What a collection of uninspiring characters and one brief love story that's drowned in repetitive, depressing descriptions and dialogue. In sum, it'sWhat a collection of uninspiring characters and one brief love story that's drowned in repetitive, depressing descriptions and dialogue. In sum, it's a slog. Don't waste your time. ...more
There is so much to recommend this book. To start with, Dinesen's fantastic writing style, hypnotic and warm and filled with good will, draws you in tThere is so much to recommend this book. To start with, Dinesen's fantastic writing style, hypnotic and warm and filled with good will, draws you in to the misty world of Kenya and the Ngong hills at the start of the twentieth century. Her word choice is amazing, she turns out stories embellished with uncommon turns of phrase. I found myself wondering if this is because English was not her native language, and as a speaker of Dutch, French and English she had the linguistic resources of several languages to draw on. Regardless, when reading this book, you feel yourself in the hands of a well-read and educated writer, and it's delightful.
I also enjoyed the meat of the memoir, Karen Blixen's actual experiences in Kenya, living on the edge of the Masai Reserve and only a short drive away from Nairobi. I grew up watching the movie Out of Africa that starred Meryl Streep and Robert Redford with my mother, who was in love with the movie and played it often, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book did not mirror it.
The romance between the Baroness and Denys takes center stage in the movie, but it is more subtle in the book. Another reviewer recommended reading the biography of Dinesen to find out the concrete events of her life, and I think that it wouldn't be a bad idea. But I actually like Dinesen's writing for what she leaves unsaid. I think there is something very honorable about her omission of the details of her relationship with her husband, who, with the exception of a few fleeting references, is generally absent from the book. In an age of reality television, where people enjoy dissecting and sharing every gritty detail of their personal lives, I found the book's absence of a post mortem of their marriage refreshing.
In the book Dinesen does an excellent job of weaving the stories of the people and places that she knew. In some places where she is describing the lives of the native peoples, the Kikuyus who lived on her farm and the Masai in the nearby reserve, the book feels like the engaging and well-polished notes of an anthropologist. But it's more than an ethnography, I feel as though she really did an excellent job of encapsulating the situation and sentiment of the time.
Some other reviewers disparaged her role as a colonizer, and in her narration she does not shy away from describing the harsh reality of the treatment of natives at that time. Still, I found that her voice was generally more sympathetic to the natives and the human condition in general. Only once did I want to wring her neck for sounding like an elitist. It was this passage on page 183:
"Very simple people seem to have a talent for adopting children, and feeling towards them as if they were their own; the facile hearts of the European peasants do the same without effort."
The preponderance of condescension and class consciousness in that sentence just took my breath away. The facile hearts of the peasants? Really? I suppose this is an accurate representation of a certain aristocratic outlook at that time, but its contrast with our politically correct times and views on adoption was jarring.
Overall, I heartily recommend this book to anyone who loves beautifully written prose and wants to find themselves absorbed in a different time and place. ...more
Feudal Russia comes to life in this tale of the life of Ilya Oblomov, a son of Russia's landed aristocracy. Although he inherits an estate, Oblomov faFeudal Russia comes to life in this tale of the life of Ilya Oblomov, a son of Russia's landed aristocracy. Although he inherits an estate, Oblomov fails to take up the entrepreneurial spirit of the day. Unlike his contemporary Schtmidt, who travels far and wide and develops his estate, Oblomov, ever sitting on his couch in soiled bedclothes, never gets beyond planning the first step or writing to his bailiff. His qualities of soulfulness and loyalty are highly vaunted in the book, and two close friends, moved by his desperate state and their devotion to his boyish spirit, arrive on the scene to motivate him to change his condition. But really, this is the tale of idleness and inaction taken to the extreme.
Although Goncharov tells a tale that needed to be told in Oblomov, I think he could have done so in about 100 pages or less. Lacking subplots or wit, the author, like his protagonist, wallows through upwards of 400 pages in an endless stream of discourse on Oblomov's emotional disposition and the utter desperation of his situation. It's not pretty. I don't know how this book came to be on Boxall's 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, and I definitely do not recommend reading to the end. I had hoped that the ending would present some redeeming denoument, but it was just much of the same. If you've read half of this book, then you've read all of it. And I don't recommend reading even half. ...more
Having finished the book just 10 minutes ago, I'll give my first impressions and then update when I've had more time to think. On the back of the bookHaving finished the book just 10 minutes ago, I'll give my first impressions and then update when I've had more time to think. On the back of the book the publisher says that Muriel Spark, the author of The Driver's Seat, once said "I aim to startle as well as please." Other expressions used on the back are "unnerving" and "this is a book to make the flesh creep". And I heartily disagree. The events are a bit wild at the end, reminiscent of American gothic a la Flannery O'Connor. But The Driver's Seat holds nothing grotesque or horrific. If you can sit through five minutes of Law & Order, you can breeze through this book. On the contrary, the efficient, clean description was gratifying. The main character, Lise, is delightfully unpredictable. We know that there's something wrong under the surface of this British holidaymaker. Her psychedelic dress and awkward moments foreshadow that there is a volcano about to erupt on her vacation in Italy. And the reader is not left unsatisfied. Lastly, I loved the setting -- 70's Europe. I think this novella will endure as an exemplary piece of writing reminiscent of that decade. At one point the main characters wander into a department store in Naples, pass through the department selling televisions--and the blaring tvs, the slimy salesmen--it's all so authentic feeling. And that, I think, is a halmark of great literature. I am beginning to ruminate about what the ending portends for young women like Lise and myself...more to come. ...more