Sunday, 30 August 2009

Family Ties

Finished The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy yesterday.

I don't know what it was about this novel, but it just left me cold. I understand the underlying thematic elements - race, family, prejudice, love, etc etc etc...but I really did not connect with any of the characters.

Ammu (the mother of Estha and Rahel, the two main characters) was probably the most sympathetic - marginalized by her parents and brother (and indeed her husband) and forced to give up her only son when family pride is at stake, when all she was guilty of was falling in love. I felt for her plight.

However, the character and attitudes of her two children made me resent them, in a way. I found Estha's voluntary muteness selfish and unnecessary, and Rahel's remote and distant nature inexplicable.

Perhaps I need to know more about Keralan history and their way of life, but I am familiar enough of caste systems and family hierarchies to know that this book was slightly ambiguous in its treatment of the aforementioned way of life.

A "meh" novel for me then. Even the descriptions of the houses, atmosphere, and characters were limpid.

Ah well.

Next up: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Terrible Beauty

Finished The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison this morning.

In her afterword, Morrison tells the reader that, like the character of Pecola, this novel was dismissed, ignored and unloved - until its rediscovery. How shameful that a book of this significance and importance in the American literary landscape was passed over for so long.

This book, for me, was all about the concept of beauty and the modern obsession with it - and what the idea of beauty is to one person as opposed to another.

Pecola believes herself to be ugly - she has never been told otherwise. She is neglected, or rather, treated as if she doesn't exist by her family, neighbors, schoolmates, etc. Her belief that she could be beautiful if only she had blue eyes, just like the little girl whose family her mother works for, is both profound and tragic in its simplicity.

The novel is told from the perspective of several characters - Pecola (in the third person), Pecola's schoolmate Claudia, Pauline and Cholly (Pecola's parents), and Whitcomb - a disturbed elderly healer who "gives" Pecola her blue eyes. Each character struggles with the concept of his/her identity in the smalltown terrain of 1940s Ohio. The reader learns of Pecola's tragedy - and possibly how it could have been avoided, if only Pecola had been valued, cherished and loved.

In these characters' eyes, beauty IS only skin deep - and therein lies the real sadness of this novel.

Up next: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

More Than Words

Finished The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx yesterday.

Beautiful novel. Achingly so.

The emotions experienced by the characters in this novel are so vibrant and heartfelt, yet they are so difficult for the characters to express. It seems to be the Newfoundland way to hide one's feelings behind simple and stark language.

Love, betrayal, death, abuse - all of these are experienced by Quoyle and his fellow townsmen and women, one way or the other, but they find it very difficult to communicate how they deal with these trials and tribulations.

Emotions are handled by gesture and looks, not words. This makes the expression by words all the more profound when they are eventually expressed.

The rough beauty and harsh nature of the Newfoundland coast is a perfect backdrop to this restrained and touching story. The relentless weather and unforgiving coastline has made its residents resolute and determined, but emotional and passionate as well.

I loved a particular line from the novel - it is in the context of Billy Pretty's (a lonely and elderly Newfoundland bachelor) thoughts - "All he knew was that women were shaped like leaves and men fell." Sigh.

Up next: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

So It Goes

Finished Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. yesterday.

What a book. I confess that I have not read much Vonnegut (only this and Breakfast of Champions), but am very ready to read more.

Humour, sadness, profundity, poignancy. Each chapter of this novel is imbued with these things. Billy Pilgrim's (self-professed) journeys through time and space connect him to the us, the readers, as a simple man with profound beliefs.

The Guardian list classifies this as an anti-war novel - I agree with this, but would also class it as an anti-ignorance novel as well. The idea that if we ignore something, it will disappear is a dangerous and irresponsible one. We must face what is before us and not be afraid. Billy is not afraid of anything, even death, which makes him an unusual character.

Vonnegut also tackles the subject of fate...we cannot change our fates, but can live our lives to the best of our capability nonetheless. I feel that this is an important idea, especially for me right now.

There is nothing to be afraid of - so it goes.

Up next: The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx...I am also reading a non-list book (The Story of Edgar Sawtelle), so might be a bit delayed in posting. Somehow, I doubt that, though. :)

Monday, 10 August 2009

Northern Gothic

Finished The Secret History by Donna Tartt yesterday.

I said in my previous post that I had really enjoyed her second novel and was looking forward to reading this one (her debut)...and I was not disappointed.

An amazing of those "unputdownable" ones. I had to forcibly separate myself from the book to do other things...but I really wanted to read it all in one sitting.

Suspenseful, lyrical, haunting, funny, harrowing, wistful, enchanting - all of these words can be used to describe the story that takes place in this novel. The characters are drawn with such clarity and beauty (beauty being a major theme running throughout the novel...the main characters are students and teachers of Greek and its literature, art, mythology, etc.)

Tartt uses the students' education as a backdrop to the mystery that is what and how these characters learn that make them who they are and how they behave.

As a former liberal arts major, I can feel the pull of the intimacy of the classes in this novel, but can see also how this intimacy breeds isolation and alienation...another facet to the intriguing mystery that unfolds.

Highly recommended. I love this mystery stuff!

Up next: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Let's Move On, Shall We?

Finished The King Of Torts by John Grisham this morning.

Eh. It's a John Grisham novel. What can I really say? I read a few of his books a long time ago, and apart from his first novel (A Time To Kill, which is also on this list), the formula stays the same.

I know how the characters will be described; I know how the plot will eventually play out. All variations on a theme. Nothing new or inspiring here. I could describe the protagonist and his story, but really - both are nothing unique.

The only interesting thing I could take from reading this novel was the subject matter - the idea of lawyers getting richer from suing multinationals (and smaller companies), while the clients they're supposed to be representing get virtually nothing for their trouble. Makes one think twice about becoming an attorney (although I'd like to think that if I did, it wouldn't be for the reasons most prevalent in this book. I am all about helping others.).

Honestly, I don't know why this novel is on the list. Perhaps the subject matter is currently relevant. I can't think of any other reason.

How disappointing.

Up next: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I read her second novel, The Little Friend, and really enjoyed it - so I'm looking forward to reading this debut.