Miss Jean Brodie is an teacher at a girl's school who has a coterie of young girls that she teaches whom she has decided are la "crème de la crème". A...moreMiss Jean Brodie is an teacher at a girl's school who has a coterie of young girls that she teaches whom she has decided are la "crème de la crème". Always reminding them that she is in her prime, Miss Brodie spends her time trying to mold these girls into young Brodies, and has definite notions about the meaning of education -- to the extent to which later, after they've left her, she begins to try to live her life somewhat vicariously through the lives of some of the "Brodie Set." It is this which leads one of them to Miss Brodie's "betrayal," and forced retirement.
There are a lot of interesting themes to explore in this book, and it has been well covered, so I won't go into any depth here; I thought one of the most interesting ideas was the recurring theme of Miss Brodie's fascination with fascism -- one could easily see after reading this book why she was so taken with Mussolini and the black shirts in the 1930s (at the time in which this book was set). I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but I will say that this was a fabulous book and you will continue to think about it long after you've finished it. Don't look to it for plot, so much, but rather look at the characters. The wonderful job the author does with the characters is what makes this book so incredibly good.(less)
Set in 1960, the action takes place at an all-boys boarding school where the elite rich mix with students on scholarships. Related by a narrator whose...moreSet in 1960, the action takes place at an all-boys boarding school where the elite rich mix with students on scholarships. Related by a narrator whose name we never learn, one of the students, as the story opens, the buzz around the school is that Robert Frost will be a guest speaker, and a contest is on to see which boy will spend some time as the guest of Robert Frost for a day. The contest is based on writing; students write a piece and it is submitted to the staff for their review; the author himself picks the winner from the narrowed-down field of writing. This contest is a regular feature at the school, and after Robert Frost, the next guest is Ayn Rand. The scene with Ayn Rand is probably one of the better chapters in any book I've ever read; it is funny and absolutely delightful.
Wolff's writing is excellent, and through him, we really get to know this narrator. You can really understand this guy; how he feels at times like he doesn't quite belong there; how he wrestles with beng part Jewish but yet not wishing to acknowledge it publicly, and how when he has an opportunity to finally tell his own story, the risk he takes in doing so (to win an audience with Hemingway) ends up in a way he never expected.
Not that I'm an expert here, but I see in these pages a theme along the lines of seeking out truth and honesty; both inwardly as a person, and outwardly, as a writer. I'm sure there are many places on the internet where you can get a more in-depth look at this book critically, so I'm not even going to try.
Suffice it to say that this is a most excellent story; it's not a feel-good kind of thing; it is gritty and honest and you'll find yourself getting into the story easily and staying there through the end.(less)
I think that you have to read and consider this book as a product of its times (originally published in 1968). I mean, everyone who cares knows that E...moreI think that you have to read and consider this book as a product of its times (originally published in 1968). I mean, everyone who cares knows that Eldridge Cleaver went on to become a member of the Mormon church (although he wasn't very active), then dinked with some other religious groups, merged with the right wing, ran for the Senate as a Republican, and supported Reagan for president. So -- people change. But at the time this book was written, Cleaver was an angry man, and this book reflects a bit of the invective espoused at the time, and not just by Cleaver. Furthermore, he had every right to be angry, considering what was happening back then in the area of civil rights -- Vietnam, the death of Malcolm X, race riots, etc. Put into historical perspective, you've got an awesome source for the viewpoint of some radical Blacks of the time, you know, the ones who felt like Black America had to get up and do something.
And, if you judge this book by the writing, Cleaver is considerably eloquent, able to express himself well through the written word.
I'd recommend this one to people who want to put themselves in the mindset of one facet of that era. I wouldn't espouse his politics, but you do have to take into account that had their not been people like Cleaver, or Angela Davis, or Malcolm X (and the list goes on), who didn't sit quietly and hope for change, African-American people might just find themselves continuing to live in the status quo of that time, and then where would someone like Obama be? Not that I agree with their methodologies, but at least people took notice. (less)
This novel got inside of my skin -- I haven't figured out why yet, but it did, and I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for a long time to come. It is t...moreThis novel got inside of my skin -- I haven't figured out why yet, but it did, and I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for a long time to come. It is the second of Jeffrey Ford's books that I've read (the first being The Girl in the Glass) and he does not disappoint. His writing is excellent, and there is no better way to describe his work. If you want something WAY off the beaten path, and certainly off the path of what's on the bookshelves at your local bookstore, then try this one.
here's the basic story, in a nutshell, but I can't do it justice because it's so incredible:
Set in late 1800s Manhattan, the book's main character is an artist with the name of Piambo. His portraits have gained him fame, because he is gifted at creating the illusion of how people want to be seen on canvas. At the unveiling of one portrait where he's painted a philandering man's less-than-perfect wife as a stylish beauty, he realizes that there's more to art than this kind of thing. So when he receives a mysterious commission for a painting for which he'll be paid quite handsomely, he jumps at it. Here's the catch: he must paint a woman, a Mrs. Charbuque, who he cannot see. If he somehow can capture her perfectly, he will have more money than he has ever made in his life. She alone will decide if the painting is accurate, at which point he will make double the money. Piambo now has the opportunity to quit portraiture and focus on art that he wishes to create after this last portrait. At first he thinks this is ridiculous but after he thinks about it, he realizes that he'll make a lot of money whether or not the portrait is correct, so he goes for it. So how is he to do this? He has to conjure her through listening to her stories about herself and her life. As he begins, she starts telling him stories that tend to blow him away, but eventually she and her stories become an obsession with him.
Ford's incredible prose will hit you the moment you start the story, and as you go deeper, the story takes hold of your mind. I can't go into any more detail, but you are truly going to love this one. If you really want something different, give it a try.
NO spoilers Undoubtedly the weirdest, strangest book I've ever read, but the truth is that it is also one of the better-written works I've read. Extrem...moreNO spoilers Undoubtedly the weirdest, strangest book I've ever read, but the truth is that it is also one of the better-written works I've read. Extremely disturbing due to its incestuous content, the story is really kind of creepy. Very much in the psychological vein, the story is very dark in tone. I would recommend it to people who are looking for something rather unique in their reading.
The story is told by one Toby Hawke, a boy of 18 who lives with his mom and has never seen his father. The only other family Toby knows is his great-aunt Luce and her lover Liberty. Toby's mom, Isolde (Iso), is only 15 years older than Toby, and Toby and she have been close all of his life -- maybe too close, because Toby is in love with her. Thus begins the whole "Oedipal page-turner," as advertised on my copy of the novel. But a new figure enters their lives -- a mysterious stranger known only as Roehm, who begins to exert a bizarre influence on both son and mother, turning their once quiet & somewhat predictable existence into a living hell for the two of them.
If you can shed your disgust long enough to finish the story (which I had to do -- I almost put the book away at a key point or two), you may enjoy this one. There are some things that bugged me about the book, but the story is quite good, and you'll have to decide for yourself what is really going on here. The ending may leave people a little upset, because of its abruptness, but it is in keeping with the rest of the story.(less)
As the novel opens, the narrator, Stephen, returns in his old age to the neighborhood where he grew up during WWII England. Wandering around the old s...moreAs the novel opens, the narrator, Stephen, returns in his old age to the neighborhood where he grew up during WWII England. Wandering around the old streets, certain sights, sounds and smells (especially the sweet smell of the flowers on the privet hedge) conjure up Stephen the boy, and what happened to him many years ago during his childhood. While the memories are slowly unfurled, Stephen the man often adds in his own questions about what Stephen the boy could and should have understood (or not) about what was happening at the time.
What Stephen the man looks back on is a certain episode of his youth, when his friend Keith Hayward made the announcement that his mother was a German spy. He based his claim on observations he made about his mother's movements around the neighborhood. His bright idea was to set up surveillance so that he and Stephen could come up with proof of this allegation, and Stephen, who wanted so desperately to fit into Keith's world, went along with the plan. Yet, so many times what children see and think is actually a misinterpretation of what's really going on in the often-incomprehensible world of adults, and Keith and Stephen start down a path which leads to some tragic consequences.
This book has been criticized by some readers for being too slow, but don't believe it. The author spends a lot of time placing the reader into Stephen the boy's neighborhood, complete with smells and other memory triggers, and this basis of place and time is very important. What really makes this book, though, are the characters. There's Stephen, of course, who is of "inferior" class to his friend Keith. Stephen understands that to remain Keith's friend, there are certain unwritten and unspoken rules that he has to follow. Keith is an odd boy, a bullying type who lives with his unemotional, stiff upper-lip, everything-in-its-place kind of father and a mother who is outwardly very charming but whose inner life is a question mark. Spies is not a passive read, meaning that a great deal of reader involvement is necessary, but when you've finished it, you'll want to read it again. (less)
Smoking Poppy tells the story of Danny Innes, who one day gets a phone call saying that his daughter Charlie has been arrested in Thailand. It seems t...moreSmoking Poppy tells the story of Danny Innes, who one day gets a phone call saying that his daughter Charlie has been arrested in Thailand. It seems that she's now imprisoned and may be facing the death penalty. Even though Charlie and Danny have been somewhat estranged for a while now (since Charlie went off to Oxford, it seems), Danny is off to see what he can do. He is accompanied by a friend, Mick, and his son Phil, who has channeled his alienation from his father into religious zealotry. Their arrival at the prison only brings disappointment...it seems that the woman being held there isn't his daughter after all; she's stolen Charlie's passport. Rumors say that Charlie trekked into the opium fields...and that's really where the story takes off.
I won't say more, because it would spoil the read for anyone who may be interested, but Smoking Poppy was very well done. All of the characters were realistically written, the setting was exotic and real enough that you could picture yourself there. I couldn't put it down once I started.
I wouldn't advise this for people who are happy when writers spell everything out neatly and cleanly; this is a book that requires reader participation and lots of thought.
Overall, a fantastic story and one I won't soon forget. (less)