Do NOT be as stupid as me. Don’t pick a book by its cover. Particularly when the cover does not accurately portray what the book will give you. I wantDo NOT be as stupid as me. Don’t pick a book by its cover. Particularly when the cover does not accurately portray what the book will give you. I wanted to re-test John Cheever and the cover drew my attention. Big mistake!
The primary focus of this novel is sexuality. The author was bisexual, so I have full understanding that one’s sexual identity was a topic of particular interest to him. Halfway through the book, not yet understanding that ambivalent feelings about one's sexual identity is in fact the book's central focus, I exploded, saying '"For God's sake, doesn't a person instinctively know when sex is good?" I am quite simply the wrong reader for this book. It should be noted, the book looks at men’s rather than women’s bisexuality.
I thought the book was about living near the sea or about appreciation of aquatic surroundings or about a fisherman's life or something to do with the sea! Look at the cover! We are told in the book’s description that this is to be a family chronicle of the Wapshots living in St. Botolphs, a "quintessential Massachusetts fishing village". We are told there will be stories of Captain Leander Wapshot, a venerable sea dog, but this is only where the story begins. The chapters flip between Captain Wapshot's journal entries about his youth (written in staccato, abbreviated, incomplete sentences) and the coming-of-age experiences of his two sons. What is often a central ingredient of coming-of-age stories? Well of course, sex. Here the author’s own bisexual leaning influences the telling. The youngest son, Coverly, is sixteen when the story begins. The older, Moses, is in college. We follow the father and these two sons until they are married and have their own children. There is a question of inheritance. (view spoiler)[Leander’s eccentric aunt Honora has willed her money to Moses and Coverly, but only if they have children. It is she who has the money in the family. (hide spoiler)] The two sons flee the village, one to NYC and the other to San Francisco and then as far afield as islands in the Pacific. So just forget that cover!
A secondary theme is estrangement; you feel this in each character’s loneliness, separateness and inability to relate to others. (Sex is often the Band-Aid stuck on a wound! Or a do-it-all pill to remedy unease.) We readers observe at a distance, just as the novel’s characters seem incapable of reaching out to each other. The result is an overall sadness and despondency.
Finally there is a message that what is important in life are “the ordinary things”. This is delivered by Leander in what he writes to his sons.
There are some beautiful lines. There is ironic, satirical humor. If you pay close attention, you come to realize that the author is in fact quite often joking with us. Well at least, that is my interpretation.
The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Joe Barrett. It is easy to follow, so the narration is good. One hears a melancholy that I think should be there. It expresses an inability to properly communicate.
Maybe this sounds like I liked the book? Well I didn’t. It didn’t give me at all what I was looking for. It was boring to listen to the stupid things the characters did. I simply couldn’t relate. Sex is portrayed in a fashion that put me off. The sex isn’t graphic; it just left me cold. Should sex leave you cold?! Both the cover and the book description led me astray. The central failure of the book is that the author failed to make it possible for me to empathize with the characters' ambivalent feelings. ...more
Another book I would not classify as belonging to the young adult genre. Sure, teenagers can read this but so can adults. Should one classify all bookAnother book I would not classify as belonging to the young adult genre. Sure, teenagers can read this but so can adults. Should one classify all books about young adults as YA books? My answer is no. Furthermore, in this book the focus is not merely on the young ones but the adults too.
Three central components of all novels are: 1. The language, the dialog, the words used. 2. The story told, i.e. the plot. 3. How all the different parts are drawn together, the novel’s construction. In this book it is the language that drew me in most, which made every minute spent reading truly enjoyable. I was either smiling or chuckling or thinking. Just great lines! Then at the end I had my ear strained toward the loudspeaker intensely curious to see if what was happening really could be true! Now it was the plot that drew me. Sitting back, digesting what had happened, I marveled at how the author had forewarned me, but I had not taken note. Why? Because I had been so involved in the telling. I marveled at how perfectly the threads had been pulled together. Fiction of this quality is remarkable.
Great humor. Subtle humor about the pains of growing up, of becoming an adult, of figuring out what kind of life you choose to live. And boys and sex and acceptance of one’s own body. I believe very few adolescents think they live up to even the norm. Total failure is what most feel.
Some really good characters. Personally I loved Paula. I understood Marigold, or let’s just call her Bilgewater as everyone does here. She is seventeen. Her mom died at her birth. Her father is a housemaster at a boys boarding school near Middlesbrough, England. Her father and his cronies will make you smile. Jeez, you have to meet each one. Each one is special and none are flawless.
The audiobook narration was almost perfect. I was about to give it five stars but I felt the ending when everything was happening at a lickety-split I had to backtrack and re-listen several times. I absolutely adored Bentinck’s intonations for the old men, for Paula, for Grace. Wait till you meet Grace! You knew exactly who was speaking without being told. Really, I whole-heartedly emphasize that this is a book to be listened to rather than read, but you must choose the narration by Anna Bentinck! It is truly marvelous.
You know when I immediately choose to add another book by the author to my wish-list that I am impressed. I have to read more by the author soon. The next will be Crusoe's Daughter.
I finished this book wondering if I had understood correctly what the author was trying to say. I have all sorts of ideas, but they don't hold togetheI finished this book wondering if I had understood correctly what the author was trying to say. I have all sorts of ideas, but they don't hold together into one cohesive message. If I don’t understand the book, how can I give it more stars?
The pluses are that the book keeps you thinking, it has sentences that cleverly hint at philosophical messages and lots of amusing lines. The humor is satirical irony.
The sentence in the GR book review stating that this novel is, “an ironic story epic that humorously tenderly erodes sacrosanct values: childhood, motherhood, revolution, and even poetry” is an almost perfect description of this book! I have replaced the word “epic” with “story” and “tenderly” with “humorously”. Little is sacrosanct in this book. Not politics. Certainly not sex. Kundera’s books always contain a heavy dose of eroticism.
So how does the story unroll and what does the book deal with? First and foremost, the relationship between an adolescent son and his doting mother. He is tied to his mother's very short apron strings. I cannot imagine any reader liking any of the characters. The plot jumps around; it is meant to confound; it is meant to be confusing. It is meant to keep you thinking. It is not the steps of the story we are to follow but rather the underlying philosophical messages we are meant to think about. The author himself interrupts the events and speaks directly to the readers explaining why he has chosen to flip to another episode. The setting is Prague at the end of the forties and early fifties.
Maybe we are not supposed to draw any deep conclusion. Maybe we are simply to laugh. Laugh at society? Laugh at ourselves? What I kept thinking about was how the son never said anything original; he spoke only clever lines that someone else had said or expressed views that one should say. When what one should say changed, what he said changed too.
The book was written by the author in 1969 in Czech. Then it was translated into French. In 1985 the French translation was revised by the author in an attempt to better correspond to the original. An English translation from the revised French translation was done by Aaron Asher. This was done in close cooperation with the author to insure that no new distortion should occur.
I enjoyed the audiobook narration by Richmond Roxie.
Three stars does mean I liked this book, please don't forget that.
I found the first half of the book better than the last half. In the beginning I feThree stars does mean I liked this book, please don't forget that.
I found the first half of the book better than the last half. In the beginning I felt it was atmospheric and well depicted the complicated relationship in the South between black servants and their white employers. Feelings of love and deep family relationship coexist with white supremacy and power. Feelings of love do easily grow, but it is clear who decides. Never was there real equality in the relationships between black servants and their white masters. It is interesting to note the story unfolds in 1976. For me this doesn’t seem all that long ago. Something happens then and we watch the decisions made and the consequences that follow. I like considering what I might do in a given situation. I enjoy a moral dilemma where it feels impossible to decide what would be the right thing to do. I like it when opposing choices can be argued for. This is what the first half of the book has in spades.
The story is told by Ora Lee Beckworth twenty-five years after the event spoken of. That is the first problem. We are being told what happened. She has decided to write down what occurred. She doesn't want to go to her grave with the secrets she has kept hidden for these twenty-five years. In the beginning we are drawn into the dilemma and we are torn. In the latter part of the book a long time period is covered quickly. We are told what occurs, but we don't get inside Ora’s head or feel her emotions. We understand with our intellect but don’t feel with our heart. The character portrayals become dead.
If you are a realist as I am, there are at least two aspects of the story that are not believable. Please, do NOT read this spoiler if you intend on reading the book. It is very explicit. (view spoiler)[That Marcus was using Ora's car in the accident when he was killed would have to lead to further legal investigation. The story doesn't deal with this properly. Secondly, Eddie, who is charged for the death of Ralph's son, Skipper, decides to plead guilty because he fears he has not the will-power to stop drinking. He reasons it is better to be in a prison with food and a roof over his head than to die as he envisions alone out in the woods. I do not believe such an unstable person would not waver and change his mind. I don’t find his decision plausible in the long run. (hide spoiler)]
The audiobook narration is totally marvelous. Suzanne Toren is one of the best narrators I know of. Her intonations for the different characters are marvelous and totally believable. You feel you are watching rather than listening.
I can recommend this book even if it isn’t perfect. ...more
I bought this book because I was intrigued by its first line: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” It certainly is an inI bought this book because I was intrigued by its first line: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” It certainly is an intriguing line, but so much more could have been done with the message than is done here.
The story is told by a sixty-two year old man, Leo Colston. He writes of his experiences in the summer of 1900 when he was almost thirteen. That summer he was invited to stay with his upper-class friend Marcus Maudsley in their Norfolk estate, Brandham Hall, in England. The story revolves around what happened in those few weeks and how what happened changed Colston's life forever. The story does not feel told, but vividly experienced as the elderly man relives the events of that summer. You never forget that it is the elderly English man speaking. You hear this in his manner of speaking.
The themes are interesting: a child's incomprehension of adult behavior and ambiguous speech, love, death and deception. It is about the simultaneous process of losing the naivety of a child and the abrupt awakening to the deceptions of adulthood. It draws a rather negative view of British upper crust values and mode of life. I find the consequences of the events as they are drawn in the story to be exaggerated.
I felt nothing for any of the characters. The events left me totally unmoved. There is a coldness, a steeliness in the manner in which the story is related. This coldness reflects who Leo Colston came to be, but I find it questionable that such a man would have any interest in telling us his story!
The audiobook narration by Sean Barrett is easy to follow and properly displayed the cold manner of the central protagonist. ...more
I am dumping this after having listened to one fourth of the audiobook. I thought I would avoid the author's annoying propensity of never using commasI am dumping this after having listened to one fourth of the audiobook. I thought I would avoid the author's annoying propensity of never using commas by listening to the audiobook. My mistake!
This isn't worth my time. The language is filthy. The book is boring, and it goes forward at the pace of a snail. I don't have trouble reading about the "down and out" if handled with finesse. Songdogs by the talented author Colum McCann is just one example. Cormac McCarthy seems to believe that I will be impressed with fancy words. Wrong again. I am not.
The audiobook narration by Richard Poe is superb. However it is impossible to turn a bad book into a good one through excellent narration.
It is wonderful that one may return audiobboks which one dislikes to Audible. ...more
I adore Steinbeck's writing. Simple lines which all readers can relate to. Philosophical content, but never laid on thick. It is difficult to convey tI adore Steinbeck's writing. Simple lines which all readers can relate to. Philosophical content, but never laid on thick. It is difficult to convey the feeling Steinbeck creates with his words, so I give you a few lines instead:
It sounds uncomfortable and silly sitting cross-legged in a niche like a blinking Buddha, but someway the stone fits me or I fit. Maybe I have been going there so long my behind as conformed to the stones. As for its being silly, I don't mind that. Sometimes it is great fun to be silly, like children playing statues and dying of laughter. And sometimes being silly breaks the even pace and lets you get a new start. When I am troubled I play a game of silly so that my dear will not catch trouble from me. She hasn't found me out yet, or if she has I will never know it. So many things I don't know about my Mary and among them how much she knows about me. I don't think she knows about the place. How could she? I have never told anyone. It has no name in my mind except 'the place'. No ritual or formula or anything. It is a spot in which to wonder about things. No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose they are like himself. Now, sitting in the place out of the wind, seeing under the guardian lights the tide creep in black from the dark sky, I wonder if all men have a place or need a place or want one and have none. (chapter 3)
Immediately you conjure your own special 'place'. Past memories flood your brain. Just as the author does, you ask yourself why you need that place, if everyone needs such a place and what makes those places so special. The language is down to earth, words that all of us relate to. This is Ethan Allan Hawley's place - in a cave by the sea. His place where he sits and thinks.
So who is this guy Ethan? A grocery store clerk living in a small fictional whaling town in Wessex County, New York State. The year is 1960. He is married and has two pubescent kids, a girl and a boy. An ordinary family. His family had held prominence in past generations, but not anymore. So how does one cope with such a past? What are money and importance and power worth? What are you willing to do to get it? Honesty - public and private. Friendship, what is that worth? How many are willing to lay out large sums to help another, a friend? Even back in the 1960s there was a dislike of foreigners. That is here too. These are the issues of the book.
Yet, I was not drawn in for two reasons. I know where I stand related to the moral, philosophical issues raised; I am not a kid anymore. I wanted more to think about, something more difficult to resolve. I prefer longer, more complicated novels. Secondly, the book, although it starts our contemplative morphs into a crime story, a mystery. In this process it becomes too simplified. A cozy mystery is not my favorite genre.
Beautifully written, but very much a cozy mystery, a comfort read. I would highly recommend it to those who love such. I enjoyed it being set in a New England whaling town. It isn’t Nantucket, but is drawn as such. This is the author’s last novel. The author understands people, young and old, and this shows in his ability to draw true to life characters.
The audiobook narration by David Aaron Baker was perfectly fine. No complaints there. ...more
I don’t usually enjoy short stories but I usually love everything Fyodor Dostoyevsky writes. So, my total boredom while reading this story surprised mI don’t usually enjoy short stories but I usually love everything Fyodor Dostoyevsky writes. So, my total boredom while reading this story surprised me.
I did laugh at two things. One is hidden in the spoiler.The other is that in the beginning the unnamed narrator telling the story talks to the houses along his street where he promenades most every evening. In St. Petersburg. The book is about a man, the unnamed narrator who meets a woman. Well, he saves her from a drunk on an evening stroll. They strike up a relationship. The two really don’t fit. You feel this in their relationship. It is more like they are trying to convince themselves of caring for each other when they really don’t. Anyhow, the woman mourns the loss of her old boyfriend. Will he return? (view spoiler)[The minute he does she accepts him back and they get married. The speed with which plans are thrown out the window is what made me laugh. She returns to her former beau! Of course. (hide spoiler)]
The characters are just not intriguing enough for me. And the writing is so wordy! Maybe that is the fault of the translator? In the version I read Constance Garnet did the translation in 1918.
The audiobook narration by Deaver Brown was simply horrendous. The pacing was all off, and he uses a broad American accent. Sounded totally ridiculous. Nevertheless, I do not let the narration influence my rating. ...more
This one as well the other I have read by Nunez, that being Anna In-Between, are both well written. Her books are set in the Caribbean and they weave in the history, culture and feel of the islands. This one is set in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. When? In the last decade. The drug trafficking and social unrest of Tivoli Gardens in Kingston, Jamaica, and the extradition of Jamaican drug lord Christopher Coke to the US are woven into the story. The extradition occurred in 2010. Colonization, multi-ethnicity, racial discrimination, tourism and a burgeoning art community are topics cleverly woven into the story. The story is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's (view spoiler)[King Lear (hide spoiler)]. If you don't know the story, wait until after reading the novel to check it out. There is one simple reason why I cannot give the book more than three stars. That is because it is a retelling of another story, a story that already existed. Yeah, I liked it, but heck it's not new! The author has taken an old story and put it in modern clothing.
I do think you should read it, to see how the author draws the Caribbean. Not just its historical past but also its physical presence. The sea and the sky and the sand, the blues and the greens, the vistas. Read it to discover the seductive draw of Nunez's Caribbean women. There is a love story here, but it is not gratuitously drawn. The movement of a limb, a voluptuous pout, full lips, a torso, the sheen of skin – all are enticingly drawn.
I very much like how the story ended.
I definitely recommend this book to those wishing to learn more about the Caribbean and to those who value well written lines.
The audiobook is narrated by Corey Allen. It is simple to follow and read at a good speed. ...more