Chrissie's Reviews > In Sunlight and in Shadow

In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin
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Dec 16, 2012

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bookshelves: hf, usa, audible, sample-g, philo-psychol
Read from December 11 to 16, 2012

In conclusion: Unfortunately, I cannot whole-heartedly recommend this book to everyone, even though I loved parts. Some of the writing is beautiful and thought provoking, but there are verbose, sentimental, overly dramatic and sophomoric passages too. Whole chapters could/should have been completely eliminated. This book needs editing. The dialog IS often funny, but neither these clever lines nor the wonderful depiction of NYC save the book.

Every single woman mentioned is idealized. The two primary characters are beautiful, diligent, hard-working, moral, humble other words simply too good to be true! The plot-line is sometimes long and drawn out, e.g. the war chapters, while the end is abrupt, unsatisfying and sappy. So much more could have been done with the ending.

I personally have no complaints with the narration of the audiobook by Sean Runnette, although my guess is that others will find it extremely slow. I thought the dialogs were in fact improved by the narrator's ability to catch the personality and class of the character speaking. It is the author's theorizing that is slow and ponderous, and this is not the narrator's fault.

So, how many stars? Parts I loved! I really did.....but then other parts were so overblown and never-ending. I am giving it three stars and recommending it to those readers who love NYC and philosophical tracts.


Through chapter 37:

I am not thrilled by the chapters and chapters and chapters depicting warfare in Europe. They go on and on and on. Boring and terrible, dreary rather than exciting or interesting! Another minus - women are ridiculously idealized. So the book is not perfect. Maybe if I complain it will change? I hope so.


Even the lines have lost their beauty and become, in my ears, pretentious:

She was no different from Harry, when before the jump, hands in the same position, head bent or upraised, he leaned into his reserve shoot, as the plane rose and fell in the wind, and he too not quite prayed, asking for nothing. From Catherine and from Harry came absolute surrender, and to Catherine and Harry came the deepest strength. The current was strong and magnetic, the exchange electric and warm as everything came alight from what the blind of spirit took for darkness. Catherine felt her heart swell with strength and love….

Both Harry, in his parachuting from airplanes and fighting in battles, and Catherine fighting her own battles against injustice, are being compared and united in a common struggle. Both pray. For me the tone has become sophistic. The philosophical reasoning has gone over-the-top. This is rapidly going downhill. The magical prose has become soppy gibberish. Disappointing....but if I praise the start of a book and it then goes down-hill, I must report that too. Maybe I simply lack the religious faith necessary to appreciate these lines? However it is not just these religious lines that are sophomoric. Some of the prose glorifying music, beauty, love, goodness, honor are quite simply over-blown.

Then I listened some more and the scene shifts back to NYC....the description of NYC is wonderful ..... and then humor is thrown in. Catherine asks Harry for a definition of a nudnick! Harry's definition will surely make you laugh. Very funny! And she, Catherine of course, reads a digit wrong in her cookbook. With little cooking experience, given all the servants in her very wealthy family, she hasn't a clue how to cook a chicken. She puts it in the oven for 6 hours. You've got to laugh!

So I guess my views are mixed on this book. Parts I absolutely love; other parts make me moan with frustration and yawn with boredom. I would have appreciated better editing.


Through Chapter 23:

I haven't quite made up my mind about the quality of the audiobook's narration. I love the tone of Catherine when she is REALLY mad. This lady, when truly annoyed, spits out lines that are scathing! The narrator's tone is spot-on! I like the s-l-o-w-n-e-s-s of the narration, but will others? I need it to give me time to think about what is being said. However there is often a peculiar upward lilt that is strange.

This book may annoy those readers who just want to follow a plot. This is a book where the author leads you off in all different tangents, taking quick perceptive psychological mini-trips. I just finished chapter 23 - "The Settee". It covers everything from Franklin D. Roosevelt, sensual love, acquiescence versus combat, religious discrimination to pride and the need to be financially independent. That is a wide range of subjects, isn't it? You will either love the writing or you will hate it. I love it. I was going to start copying the lines here, but I would have to copy the entire chapter. It went from one wonderful line to another. From one topic to another.The humor is perfect. Catherine's father knew FDR. There is the funniest story - tickling and being dumped into water.... The story is all imaginary. It is both hilarious and has a great message; one little story rolled into the rest of the chapter's events. Remember this chapter when you read the book and tell me if you too love it. Oh yes, I forgot to mention another funny line, about the color of Roosevelt's advisors. Read the book!

Some people may be annoyed by the philosophical meanderings. I am trying to warn off those readers who KNOW they prefer plot driven books; all the diversions will most probably drive them bonkers!


In Chapter 9:

I am loving this, and I am kind of surprised. It starts with a ridiculous infatuation. But even if it is ridiculous, I like it! It is the writing. I actually believe that Helprin has captured how crazy people act when they fall head over heels in love.

There is humor. And it is my kind of humor.

Everyone knows of the "Roaring Twenties", and why the behavior of this period was a consequence of having survived WW1. Why is there so little literature about how people behaved after WW2.....other than books on the travails of the Jewish emigrates? This book seems to delve into this very topic. Hasn't there occurred a similar change in behavior and view on life after WW2? These people, those who survived the war, are the age of my parents. Fascinating to see why my parents thought as they did, looked on life as they did and made the choices they did.

Read this. Harry is back from the war. He is crazy for Catherine and Catherine for him, but she is about to be engaged to another. That future had been planned ten years ago. Do you simply accept past plans? What was good then is not now:

…sea, air and sun having evaporized everything but memory. He stopped in front of a black shoe missing its laces. It was preserved well enough that with some softening and polish it might have been back in service. The heel was hardly worn. He thought that had things gone differently it might have been his shoe and that someone else might have been standing in front of it as a grave, grasping the lapels of his tuxedo in a tight grip and pressing a bottle of champagne close to his thigh, as if he were the one who was dead, he spoke to himself, the one who was living, urgently charging him with life. He let the breeze force its way into his lungs and looked ahead at his objective….. (chapter 9)

After living through the war, would one just accept that which has been planned? Wouldn’t one go after what one really wants? At least you’d give it a hard fight!

Another book that takes place in NYC right after the war. I am loving the feel of the city, since I lived there in the fifties. I am right back there, in a place I recognize. I feel the city, its odors and sights and the whole "NYC atmosphere"!

After only one chapter:

He had long known that to see a woman like this across the floor in receptions or in gatherings is as arresting as a full moon was arising within the walls of the room, but this was more arresting yet. And what was a beautiful woman? For him beauty was something far more powerful than what fashion dictates and consensus decrees. It was both what creates love and what love creates. For Harry, because his sight was clear, the world was filled with beautiful women whether the world called them that or not. (chapter one)

I am already sucked in by the language. Mark Helprin can certainly write! I love lines that make me think. By writing down these lines, listening carefully to the narrator, Sean Runnette, of the audiobook, I realize that reading a paper book gives you more time to ponder, to let your thoughts fly where they will, but Runnette’s narration is very slow. With excellent prose that is a plus!
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Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-29 of 29) </span> <span class="smallText">(29 new)</span>

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message 1: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ I also have this, hope to get to it soon. Looking forward to your reaction to this book.

Chrissie I hope it is good because I have read one by this author that I loved and one I hated. Does sound good.

Chrissie It is wonderful, Diane. I have tried to explain a little bit what is floating through my head.

message 4: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ Hoping to start it this weekend.

Chrissie Well, you will have a nice weekend.

message 6: by Christina (new)

Christina I read Winter's Tale by Helprin and loved it. I'm afraid to read anything else by him because it might not live up to the beauty of that book.

Chrissie I think Helprin is a great writer and adored A Soldier of the Great War, but the imaginary fantastical theme of Winter's Tale did not work for me. For this reason I am loving In Sunlight and Shadow.

message 8: by Christina (new)

Christina Hm. Maybe then I should stay clear of it...

Chrissie Christina, you enjoy fantasy much more than I do. Helprin always expresses himself well, and for this reason I think you will enjoy this too. But let me finish it and see what my opinion is when I have completed it. This is so much about how people were altered after their was experiences. It is about love reltionships and about the discrimination against Jews that continued after the war. Doesn't that interest you?

message 10: by Christina (new)

Christina Yes it does. I'm actually reading The Kindly Ones right now about WWII told from a German SS officer's point of view ... I'm thinking about reading Night afterwards to get some balance!
I have read some bad interviews of this book so I'm interested in what you think about it. Especially since the magical parts of Winter's Tale was what I loved the most - but you're right, he writes in a beautiful language.

Chrissie I have been very hesitant to read TKO, but gave Night 4 stars. I read so many Holocaust books. I would like to recommend A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary to you.

Let me make it clear that Helprin's book is much more about how Americans viewed life after surviving the war, than Jewish war experiences themselves. Dam, life had to be lived to its utmost. Life had to be enjoyed and appreciated. One had to go after one's goals with vigor. In the US and I know in other countries too hatred of the Jews did not end with the war! Far from it. Discrimination afterwards was rampant.

What exactly have you heard that is bad about this latest book? I would be curious to know what the complaints, are to judge them for myself.

message 12: by Marie-Anne (new)

Marie-Anne Mancio What a thorough review - really impressed

Chrissie Marie-Anne, thank you for telling me you liked my review. It makes me happy! Writing helps me both share my frustration and exuberance for a book and it helps me pinpoint my own thoughts, so I primarily do it for myself. And if I don not write my ideas down I forget everything!!! If that happens I feel I have lost the book! Anyhow, thank yo very much.

My hope is that a detailed review will help others decided if the book will be enjoyed by them. I do not repeat the information in the book description. That is a waste of time for everyone!

message 14: by Marie-Anne (new)

Marie-Anne Mancio Well if you ever want free books I suspect most of us in the goodreads Review Group would happily send you copies!

Chrissie Really?!

I don't know a thing about this group. The thing is, I am a stickler when it relates to honesty. I will say exactly what I really think, although reviews should be kept polite of course.

Could you give me some info? Most authors are not interested in those living in Europe.....

message 16: by Marie-Anne (new)

Marie-Anne Mancio I am one of its moderators

and we completely believe in honesty.

Though it is mainly for writers reviewing, we do have a few registered reviewers who aren't writers. Even if you don't join, I'm sure most of the listed authors would be happy to send review copies. Either way, I will point people to your reviews because we have all realised that writing a good review is a different skill altogether!

Chrissie Marie-Anne, I would appreciate that you direct them to me, but please mention to them that I currently live in Belgium. Those authors interested in my review could mention that they are members of this group and send a book link so I can determine if the book fits my interests.

Thank you very much .Many people do not bother to say if a review really did help them choose a given book.

message 18: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ I have decided to shelve this one for now. It is a big time commitment and some of the things that bothered you I know would bother me. Thanks for being so clear in your review.

Chrissie Diane, I don't know if I am happy or not that yo have decided to shelve it. Parts ARE excellent. I personally enjoy long books and remember for me a three star book IS worth reading! It means I liked it! But it has, problems for sure.

message 20: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ I will read this Chrissie, you know how much I love wonderful prose, but after Christmas. Just is a bit intimidating right now.

Chrissie Diane, if you haven't read Helprin, read A Soldier of the Great War first.

message 22: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ Will do. Thanks Chrissie.

Chrissie You are welcome.

message 24: by Naomi (new)

Naomi Thanks for saving me, Chrissie.

Chrissie Naomi, you are welcome. So glad my review helped you decide. But as I always say, we all react differently.

Daisy Chrissie, I just finished this last night (or early this morning) and read only your "in conclusion." You are spot on. Exactly right.

Chrissie Daisy, thanks! Nice to know we had the same reaction. I do recommend A Soldier of the Great War; it is better!

Sarah Oh man. I hated Sean Runnette. Don't you think his Ss whistle? and don't you think he reads the whole thing like it's a lemonade commercial? His voice goes down at the end of every sentence.

Chrissie OK, I listened to this a long time ago so what you mention I can't remember. If this had annoyed me I would have mentioned it in my review though. Isn't it strange how we all react differently to voices, and of course books too?!

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