i wasn't quite sure what to make of this book at first. the opening pages moved slowly but as scross-posted at the mo-centric universe, and booklikes:
i wasn't quite sure what to make of this book at first. the opening pages moved slowly but as soon as the four female unnamed research explorers (our narrator the biologist, the surveyor, the anthropologist, and the psychologist -- the leader of this party, the ostensible twelfth expedition to area X, a place that they have been trained to explore, a place that wasn't always there, a place encroaching on their border) venture to the tower, i found myself riveted and really anxious about what was happening and where the hell they actually were (is this really our earth? an alternate one? has our earth breached an alternate dimension?), and by the end was substantially spooked, in the best of lovecraftian ways. the novel strongly evokes and expands on ideas from his "the colour out of space", lovecraft's own favourite, and the story of his i love most, alongside "the shadow over innsmouth". vandermeer's prose is wonderfully crafted and moves the reader slowly and insidiously closer to chaos, as the biologist flickers on and follows her own trail as the expedition falls apart, all the while the possible? inevitable? infection coating her insides until her final stand-off inside the tower. the horror vandermeer drenches this moment with, in pulse-pounding, mind-splitting images also reminded me of one of my own negative personal experiences: drug-addled terror and anxiety that built within me at a rave one night many years ago, when the dancers and the lights seemed to combine into an unholy wall of pulsing flesh. i recognized this horror and i shrank from it again.
this is the first book of a three-part series that was released in quick succession over the quarters of 2014 -- i very much like this marketing concept -- it reminds me of when volumes of books were published separately before they were available as a whole. after reading annihilation, i immediately put library holds on the two others because i am curious as to where vandermeer will go from here.
i've looked over other reviews of this first book and found that readers are quite divided: many really enjoy the book, as i did, finding in it a remarkable addition to the canon of weird fiction, while others compare the book to the television program, lost, and complain that there is not enough pay-off and that the book alienates them through via the use of the unnamed and unreliable narrator. while obviously there are always different strokes for different folks, i can understand how the pace and the distance that using an unnamed narrator unfailingly creates, and was no doubt chosen by the author to underscore the biologist's alienated and isolating personality could have the same effect on his reader: "i don't like this character and i don't care what happens because you're not giving me any answers that make sense" -- certainly, i have reacted in the same way in regard to other stories, and the biologist admittedly keeps doing things she supposes she ought not to have done after the fact, that i would argue make it more difficult to get behind her at times, but the notion that she is an unreliable narrator bothered me. while i appreciate she might fit the definition in broad terms because she believes that the psychologist has done something to her, (view spoiler)[ using hypnosis not only to trigger certain behaviours but also to alter her memories (hide spoiler)] and also withholds details of her story as she reveals her experience in area x, i do believe she holds nothing crucial back from the reader, and that she believes she is earnestly telling us the truth -- more perhaps, than she has ever told before. this may be close the real world but it's still speculative fiction and i think these devices work in that realm only to enhance horror, not to make you doubt your narrator. the book is actually a tremendous feat of authorial engineering, employing such devices to create a book seemingly simply told, writhing with reference and unfurling like its central nightmare, a terrifying crawler that invades our psyches and our world.
this is a review from 30,000 feet. i floated above the words in the book as i read rather than immersing myself in the action as i normally do becausethis is a review from 30,000 feet. i floated above the words in the book as i read rather than immersing myself in the action as i normally do because my reading brain has abandoned me. this slim novel should not have taken me the weeks? a month? more? that it took to get through. margaret atwood, to me, the lesser margaret of canadian literature, remarks in her afterword about this book by the margaret i consider the greater, that she read it in one sitting, which seems about right (just because i dislike her characters does not mean i always disagree with her.) still, i believe my weak powers of concentration did me an inadvertent service here because a jest of god is not an easy book to read, even if it is, in style and on the surface, a simple one.
rachel cameron is a thirty-four year old woman who teaches grade two and lives with her mother in a small apartment in the house in the small town she grew up in. the man who bought her deceased drunk father's funeral parlour that makes up the rest of the house allowed them to stay on in perpetuity as part of the terms of sale. she has a sister who got married and moved away and never comes home, leaving the care of her preening, selfish, overbearing and hypochondriacal mother to rachel. on the surface it would seem that rachel doesn't mind. she goes through the motions of her life, teaching her students, minding her mother, accompanying her colleague calla to tabernacle even though she has no faith, all the while thinking terrible thoughts about them. sometimes her inner monologue and the action blurs, as if rachel cracks and spurts out that venom that keeps circulating through her repressed mind. rachel is not likeable but she is, as a character, a brittle bitch i can finally understand. sorry, muriel spark; sorry, margaret atwood (but not really.)
rachel's never been married but she's horny and when an old acquaintance, also a teacher, a man named nick, comes back to town for the summer holiday, she has an affair with him. it is her first ever, and now her thoughts turn to fantasy of sex with nick (even as she's having sex with nick), of love with nick and a life with nick. but the affair with nick is not the stuff of fairy tale. margaret laurence does not allow the reader any such delusion even if rachel carries on in her own mind. from the first date, nick is a selfish prick, in all senses. rachel flounders, attempting to listen, to make conversation but eventually begins to wish for none, only to be filled by him and to return to the embroidering of her fantasy, and then to the machinations of her duty, to dear mama. nick made me revolt. i found rachel's desperation and her fantasy maddening, and many aspects of their relationship, of all the relationships between rachel and the characters she comes into contact with, to be difficult, even soul-destroying, all the more because you can understand why these people are that way.
this is why, as a reader, as a woman, was grateful i had not fallen into the novel: understanding rachel meant there was so much to be frustrated and feel trapped by, so much to resent, so much reason to be as rachel was, and nobody would want that. but i held fast and margaret laurence rewarded me: she shattered the fantasies and her character and my conceptions, and she laid those shards out in a different shape, and when i reached the end, i felt that she had led both her reader and rachel, still unlikeable, still bitter, still thinking things one would never say out loud, but still human for all that, into a place where something else was possible, where choices could be made, where change could come. there are a few key scenes in the book that really shock you into appreciating rachel's emotional ignorance that i think the reader has to experience for themselves even though my mind immediately darts to them when i think about the book. this is not a romance: rachel is not a woman that will be rescued by love and i am grateful for that. the relationship with nick is merely a spur and the action is just a backdrop for the exploration of the themes of duty, family, of life and death that laurence explores, and the bombshells that she drops.
at one point, rachel goes to the visit the man who took over her father's funeral parlour, and i think this is when she finally begins to gain clarity. in discussing her father, she is stunned by another perspective, and a realization that some people might actually choose stasis or solitude, that it's not necessarily a by-product of obligation.
i give the book five stars because while it's not really a pleasant experience, i can't deny how powerfully wrought it is. laurence is really a consummate writer and plays her reader like a fiddle. i do believe that it is harder to respect this work without remembering that it was written in 1966, and it has dated to some degree (atwood argues differently in her afterword but she wrote that more than twenty-five years ago now). some of it is, quite frankly, outrageous in a contemporary world. but i cannot fault margaret laurence for this: i believe novels like hers made it possible to help challenge contemporary minds of that era so that we could get to where we are now, and if we are cognizant of this as we read a jest of god, we can appreciate it more. ...more
i adore nicholson baker's writing voice and i really feel i can give no higher compliment than this: quite often it is how a writer's voice resonates with me that makes or breaks a novel for me; no matter what craft it might otherwise hold. my first encounter with it came when i read the dry observations of the mezzanine and then later i was alarmed, allured and amused by two of his smuttier works, the fermata and house of holes, and was pleased but not awed by the paul chowder novel previous to this, the anthologist. still, each time i was simultaneously stimulated and comforted by that voice. and then came the travelling sprinkler, his latest and arguably best novel.
karen alerted me to the fact that this was on net galley so i downloaded it. but then she kindly put a print arc in my hands (the hardcover doesn't come out until september) and i was really excited because it stood to reason that i would enjoy it too -- because of the whole voice thing.
what i didn't realize was that i was about to read what has become my favourite nicholson baker book thus far. in true "i love this" fashion, i read it twice through. and while i know the book is about paul chowder, i couldn't help but feel when reading the travelling sprinkler, that i had really spent a few days visiting with him, but even more so with his author, in the same manner i would with an old and dear friend, who might ask "have you heard this one?" and pull up a video on youtube. there is, in fact, at least one url printed directly in the book, and i suspect that the enhanced ebook they're also publishing will have direct links to other content embedded within it, permissions clearance permitting.
despite this being a sequel of sorts to the anthologist, i don't think you have to have read that book to love this one; aside from a passing references to his flying spoon poems a new reader wouldn't get but doesn't really need to, the novel stands perfectly on its own.
so what happens here? paul chowder is a poet who decides he wants to write pop songs instead. or protest songs. or both. he's experimenting with tobacco and he's going to quaker meetings. he misses his old girlfriend roz and he tries to be a good neighbour. in the midst of this little slice of his life, he also writes a book about music: about the bassoon, and about debussy and his sunken cathedral; about victoria de los angeles and bachiana brasileira nº 5, and also about guitars, and electronic keyboards, and seven hundred dollar microphones ordered from the B&H catalogue. and you might somewhat impatiently wait, as i did, for him to finally finish explaining about the travelling sprinkler. i was tempted to look it up on the interweb to see what it looked like but i restrained myself. i actually considered pasting a photo of travelling sprinkler into this review as i read the book because i was so impatient, so flummoxed by the trail of hose on the cover, but in the end found i was happier that i waited for it, waited for him.
paul digresses to us about the minute details of his thoughts and memories, of aspects of his life in that typical, tangential, signature nicholson baker way. but what's more, he reveals a gentle heart, an emotional depth that hasn't been apparent in the other baker novels that i have read, including its predecessor. and that's what really made the book surpass my expectations. and it felt like paul chowder had opened up to me, in a way he never had before, and that it was okay for him to try to take those rare moments of happiness for himself. and i could hear the smile in nicholson baker's writing voice and for a while, i smiled too.
goodreads tells me i've now read seventeen wodehouse books, with sixteen of those being novels and short stories -- the other is a wonderful collectiogoodreads tells me i've now read seventeen wodehouse books, with sixteen of those being novels and short stories -- the other is a wonderful collection i can only highly recommend, called Wodehouse On Wodehouse that is part memoir of his time writing for musical theatre, and partly selected letters, and also part sort-of autobiography. so it should be obvious that i love a good wodehouse novel. but i'm coming to terms that i have certain favourites and that wodehouse has a cast of archetypes for his fiction, and depending on which set you read first, you might take on a preference. i definitely have: it's jeeves and wooster that i love best though there are individual stories with many of the characters, the drones, mr. mulliner, uncle fred in particular, that i also adore. i've thought about wodehouse characters, trying to slot them into the various archetypes he uses and trying to determine the overlap and traits, and from them, my own predilections.
wodehouse has a template and it's a mistake to focus on it: his comic archetypes and his classical structure serves its purpose as a springboard for wodehouse's pen, dripping with outrageously clever language, and dialogue, his remarkable facility with them might remind us again of that highly successful career in musical theatre, mostly writing the lyrics to guy bolton's book. they collaborated in a fruitful partnership of hits with composer jerome kern. above all, he has a truly genius comedic wit...and sometimes it hits one harder than others, in some books more so than others. wodehouse fans all have their favourites. and so, i must make it clear that while i'm invariably in wodehouse's corner, he's at a disadvantage here with me because i'm not with jeeves and wooster.
in this novel, summer lightning, we are at blandings castle, with clarence, lord emsworth who is a fine an old mad lord as one could ever wish for, pig-happy and free of all cares except those that are visited on him by his fussy family. his nephew, ronnie fish (son to his sister, julia) stirs up trouble by wanting to marry a showgirl. lord emsworth is largely unaware of this for the most part while they, and the rest of his satellites (his bossy sisters, his brother, a jeeves-like sage aptly named galahad who is writing infamous memoirs, his scheming secretaries (former and current), his butler, his daughter, the much maligned neighbour/slash pig competition competitor all conspire around him. shenanigans ensue, and they are funny but a little... long for me. and then to find the action continued in the follow-up summer lightning, which further extends the story of the romance of ronnie and his show girl sue, and also resolving the other major plotline revolving around the memoirs that galahad's been writing that -- dash it all -- might tarnish the reputations of several members of the british aristocracy who also serve as family friends and acquaintances. again. the same story in essentials. and in short, too long. i may have perhaps liked them better had i not read them back-to-back. but they do feel like one really, really long novel to me. and perhaps it's just not as absurd as i like my wodehouse. certainly, i know i seem contradictory: i *just* said one had to go with the structure but there's too much of it, and just not enough i find funny here or enough wodehouse flourish to make me forget.
and beyond that, i miss jeeve's ability to bring order to the chaos, and i miss bertie's ability to bungle it so jeeves has to do it all over again -- as they did in a similarly-themed (young lovers, scandalous memoirs) short story called "jeeves takes charge" that introduced the two characters, which i read, incidentally, on first delving into wodehouse books in earnest.. preference established. it's never out-and-out boring and a middling wodehouse is still better than many. this one just isn't a favourite....more
the review i wrote for summer lightning, the effective prequel to this novel, sums up my feeling on heavy weather as well. they are interchangeable inthe review i wrote for summer lightning, the effective prequel to this novel, sums up my feeling on heavy weather as well. they are interchangeable in my mind but for chronology at this point. to wit,
this is just a lovely book, an objet d'art beautifully packaged in a way that's increasingly rare these days. i liked the charcoal drawings in this hathis is just a lovely book, an objet d'art beautifully packaged in a way that's increasingly rare these days. i liked the charcoal drawings in this hardbound graphic novel, particularly the scenic shots of the riverboat on the water very much. the protagonist, captain twain (not, not mark -- this one, elijah, reminds us that twain was not his real name and that he's some other writing riverboat captain) sort of looks like the count from sesame street but i eventually got over the resemblance.
the story is told in flashbacks and there are several narrative strands. siegel does a pretty great job with his visual storytelling and i was very engaged in the various romances, and friendships and nightmares presented. i do think that the ending was a little weak -- discussing it with patty, who let me read her copy, i agreed with her that he was attempting to leave it open, but to me, it just felt confused and unresolved, and honestly, a teensy bit like a cop out. but! overall a fun little read and i'd be curious to read more of his work.
rounding up to four stars. n.b. for those who like charcoal drawings of cartoon naked lady boobs, there are a LOT of cartoon naked lady boobs (sort of hard to avoid when one of your main characters is a mermaid. :)...more
shazam! i'm reading ring lardner again and this time it really crystallizes for me why i like him so much. it's this voice that always puts me in thatshazam! i'm reading ring lardner again and this time it really crystallizes for me why i like him so much. it's this voice that always puts me in that barber chair, or pulls up a stool beside me at the bar, this simple and persuasive voice of a master raconteur. i have a serious penchant for this anecdotal tone, this folksy style, reminiscent of o. henry, promoted by fitzgerald, admired and emulated by my favourite salinger. the subtle yet insistent vernacular sits me down every time and i am fully acclimatized. it's simple straight forward finely-tuned storytelling and i admire the hell out of it.
Just ten stories are found in these pages, including the often and justly anthologized well-known lardner stories like the eponymous "haircut", "i can't breathe", "a day with conrad green", "the love nest" and "the golden honeymoon". there is a mix of slice of life and the sporting life -- before fitzgerald championed his fiction, lardner was primarily known a sportswriter who loved baseball, and this passion is reflected in the inclusion of "alibi ike" and "horseshoes".
in revisiting these stories, i find "i can't breathe" still so knowing -- it is the blue print of the empty-headed love struck teen. reprint this puppy in a teen magazine today and i know they'd relate even if it was first published in 1925. along these lines, the notions of a perfect marriage, and love are challenged in "the love nest" in a way that would ring a bell for anyone familiar with those real plastic housewives of greedywood county.
that said, there are a few times where it's clear lardner's stories are relics of their time -- there are off-the-cuff racist remarks that reflect the age, and then there's this joke in alibi ike, about his family living in the post office which always makes me wish for an annotated edition, as i don't get the joke any more than ike does. for those that wonder how i can abide lardner given my usual aversion to satire, all i can say is that he writes the bathos and pathos of the lives he describes in a way that charms me, and they are married perfectly within his satirical world view. i love lardner; i only wish i had more of his stories on hand.
doing literary detective diligence on youtube, i found a clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3M5opT... of groucho marx and truman capote on the dick cavett show where they briefly discuss lardner as a writer. groucho suggests him as a great comic writer and capote disagrees saying what lardner writes is not humour at all. he also says that groucho is wrong when he relays the story that lardner wrote only when drunk -- capote argues one can't write drunk at all, only re-write. then more weird stuff happens, including groucho rambling about his accountant and eventually proposing marriage to capote.
i also found this article about the friendship of fitzgerald and lardner which really needed a proofread, but is nonetheless enlightening.
the idea of raffles, the gentleman thief, obverse of the legendary sherlock holmes, gentleman detective (the creation of hornung's esteemed brother-inthe idea of raffles, the gentleman thief, obverse of the legendary sherlock holmes, gentleman detective (the creation of hornung's esteemed brother-in-law arthur conan doyle), thrills me. and i can't say i don't normally adore the idea of working outside the law to balance the scales of justice -- i watch timothy hutton's modern-day robin hood crew on leverage as often as possible. there is no doubt that raffles is in some ways the progenitor of this type of character but in reading the book i realized the only redress was being made to "the cracksman"'s pocket. before reading this collection of stories, i had visions of hutton's character nate ford, and the great french character arsène lupin or baroness orczy's scarlett pimpernel but instead found raffles anticipating leopold and loeb:
"A matter of opinion, my dear Bunny; I don't mean it for rot. I've told you before that the biggest man alive is the man who's committed a murder, and not yet been found out; at least he ought to be, but he so very seldom has the soul to appreciate himself. Just think of it! Think of coming here and talking to the men, very likely about the murder itself; and knowing you've done it; and wondering how they'd look if they knew! Oh, it would be great, simply great!" - from "Wilful Murder"
much has been made of the fact that raffles has a code -- he does not murder; he only steals when he has need. as it turns out raffles doesn't actually subscribe to the code he lays out -- he seems to make excuses for lapses of conduct often, perhaps revealing how little it means -- see the story quoted above for a revision of his "no murder" rule, or "A Costume Piece" for how he decides to go ahead with a robbery which won't alleviate his financial constraints but simply for the challenge. it would seem that the victorians would identify with the idea that crime was understandable if it prevented one from quitting their "rightful" sphere, and for those who stood a high moral ground hornung introduced the misgivings of bunny (his sidekick and former fag at public school) as a balance to raffles' complete lack of ethics.
as members of the unmonied upper class, both raffles and bunny are part of Society and are terrified to lose their standing (though not so much so that they quit the gambling and the tailors that have brought them low) in the class system they so adore. but when i shake it out, all i can see is that raffles is a dated sociopath cricket player, who will not quit his sphere despite his inability to afford it and is a relic of the deep divide in classes as much as cricket and the public school system. i was woefully misapprehended regarding the character of raffles -- i expected that this much ballyhooed code was real, that raffles' choices might result from some reflection, be difficult to arrive at, or borne of something i could more easily identify with, instead i found him to be a character completely ingrained in the class system: entitled, selfish, and grasping. i don't say that this makes raffles less of an interesting character but he's no raskolnikov either. i don't feel any sense of conflict or even engagement when he embarks on a plan, or a concern for his well-being because his motivations don't mean a thing to me -- or to him, either, it seems. his friend bunny is the loyal dimwit who assists him in schemes which brings me to what i liked least about the raffles stories: the mode in which the action is delivered.
in the majority of these stories raffles conceives of a plan of action and does not share its details with bunny. we are then left to hear him relate to bunny the plan after the fact, an issue that bunny himself points out:
"Then you should have let me know when you did decide. You lay your plans, and never say a word, and expect me to tumble to them by light of nature. How was I to know you had anything on?"
i really didn't like this device at all and the revelation of the plan was never so exciting or elaborate in the recitation that i gave up my resentment. i found the structure of the stories boring -- a lot of exposition, and when they are actually engaged in action it's often of a boring sort: for example, in one tale, bunny is awakened to sounds of a struggle and tasked with holding a suspect while the scotland yard detective who has nabbed the competitor thief goes after the others. bunny stands there holding the suspect. there's a lot of talk. he holds him some more. hooey! hold me back from this gripping story!
i can say i found his prose very clean, and the dialogue charming -- just overused in exposition. i was going to give the book only two stars but seeing as it gave me lots to think about in terms of what not to do with structure and characterization, and really is the precursor to so many other gentleman thieves that i am in debt to hornung for his contribution to the archetype, and so the collection gets three stars on those merits though i don't know how long that shall stick.
N.B. before anybody takes my analysis of raffles and his lack of morals as evidence that i just don't like books with amoral characters, i'll say when reading this i thought of how much more i loved bertie woosters attempts at stealing a cow creamer, o. henry's pastiche of shamrock jolnes, not to mention his tales of burglars and thieves, and how engaged i was in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer despite the repugnance of the main character.
bonus review material for the literary detectives out there: the george orwell essay that is quoted liberally whenever raffles is discussed is actually a comparative book review he wrote in 1944. it is available online here: http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/chas... i myself appreciated the opportunity to read orwell's commentary on raffles in context -- most of the time only a line or two is referenced, and usually makes it seem like orwell thought hornung a genius. on my own reading, i see that orwell did find interest in raffles relationship to english society especially in his relationship to cricket, and that he liked the book more than the one he was comparing it to. it seems to me that he thought the book good for its small lights, and was not quite as overpowered by it as critical essays and reviews who cite him would have one believe. :)
lots of shenanigans in a fun little novel that i certainly cannot fault for failing to provide adventure. these are the many exciting exploits that yolots of shenanigans in a fun little novel that i certainly cannot fault for failing to provide adventure. these are the many exciting exploits that young lawyer turned revolutionary turned actor:the eponymous scaramouche and our hero, andré-louis moreau embarks upon, and the back drop -- the years of the french revolution -- make an interesting setting for sabatini's special brand of swashbuckling.
so entertaining, yes. but..
there are too many forgettable inconsistent supporting characters abruptly abandoned for yet another set replacing them with each career, and unfailingly, each career we find scaramouche remarkably proficient in, and his own convenient composure makes him feel a little trite. in contrast, captain blood is capable: he is doctor and soldier and pirate. but it doesn't always go his way. he has some serious setbacks, and moral quandaries, and bad luck, and he gets loaded and cries like a baby. scaramouche? if he gives a speech it will rival the greatest revolutionary leaders; if he decides to write a play, he will compete with molière. and when he has setbacks, he withdraws into himself and away from the reader and excels at something else, and it doesn't matter how many times (and he tells me many times) sabatini explains that scaramouche is really only protecting himself, that he is not as heartless as he seems, but he also seems infallible, and that is kind of boring. i want to feel like there is some peril for the hero -- that there is some sacrifice in his success.
i had to transcribe a paragraph which i think sabatini meant for laughs, but seemed like a really peculiar digression that came out of nowhere which makes me wonder if it was a question that the author had pitted himself during the course of his researches on the period:
"This is M. Danton, a brother-lawyer, President of the Cordeliers, of whom you will have heard." Of course André-Louis had heard of him. Who had not, by then? Looking at him now with interest, André-Louis wondered how it came hat all, or nearly all the leading innovators, were pock-marked. Mirabeau, the journalist Desmoulins, the philanthropist Marat, Robespierre the little lawyer from Arras, this formidable fellow Danton, and several others he could call to mind all bore upon them the scars of smallpox. Almost he began to wonder was there any connection between the two. Did an attack of smallpox produce certain moral results which found expression in this way?
sabatini's seemingly suggesting that revolutionaries only need to feel pretty to put aside the causes. it goes nowhere. it's just a little weird digression that made me shake my head. :)
so a likeable romp but not as complete, emotionally engaging or fluid as the book he published only a year later. i will be reading more sabatini. guess i'll see whether they hold a candle to the captain blood. :)...more
i'm sort of sad i can't give this a more enthusiastic yes. matheson has given me a lot over the years. his touch is all over film and television: he pi'm sort of sad i can't give this a more enthusiastic yes. matheson has given me a lot over the years. his touch is all over film and television: he penned screenplays for the roger corman-poe cycle i loved so well growing up. he also famously wrote a significant portion of the classic twilight zone episodes and some of the most memorable: nightmare at twenty thousand feet, the doll, the invaders, and little girl lost among them. for that alone, i might have loved him. but then of course there is I Am Legend, justly regarded as a classic vampire novel, and then the remarkably disturbing The Incredible Shrinking Man, which bears but passing resemblance to the films that have shared and changed its name. those were fantastic novels that really made emotional impressions on me. and he also wrote the teleplays that brought my favourite newspaperman, carl kolchak to life.
so, you know, i want to love everything the guy ever did.
but i can't say that's true. in fact, if i look at his bibliography it seems to me that i'm not really a fan of his later work. he published hell house in 1971, and i thought it was good but lacked the tension and impact of his earlier stories and novels. and journal of the gun years is a much later work -- twenty years later. i guess i should give thanks it's not Hunted Past Reason.
all that to say there is still some substantial charm here. i like tales of the west, and he's adept at character. there are a bunch of wild escapades, and those are hard to resist. but the structure is clunky as all get out, and i was really surprised at some of the choices he made -- at times it strikes me more as a creative exercise, a working out of a character that will be the backbone of a substantial novel that it really isn't.
i always wonder how much of the output that beloved writers publish in their later years is new work, and how much is stuff that they put away for a rainy day because it wasn't quite right, and then forgetting there were problems they just submit it to their agents for publication when they start to run out of money. matheson also wrote constantly and steadily, repurposing as he went through tv and film and magazines and novels. it would have been a remarkable feat if all of it was as good as the shrinking man....more
a very clever book from a really sharp writer that i realized too late was a satire. i would have thought that names would have been enough for me anda very clever book from a really sharp writer that i realized too late was a satire. i would have thought that names would have been enough for me and he does pursue some really interesting lines of thought but when all is said and done i would wish for more meat and less cucumber sandwich.
a few months of staring blankly into space means that finishing this book was a major accomplishment for me. normally, it would have been a quick read but for this cursed lack of focus.. anyway, it is a simple little romance, and i do like enigmatic, artistic pirates very much, so i found some fun in frenchman's creek. i wasn't crazy about it, though, beyond the eponymous pirate.
the heroine, lady dona st. columb starts off very precious, driving the thirsty and exhausted horses of her carriage on despite the concerns of the servant she commands. there is nobody chasing her, except perhaps an image in her mind of herself, wearing boy's breeches. she had lately done so, alleviating the boredom she felt in life by scaring an old lady while sneaking around in the middle of the night with her husband's cousin and best friend, rockingham. as a result of this secret shame, she has commanded that her husband, sir harry, stay behind in london while she exiles herself to his country seat, navron in cornwall, with just the children for company.
lady dona, or lady lady, if you will (dona is used as the honorific "lady" in latin countries) has come to realize that she doesn't much like the woman she's become (she will repeatedly tell everyone within hearing that she is "near thirty" in the novel) and that she worries that the dignity her title affords is all she has retained. she does not love her husband (she married him because she liked his eyes but apparently that is no longer enough) and she tries to love her children (she has two) but there's really only evidence of some small affection or perhaps more properly, a compulsive maternal connection to her son, james. her daughter henrietta is only casually mentioned and most often she doesn't distinguish between them, only saying how much she enjoys picking flowers with the children. of course, that's when she's not leaving them in care of their nurse, and sneaking off the estate for a few days to go fishing in the creek with our titular frenchman, the pirate. the pirate does has a name but in dialogue he is always the frenchman, so i'm not going to bother telling you his name; du maurier seems to have been allergic to them, anyway. sometimes he draws pictures of dona when he is not sketching birds or teaching her about fishing or the natural world. and of course he used to have a title and be fancy but he gave up all that for adventures on the high seas (and the high creeks, of course). so hurray for the frenchman despite his taste in women!
the thing that bugged me most about the novel was du maurier's handling of the period, the historical part of the romance. the book never feels planted in the seventeenth century even though the bulk of the action takes place then. she had already shown so much command in the previously-published rebecca and had already written this type of book, the bodice-ripper jamaica inn, so it's sort of surprising du maurier seems so unsure as a writer here. the first chapter is not set in the period she has committed to: instead she has a contemporary, unnamed yachtsman sail past the part of cornwall where dona's story unfolded two centuries before. she even provides a full precis of the action of the novel here, called forth by the land as he floats by: it is as if the birds, the creek and the country are haunted by this lady and her lover. perhaps she meant this "foreshadowing" as an effect to heighten the power of her romance, that the love herein described still "echoes through the ages" but i did not find it effective.
and then there's lady dona herself. du maurier wants you to knows she is an inevitably devastatingly beautiful, ringletted, fiery and strong-willed woman who is used to getting her way, essentially born in the wrong era. the problem in terms of the novel is that everybody else, ostensibly supposed to be part of the norm in society, accepts her behaviour and conveniently accedes to it at every point and frankly, i didn't buy it.. really? lord godolphin would allow her to do *that*? du maurier doesn't make the remotest effort to have dona's movements impeded by her time or position. her husband is ruled by her but so is everybody else, it seems. the only check on her actions comes from the lady herself which seems incompatible with restoration-era england.
as other reviewers have noted, lady dona seems to be du maurier's tragic mary sue, a woman who can bend anyone to her will, whose portrait can make a man lose his heart but whose face is conveniently forgettable when it counts. she cannot have everything she wants because she is constrained by her sex. i do actually feel that if du maurier didn't think Society would judge her for it, she would've given this novel the ending that some romantics yearn for, and had she not had children herself, i don't imagine the novel would have unfolded the way it did at all.
all this i struggled to accept but the worst parts of the novel for me were two scenes where dona and her frenchman were together, at their first late-night supper, and later on when fishing. dona is at her most annoying here as she petulantly mewls about the limitations of being a woman, about how much less a woman is than a man. thankfully the pirate argues with her in defense of the sex she disparages but it seemed to me her limitations were of class not sex: the reason she could not fish or cook was because she was wealthy, because she was a lady lady. and please stop saying women aren't creative, stupid dona, so that our hero, the frenchman can point out the obvious powers.
i did like the servant william and her dynamic with him, though i grew tired of dona's describing him as a man with a "button mouth". what does that even mean? (i keep imagining sylvester stallone's mouth.) also, i know i already mentioned it, but i thought i should end on a high note: the frenchman pirate is really attractive. come tell me about birds and share your cheese with me, monsieur. still, i couldn't help but think of how much more i had enjoyed sabatini's Captain Blood. now there's a pirate romance!
probably closer to 2.5 stars but given that i am happy to have finished something, i'm shining up three.
** disclaimer: this book was originally published in 1978. we have different terms and interpretations for mental illness now than we did then. i remi** disclaimer: this book was originally published in 1978. we have different terms and interpretations for mental illness now than we did then. i reminded myself of that when i read this book and i'd advise anybody who might read it to remind themselves of same and that it is a work of speculative fiction.
when alistair crompton was just a kid, he did some pretty horrifying things. when his parents finally undertook to get him treatment, they were told that he had "viral schizophrenia" and it had been caught too late. the only hope for alistair (so They said) was a procedure where his brain would be analyzed, and his new array of personalities physically split, the wilder ones ousted and thrust into human simulacra while what was perceived as the most stable persona was allowed to remain in his body, still to be called alistair, alone. he was told that future integration with these personalities was possible but highly discouraged and to ensure that he didn't raise his hopes or make an attempt, the other parts of him were sent to distant corners of the galaxy.
despite the disapproval and the distance, one fine day he decides he can't take it anymore, decides to find himself, and bring himself all back together.
here again, robert sheckley woos me with his endless invention and creativity. but this time he marches me down the aisle with a rock-solid anchor of a premise, and that ballast makes the whirling dervish writing here something really significant -- he amuses you, bemuses, and underneath it all reminds you of the loneliness of the human experience, of the self, and the desire for marriage: to be completed, to be more than just that small stolid little self in our heads. the reader might lose sight of this at times, in the bacchanalia and riot of ideas and scenes and smirking innuendo but it is always there, and when i read the final page i thought i saw what he thinks of it all.
i nodded in assent. of course, i thought. that makes sense.
4.78 stars, i think. i'd split the different three ways, but these things have a way of multiplying. ...more
i have an iris murdoch headache. she made me cry like she always does, and i feel vaguely like i've just eaten a huge piece of blue cheesecake, heavyi have an iris murdoch headache. she made me cry like she always does, and i feel vaguely like i've just eaten a huge piece of blue cheesecake, heavy and hypnotic in its dense richness, dotted with sour bits, not too sweet. her people are very real and audacious. they are crazy and they are convincing. i think, 'yes, this is very true, people are like that, damn them.'
i would argue that there's not really a main character in this novel but rather it concerns a coterie of characters: david and his parents harriet and blaise gavender; blaise's mistress, emily mchugh, their son luca; and the gavender's neighbour, the well-known author monty small, his dead wife sophie, his mother, and his old school chum edgar demarnay. playing smaller roles are constance pinn, and kiki st loy. these will be the people we come to know in the sacred and profane love machine. they eat and drink (they drink a helluva lot), they walk or kick dogs, they talk, they think, they love, they try to understand, they fight, they fantasize. this novel exudes sex even if it is a practically sexless outing compared to some of her other novels. i became attuned to the character's desires, rooting for them to sort out these messes they've created, the messes they are.
i'm know i'm reading iris murdoch, yet she does this to me every time: she begins by lulling me with the comforts of the domestic scene, only to begin to unravel it. then she whacks me over the head with her philosophizing, here trying to get to the truth of love through its dualities, even as she has harriet rescue another dog.
that's not to say the novel is perfect: monty's constant preoccupation about maybe trying to be a school master again might have some weight that i'm unaware of, but i did want him to shut up about it, regardless. sometimes there are passages like this. and sometimes it's just hard spending time with these characters, they can be quite hateful, even if artfully executed, it's difficult being with them. hence, the headache. i've seen other reviews complain about the ending. it didn't spoil the book for me, and i won't spoil it, but i'll admit she tricked me completely. i didn't see it coming but it didn't feel like a cop out. it felt real to me, even if i didn't especially like how things turned out. and that's why i continue to return to murdoch: though her words might make me sick, in my head and in my heart, i'm going to come back for more because they all seem so true....more
**disclaimer: i got this book through the GoodReads "First Reads" giveaway program. nonetheless, this is my true and honest opinion of the novel!**
cla**disclaimer: i got this book through the GoodReads "First Reads" giveaway program. nonetheless, this is my true and honest opinion of the novel!**
clay jannon, the protagonist and narrator of the novel is a bright young art school graduate who takes a job at mr. penumbra's 24-hour bookstore after losing his job as a web designer, only to stumble upon the mysteries that the narrow building contains within its walls, and within the pages of what he calls "the way-back list". there's no acknowledgement printed in my ARC to my old friends mr. peabody and his boy sherman here, yet i felt them hovering over it in their WABAC machine and the novel really felt at times like it was an extended, more complicated adventure of theirs. clay embarks (pun intended -- sorry, blame mr. peabody) on a quest to understand the secrets of the store, with the help of some very resourceful pals (including a hot nerd chick who works at google, and a roommate who builds models for ILM), and with clay's voice, in this quick and entertaining novel, the author robin sloan cleverly pays tribute to technology, to books, and to knowledge, and most of all, to friendship.
i enjoy books that contain puzzles. i adore intertextuality, and i thrill to find books that have other books within them, and as one might imagine, mr. penumbra's 24-hour bookstore contains multitudes. some of them you can pick up at your local library-- with pleasure i found hammett name-checked early on. first editions of borges, the king of fictional libraries and imaginary books are boosted; murakami also makes an appearance (and there are apparently more biographies on richard feynman than i was ever aware of), while other books like the codex vitae of aldus manutius exist only in this novel that reminds us that the early printing press had a lot in common with the internet. it also points up that while the technology might be different, the intent, to share knowledge and the human story is in essence the same today as it was when the early publisher fictionalized here as part of the encrypted story in this charming, almost too contemporary novel, first brought key greek works like those of aristophanes and herodotus to be printed on his press in pocket-sized editions for the masses in the fifteenth century.
in the same way a new reader relies on a dictionary to understand the meaning of unfamiliar words, i often referred to the wikipedia and the wider resources of the internet when reading penumbra, as there were many references to people and technologies mentioned with which i was unfamiliar, and wasn't certain were even real. manutius' pivotal friend griffo gerritszoon seems to be based on his real-life employee francesco griffo and it was with great pleasure that i discovered that hadoop and the mechanical turk were real tools of the tech trade. sometimes, i'll admit, i worried that these references were too esoteric - i questioned an allusion to a bloomberg terminal probably supposed to inform the description of another technology (which didn't help me at all because i had no idea what the bloody bloomberg terminal was either), but in general i found that sloan embedded his technical terminology with dexterity, folding it into his narrative with good context and understanding of the general audience that would receive his book. sometimes my suspension of disbelief was hard-pressed by the convenience of the resources at clay's disposal as he unravels the secrets of penumbra's store but ultimately i embraced them, as part of the puzzle that i was unpacking as a reader, a lover of knowledge, and if you will, a literary detective. ...more