I've read a number of Colm Toibin's books and have both enjoyed and admired them. Brooklyn, which I very much wanted to like, is a disappointment. The novel gets so caught up in its effort to produce an unadorned narrative about quite ordinary people who must live through a very common experience that it loses any hold it might have had on the reader's imagination. In looking so closely at the mundane, it becomes mundane. I should add, hoever, that the reader is excellent.
This is a valuable biography. It puts Emerson in his New England context but doesn't expect context alone to tell the story. Instead the author provides a crisp, clear intellectual biography as well. It has prompted me to go back to Emerson's writings for the pleasure and stimulation of his company.
I admire Jetterson as much as the next guy and I've never really cared much about the Hemmings business, but Meacham is determined that Jefferson can do no wrong. By the middle of the book, Jefferson sank in my esteem. He lacked moral courage in his persistent refusal to recognize his hypocrisy in making a slave his concubine and he lacked physical courage when he fled from Monticello when the British were coming.
Meacham just keeps whitewashing his failures.
This overview of the world on the edge of war is a wonderful narrative history. It doesn't keep playing the irony card with observations on how little people knew about what was coming. Instead, it takes a deep snapshot of a remarkably varied set of nations and gives us an honest account of what was going on with them that contributed--or not as the case may be--to the war that followed. I found the chapter on Japan in 1913 especially helpful.
If you're not tired of Downton Abbey and need to catch up on the 1899 Belgravian gossip this may be the book for you. It involves a clutch of matrons and maids nattering about clothes and what to serve thePrince of Wales when (and if) he comes to dinner. All told in the worn style of supercilious irony (e.g. Women "produce" children in this novel, they just can't "have" them) that should have gone out with Wodehouse
Murdoch is in high style in this novel with an engaging story that keeps unfolding against a subtle background of moral philosophy. As in her other books she anchors twisty philosophical issues in a cunning narrative but for anyone with a minimal sense of the subject Murdoch provides both entertainment and enlightenment. For example, it doesn't take much to see that the disheveled, mainly anti-social philosopher of the title is based on Socrates,that the action, mainly set around a second-rate spa in Britain (known as the "Institute") registers the Greek-Roman focus on the town bath as the center of social life. etc. The plot goes a bit off the rails from time to time, and the book is too long for its own good, but I enjoyed it. The reading is very fine.
I was delighted to come across this book by William Boyd. In some ways it is a very simple narrative that follows the life of its main character, a somewhat privileged Englishman, as it unfolds through the twentieth century. But as we journey with Logan Mountstewart, we are taken ever more intimately into his gathering self-awareness while being caught up in the always treacherous historical life of his times. I found it fascinating. The book has been made into a six-part TV series, also fascinating.
Zola's novel is gritty, dramatic, and highly interesting in its portrayal of the deprivations experienced by its out-of-luck characters and the emotional turmoil their situations produce. But Zola seems especially interested in exposing us to every twist and turn in the guilt and cruelty that ultimately destroys nearly every vestige of their humanity. I could have done with 20% less of this novel. However, Kate Winslett's brilliant reading made up for a lot.
In spite of the rave reviews this book, though very well written (and very well read), takes a cliched plot-line and drives it relentlessly into the ground. Underdog college team with diamond-in-the-rough shortstop prevails against all odds without much adult supervision. The characters are all one-dimensional, the only female in the novel is a mere plot convenience, rolled in and out of the story with mechanical indifference to her presumptive role. Ethically, the novel is a mess. A college president forms a homosexual relationship with a student, and except for some administrative wrist-slapping towards the end, the novel steadily keeps a blind eye on the grotesque power-relationship it is describing. (Put priest in place of president and see if you think well of the book.) Even worse, the novel tries to place itself on the same shelf as Moby Dick! I gather that the author is an admirer of Franzen's Freedom, another novel much praised in spite of its sloshing superficialities.
I should mention that I remain a devoted baseball fan in spite of my reaction here.
Barnes is an extremely intelligent novelist who constructs intricate stories. The intricacy doesn't get in the way; it fascinates. Almost nothing happens in this novel besides some rather difficult failures of connection and communication. Yet Barnes is able to make us feel the consequences of these failures with all the action and transformative energy of a stage drama.
A very unusual book that combines a critical biography (sort of) of Flaubert and an autobiography (sort of) of the narrator. Barnes manages what he's doing without ever becoming stuffy. In fact the narrative is full of lovely surprises. I quite enjoyed it though I'm still not sure I can describe it.
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