case for her realizing that her ideas about marriage and worthiness are flawed. (See above re: Lydgate).
And this is troubling, isn't it?
I think the most interesting literary dichotomy for women is Scarletts and Melanies.
Dorothea is a Melanie. Celia is a Melanie (I know! you're surprised!). Mary Garth is a Scarlett (again, a surprise; you could make a case that she's Belle Watling but that's cheating). Rosamond aspires to Scarlett (much like Scarlett aspires to Ellen, but doesn't really understand Ellen) but is actually just a Maybelle Merriweather (if you're generous, I suppose she is Suellen).
This doesn't mean anything, but it's interesting.
Also interesting: everyone loves Elizabeth Bennett but doesn't Fanny Price seem more relevant to Middlemarch?
Eventually, literature is ready to acknowledge, for example, the Schelgel sisters and Daisy. But it takes a while.
It's funny: failure to successfully communicate and understand another person is a cliché of a romantic comedy. It's nice in a rom-com because it's so easily resolvable.
But Middlemarch relies on those same failures - and they're almost never resolved.
"It's hard to be a person."
I've said almost nothing about Mary Garth and Fred Vincy, still; nor Celia and Sir James, or the Bulstrodes. Or Mr. Farebrother or the Cadwalladers! There's just too much. Of course people have made careers of Middlemarch!
I almost want to make a career of Middlemarch!...more
I think I wanted something more Dickensian in execution. In scope, it's already pretty Dickensian, and reading it I felt like there should have been aI think I wanted something more Dickensian in execution. In scope, it's already pretty Dickensian, and reading it I felt like there should have been about 300 more pages. ...more
I know a lot of people liked this book very very much. And I definitely expected to count myself among their number.
Here are some things Among OthersI know a lot of people liked this book very very much. And I definitely expected to count myself among their number.
Here are some things Among Others does a good job with: - Mori clearly loves books. They are unironically the most important thing to her, and to the action of the novel. This felt authentic to a kind of bookish teenage girl experience. I approve. - The sense of isolation is persuasively and evocatively conveyed. - Walton does some interesting meta-stuff, or . . . at least, I think she does. I also think I might be grasping at straws, though. (Actually, I think it's quite likely that I'm grasping: this isn't The Turn of the Screw ambiguous, although that would have been cool. Nor is it "The Yellow Wallpaper"-level isolationism and claustrophobia. But it's interesting to consider that idea anyway.) - Mori is a strong-willed girl. She is a bit like a Frances Hodgson-Burnett heroine, but probably more Mary than Sara (with a bit of Liz Lemon - though not as cleverly vicious as Liz Lemon, unfortunately). - It really commits to that diary format! Sometimes books use the diary and it is like . . . why didn't you just do first person narration. But Walton's approach is way more dedicated than that.
Okay, so why don't I like it. - It's actually not particularly thoughtful. I know it's a YA novel, but I'm not sure how relevant that is, to be honest. Lots of YA novels encourage, or even require, independent thinking. But it's telling that Mori's approach to books is more about consuming them as quickly as possible, without much discernment. I mean, sure, there are authors she likes and dislikes - but her tastes are rather narrow. I suppose it's hard to appreciate books you read for school when you read them (I suppose for most people, To Kill a Mockingbird is the exception, and The Great Gatsby sometimes) - but I wanted her to look outside herself a little more, to consider more carefully what's going on in some of the books she reads. Why she likes them. Why she doesn't. What's offered is sketchy - like Walton couldn't commit to either the "this is what I did today and how I felt about it" or the "this is what I read today and how I felt about it" model. Why not flesh it out? As it is, it just looks like a list of "I read this book and I really liked it." - It's kind of uncomfortable that the other female characters, except . . . two, SUCK. Like, they really really really suck. There are a bunch of really amazing dudes who "get" Mori, right, but mostly the other women characters are either trying to destroy her (I guess?) or they are just sort of stupid. Come on. - The world is not particularly developed. Yeah, it's supposed to be the real world (or the actual world or whatever you like), but it's not our world, it's a novel and there are magic and fairies. And Walton makes a point of Mori's ignorance about the structure of the world and the mechanisms of magic, which makes it feel a bit impoverished. (Although, as I said above, the sense of isolation is well done, and the Welsh/English divide is also conveyed pretty well.)
I guess I thought this would be like Wise Child? But it wasn't. I didn't find it particularly resonant or moving. It's not funny, either. Nor is it, for the most part, vivid enough to make up for the other bits....more
For Christina Rossetti, the British Raj, and Zarathustra . . .
Now, Christina Rossetti? Fine! Probably more bHere is where I first raised my eyebrow:
For Christina Rossetti, the British Raj, and Zarathustra . . .
Now, Christina Rossetti? Fine! Probably more books should be dedicated to Christina Rossetti. Zarathustra is a little pretentious, but whatever. But. But. Dedicating your book to the Raj? Really? That's kind of like writing, "For King Leopold II of Belgium." Or, "For Kenneth Branagh's character in Rabbit Proof Fence. I don't remember your name, but right on!" I'm just saying, at some point someone should have said, "Hmm. Is this really what you mean?" Because, although I think "Spicy Little Curses Such as These" is pretty casually orientalist, I'm pretty sure Laini Taylor isn't actually thanking the Raj.
But this book almost had me fooled anyway. Taylor's prose is lush and sensual, and fittingly so. The three stories focus on erotic (if not exactly sexual) awakenings, and so the style and theme dovetail nicely and with a great sense of satisfaction. You think, on reading it, how appropriately chosen the words are, how expertly-conveyed the sentiments and how apt the phrases. The first story, "Goblin Fruit," in addition, has some really wonderful teenage girl exchanges. More than that, they are the exchanges of a certain kind of teenage girl, and they are pitch perfect. "Spicy Little Curses Such as These" has a lovely poetic letter about how magic doesn't exist. "Hatchling" is genuinely creepy in places (but at least in part because one of the viewpoint characters is obsessed with pregnancy). Overall I like riffs on fairy tales (Labyrinth [speaking of erotic awakenings, hee-ey?], Kissing the Witch, The Princess Bride, The Bloody Chamber, those Breillat movies), and Lips Touch: Three Times hits those resonances pretty hard. That's not a problem for me.
What was a problem for me was that Taylor didn't stretch beyond the basic lines of a fairy tale. The emotional dynamics feel stale, instead of archetypal. I mean, I get that love and intimacy are frightening and alluring at once. Simon Amstell has a joke where he says, "When you're in a supermarket and you think, 'I quite fancy a potato,' you don't think, 'oh, best to avoid eye contact.' The only difference between a potato and a human being is a fear of rejection." But there's a difference, I think, between pointing out how frightening love and intimacy are and between treating sex as mysterious and frightening - not just in our minds but in actuality. It's not a spoiler to say that actual souls are at stake in Taylor's book - and that the preservation of your soul is intimately tied up with your sex life. Which is kind of a tired trope, isn't it? And an unhealthy one? It might be ingrained in the genre, but at this stage, aren't the most interesting interpretations of genre the ones that subvert our expectations of genre? I mean, Angela Carter conveys that same mix of sex and blood and menace and innocence and experience in The Bloody Chamber as Taylor's aiming for here, I think, but Carter uses it as a critical tool.
But but but the writing! It's so good! It's worth reading the book just for the beautiful prose and the rich atmosphere. And I guess a sense of "what could have been" is a useful thing to cultivate.
(Somewhere, this book has a counterpart that is Perfect.)...more
1. Let's be honest: Nervous Conditions is just about the toughest book to follow up in the world. Dangarembga could have stopped there and literature1. Let's be honest: Nervous Conditions is just about the toughest book to follow up in the world. Dangarembga could have stopped there and literature would have yearned after more for her, but she'd still be a Major Author, but of the Harper Lee school. And if you haven't read Nervous Conditions yet, you should really, really, really get on that: it's an amazing book.
2. The Book of Not is less disappointing than it is confusing. Part of me thinks it would stand better on its own, that it doesn't need the foundation of the first novel, and that this foundation actually hampers The Book of Not because you can't help but contrast the two books. They're actually quite different.
3. Admittedly, it's been about three years since I actually read Nervous Conditions.
4. ANYWAY, The Book of Not is really kind of weird - it reads a bit like a postmodern young adult novel. I don't know which YA novel to compare it to, really, but Tambu's narrative voice is more impressionistic and stylized, there are more flourishes. Even more striking, her point of view has ... shrunk. I mean, I guess, that her awareness has shrunk, her critical judgment has collapsed a bit. I actually really like the flawed narrator technique, most of the time (Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You!) but it can come off as disingenuous rather than tragic (I know tragic is not really the word I want, but it will have to do). It actually clears up in the last twenty or so pages, so maybe that's a good sign. If I think something is on purpose, I am more likely to judge it positively.
I've always enjoyed the pessimism and the high stakes in this series, even if I think the love triangle is stupid (and it doesn't get less stupid in tI've always enjoyed the pessimism and the high stakes in this series, even if I think the love triangle is stupid (and it doesn't get less stupid in the final installment). Mockingjay keeps that pessimism, particularly with regards to power, and maintains the reluctant, sullen Katniss of Catching Fire. (Okay, and of the first book, but I'm surely not alone in thinking that her bitter, sullen, reluctant participation grew in Catching Fire.) I am fond of the reluctant hero trope - except Katniss is only a hero of her own books, she's not a hero of the revolution. She's not a pawn but she's not a player either. I've always liked this part of the books too.
Okay, so there's lots of stuff I like about the series in the final book. But there's also, naturally enough since this needs to be wrapped up, a lot of the stupid love triangle, and it drags down the whole book, really. Particularly because Collins has never been very good at balancing the legs of the triangle so that we really feel that Katniss is torn. That's not a problem unique to these books by any means, but it is still a problem, and it makes the romantic conflict feel contrived.
But I could probably live with that if it weren't for the fact that Mockingjay is really terribly written. Now, the style in these books has never been anything but serviceable, and it was always best when it was invisible. But I wanted to take an x-acto knife to the prose in Mockingjay. More than that, Collins does that thing where an author spells out the significance of each event or bit of symbolism. Probably the low point of this is when she explicates a song for us! Like we're practicing our close reading skills together.
Still, I read it quickly and I wasn't a reluctant reader, just an irritated one....more
Well, I am an easy mark for books about revolutionary movements, and I think at some point I went "o-o-oh, it's Westmark Suzanne Collins is remindingWell, I am an easy mark for books about revolutionary movements, and I think at some point I went "o-o-oh, it's Westmark Suzanne Collins is reminding me about," although Alexander's moral schema is very different (Hunger Games operates on a "very bad vs the morally ambiguous and desperate" dynamic rather than the "everyone is compromised, but humanism is still important" dynamic," both are interesting - I think Westmark will prove to be sadder, ultimately, than this trilogy).
There are some little cracks in the world-building in this book, but they may be resolved by the conclusion; I'm not sure. And I think the basic story - girl made into the symbol of the revolution without her knowledge - is really compelling. The interesting thing about Katniss is that she never would have thought "we should overthrow the Capital" if a lot of other people hadn't thought it first; she is keenly aware of injustice, but would just have spent the rest of her life miserable and guilty and unable to do anything. She is not, herself, a revolutionary (her commitments are too insular), but she is really angry.
There are a lot of really interesting ethical issues at work in these books. I spend a lot of time going "OMG I MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS" (I think Forster identified this as reading for the story), but once I've quieted the hunger (haha, sorry?), I find plenty of gristle to ... chew ... that's gross. There are many delicious digestifs for me to sip and ponder slowly.
I do sort of feel like the love triangle angle is a bit "conventions of the genre," though, and I sometimes wish it weren't an issue....more
I guess these are fine - I liked the stories with older women as the protagonists, because that's really an under-represented demographic. Ma does a gI guess these are fine - I liked the stories with older women as the protagonists, because that's really an under-represented demographic. Ma does a good job with aging. And I think the title story is quite good. But after a while the Iowa Writers Workshop of it all started to wear thin....more
Here's the thing about Cereus Blooms at Night: it is almost achingly transparently a first novel. Metaphors of all kinds announce themselves again andHere's the thing about Cereus Blooms at Night: it is almost achingly transparently a first novel. Metaphors of all kinds announce themselves again and again and again. The social points are stated kind of obviously (though they are themselves sensitive and perceptive points). The plot, although amorphous, is firmly rooted in one event - but that event is not firmly rooted in anything; rather it happens because it needs to happen in order to allow the rest of the book to happen. (Which, by the way, is fine: but if you're going to use that, you need to leave more mystery behind it, instead of explaining everything, but that one thing on which the entire novel hinges. We only care about parts of a book if a writer directs our attention to them. Don't sabotage willing suspension of disbelief!) I've no idea if Shani Mootoo's writing has improved: this is the only novel of hers I've read, and it's also the most buzzed (my copy has a complimentary blurb from the NYT Book Review), and the only one with a Wikipedia page.
But! But! There's a lot to love about Cereus Blooms at Night, starting with the title. Which is amazing. A++ title there. Almost worth reading this book for the title alone, right? It's weirdly dense, too, although it's less than 300 pages long and the writing doesn't have a lot of frills; Mootoo's style is lush, but not baroque or self-referential - it's not particularly difficult to read, and actually is written in a fairly straightforward way. (And I'm as desensitized to sex and violence as you can get, basically, so it wasn't that either.) I don't know how the book can be written in a way both lush and streamlined, but the result is that it doesn't push you forward as you read. It was a little disorienting. What wasn't disorienting was the setup. You know as soon as Tyler tells you "this isn't my story, I'm hardly in it, actually" that Tyler's story is going to squirm to the front every chance it gets. That's totally fine with me, I liked the humanity and humor of that touch, and I liked Tyler's love story a lot. In addition, the basic facts are set out almost as soon as the novel starts. This isn't a mystery, even in a Dickensian way.
I like what the novel says, but I wish it were better at saying it. There are a lot of first novel problems (in this instance, I don't mean the framing device, although normally I hate the back and forth in time organization), but there's also a . . . lightness, a sense of vigor probably unique to a first novel that I admire. Cereus Blooms at Night is good, but it could have been so much better....more
I'd really no expectations about this novel, although I picked it up because I thought Maggie O'Farrell's Writers and Co. interview was interesting, aI'd really no expectations about this novel, although I picked it up because I thought Maggie O'Farrell's Writers and Co. interview was interesting, and her books sounded interesting too. I certainly wasn't expecting the visceral experience of reading The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which is a slim, compact, and disturbing/affecting novel that swallows you. O'Farrell juggles a couple different narrative voices and styles, interweaving them with each other and moving back and forth in time. It's never confusing, just intriguing, and the revelations come close on each other in ways that feel organic and believable. Interesting and compelling....more
I didn't realize until I was about halfway through The Cookbook Collector that it was essentially the book I'd hoped for in On Beauty. But then again,I didn't realize until I was about halfway through The Cookbook Collector that it was essentially the book I'd hoped for in On Beauty. But then again, I didn't realize it was riffing on Sense and Sensibility until I was like fifty pages in - fall makes me stupid, sometimes. So, anyway, this is a charming and thoughtful novel about two sisters and the people around them . . . and about pretty much everything that happened from 1999 to 2002 in America. It's an easy, understated read, with plenty of insight to offer. I particularly liked that, although the narrators are not unreliable (and not exactly narrators, either - it's third person/omniscient) Goodman is very clever at showing their subjectivity and mistakes, while keeping them sympathetic and (even) likeable....more
The translation is beautiful, but this is basically a Thomas Hardy novel. Except, the most unrewarding Thomas Hardy novel ever. (Sooo . . . Breaking BThe translation is beautiful, but this is basically a Thomas Hardy novel. Except, the most unrewarding Thomas Hardy novel ever. (Sooo . . . Breaking Bad.) And I found Helene's eternal victimhood wearing; it's one thing to write about how social-historical context deprives someone of her agency, it's quite another to make her into an eternal martyr/victim/sacrifice. Also, the elements meant to shock just seemed predictable? And self-indulgent.
But, really - a gorgeous, liquid, effective translation....more
Star Gazing is actually two unconventional (you know, by the standards of hetero romance novels anyway) love stories for the price of one. Gillard altStar Gazing is actually two unconventional (you know, by the standards of hetero romance novels anyway) love stories for the price of one. Gillard alternates viewpoints: there are some present-tense third personal passages and then two first person narrators, Marianne and her sister, Louise.
I rather liked all the characters, and there's a low-key charm to most of the novel that really makes it pleasant and quiet and thoughtful.
However - it kind of falls apart at the end, the conflict is all a bit silly and pointless, and I'm not sure if ever managed to shake the idea that a blind heroine is Exotic. Marianne is well drawn, but it does seem a bit like being blind is most of what she talks about. And also what everyone else talks about.
Obviously, disability and the specificities of disability are worth talking about. But it did seem like Gillard was doing her character a disservice....more
On paper, anyway, Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly the kind of book I would be crazy about. Riffing on Austen, fantasy of manners, sister relationsOn paper, anyway, Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly the kind of book I would be crazy about. Riffing on Austen, fantasy of manners, sister relationships, light and dry touches of humor, long conversations about art . . . these are all things I love. Unfortunately, although all those elements are present, they don't quite come together to form a cohesive, or even particularly nuanced, whole. The characters lack depth - as can sometimes happen with pastiche, because after all there's the context of the original work for readers to refer back to while they read this new one. But that's not enough, not really, and that kind of book always makes me wish I were reading the original work instead. I think something like The Cookbook Collector is a good example of how to do a lot of the things Shades of Milk and Honey wants to accomplish, but can't. (Minus the magic, unfortunately. The magic is easily the coolest part of this book.) It's particularly unfortunate that every single character in Shades of Milk and Honey is nails-on-a-chalkboard annoying. Even the "level-headed" heroine! She is twenty-eight, she should know better than to do like 85% of what she does.
Maybe the second in the series is better? I don't want to be really mean and be like "it would have to be," but I do wonder if having to dig deeper might not produce a richer, more rewarding novel. Shades of Milk and Honey is kind of flimsy. On the one hand, that makes it easy to read, but on the other it makes it profoundly unsatisfying. Maybe the second book fixes that problem?...more
Is this a three or a four star book? That's a ridiculous question - I don't think that much of star ratings, except as a kind of mnemonic device (andIs this a three or a four star book? That's a ridiculous question - I don't think that much of star ratings, except as a kind of mnemonic device (and not even a particularly good one) - and yet I'm trying to figure out what I think about the book, and I'm sort of torn. Selvadurai's prose doesn't impress me particularly, in fact I don't think very highly of it at all and it was a significant barrier to my appreciation, but I think ultimately Cinnamon Gardens talked me into liking it. Liking the book, I mean - I'll probably never really like the way Selvadurai writes.
Although actually, I think that ultimately the over-simplified way Selvaudrai writes works, eventually, to the novel's benefit. You get to think about the nuances of the characterization instead of the aesthetic experience - there isn't much of an aesthetic experience here, except inasmuch as all works of art provide them, and I don't want to discount that - so you have to deal with the characters as people. And there's a lot of them to deal with!...more
Tender Morsels does a very neat thing for about 75% of the story, in that the narrative tells you almost nothing outside the knowledge of the characteTender Morsels does a very neat thing for about 75% of the story, in that the narrative tells you almost nothing outside the knowledge of the characters. I know that doesn't sound revolutionary (and maybe it isn't, but I don't think I've read any books using the same technique) except she uses third person for the majority of the writing, with occasional forays into first person (all masculine voices; the third person POV are [mostly:] feminine). I like reading a truly limited viewpoint, it makes the story more visceral. And Tender Morsels is a novel that really benefits from connecting the reader with the limited point of view. I think it is this technique that leads some people to accuse Lanagan of over writing. I understand why, but mostly I disagree.
There is a lot of trauma in this book, but the story is about victory and vengeance and self-realization. So it's worth reading, but carefully....more
August 2009 By the time I reached page 20, A Suitable Boy had already rocketed up to #1 on my Desert Island All Time Top 5 List. I loved every second.
JAugust 2009 By the time I reached page 20, A Suitable Boy had already rocketed up to #1 on my Desert Island All Time Top 5 List. I loved every second.
July 2010 I've now read A Suitable Boy twice, and my immediate feeling of affection for it has ripened. It is, as you probably suspect, a book that requires a certain level of commitment: if it will have any meaning (beyond, I suppose, a portrait of India in 1950-52, struggling with independence) that meaning will have to originate at least in part from the reader's willingness to dive into the book. There are extreme highs and lows here, but because of the way Seth writes - which I love - those extremes are not always immediately apparent. The handful of truly devastating things are related in the same blessedly matter-of-fact tone as the day-to-day absurdities, or the (very rare) moments of exquisite happiness or pleasure. I suppose this could trick you into thinking that A Suitable Boy is a boring book, but it's just a book about people . . . and people are a mixed bag, all of them. They're quite interesting . . . But there's no point in overreacting (at least, not if you are the narrator. Mrs. Rupa Mehra, for example, is basically required to overreact.).
I love the way the book's components come together in an entirely coherent, very funny, work. I also love that it is a book for thinking. Books that wallow in feeling too much bore and bother me, and although I would never, ever, ever characterize A Suitable Boy as emotionless or passionless. Passions and emotions are definitely present, but so is a tendency to think about things.
Some brief observations/thoughts:
1. The resolution of Lata's marriage is always something of a relief to me. I think she makes the right choice. That said, I did find the relationship with Kabir rather more convincing and complex this time around. I also think her role as Olivia makes more sense. The first time I read the book, I thought of Lata as much more emphatically a Viola character, but on rereading Olivia seems to suit her after all: "If I achieve nothing else in life, thought Lata, I shall at least have turned into one of the World's Great Neurotics."
2. I really love the political digressions. They jar some people, which is fine, but I think they really help shade in the world of the book. Probably, in the impossible-but-inevitable movie these will make casting a bit difficult: Roshan Seth is almost certainly meant to play the Nawab of Baitar, but it is impossible for any other actor to play Nehru. Conflict!
3. Maan. Such an idiot. Against my will, I love him . . . probably because Firoz does.
4. And I was a bit disappointed to learn that the sequel (which, don't get me wrong, I am totally thrilled for) is not The Adventures of Malati Trivedi and Amit Chatterji, although of course I think they would be Very Wrong for each other in some important ways. But they could definitely have a passionate affair, at least....more
September 2012: 1. What are the other war novels about women? The only one I can think of right now is Gone With the Wind. (If you are insensitive enouSeptember 2012: 1. What are the other war novels about women? The only one I can think of right now is Gone With the Wind. (If you are insensitive enough, or you inhabit a post-racial future, maybe you will be able to write a really good paper on Scarlett and Melanie and Olanna and Kainene!) There must be others, though. Maybe The English Patient (I don't think of that as a war novel, although to be fair, probably as much of it takes place during war as in this book). Pat Barker's Life Class, but that's really an "art" novel, isn't it? The Blindness of the Heart, but I hated it (but for the purposes of this hypothetical paper: totally relevant). Gilgamesh - though, again, not really a war novel as I think of the genre. There are men in Half of a Yellow Sun, and actually they are 2/3 of the viewpoint characters. But Olanna and Kainene are the heart of the novel. It's about what they do, and it's about their relationship, about how they live their lives differently. We never get inside Kainene's head like we do Olanna's, but she's nonetheless incredibly vivid (okay: she is my favorite character in this book).
2. One time, I was in the same room as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I don't think I managed to communicate my crippling love through her using only my eyes, but that's the risk you run when you're too in love to speak, I guess. (I was sitting in the front row. "OH MY GOD DID WE JUST MAKE EYE CONTACT?!" was pretty much my constant mental refrain.)
"You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Do you hear me?" Aunty Ifeka said. "Your life belonds to you and you alone, soso gi. You will go back on Saturday. Let me hurry up and make some abacha for you to take."
4. On reread, I sort of think it picks up more after the war starts. I like the contrast, and I see why it's important, but I don't know if such detailed . . . hmmm, establishing was totally necessary. Maybe for Ugwu, it is the most necessary, and if only for that - his development as a person and character is amazing to experience - then it is justified.
"I do love the art. It was horrible of him to accuse me of disrespect." "And it's wrong of you to think that love leaves room for nothing else. It's possible to love something and still condescend to it."
I mean . . . ! She is pragmatic and opportunistic enough to be more than an author's mouthpiece - and, let's not forget, quite a reserved, aloof, prickly character. But her constant skepticism is just what is required by the book's historical setting. We can sympathize with the characters and the way they are caught up in the events of their lives (right, that's how you live your life!) but there's a distance implicit in historical fiction, and Kainene's voice comes in at vital moments, undercutting every attempt at moral certainty. (There's a much more subtle doubt at work in Olanna's narrative which is equally interesting, but it would be kind of a spoiler to discuss it at length.)
2008: Purple Hibiscus was vaguely disappointing, so I was thrilled and amazed to read Half of a Yellow Sun. It's a wonderfully crafted book, even-handed and never sensational. Adichie has improved greatly, and I can't wait to see what she does next....more
I've read this twice now, and I don't think it holds up very well on the second reading. It's definitely enjoyable, but has a great many "first novel"I've read this twice now, and I don't think it holds up very well on the second reading. It's definitely enjoyable, but has a great many "first novel" problems....more