The short back-cover blurb by The Financial Times calls this book "snow-noir." There seems to be a noir for everythingsomewhere between a 3.5 and a 4.
The short back-cover blurb by The Financial Times calls this book "snow-noir." There seems to be a noir for everything these days, a concept that doesn't really sit well with me but that's another story so we'll save it for another time or I'll just get myself all worked up. But really, there is nothing better when your brain is overloaded than a good mystery to carry you away. And this one is good.
The Winter of the Lions is third in a series set in Finland, featuring Detective Kimmo Joentaa whose wife has passed away and who finds it hard to move away from his grief. There are two central mysteries in this book having to do with a series of crimes that hits close to home for our grieving detective and a third, more peripheral puzzle which centers around a strange woman who latches on to Joentaa shortly after meeting him at the police station on Christmas Eve. When all is said and done, The Winter of the Lions turned out to be a dark, haunting read that kept me turning pages during an all-day readfest.
Just briefly, because it's difficult to talk about this book without giving too much away, Joentaa and his colleagues are called to the scene of an horrific crime, involving someone close to the squad. The forensic pathologist has been brutally murdered while out cross-country skiing. While coming to terms with his death, the detectives soon find themselves with another victim on their hands, a man who makes puppet models of corpses for television and movies. In both cases the clues are virtually non-existent; it is only through a chance remark that Joentaa reveals that both victims had been together as guests on a popular TV talk show. After reviewing a DVD of that particular episode, Joentaa and colleagues are no closer to finding the killer, but it does give our angsty, grief-stricken detective a line of inquiry to follow. Mystery number two, which is written quite well, involves an unidentified someone known only as "She." Her story is revealed slowly until the full weight of what's happened to her comes down on the reader like a ton of bricks. Mystery number three is, as I said, sort of peripheral to the main events of this novel, involving a young woman who first encounters Joentaa on Christmas Eve while reporting a rape. She refuses to give up any details except the name of the guy who did it and eventually walks out of the station in frustration, only to show up at Joentaa's doorstep the next day, basically moving into his house. All three of these plotlines weave together into a very slow-burning mystery which, once things start to unravel, turns into a dark and haunting story that examines the effects of grief and loss, also pointing to the ways in which people cope with personal tragedy.
One reader review of this novel notes that he/she didn't understand why Joentaa didn't figure things out earlier than he did, a question I normally find myself asking in many a mystery novel, but this time I'm going to disagree with that opinion. The pacing in this book is slow for a reason, and in my opinion, very well executed. Even though his wife has been dead for some time, Joentaa continues to exist in a sort of haze, reminded of her last days at every turn. Not only that, but our detective has other things to worry about -- the strange young woman staying at his house, a colleague who is up to his ears and in denial about his gambling problem, and a few other distractions. There are many other things about this novel that, in my opinion, speak highly in its favor, but the high believeability factor (okay, I know that's not a real word but I like it) of the characters and the slow-paced investigation and final reveal combine to make this book pop. I will say that I am a wee bit tired of angsty cops -- does every detective in Scandinavia have emotional/mental issues?
Confession time: normally I'm a series purist, and while I do own Wagner's first two novels in this series Ice Moon and Silence, they've sat unread on my shelf for a long time due to a personal need for a Scandinavian crime-reading hiatus. The thing is though that the author does such a good job in covering Joentaa's backstory here that it is unnecessary to have read the previous books. Obviously, I would have preferred to have been more prepared characterwise, but not reading the other series entries wasn't detrimental to my understanding and appreciation of this book. Actually, the truth is that even with the angsty detective, The Winter of the Lions turned out to be a fine read -- something very different than its competitors in the world of "snow-noir," and one I'd definitely recommend....more
a longer post at my online reading journal is here; read on for the condensed version.
Just briefly, Irrepressible is written by Emily Bingham, a greaa longer post at my online reading journal is here; read on for the condensed version.
Just briefly, Irrepressible is written by Emily Bingham, a great-niece of Henrietta Bingham's, and she literally tries to "unpack" Henrietta's story as the book moves along. She'd always known about her great-aunt, the one the family called "an invert" (read "lesbian") but in an attic of the family home, Emily Bingham discovered quite a treasure trove of Henrietta's belongings (including letters) that set her on the path to discovering for herself just who this woman actually was.
A pivotal event in this story was the death of Henrietta's mother when Henrietta was only twelve; Henrietta was there when it happened. Since that horrible and traumatic event, her father (often referred to as "The Judge") came to depend on Henrietta for emotional support even after he married a second and third time. As the author notes,
"Her mother's death before her eyes left an open wound -- an an opening for an unusually close partnership with her father that both empowered her and made her weak."
This strange sort of interdependence between father and daughter had a beyond-huge effect on Henrietta's life, a point that the author returns to time and again throughout the book. As one reviewer puts it, she became "an emotional surrogate" for the Judge's "adored dead wife" even through his two marriages, right up to the time of his death.
Henrietta's story is compelling and Emily Bingham has done an amazing amount of research about her great-aunt; sadly, information about her later life is rather lacking in terms of documentation. The author takes us slowly through Henrietta's life as she charmed and romanced members of the Bloomsbury set in 1920s London, started a long-term course of psychoanalysis with Ernest Jones at the behest of her then-lover (and her former English professor at Smith) Mina Kirstein who herself wanted to be "cured" of her homosexual tendencies. As it turned out, Jones became someone in whom Henrietta could confide about the "seductive ambivalence" toward the Judge, even though the psychoanalysis "did not banish the anxiety and depression that stalked her." We are privy to her various affairs with both men and women while in London during the 1920s, her desire not to constantly be at her father's beck and call so that she could have some measure of freedom, her unflagging support of her father when he became FDR's Ambassador to Britain just prior to the beginning of World War II and then her life, at least what's known about it, through the Judge's death and beyond. One of the key ideas in this book is that while Henrietta had a large measure of freedom in terms of same-sex affairs as a young woman as long as she didn't flaunt things (her father even gave his tacit approval to her lesbian relationship with a tennis star with whom she lived while he served as ambassador), but as times changed, shifting morals, homophobia, and Henrietta's status vis a vis her family's prominence in Kentucky added to her already-overburdened mental state and ultimately contributed to her mental deterioration.
While I loved the subject and while I was cliche-ingly glued to this book, there were times when I kind of did the odd eyeroll or two over the author's writing -- very minor quibbles, to be sure, but still a bit annoying. I will say however that the things that make this such an intense and compelling novel -- Henrietta herself, her family's history, her ongoing desire for the freedom to be who she wanted to be and the obstacles that so often got in the way, as well as her later tragedies -- far outweigh my niggles with the occasional writing issues, making for one hell of a good book.
I think I can honestly say that I have never read a better series of historical fiction novels than Ghosh's Ibis Trilogy. The series starts with opium farmers in India and ends with the gunboat diplomacy that forced China to open its ports to British trade and to accept a series of unequal treaties. The trilogy as a whole is an amazing critique of colonialism/imperialism, all the while exploring how the financial windfall of the opium trade helped to change individuals, families, communities, nations, diplomacy and international relations and left effects that linger on into our modern world. To say this trilogy is epic in proportion is no understatement, but it is so compelling that waiting for the publication of the third installment was sheer torture. I read somewhere that Flood of Fire can be read as a standalone novel, but I have to disagree here -- there is an incredible richness of depth that exists when you read all three novels, plus there are recurring characters whose lives intertwine over the space of all three books.
When we left River of Smoke, tensions between the Chinese and the opium traders had reached a fever pitch, ending with the confiscation and destruction of all opium from traders and merchants. This act sets the scene for Flood of Fire, where with so much money at stake and a demand for "free" trade, the efforts of one empire to repel another turns into full-blown conflict which ultimately changes the world map. The smaller stories that take place within the bigger picture reveal exactly how the lives, loyalties, and fortunes of both men and women changed during this period of time, all told from various perspectives of the characters who lives play out within this very broad sweep of history.
Flood of Fire is the perfect ending to a perfect series; although I'm incredibly sad it's over, the trilogy is one set of books I will NEVER forget. I doubt there has been anything like it before and I know that there will not be anything like it again. I definitely recommend this book and its predecessors to anyone who enjoys quality historical fiction, excellent writing, and a great story. It is absolutely magnificent, highly intelligent, superb, and all manner of superlatives. ...more
I'm late to the Lafcadio Hearn party, having only read two stories in this collection before picking up this book -- "The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi" and "Yuki-Onna," which have long been personal favorites. There are seventeen actual "Kwaidan" in this book, and then a section by Hearn called "Insect Studies," three compositions that in their own right are definitely worth reading. Ranging from out-and-out creepy ghost stories to monks roaming the countryside where various monsters, demons and other creatures seem to abide, there is never a bad note struck throughout the entire collection.
At seventeen stories, I'm not about to go into each one, but my favorites in this volume are "The Story of Mimi-nashi Hoichi," "Yuki-Onna," "Rukoru-Kubi," and "The Dream of Akinosuke." All are intense, and all are simply excellent.
The stories are short but their length doesn't affect their potency; by virtue of being stories that have been handed down over several centuries, the reader also gets a look at ancient Japan from different angles, from the world of the samurai on down to that of the lowliest peasant. It is a world of constant upheaval in terms of the physical world and also vis a vis the traditional social order. One major exception is "Hi-Mawari," a story that takes place in Wales, obviously penned by Hearn himself. After the kaidan section is finished, the reader moves into Hearn's "Insect Studies," where he dwells on butterflies, mosquitoes and ants. While you might be tempted to skip them, don't. They're absolutely fascinating, drawing on traditional folklore, etc. from Japan and China.
I realize that not everyone is going to admire these stories like I do, but I love all things Japanese and this collection was simply superb. It might just be a good opening into all sorts of kaidan for a novice reader, and there are several works available in English that would make for great follow-up reading.
I absolutely loved this book and I can't recommend it highly enough. ...more
You just never know what you're going to find when you start cleaning off your horror shelves. I'd totally forgotten I even owned this book so imagineYou just never know what you're going to find when you start cleaning off your horror shelves. I'd totally forgotten I even owned this book so imagine my great delight when I looked through the table of contents and saw these titles and these authors:
"The Travelling Grave", by LP Hartley "The Ghost Ship", by Richard Middleton "Squire Toby's Will," by J. Sheridan Le Fanu "The Voice in the Night," by William Hope Hodgson "Three Miles Up," by Elizabeth Jane Howard "The Rocking-horse Winner," by D.H. Lawrence "The Wendigo," by Algernon Blackwood "The Crown Derby Plate," by Marjorie Bowen "The Trains," by Robert Aickman "The Old Nurse's Story," by Mrs. Gaskell "Seaton's Aunt," by Walter de la Mare
Modern readers of horror may find these stories somewhat dated, or perhaps not even scary, but these stories are true classics in every sense of the word.
I'm hard pressed to pick a favorite, but Aickman's "The Trains" and "Three Miles Up," by Elizabeth Jane Howard totally rattled me. I've read "The Trains" a number of times (it's a favorite, and I'm still scratching my head over that one). Howard's work (new to me) wins my choice for creepiest story in this collection, about some friends who decide to take a boat ride through England's canals. Crikey -- here's another story where the ending left some pretty mind-shattering and beyond-disturbing implications in my head. It was one of the creepiest tales in the entire collection. Memo to self -- I MUST find more of Howard's ghost stories.
Also new to me are "The Voice in the Night," "The Old Nurse's Story" and "The Crown Derby Plate." I don't know that I'd classify Hodgson's piece as a ghost story per se, but it's an incredibly disturbing little tale.
"Seaton's Aunt," "The Rocking-horse Winner," "Squire Toby's Will" and "The Wendigo" are old true-blue favorites; although they are rereads, they still have an incredible amount of creep factor that produces the familiar and greatly-desired raising o' the hackles and hair on my neck.
Less personally appealing but still good (although neither totally wowed me) were "The Travelling Grave" and "The Ghost Ship." I have to confess that I'd never heard of Richard Middleton before picking up this book, and even though I wasn't overcome with delight while reading his piece, it did make me want to find out more about him and his other work. So I bought a copy of his The Ghost Ship and Others; apparently he's also quite well known for a story called "On the Brighton Road," so I'm sure I'll be posting about that collection in the near future.
Aickman notes in the introduction that "There are only thirty or forty first-class ghost stories in the whole of western literature," without saying which ones, but if the Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories is any judge of what he considers "first-class," I'm eager to move on through all eight of this series of books he edited before Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes took over. As someone who loves a great ghost story, especially the classics, I'd say that this book is definitely a must-have for anyone who is even remotely interested. Enjoy the shivers up your spine......more
As I posted in a status update yesterday afternoon on goodreads (at page 209),
"I just love Patricia Highsmith's work. I'm sitting here reading this to
As I posted in a status update yesterday afternoon on goodreads (at page 209),
"I just love Patricia Highsmith's work. I'm sitting here reading this today, and my tension level has been ratcheted up more than a few times throughout this story. I so want to peek at the end to make sure everything comes out all right, but this is Highsmith, so I know it won't."
and as things turned out, I was right. But that's Highsmith for you: things don't always go the way you think they should in her books. She often does a 180 in terms of reader expectations; in this case, she ended up leaving me a lot more unsettled at the end than I was throughout the story.
The Blunderer examines three different men in terms of two of Highsmith's favorite themes, guilt and justice. The first, Kimmel, is a bookstore owner who specializes in obtaining pornography. He's also a murderer [which is not a spoiler since you see the whole thing unravel right away upon opening the book and it's on the back-cover blurb] who believes he's gotten away with killing his wife and feels no remorse; the second is an attorney, Walter Stackhouse, whose neurotic ballbuster of a wife Clara is driving his friends away little by little because of her disapproving attitude and crazy imagination. Unlike Kimmel, Walter only thinks about getting rid of his wife, and on reading the story of Mrs. K's death, becomes obsessed with the way the job was done. At the same time, he also becomes more and more convinced of Kimmel's guilt, becoming fascinated with Kimmel himself, and trots off to his bookstore to take a look at him. When Clara turns up dead (also on the back-cover blurb) in much the same fashion as Kimmel's wife, enter the third party of this strange triangle, the overzealous, overreaching, and over-aggressive police detective investigating Mrs. Kimmel's death. While Kimmel sails along sure of himself as far as the law is concerned, Walter isn't so fortunate -- he is the titular "blunderer," whose stupid mistakes he's made along the way are enough to cause havoc for Walter in so very many ways.
While there are definite similarities between this novel and Strangers on a Train (as in an examination of guilt, the psychology of the individual, and the doppelganger-ish, growing obsession between two men), unlike SOAT, the ending of this one is a definite shocker. But before reaching that point, what I find most interesting about this book outside of the story itself is the way in which the reader is pretty much manipulated the entire way through.
As in the cases of both The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train, I found myself constantly being thrown off kilter while reading, but that's what makes Patricia Highsmith such a fine writer, and it's likely why her books are still quite popular half a century or more after they were first published. I don't want just crime, investigation and solution in my reading, and she more than satisfies my need for dark inroads into the psyche. The Blunderer is one I'd most certainly recommend to readers of darker fiction. ...more
Anthony Chambers, who is a professor of Japanese literature and literary translation at Arizona State, has brought together these little tales of ghosAnthony Chambers, who is a professor of Japanese literature and literary translation at Arizona State, has brought together these little tales of ghosts, spirits and other things in this slim little volume. The title "alludes to the belief that mysterious beings appear on cloudy, rainy nights and in mornings with the lingering moon;" it's a great book to read on a dark night when all is quiet -- rain is a definite plus -- and for someone like me who is very deep into history, it goes well beyond just the stories.
There are a couple of different ways a reader might approach this book.
1. Chambers offers information about each story just prior to its beginning, offering information and history on Title, Characters, Places, Time, Background and Affinities. If you are not at all interested in the literary, cultural, political and historical background of the stories, then skip to #2 approach which is to
2. skip directly to the story itself. The downside of that approach is that in footnotes, annotations, etc., there are references to other literary works, so just watch out.
In either case, I would skip the intro and return to it after you've read the entire book, but of course, that's my own preference (I do that in every book I read) -- but it is also very interesting in terms of historical background so do not miss it.
As for the stories themselves, there are nine. I have to say that I've recently discovered Hulu's collection of 900+ Criterion films, and watched one called "Ugetsu." I fell instantly and deeply in love with this movie, so I did a bit of research on it. It turns out that the movie is a combination of two stories in this book -- "The Reed-Choked House" and "A Serpent's Lust", and I was elated to discover that I actually had this collection in my home library. In fact, the title of the film references the Japanese title of this collection -- "Ugetsu Monogatari.
The story list is as follows: "Shiramine" "The Chrysanthemum Vow" "The Reed-Choked House" "The Carp of My Dreams" "The Owl of the Three Jewels" "The Kibitsu Cauldron" "A Serpent's Lust" "The Blue Hood" "On Poverty and Wealth"
The collection itself dates back to the 18th century; it is a classic in the world of Japanese literature. A number of these tales have been borrowed by Ueda from Chinese literature; he changed them to Japanese settings and adapted them to fit into Japanese culture. Samurai abound, for example; Buddhism and Shinto also play major roles in these tales. All of these little stories are quite good (with the exception of "On Poverty and Wealth," which I did not particularly care for), but my favorites were "The Reed-Choked House" and "A Serpent's Lust," followed by "The Kibitsu Cauldron" "The Chrysanthemum Vow" and "The Carp of My Dreams," the greatness of which is in the author's ability to blur the line between dreams and reality to an uncanny extreme.
While not exactly the mainstream fodder of modern readers of supernatural tales, this collection is beyond outstanding. Anyone who is one-hundred percent serious about literary horror/dark fiction should have this book in his or her library; for me it's a beautiful blending of works from two cultures I love and it perfectly suits my need for reading something different every time I pick up a work of dark fiction. Just so I feel like I'm being honest here, it is not always an easy read -- you have to read, think, and do both slowly.
It is an absolutely stunning collection I can highly, highly recommend. Even if you want to bypass the scholarly approach, the stories themselves are amazing....more
For a longer view of what I thought about this book, you can click here. It's definitely one of the more bizarre novels I've read aspublished 1836.
For a longer view of what I thought about this book, you can click here. It's definitely one of the more bizarre novels I've read as I'm going through Early American fiction this year. Sheppard Lee, Written by Himself is a mixture of satire and comedy, but each has a purpose in this novel.
Just briefly, the titular character Sheppard Lee is a sort of grown-up ne'er do well who is left a prosperous estate upon the death of his father. Because he is so lazy and doesn't tend to things he needs to do, the long and short of it is that he loses pretty much everything his father had worked so hard for. Because he wants a quick out, eventually he gets the idea to go and dig up some legendary pirate treasure said to be buried close to his farm. An unfortunate accident while doing so leaves Lee in a sort of a trance; when he awakens, he looks down at
"...that eidolon, or representative, or duplicate of me, that was stretched on the grass"
and realizes that he's actually looking at his own corpse. Running off in an unsuccessful effort to find help, he returns to the scene and his body has vanished, with only a "torn and bloody" shoe remaining. As luck would have it, a certain Squire Higginson with whom Lee has had words, has also met his end, setting Lee to thinking:
"Why might I not, that is to say, my spirit, -- deprived by an unhappy accident of its natural dwelling, -- claim, and thus uniting interests together, as two feeble factions unite together in the political world, become a body possessing life, strength and usefulness?"
In short, Lee decides that it would be a good thing to "inhabit" Higginson's body -- and wishes it so. Soon he finds himself in the now-reanimated body of the Squire -- congratulating himself because now he is a "respectable man, with my pockets full of money." But through a series of adventures, Higginson's body is just the first stop on Lee's soul/self/spirit journey (and I learned a new word to define this concept -- metempsychosis) -- and along the way he moves into various bodies whose owners all have one big thing in common: their lives are centered around money, each desiring to improve his own situation either through speculating, credit, expectations of good inheritances, or marrying into a better station. Lee lives quite a few different lives and in each one, makes a number of discoveries as he seeks out happiness. The novel is a satire and serves to skewer familiar types of the period: the dandy who plays a great game yet has not even a penny, a moneylender whose miserly qualities are very well known, an abolitionist philanthropist who spends his life trying to help the less fortunate and who does so ultimately at his own expense. What lesson does he ultimately learn? I leave that for the reader to discover.
Robert Montgomery Bird was an anti-abolitionist, so when he comes to talk about slaves in the South, things get pretty intense. He had me laughing up until that point, but then his paternalistic attitude toward slavery sobered me up. Considering his stance on abolition, I get where he's coming from, but it is definitely not pretty. The rest of the book, however, is actually quite funny and Sheppard Lee is a character I'll definitely remember. ...more
More later, but in my opinion, this is Rendell/Vine at her very best. It's also one of the most powerful stories she's ever written, and I've read mosMore later, but in my opinion, this is Rendell/Vine at her very best. It's also one of the most powerful stories she's ever written, and I've read most of them so I feel okay about making that statement. ...more
I bought a hardcover copy of this novel, so if anyone (in the US) would like my ARC copy, please take it! Free, I pay postage.
briefly, plot, etc. canI bought a hardcover copy of this novel, so if anyone (in the US) would like my ARC copy, please take it! Free, I pay postage.
briefly, plot, etc. can be found here; I will also say that while I think this book may be a bit misunderstood, I really enjoyed it for what it says about the specific time, place, and circumstances of people living in 1950s Prague.
While reading this book, it didn't take too long to realize that the author had much more on her mind than writing an ordinary crime novel. There's way too much going on around the plot and the action that would lead anyone to believe this is just another mystery story. If you read the introduction to this book written by her son Ivan, he notes that
"Several personalities in the book see acts like lying, misrepresenting, informing, and betraying confidences as inconsequential, trivial matters, thus diluting the difference between guilt and innocence. Even murder is perceived as an accident for which no one is to blame."
He also calls the story an "intensely complex psychological drama," and this is much more the reality of this book than the "Chandleresque mystery" it's advertised as. It's true that the author loved Chandler, and as the intro goes on to say, like Marlowe, the main character of this novel "struggles" ... "to make her existence worthwhile in an environment devoid of respect for human life." What the author has given us here, I think, is much more of a fictionalized picture of an historical reality in a totalitarian society -- where people live knowing they are under surveillance, where informing is sometimes a way just to stay ahead of the knock on the door in the middle of the night, and where the fact of who you are can often determine your fate. All of what I'm saying here is important because if you pick up this novel expecting a standard crime-novel plot trajectory, you're reading the wrong book.
As I said, it didn't take me long to figure out that Kovály was writing a somewhat-disguised version of her own story, and I absolutely had to know more about this woman so I picked up her memoir Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968. If you have the option, you ought to read her memoir just before or right after reading Innocence -- as I noted in my own post about that book, it is (in part) an examination of human nature and the moral choices people make under some horrific and appalling circumstances. And if you read carefully in Innocence, you'll notice the same thing goes on here in the "fractured incarcerated society" that was 1950s Prague under totalitarian rule.
--- Oh - and to the reader who gave it one star because she couldn't get the names -- SERIOUSLY??? ...more
Although written in 1964, Day of the Arrow still packs a hell of a gut punch that I won't soon forget. Do yourself a HUGE favor thoughbrilliant book.
Although written in 1964, Day of the Arrow still packs a hell of a gut punch that I won't soon forget. Do yourself a HUGE favor though and read the novel before you watch the 1966 movie that was based on it, "Eye of the Devil." While the movie is very good (especially the creep factor of Sharon Tate's indescribable stare), and would be just super for a Deborah Kerr Halloween night creepfest along with "The Innocents", it leaves out so much of what makes this book an incredible read.
Very much Gothic in tone with atmosphere that doesn't quit, Day of the Arrow begins when James Lindsay spies his former lover coming out of a Paris where she'd evidently been for a tryst. That makes him wonder ... after all, he knew she was married to Philipe de Montfaucon for six years. They eventually meet, and Françoise reveals that for the last three years, something's been a bit off with Philipe. It's not another woman -- it's that Philipe is certain that he is going to die. Lindsay agrees to come to the Montfaucon country estate, Bellac, to see what he can make of things, and while he's there he uncovers a secret in some old tomes of family history that is rooted in traditions going back before the Christians ever set foot in the place. Something is very much amiss at Bellac, as James discovers, and to his horror, he also comes to understand that whatever is going to happen cannot and absolutely will not be stopped, no matter how hard he tries.
Day of the Arrow is one of those novels that just gets under your skin from the beginning. Once the scene moves to Bellac, there is no shaking off the atmosphere that Loraine has so expertly crafted. It is a horror novel with an intense mystery at its center, it goes deeply back into time, and it's a very hard book to put down once it's opened. And while it may not appeal to gore/splatter/swimming in guts sorts of readers, I'd put this old book up against anything coming out today. It is, in two words, beyond excellent. It's another one worthy of absolute shrieks of delight once I turned that final page. ...more
I'm changing my previous rating from 4 to 5 stars. There is so very much I missed the first time through -- updated post coming soon.
Written in 1946 ( I'm changing my previous rating from 4 to 5 stars. There is so very much I missed the first time through -- updated post coming soon.
Written in 1946 (my copy is from 1948), I would imagine that this book was a shocker when it came out. It is a classic version of the rise and fall type story, and very well done, considering that it took the author about 4 months to write it.
The basic premise is this. Stanton Carlisle works in a carnival, becoming an assistant to a woman who did a sort of mind reading trick, based on the principle of "cold reading." You know, like that show "Crossing Over," with John Edward that was on TV for some time (and beautifully made fun of on South Park). It's totally fake, of course. He's doing well at the job, but for Stanton, it's not enough. After an unwanted marriage to another carnival girl, Molly, he decides that he needs to get out of the carny life and take his own mentalist act on the road. He learns quickly in the carnival act that he can gain power over people based on knowing what they fear and exploiting that knowledge. So he gets some theater gigs, then it's off to private homes where he is like the party entertainment, and then it's life as the Reverend Carlisle as he works his way to the top. Carlisle just wants to find that one mark who's loaded who can send Carlisle to the peak of success. But along the way he runs into trouble in the form of a psychiatrist who makes him look tame.
The story is very circular in nature, and I would imagine extremely sordid for its time. It's unputdownable, from the carnival behind-the-scenes chapters to the very cool descriptions of how seances are faked. The author really gets into Carlisle's head and this is very well written in a few bursts of stream of consciousness.
I had to stay up all night with my sick dog, so I finished this book probably about 3:30 this morning. It's a good read -- not great, and it probablyI had to stay up all night with my sick dog, so I finished this book probably about 3:30 this morning. It's a good read -- not great, and it probably wouldn't be of much interest to anyone except vintage crime readers and people who are into (like I am) historical crime fiction based on actual murder cases. This book, like Marie Belloc Lowndes' Letty Lynton, is a take on the Madeleine Smith case of 1857; unlike Lowndes, who modernized the story and moved it to England, Ashe (who is also known as Christianna Brand) chose to keep her story in Victorian-era Glascow. Another thing that sets the two apart is that Ashe adds a strange twist to the case that I didn't see coming.
I won't give details just in case any vintage-crime reader is interested in this book, but the novel is set up very nicely so that it's only near the end of the story when it hits you exactly what's actually happened here, which turns out to be a big surprise. Getting to that point may seem a little slow and, also like Letty Lynton, Ashe's story seems to hang in the chick-lit realm for quite a while until darkness falls. While I totally dislike romance-ish crime fiction, the folly of l'amour does serve a purpose here and to her credit, Ashe doesn't let it ruin or take over the story. Making just one further comparison to Lowndes' book, while both authors examine class distinction in their work, Ashe takes things a wee bit further by 1) looking at things for a while from a servant's point of view that shows that life in service wasn't always as it was in Upstairs Downstairs and 2) examining the gradations in the system that existed in upper-class Victorian society, where, for example as in the case of the father of the main character, being x number of years away from a family fortune based on trade was actually a stigma to be lived down.
It's a fun little book that satisfied my appetite for historical crime fiction, and I most definitely appreciated the surprising twist in the story. I'm afraid it may be a little tame for modern readers who look for a lot of action or kickass heroines in their crime, but vintage crime lovers should definitely enjoy it, especially those familiar with the Madeleine Smith case.
And that reminds me -- while I'm a work widow this coming week, I'll be watching David Lean's 1950 black-and-white movie about this Victorian murder entitled Madeleine starring Ann Todd, Lean's third wife, who also had a role in one of my all-time favorite BBC productions called "Maelstrom." ...more
Without going into any great detail (you can find that all here), I wasn't going to read this novel at all, because with very few exceptions, I'm jusWithout going into any great detail (you can find that all here), I wasn't going to read this novel at all, because with very few exceptions, I'm just not a fantasy reader. But the book showed up at my door because it was a selection from the Politics and Prose bookstore's signed first editions club I belong to, so I figured what the hell. Boy, was I ever surprised.
It turns out that this novel set in a time of a very skittish, postwar peace left me sobbing like a baby at the end, and really turns on the question of "when is it better to just forget things and keep them forgotten?" (the author's words from an interview) -- and it is asked by nearly every character in this book. But the kicker is that I, someone who detests romance and love stories in novels, was just floored by the relationship between the two elderly main characters, because well, they absolutely get the answer right. The Buried Giant, in other words, ended up becoming a very personal novel for me, and I ended up surprised at how very much I enjoyed it.
When I started reading this book, I had absolutely no idea just how timely my choice of books was. While starting the section about the 197like a 3.8.
When I started reading this book, I had absolutely no idea just how timely my choice of books was. While starting the section about the 1975 evacuation of Phnom Penh, I did a google search to find photos and discovered that tomorrow, April 17, marks the 40th anniversary of this event, which also marked "Day One" of the new regime headed by Pol Pot under the Khmer Rouge. It also marked day one of roughly three and a half years of starvation, disease, and executions that in total took the lives of 1.5 million people -- about twenty percent of Cambodia's population.
Very briefly, the focus of this book is to reveal how Cambodia's history, its politics, its inner workings at the highest levels and its place in the international scheme of things (the Sino-Soviet split, the Vietnam War, French colonialism, American foreign policy, Cambodian nationalism and its corrupt and repressive government, the divisions of class and society in the country, etc.) all combined to make it possible for someone like Pol Pot and those who followed him to take absolute control of the country and to implement their horrific policies afterward. Short then examines those policies established by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in their efforts to make Cambodia a truly independent nation (which they never did), and “a precious model for humanity." He looks at Pol Pot's paranoia, his failure to take the measure of conditions before putting his revolutionary practices to work, his constant flip-flopping back and forth over his own policies, his insistence that everything done at the top levels should be done in complete secrecy; in short -- the author examines an experiment that ended in not only failure, but also in the senseless deaths of over one million people. While everyone should be familiar with Cambodia's killing fields, Short's book doesn't really dwell there. So if you're looking for books that go into detail about the victims of Pol Pot's ruthless practices, you should really look elsewhere.
I do not agree with the author's ideas about how Pol Pot's Buddhist education served as the basis of some of his programs; there is absolutely no proof that there's any basis for that notion offered here, and to me it's just ridiculous to even say so. Another thing: the title may be slightly misleading in that as I noted earlier, it's much more about historical and other factors in Cambodia than a straightforward biography of Pol Pot. However, putting aside my complaints, it is a very well written, very in-depth and informative approach to understanding the conditions under which something so horrific could have been allowed to happen.
I didn't find it dry at all -- I couldn't stop reading this book. ...more
I'm of two minds about this novel and my ambiguity has to do with Cooper's writing style. First, let methe long version is here; otherwise, read on.
I'm of two minds about this novel and my ambiguity has to do with Cooper's writing style. First, let me say that I'm no stranger to older works with long, drawn-out phrasing or archaic writing styles -- I figure it's a given that these are books from the past and they certainly weren't designed with our more modern, streamlined reading styles in mind. That's not the issue here. Instead, it's more like the main threads of the narratives in this book are sort of buried under a barrage of description that tends to go on and on and on before you get back to the storylines that you're reading the book for in the first place.
On the other hand, The Pioneers is very much worth reading as a novel strongly concerned with (among other things) environmental stewardship; it is also a book that Cooper wrote, in my opinion, to offer his readers a look at the American wilderness as people began to settle there, much as in his own life, his father had played a major role in the settlement of Cooperstown. The novel also touches on the issue of the creation, application and enforcement of law as civilization encroaches into the wilderness -- Natty Bumppo, "the Leatherstocking" has lived in the forests and in nature for most of his life before civilization had even arrived there, and he has his own ideas about the value/application of laws. And for those readers who are entertained by plot and aren't really into the messages/history woven into novels, there's also a storyline complete with love interest that centers around a mysterious young man who is accidentally shot by Judge Marmaduke Temple in his efforts to shoot a deer.
The bottom line for me is that it was a tough novel to read because, speaking in our 21st-century parlance, the writing itself tends to be all over the map with long interludes of description that seem to take forever before the author returns to the narrative, but when all is said and done, the environmental issues that are brought up in this book are more than relevant to modern concerns. So back to being of two minds -- if you can make it through the laborious writing style, there's a really good story or two or three hidden in this novel. I'm happy I read it, although now I'm thinking that maybe I'll pass on the others for the moment....more
for the longer version (which I mistakenly just left long here earlier - my apologies), you can go here; otherwise, read on.
The murder of a call girfor the longer version (which I mistakenly just left long here earlier - my apologies), you can go here; otherwise, read on.
The murder of a call girl in the Villejuif area of Paris has more than a few people on edge. The murder itself is not an event in this novel, but what happens to the protagonist of this novel, M. Hire, is based on fallout from the fear surrounding the killing. It all begins when the concierge of M. Hire's apartment building spies a bloody towel on his washstand while delivering mail, and she makes the leap that M. Hire must be the murderer, setting this story in motion. From that point on, M. Hire's daily life is scrutinized unceasingly, except at night in the privacy of his apartment, when he watches the beautiful red-haired woman in the apartment across the way. However, everything changes for M. Hire when one night he realizes she is watching him as well.
What will strike anyone who's familiar with Simenon's Maigret series and then reads this novel is the huge difference between the two. The series novels tend to work toward a solution, have a policeman as a main character who cares about some sort of justice and has definite clues to follow. Here, Simenon sort of turns the roman policier on its head, and the result is one of the best books I've read in a very, very long time. It is a fine example of his "roman durs" ("tough" novels), much more serious "in tone and intent" than his series novels; it is the term Simenon used "to refer to all those novels that he regarded as his real literary works."
The Engagement is short, but don't let that fool you -- it is a beautiful book that should be (imo) on everyone's reading list. Most especially recommended for people who prefer reading about people over plot. ...more
"The artists of the School of Paris came to France in a mass and rare migration, honed their art in the schools and museums of France, ignored the sty "The artists of the School of Paris came to France in a mass and rare migration, honed their art in the schools and museums of France, ignored the styles of French painters as young as themselves and produced a host of exciting and unique works of art. A good deal of great art would have been lost if they had come to Paris and did nothing more than mimic the bland work of young French painters."
Meisler is talking about artists such as Modigliani, Chagall, and Jules Pacsin, but the "key artist" in this group, the man who gets the bulk of the attention here, is Chaim Soutine. This may be because when Meisler graduated from college in the early 1950s, he discovered a family connection to the artist, and as he notes, whenever he saw a Soutine painting in a museum afterwards, he gave it extra notice. The anti-social, anti-hygienic, often downright bizarre artist most definitely has an interesting story, especially once his work was discovered and people started trying to acquire his paintings and he literally went from rags to riches. And while Soutine's life and work is definitely the main thrust of this book, Shocking Paris also reveals much more: a brief examination of Russia and the anti-Semitic policies that drove many artists to find a haven in France, a look at forces inside Jewish orthodoxy that also had an impact on some artists' emigration to Paris, a look at the changing art scene that had moved from Montmartre to Montparnasse, French anti-Semitism, the effects of outside forces (the Depression, or luck in finding a patron to support one's work) that had the potential to make or break an artist's career and set up rivalries among the artists, and then there's the exploration of the Nazi occupation of France that sent huge numbers of foreign-born Jews to the camps and sent some of the artists in this book into hiding. Moving chronologically through 20th-century French history, he intertwines these outside events with the stories of some of the artists of the Paris School, although as I've already said, it is Soutine's work and life that is the main thrust of the book, so perhaps the title is a bit misleading.
Personally speaking, if he had just made this book about Soutine, it would be much more reflective of what Meisler's actually accomplished here than what the title makes the reader think is going to be in this book. Even the paintings by artists of the Paris School he's chosen to illustrate this book are dominated by Soutine's works, and his "Aftermath" chapter is given largely over to discussions about Soutine. At the same time, Soutine's life was anything but dull and makes for really good reading -- especially his life in hiding after the Nazi occupation. As part of his focus on this artist, Meisler also points out the problems with trying to get a handle on the man from the biographical standpoint, and even from criticism of his works. For example, he notes how Jewish critics have come up with some "convoluted theses" about him by looking for Jewish content that isn't reflected in his work.
When all is said and done, the book is very reader friendly, interesting from an historical standpoint, and even if the reader knows absolutely nothing about the School of Paris or any of the artists that composed this group, Meisler makes the information accessible and interesting from the standpoint of human interest. However, the focus on Soutine, while incredibly interesting, detracts a bit from what is seemingly implied by the title. Still, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who may have an interest in the topic -- even though it's a bit top heavy on the Soutine side, it's still a good introduction to the Montparnasse art scene and the history of the time that helped to shape this group of incredible artists and which had a major impact on their careers. ...more