To paraphrase: People don't want the truth; they'd rather have lies or fictions that protect them (temporarily) from reality. So true, sometimes. I re...moreTo paraphrase: People don't want the truth; they'd rather have lies or fictions that protect them (temporarily) from reality. So true, sometimes. I read this in its entirety on the plane ride back from the west coast - it was THAT engrossing. Very good writing; very compelling story within a story within a story. It was somewhat predictable towards the end, but it didn't take away from the experience at all. One of the things I found most disconcerting (which is a good thing) is the total disregard for time, and I think that was done on purpose. I have no idea what era this is supposed to be set in, only because it spans close to eight decades. Part of me was thinking it started in Victorian England, or even later...like the early 20th century but I'm not quite sure. In other books, that would've bothered me, but it really didn't, this time. It was a really great read and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in taking a brief break from the soberness of life. (less)
I was highly disappointed by this book, especially since it received some really good reviews. The writing style was fine, and Emma Donoghue painted a...moreI was highly disappointed by this book, especially since it received some really good reviews. The writing style was fine, and Emma Donoghue painted a fairly accurate portrait of 18th century London. (These are the only things which made me give this novel 2 stars...otherwise, it would've been a 1-star book.) I thought the narrative's main flaw lay in its heroine, Mary Saunders. To me, she was very 2-dimensional: she was vain, vapid, egotistical, wholly unapologetic (about her thoughts/feelings/actions) that she was just completely unrelatable. I found her to be very unsympathetic, and for me, that made getting through the book very difficult. Many times, as readers, we look for something within a character which can be relatable to our own lives, but the characterization of Mary Saunders was such that I just found her intolerable and insufferable. Even in the 3rd part of the novel, when she seemingly wants to try to change her ways, she still comes off as disingenuous. (less)
I had read a couple of Geraldine Brooks' essays for my Lit Theory class while I was in grad school, and while I was never one of those ultra-feminist...moreI had read a couple of Geraldine Brooks' essays for my Lit Theory class while I was in grad school, and while I was never one of those ultra-feminist types, I liked what she wrote about women as being strong, independent and intelligent creatures without overtly politicizing femininity as a whole. So I looked forward to reading "Year of Wonders", primarily because I loved the topic, I loved the time period, I loved the location and because I thought Brooks would be able to impart something different to the story.
I was not impressed. As a whole, and academically speaking, the novel was flawless - it had strong characters, it was well-written grammatically, it had everything readers would look for in a novel. And I think that was what set me off. It followed all the rules about Writing The Novel: protagonists were good, antagonists were bad. Good people were redeemed at the end and the bad ones were punished. Scared, ignorant people did ghastly things because they didn't know any better: they reacted more than they thought. Women were strong, intelligent and outspoken, men were either enlightened or bought into the patriarchal hegemony, and in the end, the novel showed how the human spirit overcame everything bad that was thrown at it. Brooks did an excellent job with her research, so the locales were vividly described and she clung to historicity almost to a fault.
But in making the "perfect" novel, she lost something. It was not authentic at all. There were anachronisms all over the place. I found it extremely cloying that the language switched back and forth between modern and early modern (17th century) English. I found some of the characters 2-dimensional (good were good, bad were bad, when in reality, a really decent character would have both qualities - these days, everyone knows about the "flawed hero"). I thought that some of her characterizations and descriptions were better suited for a novel set a century later, not in 1666. She had a tendency to rely too much on idiomatic expressions, which made the writing awkward at times and the reading quite tedious. I had a few eye-rolling moments and honestly, I couldn't wait to finish the book - not because I wanted to know what happened, but because I had lost patience with it.(less)
Loved this novel so much, I gave it to two friends as presents and forced Jim to read it! I'm telling everyone I know to read this book - it's just fa...moreLoved this novel so much, I gave it to two friends as presents and forced Jim to read it! I'm telling everyone I know to read this book - it's just fantastic. Very quick read, too.(less)
What a FABULOUS book - great narrative, beautifully written, utterly captivating, a highly intelligent novel. After reading that abysmal Ken Follett b...moreWhat a FABULOUS book - great narrative, beautifully written, utterly captivating, a highly intelligent novel. After reading that abysmal Ken Follett book (Pillars of the Earth), I really felt like I needed something to cleanse me of that dross. Since every review I read about this book pointed towards the positive, I gave it a shot. And what a surprise - I was so completely drawn to it that I finished it in 2 days. I couldn't put it down. In fact, I didn't want it to end. I kept going back to certain passages in the text, trying to prolong the story, all the while reinforcing my understanding of these characters and their experiences.
Donoghue is one of those gifted writers - for his first effort as a novelist, this work was just absolutely wondrous. He wrote simply but effectively; he didn't have to resort to outlandish drama or hyperbole. No elaborate plot twists, no florid writing. Just simple storytelling, honest, sometimes raw, drawing on emotions both primitive and complex. He didn't have a need to spell everything out or to tie everything neatly into one square package (he may actually be one of those writers who truly believes that not every particular in a story has to be explained - that mysteries serve a purpose, and that some mysteries are better left undiscovered). Most importantly, he made no assumptions of the reader (I really hate it when writers dumb things down to appeal to all readers, or are so disdainful of "regular" readers that they ostracize them with their condescending tones and know-it-all attitudes) - he just wrote.
It was highly literary - no more so than when two of the changelings discover the library and the wonders within - but it was also accessible. There was enough explanatory material that you didn't feel like you were hobbled by what you didn't know. The corollary to that is also true: that if you did know a good amount about any of the topics in the story, that there was still something you could learn. The entire narrative was a study in dichotomies: the weaving of the two stories, the two different points of views, mortal vs. immortal, young vs. old, wild vs. civilized. The narrative was the epitome of the yin-yang. After all, these two stolen children made up one person, one complementing the other, each one incomplete until their stories and lives commingled at the end. By that point, each one was ready to move on, having accepted their natures and the roles they played in each other's lives.(less)
I am not a linear book-reader. That is, I rarely ever read a book contiguously, from start to finish. I have a very bad habit of reading the last doze...moreI am not a linear book-reader. That is, I rarely ever read a book contiguously, from start to finish. I have a very bad habit of reading the last dozen or so pages first, just to see if I will like the story. (It's a bit irrational; I don't know what I'm looking for, but somehow, reading those last words gives me an impression of what to expect, of whether I should buy a book or pass on it, or even if I will like a book or not.) Personally, I don't think that reading the end first takes anything away from the story since I don't know what led up to it, and I often feel (strangely) rewarded at the end by those "aha!" moments when what I know of the ending becomes evident. Still, I know it drives some people (i.e., Jim) crazy, and for that, apologies. Once I start reading, I also have a tendency to go back to certain sections repeatedly (including the ending), thus prolonging the experience while also gaining more insight into the characters, situations, the language used, etc. So in many ways, my style of reading probably suited the way how this novel was written: the beginning presupposed the end, and the time traveling aspects of the story - jumping back and forth through time - did not detract from my going back and forth through the novel, either. It complemented it very well, in fact, that I am now a proud owner of a very dog-eared copy, with the binding a bit ragged and very nearly unglued. :-)
That said, I must say I really enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife. I stop short of claiming that I loved it only because there were parts of the novel - specifically towards the end - that bothered and frustrated me. My discomfiture, however, did not take anything away from relishing the narrative itself: I loved the characters, I loved the writing style, I loved the intelligence of both the author and the narrative. The prose - her writing, the attention to detail, the exquisite imagery - was sublime and oftentimes visceral. Sometimes what she wrote was almost too painful to read (in a good way). Similarly, the poetry was heartwrenching; it made me want to re-read Rilke, Homer and Dickinson (as well as Byatt's Possession) with a different lens. I did feel as if there were a few questions left unanswered in the end, such as, what happened to Alba? (Yes, the title of the book is not The Time Traveler's Daughter; I suppose what happened to Alba, in the grand scheme of things, is irrelevant since we find out what happens to Clare.)
The parts that troubled me the most occurred in the third part, at the end. Her one-word chapter titles, "Dissolution," "Dasein," and "Renascence" said more than enough. I found these last chapters the hardest to get through (I was telling Jim I could've finished the book 2 weeks ago, but I had to keep putting it down because there were parts I found extremely upsetting), even though they were probably the most critical chapters in the novel because, for the first time, it finally dealt with Clare after Henry. For as much as the novel was about Henry's wife, it was also his story, and a majority of the book dealt with their lives. They were inextricably linked through time and space for most of the book, but here, at the end, it was all about Clare. Clare alone, Clare lost, Clare trapped, Clare waiting.
Throughout the novel, Clare typified her art as being, simply, about birds and about longing. But as her story unfolded, her art became a metaphor for freedom: it became about finding her wings (and Henry's), and gaining freedom from the body, from time, from its intricacies and paradoxes, from the problems it caused, from the world. What was so unnerving, however, was the meaning behind those three chapter titles, and what happened in each chapter. Dissolution: disintegrating, breaking bonds, falling apart. Dasein: a being that is constituted by its temporality, something that illuminates and interprets the meaning of "Being in Time" and a way of choosing to either remain engaged in the world or distanced from it, all the while questioning what it means to be (now there's a throwback to my literary criticism days when we were studying Heidegger - I never liked Heidegger because everything was a circular argument; everything seemed paradoxical because everything seemed causal). And then Renascence: a rebirth, a renaissance.
There's a passage in the book, towards the end of the second part, when Henry says "The pain has receded but what's left is the shell of the pain, an empty space where there should be pain but instead there is the expectation of pain." During Dissolution and Dasein, Clare lived these words. Clare never achieved the freedom she longed for; her life and her freedom were directly linked to Henry's, and when he was gone, a part of her died with him, too. She becomes nothing more than a shell; someone who gives up her art, someone who just drives her daughter around, someone who is a part of the world, but is not engaged in it. Someone who just is. In Renascence, Clare finally creates something new. After decades of creating birds, wings, angels and drawings of Henry and Alba, she finally creates one of herself. And this new art form surprises her because it takes on a much bigger scope than anything she had created in the past: this time, it's a constellation, a galaxy, a universe of stars, and she's lost in the vastness of something so huge, so intangible. At the end, she states, "I regard my likeness, and she returns my gaze. I place my finger on her forehead and say 'Vanish,' but it is she who will stay; I am the one who is vanishing."
There is beauty in such tragedy, and that's what made it so hard to read, so hard to end.
Stunning story-telling. I became so engrossed in the lives of these people, I actually had to create my own family tree for them, just so that I would...moreStunning story-telling. I became so engrossed in the lives of these people, I actually had to create my own family tree for them, just so that I wouldn't get lost as I read. Rutherford is one of my ultimate favorite authors.(less)
And so I decided to switch focus from Arthuriana for a bit, and move to my other obsession - Alexander. Interesting novel. Interesting writing style,...moreAnd so I decided to switch focus from Arthuriana for a bit, and move to my other obsession - Alexander. Interesting novel. Interesting writing style, too. This book led me to the 3-volume Manfredi Alexandrian books, so...it's definitely worth reading.(less)
One of my first favorite books - a birthday book for my 9th bday - it made me laugh and cry the first time I read it, that immediately after finishing...moreOne of my first favorite books - a birthday book for my 9th bday - it made me laugh and cry the first time I read it, that immediately after finishing it, I re-read it again...I try to read it at least once a year...(less)
This started as four excerpts from Glamour's summer reads issues - and I was so drawn in that I had to read the whole book. This is typically not the...moreThis started as four excerpts from Glamour's summer reads issues - and I was so drawn in that I had to read the whole book. This is typically not the kind of thing I would read, but read it I did (as embarrassing as that sounds), and I'm glad I did. Total chick lit, but worth it.(less)
I don't even know where to start. This book -- actually, the concept of this book -- had so much promise. This could've been a great revisionist retel...moreI don't even know where to start. This book -- actually, the concept of this book -- had so much promise. This could've been a great revisionist retelling of the Wizard of Oz. Yes, it fleshed out Oz itself - what a rich land, people by various creatures: humans, animals and everything in between. The political and religious strata of Oz was well-thought out.
But I couldn't connect to any of the characters, especially the main character of Elphaba. I felt that none of them were fleshed out. None of them were likable, either in a positive or negative way. Sometimes, you're drawn to characters who are so evil because they're interesting. You become interested in their back story (and there is always one) and what makes them tick. Of course, almost everyone is drawn to the hero of the story, be they good or flawed, regardless of whether they're the hero-type or the underdog. But in my mind, while Elphaba was the center of the story, there was just nothing about her that drew me in, nothing that made me want to know her better. Nothing tugged at my heart strings or made me go "Grrr...I can't stand her!"
Maguire proselytized. Ad nauseum. To the point where I saw no point in going further with the book. While I can see that this work would appeal to some people who revel in exposition and live and breathe religious and political polemic (there are die-hard Wicked fans out there -- of the book, I mean, which is significantly different from the musical, and that has a large fan base as well) but sad to say, I am not one of them (a fan of the book). I think there's a place for everything, and when I pick up a book that purports to be about the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West, I expect a fantastical backstory about her.
And that's the thing. I know very little about her. She's green, but why is she green? She's got normal parents, but how did she become this freakish green baby with shark teeth? You know about her parents' dalliances, their religious fervor, their sexual proclivities, their societal vagaries. But you don't see how this shaped Elphaba. There are so many holes in the story, so many unanswered questions, and whenever I expected to find an answer, there were one or two vague, often nebulous, non-answers.
The story meandered all over the place, dropping characters here and there into the narrative -- characters that (one hopes) will enrich the characterization of Elphaba's life. Sometimes they did; most times, they didn't.
About a quarter of the way through, I wondered where this was all heading. About halfway through, I wanted to rip my hair out and beg for something -- anything -- to happen that would make me feel connected to our heroine or the story. But there was nothing. Not even a clock dragon to crawl into.
This novel could've done so much. It held so much promise. So much. But it failed to deliver, and at least for me, it was a supreme letdown.(less)