George Eliot does not need my praise since Middlemarch radiates enough light to brighten the entire 19th century. Before reading this book, I never knew anyone could combine excellent narrative, characters so rich you could eat them with a spoon, and moral instruction more genuine than anyones religion and make a whole world of them. The narration is fabulous, worthy of Eliot's brilliance. If you can only read one more book before you die, read this one.
Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 is a brilliant book. It must be. It's way beyond my understanding, and I'm a pretty erudite reader...1Q84 is probably best described as a meditation on the nature of reality. Sigh. Aren't all the really good books meditations on reality. Unfortunately, Mr. Murakami doesn't seem to believe in reality...or in fiction....The little people, the two moons, an immaculate conception, and a romance that runs 900 pages before the lovers meet are just samplings of the 'non-real' elements in 1Q84. Fortunately, Murakami, a dazzling writer, gives us an endless (really....endless) supply of intriguing literary devices to keep us entertained. Our heroine reads In Search of Lost Time, paralleling our own reading experience. Should her never finishing it give us a hint of what we might do with 1Q84? Other parallels and layer upon layer of character/reader shared experiences help to keep us awake and some are fascinating. Many are simply repetitious....Murakami tells a story, but doesn't treat it as anything approaching a representation of reality. I understand that this is common in his other works. The two conceptions of reality in 1Q84 are both incomplete, cloudy, and false. This seems to be intentional...I love difficult books. I love David Mitchell, Lionel Shriver, Tom McCarthy, Jennifer Egan and other writers who challenge the shape and purpose of the novel. 1Q84 challenges the relationship between the writer and his reader and keeps his effort engaging, if not fulfilling. And the length. Please, a short story would do, Haruki. This book is so long and develops so slowly it makes Proust's masterpiece (see above) read like the latest Jack Reacher novel. To paraphrase the classic Alice Playten commercial, "I can't believe I read the whole thing." And while much of 1Q84 is delicious, much is like certain Asian foods that leave you hungry no matter how much you eat....Good news, though. Lionel Shriver just published her new novel. Yeah! I need to cleanse my palette.
I am a long-term Audible customer and have read many audible books I didn't like or even finish. Fair enough; caveat emptor. Most audible books are great and have given me hours of pleasure. However, the narration of Swamplandia is so dreadful, so amateurish, I couldn't get past the first hour. Does audible exercise any quality control regarding its selection of the audio versions it sells? How bad does a book have to be before Audible editors take it off the shelf? Did the publisher of Swamplandia set a bored 13-year-old at a table and force her to read this book, a book she obviously hated? (Sorry, Arielle, but your producer/director did you a disservice by not giving you the support you needed. Most bad narrations are really producer/director generated.) And...please...Audible...ask the publisher to try again. The book itself looks great.
I LOVE Lionel Shriver's work. We Have to Talk About Kevin is a masterpiece. The Post Birthday World is the most intriguing, involving novel I've read in years. So Much For That was only a small step down from her usual brilliance. The Female of the Species is a not-so-good novel completely destroyed by its narrator. The novel is disconnected, a pastiche of half-realized characters bumping into each other. The analysis of relationships, usually so incisive in Shriver's work, is superficial. I'd like to think a good narrator might have saved it, but Fred Stella fell very short. He treats the entire book with an ironic tone that would be perfectly suitable if he were reading P.G. Wodehouse. Shriver's use of carefully-targeted irony; strained, often unbearable relationships; and spurts of telling violence require a much more versatile, more nuanced voice.
I cannot understand the negative reviews for this magnificent book. Lionel Shriver is one of the best writers working today, but, unfortunately, does not garner the plaudits and hype that fall to writers like Jonathon Franzen and (this year) Jennifer Egan. Both of these writers are great, but so is Shriver. Post-Birthday World is a challenging and completely engaging story of a woman faced with a critical life choice at a critical moment and Shriver takes us down both paths the woman could have chosen. Structurally, Post-Birthday world puts Shriver in good company with those other narrative benders, Egan and David Mitchell, but Shriver breathes such life and depth into her characters putting her on a level all her own. Read this book. Wow.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is in a category of its own. Like To Kill a Mockingbird or Light in August, it lifts you gradually to increasing levels of understanding and connectedness. Disregard the impatient reviewers and those who didn't like the ending...I have no idea what book they read. And...if you ever lived with a dog...or several...prepare for the most delicious book you will ever hear.
PS...this book ends exactly as it should.
Hardy is unmatched at making the inevitable, unalterable disposition of our lives richer and more tolerable. Again, as in most of his other novels, we immediately meet a heroine/hero so flawed we know exactly where she will go and Hardy makes us want to go with her. Eustacia Vye may be Hardy's most transparent tortured soul, as passionate as she is headstrong, and he builds another Wessex community-this time the bleak Egden Heath-to frame her spellbinding, sad life.
Men love Eustacia and Eustacia loves what men can give her: excitement, escape, and embodiment of her dreams. She, of course, is of another world, a world definately not Egden Heath, and those who love her are, for a time, lost. Hardy makes her story and the story of Egden Heath rich in character, locale and reflection on how we get where we are meant to go...R3W
Caution: This review reveals nothing that would spoil your relish at discovering this book.
At the intersection of science, society and identity, lives can only be seen as through a frosted window alternately revealing glimpses of light, hazy figures and, finally, a frightening opacity. Few of us, or our favorite writers, can see the dangers and the possibilities at this intersection. Kazuo Ishiguro can and shares his view with simplicity and grace.
Hailshum, a school for special children, reveals its nature and purpose slowly and always through the eyes of several of its don...uh...students. Cathy, Ruth, and Tommy are friends of a sort who, like all friends, play and fight and spar and love with each other in their years at Hailshum and later. Ishiguro shows them to us with all their charms, their weaknesses and their ugly parts. In this, he shows us their deep, confused, scarred humanness; he shows us the humanness they share with us.
Cathy, Ruth and Tommy live at that intersection, the intersection of science, society and identity, living with bumpy stoicism the lives science prepared them for. Society has decided it needs them, it seems, and they need each other to find meaning and love in their neglected circumstances. They, like we in ours, find some.
Ishiguro tells us their tragic and ordinary story with the gentleness that distinguishes his work. Let no one tell you otherwise; this book is masterful.
Anna Karenina is a great book, of course. I prefer to think of it as grand book, a book that grabs huge stories and huge themes and packages them in brilliant writing. I just wish it were a good book.
Perhaps the grand Russian soul plows too deep as it turns up one angst-ridden moment after another. Perhaps the grand sweep of Russian history engulfs too many tortured characters for a slightly anglophilic American to comprehend.
I don't care. Reading the writing of Anna Karenina is joy on a page (or in an ear), but, oh, how I wish it told a story slightly less messy, slightly less cold, slightly less Russian; oh, how I would love a few more kernals of fat wheat in this achingly beautiful mountain of chaff.
Adam Bede cannot match the rapid-paced, action-packed adventure of Middlemarch, written in Eliot's prime. As an early work, Bede caters more to the sentimental tone of the time, which for some readers equals slow...tedious...full of unnecessary scene setting, character developing and old English pub chatter. Don't believe the naysayers, the wretched multitaskers who demand action in every paragraph and a plot twist on every page.
Eliot will guide you though Adam's story gently and show all the sweetness and sorrow of the time she describes. She does bend to the times a bit much though, seduced-and-abandoned, happy-but-oddly-contrived ending and all. But Adam Bede is better than 98% of all novels written since. Read it for the love of words and how they play over a hard-to-tell story with a felicity and grace abandoned after 1900, with the notable exceptions of Henry James and William Faulker. You will be glad you patienced your way through this magnificant book.
Someone told me once that Thomas Hardy's novels were gloomy, his characters all depressed. The Mayor of Casterbridge casts a bright light on some dear, though flawed, characters and brings them to life right before our eyes...er...ears, I guess. Perhaps Hardy (and others of his 19th century bent) dwell a wee bit much on setting and atmosphere, the long boring parts between the periods of frantic action. But I think not. I'm now reading Far From the Madding Crowd and for my taste in Madding, we may get too large a dose of English country characters chatting at the pub. But...in Casterbridge, Hardy has integrated an accurate, not-the-least-bit-too-much vision of the town and its people with a crackling story of missed opportunities and, as always, the necessity of human accountability, always hard and mostly sad. Self-awareness is in short supply in Casterbridge and, in the end, the least laudable, most conflicted character discovers more of himself than any of the pleasenter folk. As another reviewer observed, the action never lets up in this Hardy story; 'tis a hardy story, 'tis. Read this book. Pamela Garalick's narration is damn spiffy too.
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