Because it's so prevalent in modern culture, I was loosely familiar with this story and so kind of knew what I was getting into. It both fulfilled my expectations, but also surprised me in many ways. There's a lot of detail about things I felt were minor, and things I felt were major were glossed over and done with in short order. Because it's a tale that lived a lot of life as an oral piece, there are many refrains and catch phrases repeated throughout that are a bit jarring, but necessary for the oral tradition of the bard. Hearing it as opposed to reading it fulfills all the promise of such a gigantic and influential tale. After listening to The Aeneid as well, I prefer the wily Odysseus as a character over the staid and boring Aeneas. I still don't buy it that Odysseus really wanted to get back home so badly though. For a man who wanted to get home really fast, he spent a lot of time farting around…like spending all that time with Circe. Oh sure he really wanted to see Ithaca again. And it’s the same with the ass-kicking, he strings it out as long as possible. Finally everyone is dead and we think he and Penelope will just rush into each others' arms and fade to black. Not so. More lamentations, disbelief and foot-dragging.
Anyway, it’s an interesting story and an enlightening one. I learned a lot about how the Greeks viewed their world and how helpless they really felt. So much s--t just rolled downhill. Injustice heaped on injustice with a full complement of excuses. Cranky, childish and mercurial gods at the top, women and slaves on the bottom.
And a word about the narration - Anthony Heald did an amazing job. He's got a very expressive voice, but he never goes over the top. Heald injected the right amount of drama for each scene; anger, loneliness, fear, tenderness; whatever was needed. I'm glad I 'read' it this way since it is the way it was intended to be received by an audience. Pronunciation was excellent and I commend him for getting around all those tongue-twisters with what seemed effortless ease.
Eh, it was ok. Any story involving crime and identical twins has elements that you can expect; one covering up for the other, extreme devotion or hatred, one taking the place of the other and fooling the people they know, living life as one person interchangeably, etc. The application of those elements will depend on the rest of the story and it does here. It got bogged down in a lot of family history and personal insights that didn’t move the plot forward or heighten any sense of mystery, suspense or drama. It felt weighty and torpid. I did like that the primary investigator was brought back at 81 years old and proved effective. Usually those old dudes are relegated to porches and parlors, reeling off their tale of frustration or triumph to the new investigator who will no doubt, stand on his shoulders. This time Tim goes back over the evidence and shows that what he found could have been spun to damn or exculpate, but also that what he didn’t find was just out of reach. Nice touch, but it couldn’t save the book for me and while I remained interested, I wasn’t really riveted.
After hearing about this audio book on the Books on the Nightstand podcast and knowing that Smith’s Child 44 books received high praise, I decided to check it out. First I have to talk about the two-person narration. It’s really effective and I think that’s because of the way it was done - it’s not a straightforward narration where each person has a set piece of the story, instead it’s interwoven together as mother and son have conversations. Each has large sections of text, but then they come together when Daniel asks a question and mom answers.
Anyway, it’s no secret that Tilde is a classic unreliable narrator. Her use of emotional blackmail is calculated and unattractive. She’s also a classic paranoid personality and her story is wild and crazy, but you wonder if it doesn’t have a kernel of truth. As a reader, you know it must, but where does the kernel lie? In which part of her story? Just don’t be in a hurry to find out. The pace is slow and because Tilde tells the story in the present, we know she survives to get to Daniel, and that takes some of the dread out of the story. A few of the current time scenes made up for that though. The ending, while totally conventional, explained her actions satisfactorily enough.
Smith’s execution is good, but a few things bugged me. Both mother and son make very stupid decisions which they tell you they made and wish they hadn’t. They also regret certain actions and second guess themselves a lot. When they tell you these things, it’s supposed to ratchet up the tension, but it was also faintly ridiculous and that worked against the intent. It’s laid on a bit thick.
Overall though, it’s engaging and different enough to make for a good story. Diverting and creepy with a touch of the villagers with pitchforks thing going on.
Because I liked Arthur and George by this same author, I gave his Booker Prize winner a go, but unfortunately I liked it less. Mostly because it was one big whine by a 60-something white, middle class man who has no one to blame but himself for his blindness and inability to cope with the subtlety of manipulation by others. Especially women. Gasp! So unladylike.
The writing is lovely and there isn’t a lot of extra flesh on the story, but it was difficult to sympathize with Tony Webster who admires his self-styled peaceable nature to the point that you laughed at him just as much as Veronica’s family must have. I agree that memory is fallible and time is more of a solvent than a fixative, but Tony is pretty pathetic. I found his look back at his past to be self-indulgent, which is fine as long as it isn’t boring and it pretty much is.
Overall I think William Boyd had better success with this type of novel because he made his equally fallible characters interesting. The one person who was interesting dies without much screen time and leaves very little in his wake to enlighten the reader as to his motives for suicide. I can see if you are a certain age and a certain temperament, you’d really identify with this book, but I didn’t. Is it because I’m younger? Female? American? That I usually know when I’m being played? Maybe all of the above.
Empire Falls is primarily a character-driven book and the plot, where it becomes important, is more of a let’s-see-what-happens-next variety rather than one where there is a definitive goal or outcome to be achieved. Mostly the story revolves around Miles Roby who is a well-meaning bumbler of a man and while he doesn’t generate any strong emotion for me, he was someone to root for. I didn’t feel strongly about him in any way and it mirrors his own view of himself and his circumstances. Until the very end, Miles never seemed to feel enough about his own life to run it on his own terms. He felt a duty to live for others; his mother, Mrs. Whiting, his daughter and Empire Falls itself.
Besides Miles, another focus character is Tick, his daughter. I liked the way she put her decisions together, admitting that maybe she doesn’t know everything yet, but also is pretty sure of the things she does know. Like many mother-daughter-grandmother relationships, she is closer to the elder of the two and holds her mother in contempt for her relationship with the sliver fox, and can you blame her?, I mean, please. She hasn’t yet recognized her parents as people first, parents second.
At first, the frenetic ending seemed rushed, but then I realized that it was brewing for quite some time. Mrs. Whiting, for me, became harder and harder to like as I at first did, and her heartless treatment of everyone around her got to be disgusting. Janine’s capitulation to what she thinks she really needs turns out to be not so wonderful. Miles gets into it with Jimmy Minty. Tick gets out of it with his son, Zach, but Zach’s athletic career has taken a detour into unsportsmanlike conduct and bad public opinion. The missing grandmother and finally, John’s descent into violence bring the crescendo to a roar. There’s so much more to this novel than what I’ve described here and so I can’t really do it justice. The characters and their situations will remain in my mind for a while yet and that for me, is a mark of a good book and a good reading experience.
When I saw this in hardcover in the bookstore, as lovely an edition as it is (lovely wee graphics, colored inks in strategic places, blue page edges), I knew to go back to audio for this one. Like Shakespeare’s plays, the books with Pocket of Dog Snogging really need to be heard performed. And I do mean performed. Not merely read. Euan Morton performs this book like mad. He is Pocket, through and through, but he puts so much life and distinctiveness into all the other voices, you can tell by listening who is talking. Iago he did as a Scot! Oh that was great. Apart from him, everyone had English accents and spoke English even though they were Viennese (characters comment about this to each other). Awesome in and of itself. If that kind of fourth wall breaking absurdity tickles your brain, this is the book for you.
Of course you’ll get your funny bone tickled, too. Like Fool, this book is based on Shakespeare’s works (The Merchant of Venice and Othello), but also has a dash of Poe weirdly enough. Then there’s dragon shagging, fortune stealing, disguises, beheadings, cross-dressing, creative cursing, back-stabbing, religious persecution, heinous fuckery, swashes buckling, and a soupcon of lechery. Ok, more than a soupcon. A bucketful. Nay, a canalful. And a ghost. There’s always a bloody ghost.
I’m much more familiar with the Merchant of Venice than Othello, but knew enough going in to understand the outlines of what was happening. I loved how Moore combined both plays by making Desdemona and Portia sisters. It made Iago’s heinous fuckery plausible in the setting and in all the important bits, Moore is true to the Bard’s plot. And who can plot like he could? Damn it’s dark. And funny. Even when Moore wasn’t trying too hard it was funny. He weaves circumstances and asides (like the Chorus) that just make your mind sizzle. It’s clever and cheeky without being too twee or precious. Yeah, he’s aware he’s tearing the stuffing out of some highly reverenced work, but he does it with love and a madcap glee that is really hard to resist.
Tone reminds me of other books, written by persons of probably a similar age (under 35) - sort of an innocent voice, non-judgmental to the point of utter blandness. Don’t these people have opinions? Reactions? Dark thoughts of injustice and prejudice? I guess not. Political correctness is embedded in their DNA, apparently. Neither do they make mistakes or have setbacks. Maybe it’s wish fulfillment, but it seems like the general attitude of that generation is that things will work out for them just because.
The rest of the book is one big ad for how great Google is, despite every server in their universe not being able to crack a basic substitution code. And despite the massive build-up and the fervid paranoia of the Unbroken Spine, the secret turns out to be not so much after all. Kat takes it hardest which was amusing. Her first ‘no’. She didn’t deal with it very well.
Eh, I don’t know. I wasn’t overly annoyed while reading this book and picked it up for a palate cleanser, but I wasn’t fulfilled by it either. No deep secrets. No big reveal. The plot, on the surface, seemed complex, but wasn’t. Bland characters. No violence or dirty deeds. I guess if you like saltines, you’ll like this.
Wow. That sums up my reaction to the person Catherine was. Knowing she eventually became Empress and ruled for decades, all through the story of her horrible childhood and worse situation as Peter III’s wife, I longed for her to take revenge. Of course being the judicious, self-possessed and level-headed person she was, she did no such thing. Not directly anyway. Her wit, success and lasting legacy are revenge enough. Just where are her haughty great-aunt-in-law or vicious husband now in the collective consciousness? Nowhere and nobodies. Catherine was Great and she is remembered.
Not perfect though, and I think Erickson did her best to reveal Catherine’s flaws as well as her strengths, though I think the overall goal was to show a woman who succeeded against a state and a system designed to keep her down and relegate her to failure. Davina Porter did a great job with all the personal and place names, too. No mean feat.
The premise tugged at me because of The Man in the Iron Mask, the whole deal with Richard III and the princes in the tower and all those women who claimed to be Anastasia, Grand Duchess of Russia, and it is a little of all those. The inclusion of Vidocq adds a veneer of hard-boiled detective which is weird for this period (and locale) of history, but strangely it works. It balances the social striving that consumes a lot of the lives of everyone else, Hector included. And poor old Hector is in need of structure and stability, especially once he’s hit with the cyclone that is Vidocq. Oh is he ever the man out of his element. Eventually he gets up to speed though and proves an able “assistant” for the hard-driving Vidocq.
Like any good piece of historical fiction, this book blends the real and the unreal so skilfully that it’s hard to distinguish. Hector Carpentier, his family and friends are wholly fictional, but the royal family and Vidocq are not and provide anchors of believability. Then there is Hector’s narration. He’s yanked out of his comfortable self-pity by Vidocq’s driving enthusiasm and persistence and his whole attitude of surrender, first to his circumstances then to the pull of the conspiracy theory. The way he tells the tale has the ring of truth. Most of it is conversational and there are no “as you know, Bob’s” at least none so glaring that I noticed. Luckily I knew enough about the French Revolution and Restoration to understand what was not explicitly explained. This time period really came alive for me in the broad strokes and in the details. The journal reports were especially squirm-inducing.
Why does the Aristocracy persist? Why do people who largely have been abused by it, seek to restore it? Why do most attempts to replace it fail? Why are humans so damned competitive and suspicious? Why do so few of us have deep compassion? Where does Vidocq get his wonderful toys? These are just some of the questions to turn over while you read about the missing would-be King of France.
It’s been a while since the last time I read anything by Boyle. There was a period when I read a lot of him, but then I got caught up with new authors and well, you know how it goes. San Miguel had been on my wishlist for while so I just went for it and despite the mixed reviews it’s received, I enjoyed my time with it. I think I’ve said this before of Boyle, that he works better when he doesn’t have to drive a plot. When he can just tell a tale of what happens next with some really interesting characters, living in interesting places, doing interesting things. Even routine things he can make interesting and that’s what he does here. It reminded me strongly of Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose because of the setting and spirits of the women he wrote about. Some wanted to be where they were and pursuing their hard-scrabble lives on San Miguel. One didn’t and it was the combination of those separate personalities that reminded me of Susan Ward and her duality.
Some reviews comment that the stories are too loosely connected, but I found it wasn’t necessary for me to enjoy them and especially liked when Jimmy started up a story about Edith and her time on the island. It didn’t feel forced since you had to take the Jimmy in Elise’s story as the same one in Edith and Marantha’s. Plus it finished her tale, which had ended so abruptly. A few other characters pop up as well, to thread the stories, but each one focuses on the inhabitants and even more closely on the women. Yes, Captain Waters is a force on the island, and Herbie just skewers you from an emotional perspective, but really these are stories of women and their respective states of convalescence, confinement and contentment. Well done and well told.
When I first read the synopsis for this novel, I mistakenly thought it would focus on Frank and his absence. As in where he went and what he was doing. I should have known better. For the most part, Lippman’s stories revolve around women and how their lives are affected by their pasts and some of those pasts have problems or incidents that stem from the men in their lives. But those incidents are just causes for how the women have to live their lives around them. They’re not the focus.
That’s what we have here. Bambi (oy that name drove me bananas) and her daughters are going forward through life as best they can without knowing much about Frank’s disappearance. The money Frank was to have left them never got to them and they think that his mistress took it. How else could she have afforded to become a respected business owner if not for stealing what was theirs, something she had a talent for? When she’s found dead, they still have no answers. Or money. Then Sandy Sanchez, retired police detective, decides to take on the mystery of mistresses’ death; a very cold case. He finds inconsistencies and facts that were previously overlooked. Soon the family is in uproar again.
Sandy’s narrative basically drives the novel and keeps a common thread, but the story belongs to the women. Their relationships are complex and brushed with a veneer of distrust. At least that’s what I felt from them. That they don’t quite believe any of them is telling her whole story. And that’s what helps keep us distracted until the end when the solution is revealed. Nice misdirection, Ms. Lippman.
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