Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Book Review - William Goldman's The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: 1973
Format: Hardcover, 399 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Buttercup grew up on a farm in Florin. She was a reputed beauty, the great Count Rugen and his wife one day visited the farm to see for themselves. They saw a girl with potential, if she'd bathe, and the Countess saw a very attractive Farm Boy. Though Westley never took notice of the Countess, his heart belonged to Buttercup. The day Buttercup realized she loved him in return he set out into the world to make their fortune. The day he died was the worst of her life, but she emerged from her suffering the most beautiful woman in the world. A woman who could never love again. When Prince Humperdinck offered her his hand in marriage, she was straightforward with him, as he was with her, she will never love him yet she will marry him because otherwise he will kill her. When she is unveiled to the people of Florin they instantly idolize her and the Prince, a warmongering bloodthirsty man, realizes that his plan to have his bride kidnapped and killed framing the county of Guilder is going to go off perfectly. He didn't count on the man in black. The Prince's three assassins, Inigo, a wizard with a sword, Fezzik, a giant that can't be beaten, and Vizzini, a Sicilian with the most cunning mind in the world, kidnap Buttercup with little problem. But when they are crossing Florin channel to Guilder they realize they are being followed. Their pursuer is the man in black. First he bests Inigo, then he bests Fezzik, once he bests Vizzini, Buttercup and her ransom are his. Though that isn't his plan. Buttercup boasts to this masked man that her Prince will come, the masked man says that she is heartless and he should just kill her. That is when the game changes. With fire swamps and out-sized rodents, miracle men and six-fingered swords, can true love find a way back from being mostly dead? Or will evil triumph? After all, life isn't fair.

Ask anyone of my generation what their favorite film is and I bet they answer The Princess Bride. Sure, there are other films of note, from Star Wars to Willow to Empire Records, but The Princess Bride IS the film of my generation. We watch it when we're sad, we watch it when we're happy, when we used to gather in each others apartments in college and had time to waste we'd put it in the VCR. It's the biggest, snuggest, comfort blanket there is. Yeah, suck it gravity blanket you have nothing on The Princess Bride. I can still remember when I first watched it. The summer of 1988 was the hottest on record in Wisconsin. We didn't have central air but the way the upstairs rooms were designed in my house my parents room, my brother's, and mine all had connecting doors. We pulled the shades down, we placed one air conditioning unit in my room and another in my parents, opened all the doors and lived in those three rooms for the summer, leaving occasionally to go to the pool or the movie theater and one memorable outing to Perkins when the air raid sirens went off. I was lucky in that my room became the TV room. We had a tiny TV/VCR combo unit my Dad had gotten for his art gallery and we placed it on an old table we had and rented all the tapes we could. One of these was The Princess Bride. I was instantly in love with it. I watched it again and again, my face inches from the TV as Inigo and Westley fought along the Cliffs of Insanity. I checked out that tape so much that summer that the video store let me buy it off them eventually, and I still have that old copy, though many different DVD releases have been purchased since. In college I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen, but it's an odd experience seeing it with a bunch of drunks who recite every single line of dialogue. But then again, it is the film of my generation.

I don't know when I realized there was a book written by William Goldman. For years I believed there was an S. Morgenstern and William Goldman was a hack, but what can I say? I was an impressionable ten year old and I wanted to believe that a book this wonderful, this magical was real. Of course it IS real, but in it's own special way. But the truth is when I first picked up this book I couldn't see it for what it was. I loved the book because of the movie, and the book seemed to fill in all these little gaps for me. Therefore I felt like this book was the film's bible, an annotated version of the film where I was just waiting for my favorite lines to appear. I finally knew why Fezzik was so scared to be left alone in Greenland! I FINALLY understood the fencing banter between Westley and Inigo on the tops of the Cliffs of Insanity. I knew where Fezzik found the four white horses as well as why he rhymed. All these pieces fell into place and I developed an even greater love of the movie. But as that was happening I was also falling in love with the book. There are rare occasions when I love a book and it's adaptation. There are even rarer occasions when I love them but admit that they are two totally different things. Yet here this is true. The movie adaptation of the book is funny and wonderful, but also a lovely fairy tale with oodles of romance. The book, the book is snarky and barbed and self-aware and almost an anti-fairy tale and yet it stands on it's own and is a classic in it's own right. The Princess Bride as originally written by William Goldman is a mine of the meta (meta was already a thing but just) and takes what is expected and subverts it. Pirates and thieves are good while Princes are bad and it's all just perfect, in a way all its own.

Yet there is an irony built into the book. This book is "abridged" wherein Goldman omits all that he thought boring and insinuates his own voice over the voice of "Morgenstern's" with the liberal use of italicized text. These interruptions, along with the introduction, are the framing device that, tweaked here and there, became Peter Falk reading to Fred Savage in the film. While the interruptions are entertaining, being an author fictionalizing his own life and then commenting on another author who doesn't exist, the introduction is a little self-indulgent. There's a bit too much "Hollywood" and not enough grounding in reality. The pool scene which seems to be a Dudley Moore fantasy from any of his various seventies and eighties films is just a bridge too far. Therefore I would seriously like any of you who've read this book to answer truthfully, how many of you have actually read the introduction after the first time you've read the book? Just as I thought. None of you! I can not count how many times I've read The Princess Bride, but I'm pretty darn sure I've read the introduction exactly two times: the first time I read the book and then this time. The irony in all this is that the readers are abridging an "abridged" book as they read it. I've often wondered why there's never been a version released without the introduction, or in this anniversary edition's case, the two introductions. Perhaps it's to show the readers that are under the same delusion I was that Morgenstern is nothing more than the creation of Goldman, and that while the introduction is uneven and pretty unnecessary, it shows the complete breadth of Goldman's talents. Who knows? Perhaps we may get answers in five years when the inevitable fiftieth anniversary edition is released...

Those people who have only ever watched the movie and never read the book are missing out because they never get to see the depths of the friendship between Fezzik and Inigo. Yes, they were wonderfully brought to life by André the Giant and Mandy Patinkin and you could see the friendship between them, but in the book their friendship is the backbone that holds the story together. This is especially seen when they enter the Zoo of Death! At this point if you haven't read the book you're wondering WTF is the Zoo of Death!?! Well, the Zoo of Death was obviously not included in the film for budgetary reasons. Why have Count Rugen's little torture chamber for Westley buried underground beneath four levels of animals that the Prince loves to hunt and kill when a smaller chamber accessed via a tree would serve just as well? But the movie's loss is our gain! Because here we can see that their codependency is based on actually caring for each other. They followed Vizzini because they both were searching for a purpose in life and Vizzini made that purpose easy, just do as he said. Yet while entering into that partnership the two outcasts found each other. Inigo will gladly trade rhymes forever when Fezzik is down, and each knows how to push the others buttons, not out of malice, but in order to have the other be the best person they can be. The reward of all this is in the end when Fezzik saves the day. He learns to think on his own and starts to become more than just a frightened little boy but a man. In fact I would say that, at least in the book, these two are the stars. We never learn much about Buttercup or Westley's backstory, but Inigo and Fezzik have these fleshed out pasts that lead to this adventure and you can see their futures stretching out in front of them, and you just want to be on that adventure as well.

Which makes you wonder, is there ever going to be another adventure? Ten years after The Princess Bride Goldman did write another short story under the pseudonym of Morgenstern, The Silent Gondoliers, which was reissued in 2001, which was right when people were wondering if Buttercup's Baby was going to be out soon. The thing is I don't really know what's up with Buttercup's Baby. For those who don't know when the twenty-fifth anniversary edition was released twenty years ago now there was almost a hundred new pages added to The Princess Bride. No, it wasn't Buttercup going to her training, or anything omitted from the original text as a joke, it started out with a new introduction by Goldman in the vein of his original introduction, some young woman hitting on him for no reason, followed by some references to a son he never had, you get the idea. What was fun was he expanded on the missing "Reunion Scene" which I'm sure if you're a hardcore fan you wrote in for. And no, I'm not going to spoil that for you. After much toing and froing, including references to Stephen King, whose books Goldman has adapted for the screen many times, you get to the meat, a new chapter! We see all our favorites, Fezzik, Inigo, Westley, Buttercup, and their daughter Waverly. Yes, that's right, they have a daughter who is soon to endure a kidnapping, much as her mother did years before. It's a very solid beginning to a new story that ends on a literal cliffhanger. So I can't help but wonder why did Goldman write it? He could never hope to eclipse the success of The Princess Bride and making Buttercup's Baby into a movie would be verboten, so why? My best guess is that this was a little gift to the fans, a thank you for all the support over the years. Will we get more? I don't know, and honestly, I don't think that was ever the plan, and Goldman's getting up there in age. But ask me again in five years...

Monday, February 26, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira
Published by: Viking
Publication Date: February 27th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York, 1879: After an epic snow storm ravages the city of Albany, Dr. Mary Sutter, a former Civil War surgeon, begins a search for two little girls, the daughters of close friends killed by the storm who have vanished without a trace.

Mary’s mother and niece Elizabeth, who has been studying violin in Paris, return to Albany upon learning of the girls’ disappearance—but Elizabeth has another reason for wanting to come home, one she is not willing to reveal. Despite resistance from the community, who believe the girls to be dead, the family persists in their efforts to find the two sisters. When what happened to them is revealed, the uproar that ensues tears apart families, reputations, and even the social fabric of the city, exposing dark secrets about some of the most powerful of its citizens, and putting fragile loves and lives at great risk."

Oh, what happens to them!?!

A Whisper of Bones by Ellen Hart
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: February 27th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fans of Jane Lawless new and old will be fascinated by newly minted Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Ellen Hart’s latest intricate puzzle in A Whisper of Bones.

Britt Ickles doesn’t remember much from her only visit to her mother’s childhood home when she was a kid, except for playing with her cousin Timmy and the eruption of a sudden family feud. That’s why, when she drops by unannounced after years of silence, she’s shocked when her aunts tell her Timmy never existed, that she must be confusing him with someone else. But Britt can’t shake the feeling that Timmy did exist…and that something horrible has happened to him. Something her aunts want to cover up.

Britt hires Jane Lawless, hoping the private investigator can figure out what really happened to her cousin. When a fire in the family’s garage leads to the discovery of buried bones and one of the aunts dies suddenly and suspiciously, Jane can’t help but be pulled into the case. Do the bones belong to Timmy? Was the aunt’s death an accident, suicide, or homicide? What dark secret has this family been hiding for decades? It all depends on Jane Lawless to unravel."

New fan.

Murder in Thistlecross by Amy M. Reade
Published by: Lyrical Underground
Publication Date: February 27th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 228 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The emerald hills and violet valleys of Wales seem the ideal place to start over after murder-and divorce-shattered Eilidh's life in the Scottish Highlands. But within the stone walls of an ancient castle, a family's dark, violent past threatens much more than her newfound tranquility...

For the past two years, Eilidh has called the quaint Welsh village of Thistlecross home, embracing her new life as estate manager of a restored fifteenth-century castle. But the long-anticipated arrival of her employer's three estranged sons and their wives transforms Gylfinog Castell from a welcoming haven to a place seething with dangerous secrets. When the escalating tensions culminate in murder, Eilidh must sift through a castle full of suspects both upstairs and downstairs. She can trust no one as she follows a twisting maze of greed and malice to ferret out a killer who's breaching every defense, preparing to make Eilidh the next to die."

Welsh castle and death!?! YES!

It Takes a Coven by Carol J. Perry
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: February 27th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"There’s a new witch-hunt in Salem, Massachusetts...

When Lee Barrett joins a former student’s bridal party as maid of honor, she expects cake tastings and dress fittings. But wedding planning becomes more peculiar than Lee’s scrying talents could ever predict. There’s a magical baker, a best man with a checkered past, and a talking crow named Poe as the ring bearer. There’s also a kindly old man dead under his apple tree—one of a series of unexplained deaths hanging over the Wiccan community...

With witches dropping dead before they even come out of the proverbial broom closet, Lee’s best friend, River, fears she might have somehow unleashed a terrible curse on the city. Now, aided by Poe and her clairvoyant cat, Lee sets out to investigate. Are lives being claimed by vengeful supernatural forces—or by something more shocking? She soon discovers, casting light on the wicked truth can be one killer commitment..."

I can't be the only one occasionally needing to scratch the mystical cozy read now can I?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Book Review - Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Published by: Doubleday Books
Publication Date: March 23rd, 1782
Format: Hardcover, 497 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont were once lovers. Yet their rupture wasn't acrimonious, in fact they are now perhaps closer than ever before. They have a voluminous correspondence telling each other of past, present, and future conquests. Salacious details pepper their letters that they know only the other will appreciate. Though the Marquise is already tiring on Valmont's most recent project. He has sequestered himself out in the country with his aunt because he is trying to bed his aunt's houseguest, Madame de Tourvel. Only he doesn't just want this devout young wife's body, he wants her body and soul. To speed up his conquest the Marquise de Merteuil offers a night back in her bed if he were to quickly accomplish the task and return to her in Paris because she has a job for him. The Marquise's former lover, the only one to ever jilt her, is to be married to the virginal Cécile de Volanges. She thinks it would be just if this young girl just out of the convent weren't so innocent when she reaches her wedding bed and for that she needs Valmont. Yet Valmont stalls and drags his heels, could this cad, this supreme seducer be falling for a little church mouse? Luckily the Chevalier Danceny comes on the scene as Cécile's music tutor. The two young ones fall madly in love and yet neither knows what to do! It will take all the cunning of the Marquise de Merteuil to pull this off, but when Valmont learns that Cécile's mother has been writing vitriol against him to Madame de Tourvel he instantly joins in the plan to take the virtue of young Cécile. Passion, love, seduction, the lives of this small and scheming group are about to change forever with Valmont joining the fray and not all will survive.

If you are a fan of Colin Firth who is a completest, one day, after you've worked your way past such oddities as Femme Fatale, where he stars opposite Billy Zane and Billy's sister Lisa, you will stumble upon Valmont. In fact I would go so far as to say that only those attempting to watch Colin Firth's entire back catalog have seen this misfire of a film. Needless to say this addlepated film was overshadowed by the big screen version of Christopher Hampton's stage adaptation the year before starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich. A film that spent so much money on miscasting that their budget was stretched so thin that all those closeups that were thought artistic were really to hide the fact that they didn't have money for anything beyond a few nice costumes. Combined, these two adaptations left me scratching my head because I could not for the life of me understand why Les Liaisons Dangereuses was a classic, with or without Keanu Reeves. But then I saw a broadcast of the National Theatre Live production of Christopher Hampton's stage adaption starring Janet McTeer, Dominic West, and Elaine Cassidy and everything changed. I finally connected to these characters in the intimate setting of the Donmar Warehouse. I would even go so far as to say of all the "live" theater broadcasts I have seen over the years this one was hands down my favorite. This inspired me to finally read the book and all I am left with is the knowledge that Christopher Hampton is a genius given proper casting, and these characters need to be brought to life by talented actors in order to illicit any kind of emotional response.

The problem is this book is one of the most famous epistolary novels that wasn't written by Samuel Richardson. It's not the fame that's the problem it's the form. Epistolary novels over the centuries have expanded to not just be diaries or letters but here we're limited to the letter and Laclos likes to leave a little bit of a mystery. So instead of being extremely intimate, which is what a successful epistolary novel does, letting us into the character's innermost thoughts, the letters purposefully muddy the waters. Characters say one thing to one person and the exact opposite to another but they are both written in the same voice so there is no way to tell what the truth is even if there is a truth. This means you take the characters at face value, what they say is who they are, there are no lines to be read between and you're only sure of one thing, they all come across as dicks. On top of that these characters are interacting with each other between their correspondences and we never really hear what happens except in passing. This leads to the reader being distanced from the characters because of the elliptical way their story is being told. So if you weren't alienated by the characters being assholes, you're alienated by an author who thinks he's being clever. That is why this book works better adapted into another format. Taking the best of the material at hand and making it into conversations instead of having characters sitting in chairs on stage or screen and just reading and writing letters. Giving the story definition and having actors that are able to sell it. Because a good actor can make you root for a bad character any day.

The transference into another medium also helps in eliminating the book's other problem, it's overwritten. Seriously, send an editor in STAT. Again and again the characters go back to the same things, the same arguments, the same platitudes of love, on and on and on and if I read the word chimerical one more time I will scream. If you've read one letter from Valmont to Madame de Tourvel you've literally read them all. Valmont: I love you! Madame de Tourvel: Please don't say that. Over and over and over. The forward progress of the narrative is so infinitesimal that after a time you think nothing is going to happen. I mean, I knew that Valmont was to seduce naive young Cécile and it took FOREVER to get to that point. I'm not joking when I say that took HALF the book to happen. All told there are 175 letters over five months and almost all the action happens at the very end. In fact the big moments are almost swept under the carpet! Valmont's death is just, and he's dead! The Marquise de Merteuil's fate is basically a postscript! This book needed someone like Christopher Hampton to come along and slap it into shape, because Miloš Forman and Jean-Claude Carrière sure made a hatchet job with Valmont. Oddly enough the only forward momentum is not momentum at all but reminiscences. The stories of past conquests and bizarre take-downs that the Marquise de Merteuil and Valmont share are the only lucid and succinct storytelling in all 500 pages of this book. And those stories don't exactly make for the best reading, as it's the destruction of lives and the stealing of virtue.

And virtue is indeed stolen. That is my biggest hangup with Les Liaisons Dangereuses, does consent mean nothing? Again, this is why seeing it on stage or screen works, because the actors can give a look, perform an action, that changes what is being said. Yet here the correspondence is in black and white, there is no middle ground, and to me Cécile is forced into a sexual relationship with Valmont, both from his actions and the Marquise de Merteuil's peer pressure. While Laclos is again elliptical, what you gather is that Valmont rapes Cécile and then she enters into a relationship with him against her will and her heart's desire. This isn't cool people. This isn't right. While I said that an adaptation can create a middle ground to what is happening I want to make it VERY clear that in life there is no middle ground when it comes to consent. I think this was the most shocking discovery to me in reading this book, I knew the lead characters were not likable people, but I thought that their liaisons were based more on seduction than blunt force. The number of times that poor Madame de Tourvel says no and is ignored? What I took to be the central love story that reformed Valmont is nothing more than a man not realizing that no means no and his target becoming so worn down she gives up. And while reading this book at any time would have made me point these problems out, in this day and age with the Time's Up movement and #MeToo, I was struck by how this book revels in the very worst in humanity. Consent should be enthusiastic and no should always, ALWAYS, mean no.

But I wonder if perhaps that's why it was so controversial at the time. Did people behave like this or were they scandalized to think people could behave like this? Or was this just showcasing the lax morals of the previous generation that was about to be overthrown through revolution? That notion actually playing into the recent revival by the National Theatre. While this book is still very scandalous, I don't think that is the reason why it is a classic. The reason why Les Liaisons Dangereuses has lasted is that it's humor, underneath all the horrors, is wry and arch. The book has a humorous self-deprecating style wherein the characters actually comment on Danceny being the hero of the tale, and oh, such a dud of a hero. Like Thackeray's Vanity Fair it's a book where the anti heroine and hero are the compelling characters. You get a vicarious thrill to think of someone destroying another for sport, but in the end you get the added thrill that the assholes get their due. Because THAT is the key when you have unlikeable characters. If these reprehensible examples of human life don't get what's coming to them it's just glorifying their existence. Because they pay for their sins the scales balance in the end. Which makes me really want to sit down with Laclos and ask him what his personal opinions were on issues of consent because you have to wonder, what with Valmont dying and the Marquise de Merteuil getting smallpox, losing an eye, and being shunted off to Amsterdam where something too horrid to mention happens, if he was actually just wanting to write something salacious that would sell and in the end it rather ambiguously states his real opinions through death and disfigurement.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Book Review - Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Published by: Modern Library
Publication Date: 1813
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

The leasing of Netherfield Park by a young single gentlemen of fortune makes Mrs. Bennet's day. For she is determined on one of her daughters marrying him. Who cares if nothing is known of the man, the desirability of the man is set by liquidity and location. Luckily for this nervous mother of five Mr. Bingley does seem inclined to fulfill her deepest desire as he starts to fall for her eldest Jane. But he brings with him such a haughty friend, Mr. Darcy, who becomes notorious for snubbing her second daughter, Lizzy, at the local assembly by not dancing with her. Lucky for Lizzy she sees it as a narrow escape from this proud man whom is now nothing more than an anecdote in her mind. But in trying to secure Mr. Bingley for Jane Lizzy is again and again thrust into the path of Mr. Darcy and little does she know that against every instinct he is falling for her. Though he isn't the only one who has unwanted and unsolicited affections for Lizzy. Lizzy's odious cousin Mr. Collins arrives on the scene to try to secure her hand. A hand she will never give to him. There is one she might give her hand to, a Mr. Wickham, who has recently arrived and enlisted in the army. He is an amiable type who has a tragic past, made more tragic by the actions of one Mr. Darcy. Can Lizzy juggle all the men in her life with what her heart really wants for herself and her family? Or will she make all the wrong choices and end up a spinster with a battered heart? Only with time, travel, and much heartache will her future and her happiness be decided.

Pride and Prejudice is an interesting re-read for me because I think of all of Austen's novels it is the one I go back to the least. This might seem odd because I think the majority of her fans would rank this as her best novel, and I do agree from time to time, though my rankings are very fluid. The reason I don't go back to it as often as the other novels is that Pride and Prejudice is rare in that, to me, it is the only book written by Austen that has a pitch perfect adaptation. I am of course referring to the 1995 miniseries adapted by Andrew Davies and starring a soaking wet Colin Firth, counteracting the commentary in this edition by Sir Walter Raleigh wondering if Darcy could swim. Take that Sir Walter Raleigh, the one who wasn't an explorer but an English scholar and yes I had to look that up because I was wondering if Walter Raleigh might be a time traveler as well as an explorer for about five seconds. Though what the adaptation has done for me is to break up the narrative into six sections coinciding with the episode breaks. This is even more ingrained in those who started with the VHS set long before DVDs were a thing where each episode was it's own tape. Therefore I know the story so well I'm just waiting for the next "set piece" to happen. This takes away the spontaneity of the story, because you're always knowing and waiting for what happens next. I don't get as caught up in the narrative and start to question if I'm right on what happens next, because I know it all too well.

Much as my rankings of Austen's books fluctuate there are some things that are constant. For me in the narrative of Pride and Prejudice that is Charlotte Lucas. Oh how I adore Charlotte and in more than any part of Pride and Prejudice Lizzy's incredulity of why Charlotte would be induced to accept the hand of Mr. Collins just pisses me off. Lizzy is an unrealistic romantic and sees by the example set by her parents that one should only marry for love. In this period of time this is totally unrealistic. When Mr. Collins is rejected by Lizzy he is entirely right in saying that she may never get another offer of marriage. Especially with a war on, young eligible men weren't growing on trees, and add to that that Lizzy is virtually penniless she has very unrealistic expectations. Yes, this is a love story with our hero and heroine overcoming each others faults, but seriously, if any of us readers were sent back to that time period we'd more than likely be in Charlotte Lucas's shoes and should be lucky to have her pragmatism. She's twenty-seven, a perilously old age for a woman entering the marriage market, from a large family, and has not much hope of having much money when her parents die. An eligible young man arrives, yes he's silly, but he has a very secure position, an inheritance which will eventually be in the same village as her parents, and the ear of a very influential lady. She also probably sees that through flattery she can control him. Here's to Charlotte, the voice of reason!

What's more is that IF Charlotte's advice had been followed by more characters in this book there would have been a lot less heartache. Charlotte advises Lizzy that Jane needs to show more than she feels to secure Bingley. It's Jane's lack of outward emotion that enables Darcy to separate her and his friend. Yes, I'm sure that even if Jane had been very demonstrative in her affections towards Bingley that Darcy would have found a way to still separate them, but I think it would have been far harder. Darcy explains that Bingley has crushing self-doubt and just a few words on the lack of outward emotion displayed by Jane is enough to make him doubt their connection. If she had shown more then perhaps Bingley wouldn't have been as easily persuaded. Perhaps he wouldn't have secreted himself away in London all winter without going back to Netherfield. Yes, there's a lot of perhaps here, but again, look at it from a female perspective at this time, what's the risk of showing one man more affection than you might feel? The worst that could happen is you'd be labeled a flirt. But at least if he is interested you're more likely to secure that hoped for proposal. If by that time you realize he's a loser, well, do what Lizzy did twice and reject his offer. Ah Charlotte, you are the voice of reason amongst so many silly girls as Mr. Bennet would put it. Though I'd disagree with him that you are the silliest.

This reading I started to wonder more on what exactly it was that drew Wickham and Lydia together. Because the reason it works as a seismic shift in the plot is that it's so unexpected. That Lydia would be stupid enough to elope isn't in question, the question is why Wickham? Wickham and her had had very little interaction on the page. Wickham has to flee Brighton and his regiment because of his debts and decides to take Lydia along. Why!?! It's advantageous for neither of them. So why do it? From Lydia's point of view I just think she wanted to be the first sister to marry and show them all up and Wickham provided her with this opportunity. To stick it to Lizzy, Wickham's previous favorite, seems just like the icing on the cake. It's Wickham I just don't get. Yes, he has a penchant for seducing young girls, but that's where money is involved. The ONLY way this all makes sense is if he had some added insight. Lydia is too indiscreet to keep anything from anyone, so I wonder, did Wickham think that Darcy would in some way be eventually connected to Lydia's family because of something she said? Whether through Bingley and Jane or even through Darcy and Elizabeth. This is the ONLY way this holds together. It's the MacGuffin that brings everything to a conclusion and there's just too much left unexplained. What ifs and perhaps, but no definitive reason. Are we just supposed to ignore it and focus on the happily ever after? Because I'm seriously not the kind of reader who can ever let go of anything. How devious was Wickham really!?!

In fact, there was a detail during Lydia's scandal that fascinated me and I never really noticed before to do with the servants. Of course everyone knows of the servant Hill, as Mrs. Bennet is often screaming her name. But all the other servants are kind of not mentioned. Which, to be fair, was the way it was, there's a reason shows like Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs appeal to people, because they give a voice to all the characters and show the connections, not just what all the rich people are doing. Therefore I found it very odd that Mr. Bennet requested that when the servants were in the room that they refrained from discussing the situation with Lydia. I understand him wanting to keep a lid on things, but with the way Mrs. Bennet was carrying on, with the way news of Wickham's debts were spreading like wildfire, the news was all over town in a matter of minutes, so why keep quiet in front of all the servants who aren't Hill? Also can we really trust and rely on Hill to keep her mouth shut? Don't you think the only way the servants handle their masters is by gossiping about them and swapping insane stories? Which makes me realize I really should read the book Longbourn by Jo Baker because it's Pride and Prejudice as seen through the eyes of the servants. Perhaps she answers all my questions? Oh, I wonder if she answers my theory as to cellphones being the modern day equivalent of women's work. AKA, as a way to avoid eye contact with that special someone who makes you nervous. Can you image Lizzy using a cellphone to avoid Darcy admiring her fine eyes? Because I sure can.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: February 20th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"This chilling new mystery in the USA Today bestselling series by Charles Finch takes readers back to Charles Lenox’s very first case and the ruthless serial killer who would set him on the course to become one of London’s most brilliant detectives.

London, 1850: A young Charles Lenox struggles to make a name for himself as a detective…without a single case. Scotland Yard refuses to take him seriously and his friends deride him for attempting a profession at all. But when an anonymous writer sends a letter to the paper claiming to have committed the perfect crime―and promising to kill again―Lenox is convinced that this is his chance to prove himself.

The writer’s first victim is a young woman whose body is found in a naval trunk, caught up in the rushes of a small islets in the middle of the Thames. With few clues to go on, Lenox endeavors to solve the crime before another innocent life is lost. When the killer’s sights are turned toward those whom Lenox holds most dear, the stakes are raised and Lenox is trapped in a desperate game of cat and mouse.

In the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, this newest mystery in the Charles Lenox series pits the young detective against a maniacal murderer who would give Professor Moriarty a run for his money."

Oh, Charles Finch is coming relatively near me on his book tour, must try to make that!

The Tombs by Deborah Schaumberg
Published by: HarperTeen
Publication Date: February 20th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York, 1882. A dark, forbidding city, and no place for a girl with unexplainable powers.

Sixteen-year-old Avery Kohl pines for the life she had before her mother was taken. She fears the mysterious men in crow masks who locked her mother in the Tombs asylum for being able to see what others couldn't. Avery denies the signs in herself, focusing instead on her shifts at the ironworks factory and keeping her inventor father out of trouble. Other than secondhand tales of adventure from her best friend, Khan, an ex-slave, and caring for her falcon, Seraphine, Avery spends her days struggling to survive.

Like her mother's, Avery's powers refuse to be contained. When she causes a bizarre explosion at the factory, she has no choice but to run from her lies, straight into the darkest corners of the city. Avery must embrace her abilities and learn to wield their power--or join her mother in the cavernous horrors of the Tombs. And the Tombs has secrets of its own: strange experiments are being performed on 'patients'...and no one knows why.

Deborah Schaumberg's gripping debut melds history and fantasy, taking readers on a breathless trip across a teeming turn-of-the-century New York, and asks the question: Where can you hide in a city that wants you buried?"

As I type this I have just been sucked into The Alienist so anything New York is a go for me! 

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen
Published by: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: February 20th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From New York Times bestselling author Rhys Bowen comes a haunting novel about a woman who braves her father’s hidden past to discover his secrets...

In 1944, British bomber pilot Hugo Langley parachuted from his stricken plane into the verdant fields of German-occupied Tuscany. Badly wounded, he found refuge in a ruined monastery and in the arms of Sofia Bartoli. But the love that kindled between them was shaken by an irreversible betrayal.

Nearly thirty years later, Hugo’s estranged daughter, Joanna, has returned home to the English countryside to arrange her father’s funeral. Among his personal effects is an unopened letter addressed to Sofia. In it is a startling revelation.

Still dealing with the emotional wounds of her own personal trauma, Joanna embarks on a healing journey to Tuscany to understand her father’s history—and maybe come to understand herself as well. Joanna soon discovers that some would prefer the past be left undisturbed, but she has come too far to let go of her father’s secrets now..."

Rhys Bowen going in a new direction, I'm down for that!

Death of an Honest Man by M.C. Beaton
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: February 20th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Nobody loves an honest man, or that was what police sergeant Hamish Macbeth tried to tell newcomer Paul English. Paul had moved to a house in Cnothan, a sour village on Hamish's beat.

He attended church in Lochdubh. He told the minister, Mr. Wellington, that his sermons were boring. He told tweedy Mrs. Wellington that she was too fat and in these days of increasing obesity it was her duty to show a good example. Angela Brody was told her detective stories were pap for the masses and it was time she wrote literature instead. He accused Hamish of having dyed his fiery red hair. He told Jessie Currie--who repeated all the last words of her twin sister--that she needed psychiatric help.

"I speak as I find," he bragged. Voices saying, "I could kill that man," could be heard from Lochdubh to Cnothan.

And someone did.

Now Hamish is faced with a bewildering array of suspects. And he's lost the services of his clumsy policeman, Charlie, who has resigned from the force after Chief Inspector Blair berated Charlie one too many times, and the policeman threw Blair into the loch. Can Hamish find the killer on his own?"

For my mom, the Hamish Macbeth acolyte. 

Educated by Tara Westover
Published by: Random House
Publication Date: February 20th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University.

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills” bag. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged metal in her father’s junkyard.

Her father distrusted the medical establishment, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when an older brother became violent.

When another brother got himself into college and came back with news of the world beyond the mountain, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. She taught herself enough mathematics, grammar, and science to take the ACT and was admitted to Brigham Young University. There, she studied psychology, politics, philosophy, and history, learning for the first time about pivotal world events like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes from severing ties with those closest to you. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it."

This sounds fascinating if just for the fact Tara has lived the exact opposite life I have. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Reveiw - Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Published by: Modern Library
Publication Date: 1847
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Mr. Lockwood has rented Thrushcross Grange in Yorkshire as an escape from his hectic London life. Being an amiable man he is perplexed by his landlord, Heathcliff, who is standoffish and lives a remote life with an odd household at Wuthering Heights. After being trapped the night at Wuthering Heights Lockwood beseeches his housekeeper at Thrushcross Grange, Nelly Dean, to tell him the tale of Heathcliff and the other residents of Wuthering Heights. Nelly agrees, because she remembers it all, starting thirty years earlier when Mr. Earnshaw lived at Wuthering Heights with his son Hindley and his daughter Catherine. After a trip to Liverpool he returned with Lockwood's landlord, Heathcliff, a foundling to incite the jealousy of Hindley and the love of Cathy. When Mr. Earnshaw finally died and Hindley returned home with his new wife it was time to enact his revenge on Heathcliff, banishing him to the stables as a lowly servant. Before Hindley's return Cathy thought that she and Heathcliff would never be parted, but soon she is betrothed to Edgar Linton of Thrushcross Grange claiming she could never marry Heathcliff because it would degrade her. Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights and only returns once he is a wealthy man and seduces Edgar's sister for revenge. Death soon claims Cathy and then Hindley and the feud goes to the next generation fueled by Heathcliff. But can love come back to a place where hate has flourished?

The problem with reading a book like Wuthering Heights is that this is a book that has been adapted to death, and I've watched them all. From the Laurence Olivier adaptation that eliminated the second generation for expediency and a stab at a happy ending, to the 1998 version solely watched for Matthew Macfadyen as Hereton Earnshaw, to the badly bewigged Tom Hardy in the only version I actually like. I've seen them all. Each one brought a new perspective and a twist with their interpretation of the text, so that going back to the source I found that nothing new was brought to the table. I'd seen it all and not to throw too much shade at Emily Brontë, but her framing device of narrators within narrators akin to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein feels a bit forced. But yet I needed to read it. The reason I finally decided to read Wuthering Heights was that I had been meaning to for so long it seemed like a glaring oversight and might be considered as the book in longest residence on my "to be read" pile. I had years earlier picked up the book and made it through a few chapters of Lockwood's overwrought rambling only to put it down and forget about it. In the intervening years I had read all of Anne Brontë's work, re-read Jane Eyre more times than I can count, and started viewing Anne as the most talented of the Brontës, but I couldn't secure her the title without finally giving in to a reading of Emily's one prose piece. PS, if the star rating didn't tip you off, Anne wins.

The main problem with Wuthering Heights is that you quite literally hate everyone. These are not nice people. I mean they are SERIOUSLY NOT NICE PEOPLE! They are threatening to murder each other daily and that's what, OK? Is that supposed to show the strength of their attachments? And that is somehow supposed to translate into one of the greatest love stories ever? Hell no. It's dysfunction city. There's a reason why when Thursday Next is assigned to help council the characters in Wuthering Heights in her third adventure, The Well of Lost Plots, that it is a comedic highlight, because these people SERIOUSLY need counseling. All books need you to have someone worth rooting for, and I can't think of a single character I would like to spend one minute with. Even the "nicer" characters at Thrushcross Grange are lured into Heathcliff's world of revenge and hate and tainted by association. The second generation doesn't get a pass either, they are so passive that by letting this happen they are continuing the cycle. Yes, with Heathcliff eventually gone there's a tiny little ray of hope at the end. But is it really hope? Hundreds of pages of hate and rage and passion, because I don't think we can call it love, and once the house has been exorcised of Heathcliff everything can be fine? Nope. Burn that house to the ground and move far far away.

Yet there is a reason this is a classic. And no, I don't think it's because of anything to do with the characters or the plot. It might have to do with the passion, because it was rare for a book then to show such cruelity and be so harsh while in the throes of so-called love. But I think the only real reason it survives is two fold, one is the connection to this great literary dynasty that is the Brontës, but secondly, in among the dross, there are lines of sheer beauty. Emily was a poet, she was not a prose writer, so it makes sense that she can capture beauty and emotion in a single line that she couldn't accomplish with chapters and chapters of storytelling. In chapter nine is perhaps the best example of what Emily could do when giving full reign to her powers: "It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire... I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being"

Though for all the beauty, all the evocation of emotions in this one section, easily the most quoted of all, there are pages and pages of limp prose. Just unintelligible horrible writing. In particular there is Joseph; an elderly servant who lacks all humanity and is therefore very religious. The problem with Joesph is his stupid dialect. Yes, dialect is important, it gives the reader a feeling for the time, the place, and the character. But bad dialect, or dialect used improperly can ruin a novel. Look to The Secret Garden, the children use the broad local dialect to mock the servants cruelly, yet for some bizarre reason we're supposed to view this as cute. I don't. It made me hate that book. Joseph's dialect is 100% unintelligible. I quite literally have no idea what he was saying. A dialect should be a compromise to some extent. You need to capture all that I said above, time, place, BUT you have to make it accessible to readers. If you've seen the Red Riding Trilogy you'll understand where I'm going here. Like Wuthering Heights, these are films set in Yorkshire. Now some of the actors went too far with their accents, making them too heavy and unintelligible, then there was Sean Bean, who knows the acting business and made a nice compromise between accent and accessibility. Look to Sean Bean! Because really, Joseph became a joke, like in Hot Fuzz where Karl Johnson as PC Bob Walker is pretty unintelligible and needs a translator, usually Nick Frost's Danny Butterman, but there's the one scene where Bob has to translate for David Bradley as a local farmer because even Danny can't understand him. That's what it felt like here! But it wasn't meant to be funny!

Yet even without all this, even if I hadn't watched all the adaptations and hadn't hated all the characters there is one thing that this book lacked, and that was the element of surprise. At the beginning of the book there is a family tree. This tree gives everyone's birth and death and a quick perusal shows you, wow, yes it shows you everything. All their kids and the marriages, everything. I'm like Patrick Stewart on Extras. Yes, genealogy is to me interesting in books, especially when you start going Game of Thrones epic, but here, with such a small cast of characters, the book is spoiled from page one. Which makes me wonder, was this in the first printing? Because this comes after Charlotte's introduction to the book, so did she maybe add it for spite? Everyone knows Charlotte wasn't a fan of Emily's writing, with rumors being that Emily actually had another finished manuscript that Charlotte burned... so was Charlotte trying to just alienate the readers? Or was it Emily who just felt like everything was a foregone conclusion and that we should know from the start we're in for death and misery... because that's what this book is, death and misery. It has become a classic just by proximity to other great works and really, classics do need to be challenged and re-evaluated, because a hundred plus years later I don't think this book has anything left to give us whereas Jane Eyre and even The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are constantly surprising.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book Review - E.M. Forster's A Room with a View

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
Published by: Book-of-the-Month Club
Publication Date: 1908
Format: Hardcover, 319 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin Miss Charlotte Barlett have arrived in Florence, but their rooms in the Pension Bertolini do not have the promised for views, instead overlooking a rather insalubrious alleyway. Overhearing their dilemma at the dinner table, the rather forward Emersons, a father and son, offer them their rooms. Miss Barlett thinks this is beyond proper, but the good Reverend Mr. Beebe says there could be nothing wrong with their accepting the offer. It might have been put indelicately, but it is a beautiful gesture. So Lucy and Charlotte get their views. They also get a lot more than they bargained for with the eclectic denizens of the pension, who all seem to have taken a dislike to the Emersons. One day Lucy ventures forth with a female writer, Miss Lavish, who soon deserts her and Lucy takes up with the Emersons. She doesn't understand everyone's dislike of them, they seem quite nice, if a little outspoken. There will be two incidences with the younger Emerson, George, before she leaves Florence. Both will shake her, one might forever change her heart. But back in England Lucy finds herself reverting to who she was prior to Italy. Boring and conventional. She becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse. Her and Cecil have known each other for years. Their alliance is expected, even inevitable. Until Cecil does something silly and it brings the Emersons back into Lucy's life. She can not deny what happened with George. But can she put it behind her, marry Cecil, and just get on with her life? Or will her life take an unexpected turn and embrace the passion she found awakening in Italy?

The first time I read A Room with a View I was not much older than Lucy Honeychurch. I experienced Italy for the first time in her footsteps and was enchanted. In fact, I think this book would make a lovely companion piece to an art history class because of the reverence it has for art and history. But for all that is right in Italy, there is much flawed back in England. Re-reading this book all these years later, while I might not identify as strongly anymore with Lucy, I still feel the flaw in the ending. It isn't that I object to Lucy and George ending up together, they obviously belong with each other. I object to the fact that as soon as Cecil has been kicked to the curb the ending is just thrust at us and the book is over. Just because the ending is inevitable doesn't mean I don't want to read the steps inbetween Mr. Emerson ferreting the truth out of Lucy and Lucy and George eloping. It almost feels as if the book has been expurgated and we're missing all this story that should be there. Did Forster feel unequal to the task or did he just grow bored with the story? Plus why is Lucy's family mad at her about the elopement? They seem the type of family who would champion love and yet they aren't talking to her over her marriage? WHY? Plus we never get to really see Lucy and George as a couple. We know far more about Cecil then we do about George and I feel that George needed to be made less of an enigma. Give us more of a reason to love him than that he is not Cecil, which I will admit does strongly recommend him. I just feel that this struggle that Lucy has been facing of her life in a muddle which she has finally broken free of is nullified by the quagmire that the ending is. And this isn't even addressing those editions that include the epilogue. Seriously, if you want to be quickly jaded about life and the inevitability of human nature to destroy all that is good, look up the epilogue. At least there is one thing I can agree with Forster about the ending, omit that epilogue. Too bad he wasn't successful enough with getting it fully excised like he was with the epilogue for Maurice.

While I lack the open eyed naivety I had when younger, though to a lesser degree than most, there is still something about being caught up in new experiences and new ways of seeing things which is at the heart of A Room with a View. Expanding your mind and letting these new ideas sweep over you. If you can capture just a bit of that opening up that Lucy experiences, you will be the better for it. The idea that struck me most this reading was the idea of doing something beautifully or doing something delicately. When the Emersons offer Lucy and Charlotte their rooms in the pension, it isn't a delicate gesture but it is a beautiful one. Society might even think it a little outre for the ladies to accept the offer, which is why Charlotte dithers about the idea. But the gesture is done because it is right, because it is beautiful, because it's their hearts desires to have "a room with a view" even if they won't admit it to themselves or the Emersons. I think this hits on something that is a universal truth in our society. On the whole, we do what is right, what is proper, what is acceptable. We donate to the set charities, we support the right causes, we don't make a stir. But what if instead we did what was right in our very bones? Grand gestures that might not be politically correct but that have heart and beauty in them? Bring something good into the world, not because it's what is expected, but because it is unexpected. Little or big gestures, something every day. What would the world turn into if every day someone did something beautiful for another human being? It would be a kind of grace.

But to know what is beauty versus what is delicate you need to know yourself. That is where the younger me really latched onto Lucy and her journey. She is just starting out to see the world and to come to terms with who she is and what she wants out of life. She is looking at art and trying to decide whether she likes it or whether she is supposed to like it. She is trying to see what kind of people she should surround herself with. To her the Emersons are good people, yet to others they are uncouth. Who is right? What is her opinion? Most people struggle with these concepts all their lives. They don't know who they are or that they are constantly changing and evolving. Lucy gets easily muddled. She gets swept up into events and situations that she doesn't know how she got there or how to get out of. Can you imagine actually going to Greece on a moments notice with people you don't really like just to avoid one person? I actually kind of can. How many times has this happened to me? Not Greece in particular, but countless other trips or jobs or changes in routines. I have spent too much time doing one thing to avoid another and getting muddled beyond hope. To be young and impressionable again, I don't think I could stand that. But there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Something that will form you, be it art or literature, or in Lucy's case, music. Little does she know that it is in how she plays music that she is baring her soul. Forster himself puts it so eloquently: "Does it seem reasonable that she should play so wonderfully, and live so quietly? I suspect that one day she will be wonderful in both. The water-tight compartments in her will break down, and music and life will mingle." And that is when she will rise above the muddle and know who she is.

Which all brings me to why I dislike Cecil so much. It's not that he's a prig and pretentious and hates all the good in people and just wants everyone to suffer so he can laugh at them, though that is all true. I dislike Cecil because he uses Lucy's muddle to his advantage. She doesn't know what she wants out of life and therefore Cecil uses her impressionability to try to mold her into who he wants to marry. He cares not for her family or her friends, they are all fodder for him. He isn't delicate or beautiful in his gestures, rather thwarting everyone and spitting in the eyes of all. As Lucy points out, his declining to do something as simple as make a four for tennis would make everyone happy, yet he takes pleasure in denying them this and then interrupting their game with dramatic readings from bad novels. He doesn't even really see Lucy. He sees her as an ideal. A painting that will perfectly adorn his life and that he can force into a mold. Whenever she really shows any glimmer of her true self Cecil thinks she is joking, because this isn't what he had envisioned. Cecil is a despicable human being who isn't worthy to be slim on my shoes, and yet he serves the purpose of the moment. In one moment he is the shield for Lucy to keep George at bay. In another moment he is the reason George is her soulmate. Because, as I've mentioned before, George isn't really explored as a character, he is perfect for Lucy because he is everything Cecil is not. George lets Lucy find out who she is, lets her make her own decisions, because he is the anti-Cecil and the man for Lucy.

The one character though that I find the most interesting is Miss Charlotte Bartlett. She is the stock character of literature, the spinster who is always concerned with propriety, appearances, and not being an inconvenience, while being the exact opposite. Seeing as Forster is such a fan of Austen you can easily see her ancestor in Emma and Miss Bates. As I get older I relate to these characters more and more. No, it's not my descent into spinsterhood and the eventual owning of a cat army, it's that these characters, with all their flaws, are the most human, the most sympathetic. Despite how many times while reading A Room with a View you might want to smack Charlotte, unlike Emma Woodhouse and her smack down of Miss Bates, you could never do such a thing because you pity her. The highlight of her life is how by saving Lucy from the advances of George she has actually given herself relevancy to someone she cares deeply for. Yes, it's exasperating and pitiful, but in her own way she is being proper and delicate and helpful. Yet, it's her beautiful gestures at the end that transforms her into someone who is to be more then just pitied. Lucy's mother hints at how much Lucy is like Charlotte, which Lucy rebels against. But Charlotte gives Lucy a chance, something which she probably never had. She doesn't warn Lucy about Mr. Emerson's being at the rectory, though she knew. It is through Lucy and Mr. Emerson meeting there that Lucy and George end up together. Though Charlotte denies knowing of his presence, it is my opinion that she decided to do something beautiful. She lied to facilitate love. She let Lucy have a chance at happiness, despite all her previous attempts to thwart it, propriety be damned.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Ghost Notebooks by Ben Dolnick
Published by: Pantheon
Publication Date: February 13th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A supernatural story of love, ghosts, and madness as a young couple, newly engaged, become caretakers of a historic museum.

When Nick Beron and Hannah Rampe decide to move from New York City to the tiny upstate town of Hibernia, they aren't exactly running away, but they need a change. Their careers have flatlined, the city is exhausting, and they've reached a relationship stalemate. Hannah takes a job as live-in director of the Wright Historic House, a museum dedicated to an obscure nineteenth-century philosopher, and she and Nick swiftly move into their new home. The town’s remoteness, the speed with which Hannah is offered the job, and the lack of museum visitors barely a blip in their consideration.

At first, life in this old, creaky house feels cozy—they speak in Masterpiece Theater accents and take bottles of wine to the swimming hole. But as summer turns to fall, Hannah begins to have trouble sleeping and she hears whispers in the night. One morning, Nick wakes up to find Hannah gone. In his frantic search for her, Nick will discover the hidden legacy of Wright House: a man driven wild with grief, and a spirit aching for home."

Gothic yeah!

The Lucky Ones by Tiffany Reisz
Published by: MIRA
Publication Date: February 13th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"They called themselves "the lucky ones."

They were seven children either orphaned or abandoned by their parents and chosen by legendary philanthropist and brain surgeon Dr. Vincent Capello to live in The Dragon, his almost magical beach house on the Oregon Coast. Allison was the youngest of the lucky ones living an idyllic life with her newfound family...until the night she almost died, and was then whisked away from the house and her adopted family forever.

Now, thirteen years later, Allison receives a letter from Roland, Dr. Capello's oldest son, warning her that their father is ill and in his final days. Allison determines she must go home again and confront the ghosts of her past. She's determined to find out what really happened that fateful night -- was it an accident or, as she's always suspected, did one of her beloved family members try to kill her?

But digging into the past can reveal horrific truths, and when Allison pieces together the story of her life, she'll learns the terrible secret at the heart of the family she once loved but never really knew."

Even more Gothicy goodness!

Mrs. by Caitlin Macy
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: February 13th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the well-heeled milieu of New York's Upper East Side, coolly elegant Philippa Lye is the woman no one can stop talking about. Despite a shadowy past, Philippa has somehow married the scion of the last family-held investment bank in the city. And although her wealth and connections put her in the center of this world, she refuses to conform to its gossip-fueled culture.

Then, into her precariously balanced life, come two women: Gwen Hogan, a childhood acquaintance who uncovers an explosive secret about Philippa's single days, and Minnie Curtis, a newcomer whose vast fortune and frank revelations about a penurious upbringing in Spanish Harlem put everyone on alert.

When Gwen's husband, a heavy-drinking, obsessive prosecutor in the US Attorney's Office, stumbles over the connection between Philippa's past and the criminal investigation he is pursuing at all costs, this insulated society is forced to confront the rot at its core and the price it has paid to survive into the new millennium.

Macy has written a modern-day HOUSE OF MIRTH, not for the age of railroads and steel but of hedge funds and overnight fortunes, of scorched-earth successes and abiding moral failures. A brilliant portrait of love, betrayal, fate and chance, MRS marries razor-sharp social critique and page-turning propulsion into an unforgettable tapestry of the way we live in the 21st Century."

A modern Golden Age?

Death in the Stars by Frances Brody
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: February 13th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"France Brody captures the atmosphere and language of 1920s England while delivering a captivating plot in the ninth book of this traditional cozy mystery series featuring private investigator Kate Shackleton.

Yorkshire, 1927. Eclipse fever grips the nation, and when beloved theatre star Selina Fellini approaches trusted sleuth Kate Shackleton to accompany her to a viewing party on thegrounds of Giggleswick School Chapel, Kate suspects an ulterior motive.

During the eclipse, Selina's friend and co-star Billy Moffatt disappears and is later found dead in the chapel grounds. Kate can't help but dig deeper and soon learns that two other members of the theatre troupe died in similarly mysterious circumstances in the past year. With the help of Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden, Kate sets about investigating the deaths -and whether there is a murderer in the company.

When Selina's elusive husband Jarrod– who was injured in the war and is subject to violent mood swings―comes back on the scene, Kate beginsto imagine something far deadlier at play, and wonders just who will be next topay the ultimate price for fame."

A cozy mystery with 20s sensibilities, heck yeah! Also eclipse fever, how timely! 

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
Published by: The Dial Press
Publication Date: February 13th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A witty and emotionally charged novel that delves into the heart of a marriage, and how those we love and think we know best can sometimes surprise us the most—from #1 New York Times bestselling author Sophie Kinsella.

After ten years together, Sylvie and Dan have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, and beautiful twin girls, and they communicate so seamlessly they finish each other’s sentences. They have a happy marriage and believe they know everything there is to know about each other. Until it’s casually mentioned to them that they could be together for another sixty-eight years...and panic sets in.

They decide to bring surprises into their marriage to keep it fresh and fun. But in their pursuit of Project Surprise Me—from unexpected gifts to restaurant dates to sexy photo shoots—mishaps arise, with disastrous and comical results. Gradually, surprises turn to shocking truths. And when a scandal from the past is uncovered, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other at all.

With a colorful cast of eccentric characters, razor-sharp observations, and her signature wit and charm, Sophie Kinsella presents a humorous yet moving portrait of a marriage—its intricacies, comforts, and complications. Surprise Me reveals that hidden layers in a close relationship are often yet to be discovered."

You can always count on Sophie Kinsella for some chick lit goodness! 

Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
Published by: Grove Press, Black Cat
Publication Date: February 13th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From internationally bestselling author Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, a charming and tender novel about a recently divorced man on a life-changing journey into a war-torn country, where he finds the tools to mend the lives of those he encounters."

Yeah, the description is so non-existent this is all cover lust! 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Book Review - A.S. Byatt's Possession

Possession by A.S. Byatt
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: 1990
Format: Paperback, 555 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Roland Michell is an academic with very limited options. He's toiling away researching the Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash while living off his girlfriend, who he doesn't much care for, in a cat pee soaked apartment, when everything changes. Roland finds an unknown letter that Ash wrote to a female that might just be Roland's lucky break. He traces the correspondence to a Christabel LaMotte, who was an almost unknown female poet at the same time as Ash, and who is the darling of feminist academia. Roland approaches the preeminent scholar on LaMotte, Maud Bailey, directly, circumventing his own department in some odd impulse to keep his discovery to himself. What the two of them find is rather interesting and will change the presumed histories of the two poets drastically. Everyone has always assumed that Ash was happily married, though sadly childless, and that LaMotte was a lesbian living with the painter Blanche Glover. But their letters to each other prove that this is anything but the case. Slowly unravelling the past while trying to keep the present at bay, Roland and Maud are gripped by a fever to find the truth of what really happened to two people over a hundred years ago.

Most people who know me now are shocked to discover that I wasn't always a reader. I didn't read much, I didn't like school and was a bad student, and I mainly watched movies. Somewhere along the way that completely reversed itself. This has had the effect that I always feel like I'm playing catchup. I'm always trying to read what others consider "standard" or "classic" books. In fact I only heard about A.S. Byatt because of the movie version of Possession. While I have said before that I have this inbuilt need to read the book before seeing the movie, in the early days of my discovering authors, a movie adaptation would help to introduce me to authors I might never have found on my own. Hence me and Possession. I too have the copy with The Beguiling of Merlin by Burne-Jones on the cover but with that lovely "Soon to be a Major Motion Picture" sticker firmly planted above Merlin's head.

I had no expectations going into this book the first time, but I was sorely disappointed. I've never been the biggest fan of poetry, and that is a bit of an issue when reading a book about poets. To paraphrase Possessions own words, poetry is a love of words where prose is a love of story, of narration. I have always loved stories, if the words are well chosen, then it adds something more, but I do not rhapsodize or wax nostalgic over the rhythm and flow of words. The epic poems of Ash and LaMotte were just sections to be read hastily for clues before the plot resumed. All this and more meant I just didn't connect and was left dissatisfied. I remember finishing the book on a warm Sunday in May and feeling this need to do something to alleviate this want in me. I met my friend Sara and we went to a movie, but all the while I was thinking about how Possession had let me down. I had that itch under my skin when you've spent so much time on something and it just doesn't work out in the end. It's a dissatisfaction on such a huge scale that it's almost like having a panic attack. Later that summer after seeing the disastrous movie adaptation with my most hated of actors, Aaron Eckhart, I knew the book could have been far worse, in the way that I knew I would come back one day to this book and try to find the connection that I had felt wanting the first time.

Possession the second time around was a far better read. I understood more what Byatt was trying to do and more of her literary allusions weren't over my head. But more importantly, I feel like I now possess the language to say why it was the book left me cold in the first place. I can now identify and name that itch under my skin and relieve it through critique. Possession starts with a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne's preface to his book The House of Seven Gables asking for clemency for his book's adherence to the standards and tropes of the Romance genre. He begs the reader to allow latitude in his predictability and lack of realism. By using this quote Byatt is also asking us to forgive her using the same tropes of the Romance genre, with a capital "R". There are two problems inherent in this "confession". Firstly, as an artist I was taught that you never make excuses or apologize for your work. As far as the viewer, or reader in Byatt's case, is concerned, this is the best freakin' thing that has ever been done and you need to sell it as such. If you start out with an apology you are basically telling someone that there is a flaw in the work and it is human nature to search out that flaw.

This is a flawed book, it is by no means perfect. The predictability of the story with the absurd ending that you could see a mile off was my second and ultimately main problem with Possession. Going back to the Hawthorne quote I wonder if Byatt chose this quote not to give a historic literary connection between her and Hawthorne, but to apologize for her work, by writing the quote Hawthorne himself has thankfully already apologized for the abysmal The House of Seven Gables. As I've said before, no excuses, no apology, even if you really need to make one, giving one makes you look weak. You can't justify your work being subpar by saying it's the genre that made me do it. Was it the genre that made the book have unlikable passionless characters whose connection and attraction is initially based on the mind but devolves into a physical passion that still has this weird cold and unfeeling vibe? No, that was you who did that. That was your writing, not the genre. As for the rapidity of time making things obsolete... well, that's no one's fault. This book feels dated, more so then when I read it twelve years ago, and it's not just the lack of computers and the prevalence of copy machines, but the very change in the nature and meaning of language. Glory Holes have a far far different universal connotation now... I'm hoping Byatt was aware of this then lesser used definition when she was writing the book in the eighties...

But for everything that this book does wrong, it does get things right. I love the Victorian time period, and in specific I love seances. I like both the idea that they could possibly be real, but also the intricacies of chicanery that the false mediums created in order to fool their marks. I even went to a photography exhibition years ago at the MET that was supposed proof from the time of the veracity of spirits... let's put it this way, they had the original Cottingley Fairies, so, that's the level of truth in these photographs. But what interested me in Possession was that it was posited that these seances are in some way a replacement for storytelling. The beginning of the beloved television show The Storyteller was right in that "people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, [and] foretold the future with stories." Stories were a faith. Mythology and folktales are part of us. But in Victorian England, so much advancement in such a little time was stripping away the foundations of faith. Such searching and questioning changed the world. People needed a new way to search for the meaning of life, and for some that came in the form of seances. They needed to know that life had meaning and they were searching for it beyond the vale. Ash and LaMotte are both curious and questioning individuals, it makes sense that they, as artists, would not only embrace the old ways but also the new. These two ways, through language and planchette, unite the very human needs across the generations to quench the thirst for knowledge, a thirst that is then taken up in the "present" by Roland and Maud and unifies the book not only in it's own narratives but to our own lives.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Book Review - Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1938
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and chain upon the gate... Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done."

As she looks back on the twists and turns that brought her to Manderley, the second Mrs. de Winter can't help but wonder how her life ended up as it did. She had resigned herself to an existence as a paid companion trailing behind whomever had hired her, the reprehensible Mrs. Van Hoppper being her employer at the beginning of her story. That all changed when Maxim de Winter entered her life in his fast car. He was in the south of France fleeing the memories of his dead wife Rebecca and the one thing that blotted her out was the young girl who would become his second wife. Yet perhaps their union was foolish, or Maxim's dream to return to Manderley was unwise. Because back in England their life is haunted by the memories of his first wife, Rebecca. The specter that is hallowed by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and is a constant comparative presence for the new wife. Could Rebecca destroy their happiness from beyond the grave? Or will Rebecca need a little assistance from Mrs. Danvers?

When I was young my mother subscribed to The Franklin Library Mystery Masterpieces. Each month a new book would arrive and we'd set it in pride of place on our console bookshelf that housed our most prized possessions, this being the eighties it mainly housed records and our record player. The little nine year old that I was loved that each month another volume would come and expand the display on that orangey wood that just glowed with an inner light. Then one day The Franklin Library sent us the biggest box I had ever seen. They were discontinuing the Mystery Masterpieces and they sent us the remaining volumes all at once. At this time we probably had only ten volumes, so forty-two books showed up one day to our great astonishment and delight.

Until recently these books have been packed away as self space was scare; all but a few choice volumes which I had secreted away. When I was young I loved to spend time reading the spines and looking at the pictures and wondering what the books were about and making up my own stories, especially about The Thirty-Nine Steps, which really disappointed me when I found out what it was really about. When they first arrived I was too young to read most of the titles, and when I was older I was too into movies to bother with books. That all changed. Obviously. But Rebecca, the movie, was like a gateway drug. I adored the film and then I looked on our shelf. There was Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, one of the first books we'd gotten in this series, after the obligatory Agatha Christie volume that is. This particular edition would make it's way into my library and my heart.

Rebecca is that rare book that cries out to be read and re-read over and over again, each time a different interpretation and meaning unearthed. The opening line that transports you, like a dream, to Manderley. You can get lost in the happy valley among the flowers and never want to return from those magical pages. But I don't think that you truly get the book's greatness without knowing the context of Du Maurier's world, mainly her obsession with the Brontes. This is much in the vein of why people don't realize the genius of Northanger Abbey, which is a parody of the Gothic genre, not "serious" like Austen's other books! Du Maurier's first book, The Loving Spirit, takes it's name from a poem by Emily Bronte. More then twenty years after writing Rebecca her misguided biography on Branwell Bronte was published and forever secured her connection to them. Therefore the echoes of Jane Eyre that haunt Rebecca should not be thought a surprise or the least bit unintentional. Du Maurier was writing a new classic that would pay homage to and reflect Jane Eyre. A Jane Eyre for modern sensibilities, if you will.

Just as Jamaica Inn is to Wuthering Heights, so is Rebecca to Jane Eyre, just look at the similarities. The naive young girl ready for love, the misanthropic hero, the crazy wife, the destructive fire. What amazes me is that if you look at just the building blocks of these books they should be eerily similar, yet they aren't. Each book is a classic in it's own right, but the ghost of Jane Eyre isn't the only ghost that Rebecca tackles, after all there is Rebecca herself. While there is that chilling line delivered by Mrs. Danvers "Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?" What we think of as ghosts can take many forms. There are no spectral apparitions here, no things that go bump in the night, but that doesn't mean Rebecca doesn't haunt Manderley.

Rebecca recurs persistently in the consciousness of the second Mrs. de Winter causing her distress and anxiety, but she is also the bosom friend of Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers, more then anyone, works to keep Rebecca alive and in doing so makes her specter part of the foundation of Manderley itself. This is an interesting conceit on Du Maurier's part, because really, this is a ghost story without a ghost. The memory and emotion left behind is what haunts us, and if anyone could do this, it's Rebecca. As Captain Jack Harkness said on Torchwood, "Human emotion is energy. You can't always see it or hear it, but you can feel it. Ever had deja vu? Felt someone walk over your grave? Ever felt someone behind you in an empty room? Well there was. There always is."

Yet Rebecca isn't the only ghost. There's another person who haunts Manderley, she is always there, ever present, but in the shadow of Rebecca. I am of course talking about the second Mrs. de Winter. She is but mere shadow, a trace, a semblance of a person. She in fact has no name but that which Rebecca had, Mrs. de Winter. This is the most fascinating aspect of the book and many others have discussed it's importance, that the heroine has no name. One result of this namlessness is that she is a ghost, a cipher, a way to tell Rebecca's story through new eyes but without complicating the matter by creating a character with backbone.

Of course this is a two edged sword, on the one hand Du Maurier is pushing the second Mrs. de Winter into the background, but on the other hand by creating a blank slate, a character who has no real "character" we are able to put ourselves more easily into her shoes. This literary trick, I mean, really, I want to stand and applaud Du Maurier. By giving use this conduit there are so many ramifications to the narrative. By being one with the second Mrs. de Winter you therefore embrace Maxim, her husband, and therefore not just identify but condone his actions. The genius of Rebecca is that Daphne Du Maurier has made you complicit in murder and you loved every second of it.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home