I listened to the audiobook version narrated by actor John Wood. This is the 1881 edition, not the later one from 1906, which is known as the "New Yor...moreI listened to the audiobook version narrated by actor John Wood. This is the 1881 edition, not the later one from 1906, which is known as the "New York Edition". Unfortunately, the later edition, which many claim has a better ending, was not available anywhere as an audiobook.
Review: I enjoyed this book because of the author’s writing style and his humor. The humor is often sarcastic, but not nasty. The humor is based on knowledge of different cultures, life styles and human behavior. It is this that made my reading of the book enjoyable. And I believe Henry James was laughing with me at the antics of Victorian mannerisms.
So what is the theme of the book? It is set in Europe, predominantly, Italy and England, during the 1870s. The author is comparing Americans and Europeans. Having spent the first 18 years of my life in the US and thereafter having moved to Europe, of course this is the theme that drew me to the book. Henry James has beautifully captured Victorian manners and how they differed, how Americans bent them. Americans are shown to be more independent, freer, less constricted by set norms....but also amusingly naive. The characters are all well-to-do, educated and aspiring. How to succeed, how to be happy, how to get what you are striving for - those are the questions posed. Each character has followed different paths, had different goals and widely varying scruples. For the main character, Isabelle, the prime question is marriage - to marry or not to marry, who to marry and how do you balance independence and against the constraints imposed in those times by propriety. This is a question that we still grapple with today. Every couple will find a different solution; some marriages succeed and other fail and even how you define failure and success is up for grabs.
The writing is elaborate, even wordy, but Henry James has a superb vocabulary. Over and over I was amazed at his ability to grab just the right word. Yeah, this really impressed me. It is for his writing ability and his humor that I will be reading more by the author.
What I didn't like: there isn't one single successful marriage in this book, and by the way Henry James never did marry. Also, the ending is extremely abrupt. I was so shocked by the conclusion that I figured I had missed something and so I listened to the last chapters again. No, I missed nothing. You, the reader, have to stop and figure out what you think will happen. Everyone can draw their own conclusion. I know what I think. For me this is clear, and I do not want things spelled out for me, but the ending is just too abrupt! Remember I read the author's original version, not the revised 1906 version.
I will tell you this. You will get a big surprise near the end, for which, when you think about it, you realize you have been given clues.
The audiobook narration by actor John Wood was good! It is so easy to listen to classics on audiobooks; they don't mix time-lines or jump around as so many contemporary novels do. You just get the story in a straightforward manner. Nice.
She had always wanted words. She loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape....moreThe writing ….what can I say? I love it:
She had always wanted words. She loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape. Whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water. She returned to her husband. “From this point on,” she whispered, “we will either find or lose our souls. Seas move away. Why not lovers? “
When we parted for the last time, Maddox used the old farewell: “May God make safety your companion”. And then I strode away from him saying, “There is no God.”
Both excerpts are found in ”Part Nine: The Cave of Swimmers”.
With some friends, one can disagree about almost everything and still one remains friends. The writing keeps the reader wondering and thinking, and it flows beautifully. It creates an ambiance; it creates a sensual feeling. Rather than depicting sex crudely, the lines create an atmosphere of sensuality that is inviting. That is what I felt when I listened to “Part Eight: The Holy Forest”. I do not understand the meaning of every line, but my mind keeps churning and for me the sentences sing. Physical attraction cannot be pinpointed to words and thoughts, it just exists. You feel comfortable or enticed simply by the other’s presence. You feel the tension or the ease in the author’s lines.
I suppose I should have copied other sections…..There are so many that are lovely. Ondaatje draws scenes that you never want to forget. Chapter ten: They are celebrating Hana’s b-day. They are outside on a terrace of the wrecked Italian villa. It is night. The “English Patient”, the burned one is upstairs in his room. By the way he is not English…. Kip has made a dinner for them, a dinner that is for the others because he only eats “raw onions” and fresh vegetables and he will never drink the wine. He is a sapper, an explosive expert, the one who dismantles the unexploded mines of which there are many in Italy following the war. The date is 11945. He is also a Sikh. It is he that has collected snail shells and put oil in them for a flicker of light. Caravaggio, the maimed Italian thief/spy, a long-time friend from her childhood will give Hana a story. And Hana, she pulls off her sneakers and climbs barefoot onto the table and sings the Marseilles. These are the four main characters of the story. Are you curious about these individuals? How do they connect? What do they feel for each other? How have they changed each other? Do you enjoy beautiful, suggestive, delicious writing? Well then, read the book. Or listen to it, as I have done.
Christopher Cazenove is the narrator of the audiobook. You easily recognize the different characters’ voices. I particularly love the voice of the “English patient”. There are a few songs. I wish he had dared to sing them. I love it when narrators do that.
I removed one star because sometimes it is quite difficult to understand what is going on. You certainly have to pay very close attention. The jumps in time and character speaking can be confusing. (less)
On completion: I liked this very much. I enjoy Hemingway’s succinct prose. In all its simplicity you are free to fill in all the hidden thoughts. So m...moreOn completion: I liked this very much. I enjoy Hemingway’s succinct prose. In all its simplicity you are free to fill in all the hidden thoughts. So much more is said than the few simple words. I find the language perfect for the characters, the time period and the circumstances. Others dislike how sometimes the language used is repetitive. I don’t mind this at all. For me it feels like real people talking. People do talk this way. Maybe because I listened to the audiobook (narrated by John Slattery),the repetitiveness simply had the air of real conversations.
I loved that the story offers contrasts. War and love. I am a bit tired of just trench warfare, after all the books I have been reading about WW1. I needed some humor. I needed something nice thrown in once and a while. Hey, these other books could have thrown in some humor and happiness. The sun must have shined for just a few seconds; someone could have noticed its warmth and brightness. Isn’t that so?
Basically this is a love story. Amazing, I don’t read love stories. If more love stories were like this they would be my favorite genre. This is a real love story, with the good and the bad all mixed up together. Wonderful humor, too. It too is real:
Question: “Do you know anything about art?” Answer: “Reubens! Large and fat.”
“The war seemed as far away as the football games of someone else’s college.”
“Are you sleepy?” “I am asleep right now.”
This is the talk of happy people, and you smile as you read.
There are other wonderful lines:
“Old men do not grow wise. They grow careful. “
These are the words of a 94 year-old.
So I like the writing. I also like the contrasts: that it is about war and love, that nice things happen and very terrible things too. Years ago I read “The Old Man and the Sea”, but that was so terribly boring. This is better, much better. I highly recommend it.
One more little thing: picture this. Picture escape in a rowboat in the pouring rain and wind. Picture rowing and rowing and rowing and all you can do is think there must be some other way of going fast because you have to hurry. So you hold up your big strong umbrella and the wind catches it and you fly along :0) ………until that dam umbrella turns inside out and there you sit with the broken umbrella in hand. Back to the rowing. To understand what is going on you have to read the book. Read it for me. I really, really liked it. So of course, four stars.
Thoughts while reading:
And I also like the banter between Frederic Henry and his girlfriend, Catherine. The language they use is simple but exactly representative of those times. Men/women relationships have altered since then; the prose depicts those times AND how men and women feel even today when they are attracted to each other. BOTH come through. If I were not so lazy I would try and write some of the lines here.
Another thing. It is nice that the tone of the book is lightened by humor and happiness, given the dreadful war background. You feel how the soldiers NEED women. To fight they need to believe in something good too. This need is because of the terribleness of the times, so it is so good that it is part of the book. And the women need the men too. It is not one-sided.
I like this. I appreciate the clear strong prose. And finally a book about WW1 that has some humor thrown in. He has me laughing at the doctors, which is truly amazing. The book is partially autobiographical. Hemingway worked as an ambulance driver in Italy during WW1. Did he fall in love then too?