I'm trying to think of a way to describe this book, and "immensely satisfying" is the only descriptor that's coming to mind. That seems so we4.5 stars
I'm trying to think of a way to describe this book, and "immensely satisfying" is the only descriptor that's coming to mind. That seems so weak, though! "Satisfying" implies just-okayness, but Theodora was anything but "just okay."
I think what feels so satisfying about this novel is the realization that fine craftsmanship is still alive and well within historical fiction. Since the success of The Other Boleyn Girl, the general tone of HF has taken a bit of a nose-dive as more and more authors (and publishers) strive to replicate that same success. Rather than telling a story that feels true and real, it seems to me that so many have just attempted to put the features of TOBG into whatever historical setting they happen to have on their plate. The result has been near-consistent disappointment with almost every historical novel I've read for YEARS...at least from larger publishers, who seem to be caught up in this frantic race to find the next TOBG rather than trying to find the next good historical novel. (Of course, this isn't the case for all books I've read since TOBG. It's just hard to recall that sometimes, when the market is so flooded with so many copies of the same-old, same-old.)
So I am very much satisfied, and gratified, and very happy to know that at least Stella Duffy is out there putting her all into her OWN really good historical novel. And this one is really good, and it really feels like it's hers.
It was such an enjoyment for me that I actually don't know where to start in talking about it. One of the things I just loved, loved, loved was the uniqueness of the "lower class" characters' voices. The actresses, whores, animal trainers, and teacher-eunuchs were remarkably real-feeling, and this was achieved with the PERFECT balance of modern-day four-letter-words and turns of phrases, worked very sparingly and deliberately against carefully constructed "sets" of detail and character motivations, voices, and dialogue that felt otherwise entirely a part of 500 C.E. Constantinople. As I write HF myself, I know what a really remarkable feat this is, to make not only individual characters but even entire strata of society feel so vibrant and true. Duffy's great care and forethought in the construction of her world -- not only the place and time but also the society -- was evident, and something a fellow writer appreciates and applauds.
The plot itself was perfectly paced. It opens superbly, right in the midst of young Theodora's already rich personality, and the main character's motives and actions feel authentic and logical, given the person she is. For those who know the real history ("real" history in air-quotes, as who knows what Procopius's problem was), all the best moments of the true Theodora tales are there, brought to vivid, breathtaking life for the reader. Some moments were heartbreaking; some were laugh-out-loud funny (I cracked up on the treadmill at the gym over Theodora giving her performance of Leda and the Swan..."Zeus! O God!" hahahah.) Many moments surprised, even for somebody who has a fairly good familiarity with the historical accounts of Theodora and Justinian.
Speaking of which, where gaps existed in the historical accounts, Duffy did a spectacular job of bridging those gaps with plausible scenes, richly detailed and well executed, which linked the known bits of history with stronger and stronger chains as Duffy's skill with character and atmosphere took over.
It was a truly fantastic book, beautiful and rich with superb character work and unforgettable voice. My only regret in reading it is that I was planning my own take on the Theodora story, to be written a couple of years in the future, and I had been tinkering with the idea of using a certain totally-fictional plot device that Duffy already beat me to. Nuts -- I'll have to come up with something else. I can't begrudge such a good author the "theft" of my idea (years before I thought of it, of course!) because her book was such a pleasure to read.
This book was SO CLOSE to being a 5 for me (pretty rare in my historical fiction reads, as I am just as hard-nosed about setting and accuracy as any other big-time HF fan) and I would have joyfully given it five, but for the occasional turn of phrase that pushed the anachronism envelope just a bit too far and plucked me out of the story. But I was only out for a heartbeat, and then I was right back in again.
This one was first published in 2010, if I remember correctly, right at the beginning of the tidal wave of bizarre linguistic discrepancies that has washed over and swamped recent historical fiction. What is UP with publishers doing this to HF? I can only assume it's publishers calling for a "beachier" voice (again, the influence of TOBG), because it's very difficult to imagine that Stella Duffy's otherwise gorgeous prose and careful attention to maintaining proper historical detail and atmosphere would allow for the infiltration of such modern language on its own, without the influence of a publisher who's panicking over an ever-diminishing share of the market. (How do you get more readers? Appeal to a wider audience, goes the common thinking, and I guess a wider audience isn't capable of handling real-feeling historical dialogue without the occasional "okay" thrown in...? Oh, publishers. SMH.) Anyway, the rare breach of modern voice wasn't really that bad. It certainly wasn't the most confusingly modernized HF I've read. (It wasn't even the most modernized fiction about Theodora I've read.)
I noted on Stella Duffy's GR author page that HBO has optioned her Theodora novels to potentially produce as a mini-series. YAY! I hope they do, as I've loved HBO's handling of A Song of Ice and Fire (also a series for which I am way too fannish and super-nitpicky). It would be a real pleasure to see the same team (or a similar one) bring this book to life on film.
I am downloading the sequel, The Purple Shroud, at this moment and will gleefully carry it off to the gym as soon as I click Save on this review, so I can continue experiencing Duffy's fantastic, artfully portrayed, near-perfect depiction of Constantinople and its amazing Augusta.
So I am listening to this audiobook (easily one of the best audio productions I've ever heard, by the way, up there with Jeremy Irons reading Lolita!)So I am listening to this audiobook (easily one of the best audio productions I've ever heard, by the way, up there with Jeremy Irons reading Lolita!) and I am only about an hour and a half into the book, and already I can tell this is a five-star book.
OH. MY GOD, YOU GUYS. THE PROSE. It is so expert, so tight, so well crafted! I am freaking out! When I first began to listen, I had that gobsmacked moment that all writers get from time to time when, confronted by the work of a true master artist, they wonder why the hell they're bothering, because they'll never be this good, ever, no matter how earnestly they work at it. And then I felt this fantastic rush of inspiration, to see historical fiction so beautifully, artfully, meticulously written, on so many levels of structure and craft, and I realized the bar had been raised for me, all around, forever and ever, and that while I could never expect to achieve such heights myself, I sure will have a fun career trying for a lifetime to write a historical novel half as awesome as Hilary Mantel's.
And I really hate Tudor stuff, too. So sick of it. That's why I resisted reading Wolf Hall for as long as I did, despite the well-earned accolades it's received. I just couldn't make myself face more Tudor. I don't even mind the Tudorishness in this book. It is such a pleasure to experience Mantel's excellent, mind-bogglingly crafted writing. She could write about anything, and I'd read it.
Fan for life. Haven't even finished the book. ...more
It pains me, genuinely, to have to give a one-star rating to a book by Richard Adams. I love Richard Adams. I have a Watership Down tattoo, for corn'sIt pains me, genuinely, to have to give a one-star rating to a book by Richard Adams. I love Richard Adams. I have a Watership Down tattoo, for corn's sake. That's how much I love him. But Shardik was just a crummy book, from end to almost-end: I stopped reading in disgust right after the "Genshed" section of the book, which was so graphically violent and otherwise disturbing that it came across as pure shock value, accomplishing nothing in the overall story.
Shardik is set in the fictional land of Bekla, which...might be fantasy? Adams has another novel set in the Beklan Empire, Maia, and the astute Goodreadser will notice that I rated Maia no less than five stars. It is, in fact, one of my favorite books. How could I rate two books by the same author set in the same world so differently? I'll go into that later. First, a word on the setting. The Beklan Empire is never explained in Maia, never excused -- it just stands on its own, a world somewhat like our own but notably different enough that the reader can comfortably take it as a fantasy world (albeit lacking in magic or in other fantasy elements). In Shardik, there is a strange and very weak attempt to explain Bekla as a land that once existed in our world, that is now lost to time, but will someday be discovered archaeologically. Okay, fine. I can get on board with that in a novel. But this expository nonsense is just crammed into the book in such a disjointed way that reading it made me all angry inside. There is no need to excuse Bekla. It just is; move on and get into the story, mother of god!
...Which brings me to my biggest beef with this book. Fans of Watership Down (and of Maia) know that Adams likes to go on long, long digressions, in which he needlessly relates whatever is going on in the story to something in "the real world" -- our modern Earth world, the world of human beings...whatever will help the reader relate. These digressions are almost never necessary to understand. A good writer (and Adams is a good writer) can make any world or character seem sympathetic to the reader without all the timid hand-holding. But it is a feature of the Richard Adams landscape, and his fans just accept the purple, long-sentenced digressions and deal with them for the sake of digesting an otherwise top-notch story. In Shardik, the hand-holding digressions some fast and thick, constantly interrupting the flow of the story, constantly yanking the reader out of the setting (and it's already difficult enough to swallow the setting).
The impression I got in reading Shardik was that Watership Down was such a success that Adams' editor didn't want to screw with his genius, and consequently, nearly everything in Shardik was allowed to fly. It is Adams unchecked, full of bizarro asides and sentences of hellish length and convolution. The man was not reined in for this book, and by Cran, he should have been. He should have been.
Kelderek, the main character, is perhaps the biggest problem with this book, although with a tighter writing style even he could have been acceptable. Kelderek is an entirely passive character, following the will of God and never really daring to do anything of his own volition. If he ever does break that mold, it comes very late in the book, and after I stopped reading. On the whole, he is shrinking and timid and entirely too malleable. His devotion to Lord Shardik doesn't even hold water, when a character of no consequence turns him from his alliance with the Tuginda with just a few words. Kelderek came across as silly and trite, nowhere growing into a main character I could believe in. I kept hoping Shardik would rip his fool head off, but he never did.
And now the world-building. If you've never read Maia, you may find Adams' first depiction of the Beklan Empire, here in Shardik, to be acceptable. However, comparing the two is like trying to find some similarity between a delicious, round, juicy Honeycrisp apple and a ball of dryer lint. Maia features a culture that feels real, fleshed, living, with variety in people and beliefs, where the conflicts between factions ring true and impart suspense and urgency to the reader. Maia has a pantheon of gods which feel much more believable in the pseudo-fantasy context than Shardik's single god, as well as rich mythologies and folklore that accompany the religion(s). Shardik has none of that. Even the central conflict in Maia -- political groups warring over slavery -- feels like it is an organic part of the world-building, while in Shardik the same central conflict feels stuffed into the world and forced to co-exist with a setting that never really offers up said conflict as a natural part of its various mechanics.
It is as if, in all possibly ways, Shardik was a first try at a big idea, and Maia is the perfection of that idea. Shardik is Maia with a rickety set of training wheels. Skip it and go straight to the masterwork. You will miss nothing by reading Maia first and Shardik second -- or by not reading Shardik at all. Maia is a polished gem, worked on the lapidary of Shardik. Be grateful that this book exists, because it allowed Maia to be. But don't feel like you must read it. ...more
Boy...I am surprised at how many people here gave this book a low rating and claimed it was "social commentary on women" or that the author obviouslyBoy...I am surprised at how many people here gave this book a low rating and claimed it was "social commentary on women" or that the author obviously has a low opinion of women or portrays women negatively. Really? Did we read the same book? This book is full of strong and admirable female characters...and even some not-so-admirable female characters who still cannot be said to be dumb, small-brained, only interested in sex, or any other misrepresentation slung about here in these reviews.
Maia is a fantasy novel by virtue of the fact that it's set in an imaginary place, but that's where the fantasy elements end. Otherwise, it's more likely to appeal to fans of historical fiction, with its focus on political intrigue, plots within plots, and the fates of rulers -- and their concubines. (Maybe that's why I found it so palatable. Rather than seeing it as some kind of condescension toward women, it strikes me as fitting right in with the rest of the historical fiction I love to read.)
The book is long, and Adams occasionally becomes long-winded, going into meandering digressions about various characters' histories. But the characters are so interesting and Adams' writing is so typically picturesque that it never bothered me enough to remove this book from my shelf. (In fact, I had three hardcover copies of this out-of-print gem, and I treasured them, but neglected to rescue them from my ex-husband's house when I moved out. :( )
The big strength of this book is its various characters, all of whom are well-painted and memorable. Contrary to what other reviewers thought, I found Maia to be not dumb or simple but compelling in her innocence and sweetness. She is sometimes naive, but she is earnest and kind, and when faced with a terrible situation (such as, for example, being sold into sexual slavery) rather than withering up and dying she adapts to her new world with the most positive attitude she can muster. As the novel progresses she grows a little older and a little wiser, and finally comes into her own as a heroic, brave young woman, willing to put her life on the line to save innocent lives. She's a main character worth rooting for, even if she's not perfect.
Occula is another female character who exudes confidence and power from the first moment she appears on the page. She is intelligent, cunning, possessed of great inner strength and patience that would make a monk envious. Occula is one of the most memorable characters in all of fiction, in my opinion, and for reviewers to write her obvious importance out entirely by saying that this book portrays a poor view of women is just ridiculous. This book wouldn't be what it is without Occula. She is integral to the plot and to the development of so many other characters and their subplots. I have a hard time imagining a sexist author would write such a character into his book. Or at least, a sexist author would "punish" such a character in some way for the mere fact of her greatness -- but on the contrary, Occula arrives in Bekla under her own terms, serves where she means to serve, and, in the end, gets exactly what she wants in exactly the way she wants it, and ends up fabulously wealthy and happy as a clam. This doesn't seem like the creation of a sexist writer.
Maia is a long, sensory, in-depth journey through Adams' fictional world, and the reader is guided by a host of fascinating characters. Don't pass this one up, especially if you love Adams' other works or if you are a fan of character-dense historical fiction....more
I hated this book. I will never read it again, ever, as long as I live. And it absolutely deserves five stars.
The Plague Dogs is one of the most visceI hated this book. I will never read it again, ever, as long as I live. And it absolutely deserves five stars.
The Plague Dogs is one of the most visceral, wrenching, emotional reads you'll ever find. It follows the fortunes of two dogs, Snitter and Rowf, who escape from a medical testing lab. In an attempt to cover up the unnecessary nature of the research done there, the humans running the lab start a media scare about the dogs, claiming that they carry a serious virus which may kill humans. In this way, the dogs find themselves effectively on their own, without a person to turn to for help or kindness.
The dogs fall in with Tod, a fox with a thick Scottish accent, who gives them advice as they attempt to adapt to the harsh realities of living as wild animals. But dogs are not wild animals -- they crave and need the companionship of people; and as Snitter and Rowf try to reconcile their need for humanity with their circumstances as de facto wild animals, they remember and relive the better times, when they were pets, before they ended up at the lab.
It's an emotionally grinding book, bleak and ultimately painful. The final scene is tragic and still brings tears to my eyes as I remember it, more than fifteen years after reading the novel.
It's the kind of story that, once you've visited it a single time, will remain with you, powerfully, for life. And for that, along with Adams' gorgeous writing and deft storytelling, it deserves five stars and more.
But because it's too bleak to read again, I can never really love this book. I can respect very deeply the message it conveys and the skill of the author in telling such an honest, affecting story. But I just can't like this book....more
This book was just so-so for me. I love a good animal yarn, and I eagerly read any book with talking animals in it (a habit dating to my childhood.) BThis book was just so-so for me. I love a good animal yarn, and I eagerly read any book with talking animals in it (a habit dating to my childhood.) But Duncton Wood dragged too much for my liking. The action was spaced out too widely by moles being too introspective in too boring a manner. Plus, what was with all the moles who had Biblical names? Why would moles have any access to the Bible, and why would they care about the religious mythology of human beings? I was so confused by that.
A weird nit to pick, I know, but that's how much I love good animal fiction.
Anyway...this is a very long book with not enough activity in it. It's not bad; I'm not sorry I read it. But there are more engaging animal novels out there, for sure....more
I'm unsure exactly where I come down on this book, so I'm splitting the difference and giving it a nice, safe middle rating.
There were things I enjoyeI'm unsure exactly where I come down on this book, so I'm splitting the difference and giving it a nice, safe middle rating.
There were things I enjoyed and things I did not.
What I liked: it's fascinating to watch the journey out of religion, and for many people/characters, it's also emotionally wrenching to experience that particular journey. This book struck a chord with me since, like the main character Marguerite, I was raised Mormon and eventually left the Church when I was in my twenties. Unlike Marguerite, the leaving was not so traumatic for me, but in my subsequent work with the atheism visibility movement I have met many, many people who suffered trauma far worse than that which Marguerite experiences as they separated themselves from religion. It is an important and very human journey, and a story I like to hear in all its various versions and iterations as often as I can.
What I didn't like kept me from connecting as strongly with this book as I had hoped to do.
First, as Marguerite is a philosophy student, she often couches her understanding of the process in philosophical terms. So often, in fact, that for somebody like me who has only the most rudimentary grasp of philosophy, the frequent reliance on philosophical imagery and reference made the narrative feel too dense and slow-moving, too confusing, and sometimes alienating. Because Marguerite understands herself so well in philosophical terms, the reader risks not understanding her well at all, unless she (the reader) is also very well-versed in philosophy. (As a side note, if you are a philosophy nut you ought to love this book!)
Unfortunately the two distinct narrative styles also forced a great distance between the reader and the main character. In parts, the book is related from a very distant third-person perspective, where the narrator relays Marguerite's thoughts and feelings to the reader in a "telling" sort of way, which has an apropos academic sort of feel to it, but which doesn't facilitate a deeper understanding of an already hard-to-understand character. In other parts, the book turns to a first-person journaling style, which is interesting, but so faithful to the feel of a real journal, with a filtered relaying of information, with a "telling" style, that once more I found it nearly impossible to connect with Marguerite.
There are two points where I felt I really saw Marguerite's feelings, where I understood not only her struggle with faith but who she was as a whole person (and where I saw what author Therese Doucet was capable of when her creative voice was given precedence over the more academic, philosophical writing.) Both were the parts where Marguerite expressed herself in poetry. In both instances, the writing was colorful, lyrical, an poignant, and allowed me to see, in just a few short lines, what was really going on with Marguerite -- what was really inside her. After the second poem, Marguerite says in her journal, "Sadly, like me, my poems are never opaque enough and lack all subtlety." But that's exactly what readers need in order to connect to a person undergoing such a radical, painful transformation -- not the filtration of narrative distance, but the immediacy of real emotion, no matter how raw or frightening that emotion might be.
All in all, it was an enjoyable book, with its too-accurate depictions of Mormon campus life and the pall of depression such expectations can throw over a young person. Marguerite's constant crushes on usually unobtainable guys were charmingly silly, and very endearing. I remember being a young Mormon woman struggling with how to reconcile my faith and my attraction to various young men. I liked those parts of the book, and I was happy to see that Marguerite does end up with a promising relationship in the end. I just wished I'd understood all the emotional nuances of the path that took her there better....more
I guess there was supposed to be something inspiring or uplifting or at least thought-provoking in this text, but all I could get out of it was unsubtI guess there was supposed to be something inspiring or uplifting or at least thought-provoking in this text, but all I could get out of it was unsubtly disguised religious harping that made me roll my eyes every five pages, and an utter lack of ability to suspend my disbelief. Maybe it's the former zoo keeper in me talking here, but there is just no way -- just no way -- the human wouldn't have been the very first animal eaten by the tiger on that boat. Not even one of God's vaunted miracles could have spared a delicious, frail, sunburned, weakened, juicy human lad when a hungry tiger's other options are a pissed-off ungulate with hooves of steel and a couple thousand pounds of pressure in a single kick, or an orang-utan with the kung-fu skills afforded all great apes (except humans), and a seven-foot reach. And whatever other animal was on the boat.
Uh-uh. Human would be first to go. Tigers aren't dumb.
Which is all just to say that this book really was not for me....more
Five stars for amazing writing. Didn't finish because it depressed the hell out of me and eventually I couldn't function from the downer-ness of thisFive stars for amazing writing. Didn't finish because it depressed the hell out of me and eventually I couldn't function from the downer-ness of this book (and its vividness.) Had to quit early. Still don't know how it ends....more
This is the book we all had to read back in high school, along with The Great Gatsby, because our English teachers felt a responsibility to impart toThis is the book we all had to read back in high school, along with The Great Gatsby, because our English teachers felt a responsibility to impart to us an appreciation for great literature, even though all we cared about was making out and/or eating Gorditos in our friends' Plymouth Dusters while having deep discussions about the nature of humanity.
Like The Great Gatsby, this is a book that flies right over the heads of teenagers, a book that can't really be fully understood by them because they lack the appropriate frame of reference. That's no fault of theirs -- the appropriate frame of reference for both novels (and so many others taught in so many high schools) is age. Most people don't "get" what's so great about Gatsby until they're in their 30s, and preferably, as in my case, have at least one divorce behind them to help put it all in perspective.
Since I was unimpressed with Gatsby as a teen but came to adore it beyond all measure after my divorce proceedings were finally finalized, I figured I ought to give The Catcher in the Rye an adult shot, too.
The result was a resounding "MEH." It certainly wasn't bad, but it didn't grab me by the face and scream I AM RELEVANT TO YOUR EXPERIENCE in the same way Gatsby did.
Perhaps that's because I found Holden Caulfield to be such an insufferable little shit. He starts out unpleasant and finishes unpleasant, and I never found myself really caring whether he made his breakthrough discoveries about life or himself or the nature of humanity while eating Gorditos in his friend's Plymouth Duster. He was just miserable to spend time with, and I realized with a sense of seasickness that I was on an accelerating time-warp, speeding toward my grave; that I had crossed some threshold somewhere back about five years ago, where, during a very special and very transient point in my existence, I could have really understood Holden and identified with him; where his wryness and darkness could have spoken to me.
But now I was in my 30s, I had the debt of a divorce to pay off, a car payment, and an affair with a tattooed Coastie who lived on a boat in a seedy Seattle marina and who was two years younger than me -- and that latter fact thrilled me more than it would have thrilled a Holden Caulfield, and all I could really glean from his experience was an icky sense of entitlement and a vague sensation that I wanted him to get the hell off my lawn.
I missed my Catcher in the Rye window, so I couldn't feel any more strongly about this book than three stars. Alas. I'm sure it's excellent if you read it at just the right point in your life.
I recommend that you read it between the ages of 21 and 26. I also recommend that you have an affair with a tattooed Coastie who's two years younger than you and lives on a boat. Best to have said affair while reading The Great Gatsby. It's really a lot better than you remember from high school.
P.s. The Coastie and I are still together and are very happy with our lives, and are living in a house, not on a boat in a seedy Seattle marina. Holden Caulfield would not approve, but I do....more
To be fair, I should probably actually READ this book, rather than listening to the audiobook version. I downloaded this audiobook from my favorite awTo be fair, I should probably actually READ this book, rather than listening to the audiobook version. I downloaded this audiobook from my favorite awesome audio subscription site and eagerly started listening to it last April while doing a lot of work around the house. By the end of my house-work day I'd turned it off and never bothered to turn it back on again.
I am not sure exactly how far I got into the story, but I recall long, dull narrative stretches detailing the young protagonist's train rides and other travels throughout some very scenic small villages in Europe. I recall that her father was somewhat enigmatic, that she had ended up with some kind of mysterious book, and some guy ended up dead over it, possibly her father or possibly some other enigmatic old history dude. I honestly can't remember, the event made so little impact on me.
Mostly I recall descriptions of ocean water and roofs, and of her small apartment or maybe it was the small apartment of some young man, and all of this was delivered in a very disengaging manner by an audiobook reader who was not all that good. I do not recall, at any point, an actual plot hooking me or any kind of mystery picking up in a way that made me want to keep listening.
This is probably the fault of bad audiobook production. I really ought to give this book a go in printed form, because so many people regard it so highly. It probably is awesome, but I remember it as contributing to the most boring day of cleaning and chores I've ever had.
Re-reading it and giving it a more fair shake is on my list of things to do, and I will get around to it some day. I recalled that there seemed to be something interesting buried in there somewhere, beneath the very languid plot progression and the stultifying endless descriptions of scenery. My guess is that the print form of the book will clip along a bit better, and I'll find it more interesting. But until I can verify that guess, it remains a one-star for this reader....more
An imaginative, weird, and often funny look at what happens when one man dies and finds out the true religion was Zoroastrianism, and he's bound for aAn imaginative, weird, and often funny look at what happens when one man dies and finds out the true religion was Zoroastrianism, and he's bound for a rehabilitative Hell. Don't worry; he only has to stay for a little while, until he's been brought around. Unfortunately God and his/her demons reckon time differently from the way humans do, and his short stay in Hell stretches for a virtual eternity while he searches for the one book containing the story of his life among more books than there are atoms in the universe.
Cleverly, this novella explores the origins of religion and the role of violence in human nature as background themes. The little society which builds itself up in Peck's imaginative Hell is fun and funny, but it certainly has its problems, and goes through familiar evolutions as the eons pass. A novella, though, may not be the perfect vehicle for such a story. In some respects it felt too short, too pat for the larger ideas it contained. I would love to see this scenario redone as a full-length novel, so the characters and setting could be more fully explored, so the ending could feel like more of an unmistakable wrap-up (even considering not much is actually wrapped up; the ending still seemed abrupt), and so the entire Rebecca situation could feel like a more convincing motivation for the narrator.
It's hard not to compare two different works by the same author. So I won't try to avoid that. I recently read and loved The Scholar of Moab, Peck's novel. By comparison with this novella, Scholar was far more engaging and poignant, to the point that I couldn't stop reading it, even at inconvenient times. Longer forms may be Peck's greater strength, though I've only read two of his works, so how can I say for sure? In all, though, A Short Stay in Hell is worth reading. It's quick, smart, and funny, and boy am I glad I'm not in Hell....more