This book was amazingly well-crafted! It is the kind of book that, when you have read clear through to the last page, you have to pick it up again and re-read the beginning few chapters. Very rich on many levels: plot, characterization, writing style.
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D. Joan Didion, Run River
I liked this novel well enough. It paints a bleak picture of the development-building of California in the early 1960s. As far as the author’s style, this one is her first novel, and I thought there were moments where it was a little underwritten and I could have used more information to appreciate why the characters were motivated to act as they did. (I have read only one of her later novels, and if memory serves, it was better written, although equally as bleak.)
E. George Eliot, Middlemarch.
Excellent! Completely worth reading! Excellent characterization, and especially witty or ironic when a character acts out of type.
F. William Faulkner, Light in August.
This one was just okay. One of Faulkner’s earlier novels, before he had really hit his stride. I would not recommend this one.
For more of my deep thoughts about Middlemarch and Light in August, see my post under the goal Read 43 Classics.
I loved this Challenge so must the first time around, that I am doing it again.
I read my “A” author, Margaret Atwood, in October. The book was Cat’s Eye, one of those books that I bought when it first came out and never got around to reading. (Yikes!) It’s a feminist story of young girls’ friendships in the 1950s, and how the aftermath of one particularly strong friendship affects one woman long into adulthood. Maybe I had too many bossy girl friends when I was growing up … but I could totally relate. I thought the book absolutely splendid! Well-crafted, thought-provoking, emotionally moving.
My “B” author was Sebastian Barry, and the book was The Secret Scriptures. which I finished in November. It is interlaced first-person narratives (diary-style), about a woman who is 100 years old and been kept in a mental hospital almost her entire adult life, and the 60-something psychiatrist who is trying to determine if she can live outside the hospital in the “real world.” The background of the story is the civil war in Ireland, so the story is as much a political drama as it is a psychological drama. Very interesting novel.
In December, for “C,” I read Enlightenment for Idiots by Anne Cushman. It’s about a woman on the cusp of turning 30, who is assigned to write a book in the “For Idiots” series. She is a yoga teacher, and goes to India to study yoga and find enlightnment in order to write the book. This book is not terrifically deep, but it is highly entertaining. Given the not-one-but-two yoga teacher trainings I’ve embarked upon in 2009, I was right in there with the narrator, rooting for her. Thoroughly enjoyable chick-lit.
I am thrilled to report that I finished my Z book on January 31! I enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind well enough. For any book lover it has an intriguing premise: a preadolescent boy is taken by his father (who runs a bookstore) to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where the boy is allowed to pick out any book he likes. Imagine a building full of labyrinthine bookshelves containing the last books of their kind – a booklover’s paradise! The boy chooses a book called The Shadow of the Wind, and becomes so entranced by the book he tries to find other books by the same (deceased) author. But it turns out he has the very last copy of any of this author’s works . . . all copies of everything that author had written had been searched out and systematically burned. And simply having possession of the last copy entangles the boy in this web of intrigue.
So I enjoyed the premise. Also, stylistically, Zafon works lots of aphorisms into this novel, which I enjoyed from a craftsmanship perspective.
On the downside, there were a lot of characters to keep track of. And the present-day plot with the boy mirrors the back-story plot of the deceased author’s life, so that doubling of the plot was also confusing at times. Also, I figured out the mystery character’s identity pretty early on in the book, so the suspense was sometimes lacking, for me. Still in all, this book was an enjoyable enough read.
I finished Revolutionary Road on December 23. This novel is about a young married couple who are immature, and who most like to get drunk and argue. They believe they are destined for greatness but somehow the man has ended up working (or slacking off in) a corporate job in marketing for a company that makes and sells business machines; somehow they’ve ended up living in the suburbs. They suffer a lot of alienation and self-loathing about the way their lives are turning out.
While the book itself is well-written, and the narrative takes shifting points of view that were interesting to read, I did not care for either of the main characters. I am surprised that the movie that is based on this book is being released in December. Unless the movie has a different ending than the book, this does not have the kind of uplifting ending that you would expect for the holiday season.
I finished Sky Burial on December 16. Sky Burial is haunting . . . . A young Chinese couple are both doctors in the People’s Liberation Army in the late 1950s. The man is assigned to go to Tibet. A short time later, the woman gets his death notice from the army. She determines to go to Tibet and find out how her husband died (secretly she believes he is still alive). In Tibet, she is taken in by a nomadic Tibetan family and spends decades searching for her husband. She becomes like a Tibetan, including becoming Buddhist.(Because so very much time passes without very much changing for the character, this novel reminded me of Waiting by Ha Jin that I read for my J author.) After a great amount of time has elapsed, she and her traveling companions find a hermit whose life was saved by the Chinese-doctor-husband, and he (the hermit) can bring closure to the story. The woman returns to China to try to locate her parents and sister, but it is now the mid-1990s and everything in China has changed. We are left with the sense that she is not reunited with her family, either. So her whole life has been spent searching.
I enjoyed this book for all its descriptions of Tibet: scenery, culture, and so forth.
I am pushing to get clear through the Z of this Challenge by December 31, so immediately upon finishing X, I started Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road.
I completed the novel by my W author on December 13. Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was splendid! The first-person narrator, a 30-something woman who’s in grief because her baby died of SIDS, is curmudgeonly. She is the type of person who pushes people away from her. But her sense of humor is wickedly funny, and she does have some tender moments of genuine affection for her friends, her husband, her stepson, so I was able to stick with this narrator and care about what happened to her as the story went on.
The story is also exceedingly well-written. The narrator makes lots of little connections about people and events throughout the story, and a couple of nice epiphanies. I think the 5-year-old stepson’s dialogue and interests is spot-on.
I finished The Book of Secrets by M.G. Vassangji last night (December 2). It’s an historical novel that takes place in Kenya and Tanganyika from 1913 to 1988. It has war, romance, intrigue . . . the plot and characters kept me interested throughout the book. It is somewhat well-crafted, but there were times when the author summarized events and perhaps the book would be stronger had these been shown and not summarized. The novel has a first-person narrator who is piecing together the historical story that begins in 1913 in a diary that he (the narrator) has found; things are revealed to the narrator through the diary, through meetings with people, through letters one character wrote to another, and so this way that the story unfolds I thought intriguing.
I finished the novel S. on October 17. Updike pretty much dominates the U section in the bookstores. I had mixed feelings about picking a novel written by him: I have read several of his short stories in the New Yorker that I’ve really, really liked, and an equal number that I could not stand; I also recall a memoir piece that was published in the New Yorker that I thought was exceptional (although now I cannot recall what the topic was). I had tried to read Rogers Version at the time that it came out, and found it completely unreadable.
I had meant to read S. some years ago, but never got around to it. The subject matter of it has always appealed to me: a 42 year old woman runs off from her philandering doctor husband and joins an ashram that is loosely based on the cult of the Baghwan Sri Rajneesh. The topic of cults has long fascinated me. There is a lot of discussion of yoga in this book (some of it quite tongue in cheek) and, given my recent interest in yoga, I enjoyed that, too.
The book is an epistolary novel, in the form of letters (or sometimes tape recorded messages) written by S. (Sarah) to her former husband, her friends, her shrink, her dentist, her mother, her daughter, and so on, explaining where she is and what is happening. The first letter, to her former husband, explains that she has left him; the voice is so formal and stilted, I did not think I could read the whole novel. However, given the context, the formal, stilted voice makes sense, and later letters are more casual. Often the voice is very witty. The plot unfolds in a predictable way, but the letters are soooo interesting that I could not put this book down.
I did not like the twist at the end about the true identity of the guru. Otherwise, the ending was very satisfying. Overall, a really good read. Glad I chose Updike, after all.
I finished reading Digging to America on October 8. In the past, I’ve read several of Anne Tyler’s novels. While I enjoyed Digging to America, I don’t think it was as good as some of her previous novels; in this one, all the characters were pretty superficially handled. One thing in its favor, though – it was new territory for Anne Tyler. (Generally, in Anne Tyler’s novels, a person leaves her or his family and starts over, alone. Digging to America is about two couples, a white American couple and an Iranian-American couple, each of whom adopt at the same time an infant from Korea, and how the two families’ lives intertwine afterward, so it is very different subject matter for Anne Tyler.)
This marks the 20th book as I work my way from A to Z. I’m happy to be nearing the end of the challenge, but at the same time thinking I will do it again. Now to find a U author….