In December, Little, Brown and Company published a new digital edition of Daphne du Maurier's The Birds and other short stories, giving me the opportu...moreIn December, Little, Brown and Company published a new digital edition of Daphne du Maurier's The Birds and other short stories, giving me the opportunity to check out the shorts of an enduring master of the form.
*I don't perceive any flat out spoilers in my review here, but there are a couple of comments that could suggest some events....
The Birds, of course, is the story that inspired Hitchcock's movie. It's been a while since I've seen the movie but I don't remember being all that impressed by it. A bit more impressed with the story, especially the silence and determination of the birds. Once can feel the solitude and desperation of those during the time where the only communication about what was going on in the world came from the daily radio news broadcasts. A silent wireless never means anything good.
Monte Verita is probably the longest story in the book, and certainly the most annoying. The ending becomes all acid-trippy, and not in a good way. Just an annoying way. And then the narrator of the story, a friend of a couple who went mountaineering but the wife never returns, decides that, "I knew then that I had loved her always, and that though she had met Victor at first, and chosen him, and married him, the ties and ceremony concerned neither of us, and never had." Really, dude? Really? Pretty damn sure of yourself there; do you honestly think you loved her more than her husband, who returned to the site of her disappearance every year without fail until he died in that place? Really?
The Apple Tree is such an excellent representation of an unreliable narrator. I haven't experienced or played around with this form much, but I enjoyed how, because the story is from the husband's point of view, it's so very easy to trust his version of events, to even deny the alternate versions as they begin to creep in. There's not much here, just glimpses, as to the wife's view of their relationship (and you wouldn't expect there to be, given that the events are from his point of view) but it is enough.
The Little Photographer's protagonist, however, never gave cause to change the reader's mind. I hated her from the instant her story began. This wasn't because she was rich and spoiled, and not even the way she feels that everyone else is helpless beneath her beauty, but the way she relates her impression of the things others cannot help in themselves: "he did not walk with that lurching, jerky step that produced stifled hysteria in the watcher" (like his sister did). I appreciated the level of hatred I had for the marquise, and her comeuppance but actually wondered why du Maurier didn't infuse more of a gray area into her motivations.
Kiss Me Again, Stranger provides a sweet (as in delicious, rather than treacly) twist on the traditional woman-in-potential-peril story or even a "Is this woman really a ghost?" story. It's the protagonist's vulnerability that saves him.
The Old Man's twist is truly surprising, at least for me. I'd read that this, the shortest story in the book, had the most affecting ending and it certainly does... and keeps one waiting for it until the very last moment.
This is a pleasing collection of differing time periods, characters, supernaturalish and non-supernaturalish (with touched of magical realism thrown in). I'm off to explore how many du Maurier short stories are out there! (less)
Small town ghost story with a cast of characters who were appealing but not quite as three dimensional as one would hope.
This story felt very cinemati...moreSmall town ghost story with a cast of characters who were appealing but not quite as three dimensional as one would hope.
This story felt very cinematic to me. As in, it seems like it could very easy be made into a a horror film with little modification to the storyline or scenes (but what do I know? I'm definitely not a screenwriter). This is great for anyone who intends to turn this into a film (and I'd be surprised if the film rights aren't actually even already bought), but I'm not entirely sure how well it works for a reader.
I can very easily imagine what the characters look like in my head, how they would appear in the film. But I didn't quite feel enough backstory, motivations, thoughts, for the characters in the book. They're driven by real emotions and motivations - grief, fear... but not by much sense nor much time, apparently, to think about things for the thirty seconds it might take to decide an idea might not make sense, or that some further information provided by another character might change their whole outlook.
This book is difficult for me to review and choose a rating. I started out with the more negative concerns, but I'd like to make sure you know that I sped right through it, anxious to get to the end. I was scared. One night I was home alone, reading in bed, and that really wasn't the best idea. Though I felt like some of the characterization and some of the plot points were lagging a bit, the narrative certainly deserves a four star, for keeping me intrigued and engaged. The concept and the dual storyline works very well here (I don't always find the dual storyline to be very effective).
Doubleday gave me the opportunity to read this book a bit early, and I was very excited. The synopsis was absolutely the sort of story that snares me; very much like the rest of McMahon's backlist, which I've always been interested in. Although this story was, perhaps, not quite what I'd hoped for (I'm torn between 3 and 4 stars), I'm still quite happy to have been given the opportunity to try this author out, and I will definitely be reading more of her in the future. (less)
It's a great book but I'm not sure much can fully live up to Chocolat (which is okay), and so towards the end of the book, I was wondering whether I'd...moreIt's a great book but I'm not sure much can fully live up to Chocolat (which is okay), and so towards the end of the book, I was wondering whether I'd be giving it three or four stars. I was reluctant to do three, it felt stronger than that, but wasn't affecting me as much as Chocolat. But then Pantouf (not sure of spelling, as I listened to it on audiobook), a flitting presence throughout the narrative (and ties in with the title) makes his presence most strongly felt towards the end and, I suppose because I do feel like I have my own little Pantouf as well, he made it feel more like a four.
Some readers might not appreciate the layers, the realizations of the meaning of shadow (as in, they may think it too transparent?), but I loved it, and Anouk, and Roux, though it was difficult to make the transition to his role here, when it clearly didn't exist in Chocolat, the book at least. But I liked the movie even though it didn't mirror the book, so I'm okay with it. I've marked this book under categories of both magical realism and supernatural/fantasy because although some of the elements could remain as magical realism, far too many of them are too strongly magical to simply be magical realism.
Enjoyable and magical (perhaps just a bit too much towards the end for my tastes), and always love Harris' food and its role in the story.(less)
I listened to this book on audiobook and because I was listening to it bits at a time, I thought at first that the disjointed, confused, frustrated fe...moreI listened to this book on audiobook and because I was listening to it bits at a time, I thought at first that the disjointed, confused, frustrated feelings I was having towards it were due to listening instead of reading. But after concentrating on a long chunk for several hours, I came here to read a few reviews and understand now that it's not just me.
Waaay too much going on and confusing, yes, but what ultimately made me give up was the lack of any characters to understand or empathize with in even the very slightest way. One particularly bad person.... I could see even understanding him and his actions even if I could never approve of or like him, but he was so one-dimensional and there was no attempt to explain why he did what he did - not even a despicable motivation - and that just makes me lose interest.
Wanted so badly to like this and I even have the second book on hold at the library already, but.... eh. (less)
beautiful. And it's not even the story/plot so much as it is the writing, the ideas, the images (though that's always the way with Gai...more...interesting.
beautiful. And it's not even the story/plot so much as it is the writing, the ideas, the images (though that's always the way with Gaiman, for me). I wasn't even all that excited by the plot while reading and yet I finish with an otherworldy, warm, strange, almost confused, pleasure that just infuses me. (less)
Somewhere, and I've read enough reviews of this book while anxiously awaiting its release so I'm not sure where, this novel is described as a cross be...moreSomewhere, and I've read enough reviews of this book while anxiously awaiting its release so I'm not sure where, this novel is described as a cross between The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Time Traveler's Wife. Having sped through the book in only three days (a record given my recent lack of time for reading), I can only imagine the writer of the comparison did so because Time Traveler's has, obviously, time travel in it, and The Girl has a young woman determined to avenge the bad things that have happened to her. Both of which this book has, though avenge isn't really an appropriate word, even, as Kirby is looking for the man who attacked her it seems, at first at least, more out of fear, curiosity, and justice for herself and her dog, and never necessarily anticipates vengence. Other than those two distinct elements, I cannot imagine the basis for comparison. Instead of attempting to amalgamate other books to describe one instead of just letting it stand on its own merits, I appreciate it when a reviewer attempts to describe a book more originally, or at least simply.
Difficulties about this book? That there's no basis for Harper's motivations, though he's clearly a bad person to begin with, which could have been a good enough excuse, and certainly no explanation of the origin of the House. I'm not sure that there has to be, but it does continue to be a series of nagging questions that can distract from the story. And don't read it if you're sensitive. It's difficult, not just on the blood and gore level, but on a distinct and talented level of making the reader imagine what it must be like to feel and think as the victims did.
And the most difficult things about the book: work, sleep, making dinner - you know, those annoying things that keep you away from a deeply engrossing story.
I loved the characterizations, I enjoyed the inclusion of (view spoiler)[a believable and root-able romance (hide spoiler)], despite the tenderness of doing so in such a disturbing story. The writing was simple but beautiful, thrilling and engaging. I adored the different personalities and trajectories of the shining girls, and quickly became attached to most of them (view spoiler)[though one, strangely, we never get to know until after her death by way of interaction with her mother and this makes her distinctly less sympathetic than the other girls (hide spoiler)]. I can't imagine this not being a best-seller and I was so thrilled to score the first hold place at my library. Perfect "summer read," whatever that means anymore.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
My major senior year paper for completing my degree was all about magical realism and why readers respond so well to stories that incorporate elements...moreMy major senior year paper for completing my degree was all about magical realism and why readers respond so well to stories that incorporate elements of magical realism. I made the distinction, in that paper, between magical realism and straight fantasy. Had I just waited a few months, my task would have been made easier by just referencing particular stories in Vampires in the Lemon Grove. The stories in this collection that are distinctly magical realism do work better for me than those that are fantasy, just as when I read full novels. That's not to say that I don't enjoy stories with fantastical elements - my brain just naturally finds a closer kinship to magical realism and its closer knitting to the real world. I find that most authors also stay on one side of the line or the other, and Russell does the same here, with each individual story, but the collection is a mix of the two. Four for four, actually. When I was reading the fantasies (Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Reeling for the Empire, The Barn at the End of Our Term, Dougbert Shackleton's Rules for Antarctic Tailgating), I was impressed by Russell's incredible talent for creating such distinctive worlds, especially with Reeling for the Empire, the strongest of this batch for me, but frequently found myself checking to see how many pages were left to each story. I doubt this is less of a commentary on her writing than it is on my tolerance for the fantasies. I didn't even finish the Antarctic story, which felt shameful because even these stories that I didn't enjoy quite as much were still well written, but I grew terribly bored with it.
The magical realism stories, though, were engrossing and will most certainly retain me as a reader of Russell, while quite possibly having the power to weave themselves into my dreams and waking thoughts. The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979, Proving Up, The New Veterans, The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis, all in contrast to the fantasies, made me wish they were full length stories. Of these, I found The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis to be the weakest simply because I found it a stretch that the title object would freak out such brutal teenagers as much as it did. Proving Up started out slowly for me but then engaged me so thoroughly that when I was reading it and there was a noise in the house I was alarmingly startled, confused about where I was, and finally angered to be distracted and torn from the frightening world Russell created. I've read any number of books that I've thoroughly loved but those that have engaged me with that depth are, quite possibly, limited to a handful. (less)
Throughout this story, I couldn't help wondering how difficult - and how incredibly fun - it must have been for Atkinson to map it out. And to repeate...moreThroughout this story, I couldn't help wondering how difficult - and how incredibly fun - it must have been for Atkinson to map it out. And to repeatedly kill off her protagonist. Even though I was engrossed and tracking the different characters and fragments quite closely, I still became a bit confused towards the end. But the plot, the conclusions (at least plotwise) weren't really the point here, I suppose - it was more about the conclusions drawn from the lessons and decisions Ursula makes throughout her lives. Halfway through, another life would begin again and I would think, "Oh, so I can see that if she makes herself more vulnerable, or if she's more empathic, it changes things subtly enough that she gets to live a bit longer..." But then I began to understand that getting to live a bit longerso isn't the point here.
I was fascinated, as well, that despite knowing from inception that Ursula will die only to live again, that about a third of the way through, I started becoming angry, annoyed, frustrated, sad, at certain deaths. Why? I knew she would just be born again... and this is a perfect illustration as to how very well Atkinson creates empathy and concern for her characters. As a writer I kinda sorta hate her for this. As a rabid fan, I LOVE her for this (and only hope that I can take away a tiny bit of insight).
Although I bought the physical book the very day it came out, life intervened a bit and I couldn't quite get engaged for some reason for far too long. When I saw the audiobook available at the library, I snatched it up and ended up happy for the delay, if it meant experiencing the novel in this way. The narrator for the audiobook is incredible and highly recommended. If I didn't have so many other must-reads clambering for my attention right now, I would almost certainly just start it all over again, which is very rare for me, as I never re-read/listen.
Happy, warm, and waking up at 6 am on a bitterly cold Saturday morning to write the review because Life After Life will certainly haunt me throughout the winter months ahead. (less)