Mrs. Samuel was my English teacher when I was twelve and I only put her name down because I'm tired of thinking of specific people to whom I want to r...moreMrs. Samuel was my English teacher when I was twelve and I only put her name down because I'm tired of thinking of specific people to whom I want to recommend EACH BOOK. I recommend this to all of you, folks, all of you. Gavin is right (and I'm not just saying that because he said I was right about Waterland): this is a lovely novel, narrated by a bunch of old men and some other people. No, seriously, the old men are lovely. It's like you're sitting with each of them at a pub and hearing his life story, and then at the end, after you close the book, you realise how heartbreaking it all was. It's so different from Waterland I often can't believe the same man wrote them both, but it's Good.(less)
I can't decide whether to give this book four stars or five. The language was a lot more straightforward than the dense, breathless wordplay I usually...moreI can't decide whether to give this book four stars or five. The language was a lot more straightforward than the dense, breathless wordplay I usually love, but the further I got into the book the more I came to see this as another mark of Frayn's genius, because the language picks up and becomes more urgent and complex as the plot does.
The plot is brilliant; no question about it. I couldn't put this book down, and those of you who know my distractible self will know that this says a LOT. I put down *everything.* I'd put down my own head if I could, I'm so bored with it.
I'm sure part of my total absorption owes itself to the fact that this book handles some of my favourite themes: the fallible nature of memory, the weight of childhood mistakes.
The narrator and a friend he is desperate to impress begin what seems at first like another rollicking adventure of the kind they've always played: spying on the friend's mother because they suspect she's a German spy (oh yes: it's World War II). Along the way, as you might well suspect, their game turns horrible and terrifying. Perhaps the most terrifying discovery the narrator makes, and that we achingly remake with him, is the vulnerability of adults. Could the world of adults possibly be even more lonely than that of children?
What you probably *won't* suspect, though, is who did what, or how it all happened, or why. The narrative is as brilliantly plotted as the best of murder mysteries, and nothing prepared me for the shock of revelation at the end. As with the best murder mysteries, I looked back and saw that it should all have been obvious; that copious clues had been planted for my benefit, but I'd been so swept up in fear and dread that I hadn't picked up on them.(less)
Okay, so I finally finished this, after what, 2 years? In my defence, I did lose my copy of the book when I was about halfway through. But truthfully,...moreOkay, so I finally finished this, after what, 2 years? In my defence, I did lose my copy of the book when I was about halfway through. But truthfully, that isn't the *only* reason it took me so long. This is an incredibly slow, dense read, which isn't a bad thing as far as I'm concerned; it's packed very full of stunning detail that serves more to create an atmosphere (and what an atmosphere!) than to move the plot along. A great number of these details -- "long, thin, necks like twisted rubber bands"; "the dangerous smell of the city poor: musty cotton, fustian, toasted herrings"; "the air was redolent with fear and wet fur"; "...as lovely as a good butcher cutting a carcass, the quick movements of knife, the softness and yielding of fat from around kidneys, the clean separating of fat from bone" -- will stay with me forever. Carey's range is just fabulous here, soaring from blunt, earthy humour -- "his anus itched beyond belief"; "If she had been God she would've given him a thwack across the earhole and sent him to bed" to a breathtaking lyricism, as in this description of what a woman feels as she presses herself against her lover: "....shivering, as once, in the potteries of Stafford, she had pressed wet clay against a plaster mould. She would be a plate, God save her. Let the aproned decorators paint dancing Cossacks around her rim, or dead blacks like spokes around a poisoned water-hole," and in this gorgeous, gorgeous passage I keep reading and rereading:
"....[she] knew already the lovely contradictory nature of glass and she did not have to be told, on the day she saw the works at Darling Harbour, that glass is a thing in disguise, an actor, is not solid and all, but a liquid, that an old sheet of glass will not only take on a royal and purplish tinge but will reveal its true liquid nature by having grown fatter at the bottom and thinner at the top, and that even while it is as frail as the ice on a Parramatta puddle, it is stronger under compression than Sydney sandstone, that it is invisible, solid, in short, a joyous and paradoxical thing, as good a material as any to build a life from."
But in the end I'm withholding a star because I think Carey's love for quirky detail occasionally gets in the way of character development here, most egregiously in the matter of the title characters' motivations. He seems so intent on making Oscar and Lucinda memorably weird (a mission in which he succeeds magnificently) that I couldn't quite see why they fall in love, or even why they embark upon the grand wager that is supposed to define the whole plot. The ending, too, presented some problems for me: Oscar is high on laudanum, sure, but apart from the villainous Mr. Jeffris, who is motivated by pure selfishness (and therefore easy to understand), the other characters remain fascinating but opaque. This is particularly problematic in the case of the narrator's great-grandmother, Miriam -- we've given the narrator the benefit of the doubt throughout the novel, allowed him to know all this stuff he really shouldn't know and to recede into the background after drawing attention to his presence in the story, because he is the great-grandson of Oscar and Miriam -- and Carey doesn't let us forget the narrator, who pops up once again towards the end -- but then we're left asking ourselves why on earth Miriam does the things she does, which lead indirectly to the narrator's existence, and which are therefore the whole reason this story is being told. The imagery in the final chapter is stunning, but still I closed the book with a "hmmm...." rather than a "wow."(less)
Also, I tried to hide, the way I might've if I'd been reading Danielle Steele standing up in the library, although this book is by no means Danielle S...moreAlso, I tried to hide, the way I might've if I'd been reading Danielle Steele standing up in the library, although this book is by no means Danielle Steele, not even close. Read it, though, and you'll see what I mean. You'll be a little bit ashamed of liking it as much as you do. It's stark, beautiful, literary smut. [UM, P.S., The title is THE SEAL WIFE and I'm not sure why GoodReads insists on calling it SEAL WIFE POSTER but the only other option was SEAL WIFE DUMPBIN and I don't know what a dumpbin is but it sounds too dirty, even for this book.](less)
I read this back when I used to read much faster, so it only took me a summer, but man, this book is a major commitment. I'm not sure why I didn't fee...moreI read this back when I used to read much faster, so it only took me a summer, but man, this book is a major commitment. I'm not sure why I didn't feel it paid off quite as much as, say, Bleak House. It's pretty well written and rich in detail and all that. If anyone else figures out what it's lacking (character development? dramatic tension?) and can put it into words, please do so.(less)
I see that at least one other reviewer seems to think of this book as a moderately talented rip-off of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which is basically my o...moreI see that at least one other reviewer seems to think of this book as a moderately talented rip-off of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which is basically my opinion. Maybe I should read more of Allende's stuff before dismissing her as completely derivative -- should I?(less)