The O'Briens is a family saga that extends from 1887 through 1960 covering three generations of the O'Brien family. As the novel starts, Joe O'Brien is a second generation Irishman living in rural Canada with his mother and drunken stepfather. Joe has served as a parental child since his earliest years, taking care of his siblings due to his mother's fragile state of health and his desire to keep his brothers and sisters protected from his stepfather. At one point, when he finds out that his stepfather has been acting inappropriately with his sisters, he nearly kills him.
Joe is the patriarch of the family throughout this novel. "He knew how to hold himself within himself. A fellow needed a good hard shell to survive." Joe has this shell along with the desire to better himself. He wants power, money and a well-bred wife. His first chore is to see that his siblings are taken care of. He sees that one of his brothers is enrolled at Fordham to become a priest, his two sisters enter a convent to prepare for the nunnery, and his other brother travels west.
Joe has grown up on the railroads and he knows how the system works. He wants to become a railroad magnate and by the time he's in his early twenties, he has succeeded. He now only needs a wife. "A house was just a house. He had a railroad, mountains. He was making something of himself." "Alone was no good". He meets Iseult, a young woman of independent means and quite spirited. They begin a passionate and lifelong ambivalent relationship, marrying a few months after meeting. Iseult is searching for herself but also also wants family and children.
Gradually, Joe's business increases to the point that he becomes very rich. His prime interest is his business. "All that mattered to him was getting the work completed and on schedule. It didn't matter who survived or who didn't." He runs into some problems with unions but he prevails. Iseult, in her existential angst, thinks of Joe, her husband as the man who once "promised life, connection, children, meaning. But really, people were alone. Even in marriage - perhaps most of all in marriage - they were alone.
Joe and Iseult have four children, three daughters and a son. One of the daughters dies after living only two days. The O'Briens have homes in Canada, Santa Barbara, and Maine. Joe owns land up and down the west coast. As the book propels towards World War II, the children grow up and the war plays a large part in the novel.
One of the problems with this novel, and it is a good novel, is that it is just too short at 386 pages to cover so much time and inform the reader about all of the family members. The reader becomes very familiar with Joe, Iseult, Joe's borther Grattan, and the first generation to some extent. However, the grandchildren are just glossed over.
One of the most poignant parts of the novel are Joe's alcohol binges that nearly bring the marriage to an end. Every so often, Joe leaves his home and goes to New York City where he takes a room at some luxury hotel. There he stays and drinks for days until Iseult is called and asked to pick Joe up. At one point, Iseult leaves Joe and takes the children to Santa Barbara where she and Joe remain separated for nearly a year. Joe continues to binge but it is never discussed between them again.
Another very significant aspect of this novel is the acknowledgement of post-traumatic stress disorder although it is never given a name. Grattan returns from World War I a changed man, virtually crazy and wild. He has been in the trenches but he does not speak of what he has experienced. A similar situation occurs with Joe and Iseult's son Mike after he returns injured from World War II. He has lost his health, his love and his grounding in the world.
Iseult's ambivalence about Joe occurs throughout their marriage. She states that Joe "had occupied her life like a foreign army. But was that really true? Wasn't it just as true that they has created a life together?" Joe, on the other hand, has implacable faith in himself to the point of narcissism. He takes it for granted that his life with Iseult is a necessity and that he needs her to make a home. "Selfish, Frankie thought. Hard-hearted. Her mother needed him, but he as usual was thinking of no one but himself."
The saga is quite interesting but at times I felt like I was just skimming the surface. The depths were too deep and too many to touch in this too short a book. Perhaps if it were 800 pages, the characters could have been more fleshed out. Another possibility would have been to limit the novel to just two generations and leave the third one out. Personally, I would have liked this to have been two books.
I am very fond of gothic elements in my novels and also enjoy books about manners. Coral Glynn: A Novel by Peter Cameron is rife with both. It is dark, brooding and has an eerie sensibility.
The novel begins in 1952 with Coral Glynn, a visiting nurse, arriving at Hart House to care for the aging and dying Mrs. Hart. She has terminal cancer and is not expected to live very long. The house is also inhabited by her son, Major Clement Hart, who was seriously burned and had his legs injured in World War II. Also residing there is a sour-mannered housekeeper and cook named Mrs. Prence. Shortly after Mrs. Hart dies, Clement begins a relationship with Coral and they decide to marry quickly.
On a walk in the woods near Hart House, Coral runs into two children playing a 'game' that is very sadistic. A girl is tied up to a tree with her hands and legs bound. A 10 year-old boy is throwing acorns and pine cones at her. She has abrasions on her face and body. Coral is drawn to the scene by the animalistic cries of the girl. When Coral arrives there, the children state that they are just playing and that she has nothing to be concerned about. Unfortunately, Coral does not report this to the police and this has dire consequences for her.
Clement has a close friend, Robin, a man he has known since childhood, who is in love with him. It is alluded that the two of them had a homosexual affair when they were younger. However, Robin is married to an exuberant woman named Dolly who tries to take Coral under her wing. Coral confides in her and the advice she gets is not helpful to her well-being. There is the air of repressed sexuality between Robin and Clement throughout the book though Clement refuses to discuss the past and Robin wants to bring it up.
The marriage goes as planned but shortly afterwards everything goes awry and, because of the incident in the woods and a past incident in Coral's life, she gets in trouble with the police. Clement and she agree that it is best for her to go to London immediately and correspond with him through Dolly and Robin.
Coral is not a vivacious woman nor does she have the qualities that draw people to her emotionally. She is lonely, frightened and all alone in the world. She is an orphan and her brother was killed in World War II. She is, however, attractive. Basically, she is a lost soul. "Who knew what one wanted and what one didn't want?" Coral devotes most of her life to nursing and appears to have no other interests. Her relationship with Clement is dry and malnourished. There is no passion nor is there any drive.
The book has a very unexpected ending which I loved. It put things more into perspective regarding Coral and showed a part of her personality that was not in evidence during the rest of the book.
I enjoyed the book quite a bit but I had to ask myself at the end, what does this all mean? What is the lesson I am learning and what is the intent of the author? Perhaps the intent of Mr. Cameron is to tell his story and no more. The story speaks for itself and leaves the reader scratching his head but smiling at the same time because of the enjoyment gleaned from the telling.
This tongue-in-cheek parody of a reality show has wonderful characterizations of the contestants, all of whom are weird and quirky. The narrator does a wonderful job. I loved the book
The narrator is perfect for this wonderful book. Most of the stories are about Nigerian women, dealing with the clash of culture between Nigeria and the U.S. My favorite short story ever is included in this collection. It is called 'The Headstrong Historian'.
Tana French is one of my favorite authors and she does not disappoint in 'The Likeness'. Cassie Maddox goes undercover in order to catch a killer. The novel is rich in language and characterization and the narration is spot on. This is not one to miss. It is THAT good.
This is not up to the usual standards of Alice Hoffman's writing. I was disappointed in the story.
It is about 3 sisters, each with very different personalities, who come into their own as adolescents.
This is a novel about what happens in a laboratory staffed with post-docs when pure science is at odds with the desire to have quick results. The two lab directors have different goals. One wants to make a splash in the science world. The other wants to proceed slowly and make sure that the science is pure and replicable. Each of the post-docs also have agendas. This is a fascinating scientific mystery.
This is the story of a couple, tragically trapped in their facade of being 'perfect'. The time is the early 1960's and the 'traditional' values of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman are still held over from the 50's.
They are pent up and repressed. Once they are able to see what is truly happening in their lives, things explode. Ironically, it is a man who is mentally ill who is able to make the most telling and accurate observations of what is occurring interpersonally.
This is a captivating audiobook and it is very well narrated.
Twins, conjoined at the head, are born to a nun in Ethiopia. They are separated and survive but their mother dies during birth.
This novel sweeps across continents - - from Africa to India to the United States - - and tells the story of the twins, Marion and Shiva. We learn of their lives from childhood through adulthood. We also learn about those who love and raise them.
The reason I gave it a '4' is that the narration is too slow. I find that sometimes with audiobooks, in order to speak clearly, flow seems to be sacrificed. When there is not enough flow and the reading is too slow, it makes listening more difficult. That is the case with this book.
This is a novel composes entirely of letters.
The book takes place in England shortly after World War II. Julia, a writer, is looking for a new project to write about - - something meaningful and serious. Through a fortuitous set of circumstances, she comes in contact with a sort of book group on the Guernsey Islands. Via correspondence, she becomes friends with its members. Listening to the audiobook, I felt like I was friends with them as well.
She decides that she wants to write about Guernsey when it was occupied by the Germans. Little was known about this occupation or what happened to the people at that time.
The book is also about relationships - - Julia's and the people in Guernsey. It is impossible not to care about what happens. This book sucks you right in and it is a delightful feeling. It is like you are on a soft wave and are sailing in the sun. It is that pleasant.
My only criticism is that the person who narrates the part of Amelia reads MUCH TOO SLOW. Other than that, the narration is stellar and the voices fit perfectly with the visions I have of each character.
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