Without really planning it, lately I seem to be reading coming-of-age books or books set in the 1930’s Europe. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis combinWithout really planning it, lately I seem to be reading coming-of-age books or books set in the 1930’s Europe. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis combined the two trends that literary serendipity has sent in my direction in this tale of love and loss. That as readers we know from the first pages that most of the characters will not survive the Holocaust is almost cruel: a constant reminder that youth, goodness, friendship and erudition are not enough shelter from historical and political movements breed in fundamentalism and hate. ...more
Warning: Hilary Mantel is not Phillipa Gregory. Hey, I have consumed Gregory’s Tudor Era Historical-fiction with glee, but any reader expecting a cut-Warning: Hilary Mantel is not Phillipa Gregory. Hey, I have consumed Gregory’s Tudor Era Historical-fiction with glee, but any reader expecting a cut-form historical novel will be disappointed by Wolf Hall.
Mantel expects a lot of her readers. Her prose is oblique, the dialogues are interwoven with the characters inner voices and memories, historical figures leap at the pages without any introduction to their background (yes, reading Phillipa Gregory first may help those of us without a history degree). Nothing, and I mean nothing, is given digested and rationalized by the author. Not even the title of this book, which in a first, superficial interpretation seems misleading, but alludes to so much more. Nevertheless, the world created (or re-created) by Mantel is lush with the conflicts of the time, where theology and politics, pregnancies and heresy, all interconnected in the realm of power.
Thomas Cromwell, whom the narrative follows, is portrait maybe in too positive of a light. Yet, he is made so human, his inner struggles laid so bare – even in the convoluted narration – that it feels impossible not to warm our readers’ heart to him. I cannot remember of another historical figure receiving such reverence by a fiction writer, as Hilary Mantel does to Cromwell in Wolf Hall. So, history buffs, literary fans, and psychology students, go for it. It is beautifully done. ...more
I love my book club. The people in it are smart and funny, and I get to read and discuss books that I would not read otherwise. But, wow, this one wasI love my book club. The people in it are smart and funny, and I get to read and discuss books that I would not read otherwise. But, wow, this one was a waste of time. It is predictable, annoying, the characters are all one dimensional, stereotyped, heck, the characters are interchangeable – one sounds just like the other.
This is one of those books that it so bad, it get me thinking that I should attempt to write one too. If someone can get published and become a bestseller with books like this, why can’t I?
I am just back from my book club discussion on this book. I have to say that I am still completely surprised by the fact that I was the only one there that did not like it – and I felt like a pariah because of it too. Some of the people in the club at times have been very critical of poor writing, but tonight they all seemed to have forgiven the author of this awful book on the merits of the story being told.
So, as I sit here thinking about their reaction and mine, I came up with a couple of truths: first, I am becoming adamant about the literary quality of a book, so much so that I may have to rethink even my membership to this group, or at least plan to avoid the discussion if and when another similar book is chosen. Second, that – and this is the epiphany of the night – that people, even very intelligent and well read people, are willing to forgive implausible plots and stereotyped characters if a book speaks enough to their heart. I loathed the book, but still have to give it to the authors that many have been touched by it.
Apparently, what it says about me is that I am a heartless human being, and hard-nosed about a certain literary quality too.
Holden Caulfield says: "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific frHolden Caulfield says: "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."
I say that I don’t know if Salinger and I would have much to talk about, however, I really wish I could sit down and have a conversation with Holden. I think it would go something like this: “Hey Holden, I just wanted to say hi. Mind if I have a cigarette? You know, I haven’t smoked in 20 years, but your story really, really made me crave a cigarette. I don’t remember ever reading another story that made me feel like having a cigarette. But, your story, you know, it killed me.
But, I wanted to tell you that that stuff you said about Jesus, well, it killed me. Yeah, you are just so right about that.
Well, you don’t know me and all, but I also wanted to say to you, about that girl, Jane, well, I think you should phone her some time. Yeah, none of my business, I know, but think about it anyway.
I hope you will be well. I think you will. But take care, all right? I will be thinking of you. If you don’t mind, I may come around some other time just to say hi. Bye for now, then. And thanks for the cigarette, it saved my life.” ...more
This is quite a disturbing book. It reminded me of Blindness by Saramago, and likewise has left me with the feeling that I have been punched on the stThis is quite a disturbing book. It reminded me of Blindness by Saramago, and likewise has left me with the feeling that I have been punched on the stomach. I read one previous book by Nothomb – Fear and Trembling – but it did not prepare me for Sulphuric Acid.
In both books Nothomb makes an acute criticism of society, but while in Fear and Trembling – an criticism of corporate organizations, the Japanese corporations more specifically – she uses humour and satire, in Sulphuric Acid the theme does not allow for such an approach. The book describes a reality show where people randomly picked at a park are sent to a concentration camp and their suffering televised daily to an audience that grows bigger as the conditions at the camp deteriorates. Some very hard questionings are then explored: love, hate, God, death, freedom, human identity, social apathy.
Be aware this is not a book for the faint of heart and Nothomb is not a great literary writer as my comparison to Saramago may suggest, yet I highly recommend it for those brave enough. ...more
It has been a while since a book has enthralled me the way this book has, and yet I am struggling to give it anything more than 3 stars. Ursula Hegi sIt has been a while since a book has enthralled me the way this book has, and yet I am struggling to give it anything more than 3 stars. Ursula Hegi strength is her power to transport us into this German community during the years from the end of WWI until the years just after WWII. The small village inhabitants – their rivalry, small and big conflicts, acts of bravery or cowardice, etc... – are poignantly described by Hegi. But, I felt at the end that the background had taken priority over the individual characters.
While the communal experience of war left me breathless and teary at times, once the plot moved from it, the personal struggles seemed underdeveloped, becoming rushed or simply abandoned while new conflicts stirred up. This is too bad, because for quite a while the main character carried the story well, but at some time Ursula Hegi seems to lose the control of this world she created and too many characters with too many personal stories become too loosely connected, with side stories sprouting and disappearing, while what should had been the driving event directing the book – the revenge planed by the main character against the boys that so deeply hurt her – becomes secondary. This is evident at the end, when it is all tied together in a most unsatisfactory and unconvincing way.
Now, having said all this, I am considering nominating this book to my offline bookclub. While it lacks in literary sophistication, Stones from the River still raises deep questions on the personal responsibility of individuals in the political events happening around us all. A good book to discuss, I am sure. ...more
For years I had been waiting for Anne Michaels to write this book. I loved her first novel, Fugitive Pieces, and wanted to read more of her work. Or,For years I had been waiting for Anne Michaels to write this book. I loved her first novel, Fugitive Pieces, and wanted to read more of her work. Or, more precisely, wanted her to write more “Fugitive Pieces”. In a twisted way, I got exactly what I wanted... and I feel disappointed about it!
All the elements of her first work are present in The Winter Vault: the poetic and intricate writing; the historical and geological research; characters that dwell in a philosophical cosmos beyond that of the majority; the question of how individuals survive unimaginable loss. Yet, while Fugitive Pieces seemed at the time- I want to now re-read it to confirm it – lyrical and dense on the same doses, there was a profound beauty in the character’s search for meaning and emotional survival after the horrors that they suffered and witnessed.
In The Winter Vault, though, I failed to connect to the character in the same way. Their pain and philosophical intensity seems exaggerate. I don’t want to diminish the pain of their loss, but I felt manipulate by the author. And her writing, which still carries a most poetic voice, seemed too studied. Then, I felt tired of the profound and pensive messages in every page. I do love that a book tells me truths outside the direct realm of the plot, but when those are delivered every thirty lines of so, I cannot avoid feeling weary of it.
I am considering now to read some of Anne Michaels poetry. Poetry was her first medium, and I have a feeling that she excels at it, as the intensity of her writing would be more suited to poems than to fiction. ...more
I wanted to love this book, but it did not happen... I kept searching for the missing element that would have made me enjoy this book better, but cameI wanted to love this book, but it did not happen... I kept searching for the missing element that would have made me enjoy this book better, but came to the conclusion that it was the overly excess of practically everything that finally tired me of it. It was just too much: too much violence, too much stereotyping, too much Spanish, too much info in the footnotes....
It could be a case of the wrong book at the wrong time, as I am usually drawn to books with an experimental quality but, in any case, Juno’s writing did not captivated me. I should try some of his short-stories, as I feel that I would like his writing in smaller doses. ...more