This novel is a gem. Well written and beautifully constructed, with human, pathos and drama all thrown in.
Wouk is in his element writing about the US navy during WW2. Every aspect of life then and there is captured with great authority. The story is genuinely interesting; the characters are drawn with subtlety. And he manages the gradual and continuous shifts in perspective of the main character, with great skill, especially towards the end.
The novel is apparently autobiographical, and the experiences related are remarkable--escape from prison, heroin, living in the Bombay slums, working for the Bombay mafia, being tortured in an Indian prison, running guns into Afghanistan. Roberts certainly has stuff to write about compared to your average novelist who's been to college and got an MFA in creative writing.
Positives: the account of how things work in Bombay, and what the people from various social orders are like is truly interesting. The story is engaging most of the time. Sometimes, Roberts' lyrical writing style captures an experience with an apt metaphor. The narration is superb--every accent and mood perfectly conveyed.
Negatives: 1) There is a lot of rather second-rate philosophizing. This was my biggest complaint. You can get away with this if you're George Eliot; but Roberts needs to hold this tendency in check. The conversations with Kadah (sp?), the mafia don, were especially tedious since the philosophy being expounded was so full of glaring holes. E.g. It's just not true that modern physics says that "everything is moving toward complexity." There's no reason at all to call this state of complexity "God" since it doesn't remotely resemble what most people mean by "God". And the claim that whatever aids this movement is good is repeatedly asserted without argument and is a crude example of what philosophers call the "naturalistic fallacy."
2) The lyrical writing often spills over into corny metaphor that is over the top and not well thought out.
3) Although the protagonist often says how ashamed he is of himself, and how he's led a "wicked" life, the story comes across overall as a bit self-serving. He is evidently brave, loyal, passionate, generous, and talented.
4) I felt the last section of the book began to seem directionless.
To be fair, the book kept me engrossed, and I'd listen to it again. You learn a lot. But it would be a better book if it was half as long.
The book contains some great writing, and the narrator is excellent. However, I wished I'd chosen to read rather than listen to this book. The large cast of characters, the non-linear narrative, the subtleties of the connections between different episodes, etc. made it difficult to keep track of everything. I still enjoyed many parts--the first chapter is wonderful--but I struggled to keep the whole thing clear in my head.
This is a wonderful novel, funny and poignant, imaginative yet grounded in history. One of the best contemporary novels I've ever read. The narration is excellent.
I love Dickens, so I enjoyed this novel. The historical account of the riots is interesting and graphic. As usual, there's some wonderful writing and characterization--and the reading is excellent. As a work of art, though, it is not one of Dicken's highest achievements.
I view this as one of Sayers' weaker stories. Much of the mystery hinges on something that is presumably supposed to be a surprise when it is revealed but seems to me to be pretty obvious. My wife and I listening in the car twigged it very early on.
Maybe this is a good book, but we just became too impatient with the first part to find out. We started listening to it on a long drive; but after two or three hours we gave up on it because we just got bored with a seemingly interminable preamble in which the author vaguely indicates what is to come but talks much of the time in bland generalities.
I was a little disappointed in Villette. The narration is fine. But the novel is almost painfully lacking in any real events. The best thing about it is the subtle representation in Lucy Snowe, the narrator, of desires that she is not fully aware of. But she is a frustratingly cold and uncurious personality. She's so turned in on herself, so reluctant to actually do anything, that the novel becomes boring at times.
It's amazing that this is Eliot's first novel. The story telling, the dialogue, and the reflections are all so assured. The narration is truly wonderful. I'm originally from the part of England where Eliot grew up and where I imagine it to be set, and she gets the accents dead on.
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