lizzied_11

Reviews
More
A Trip to the Stars: A Novel

by

A Trip to the Stars is the real deal, and Nicholas Christopher is quite a dealer. Ten year-old Loren is kidnapped after he and his adoptive aunt attend a show at a planetarium. That kidnapping was the biggest pill for me to swallow, but once down, I gulped all the rest happily. All the rest turns out to be a magical mix of star and spider lore, hotels, abstruse allusions to lots of religions and philosophies, and more - all served up in highly readable prose.The narration alternates between the aunt and Loren. Alma, who changes her name to Mala, tells her own story of her search for Loren and then for her lover whom she found on a hospital ship during the Vietnam War and lost almost immediately. Loren, who learns that his name is really Enzo, tells his coming of age story, which takes place in the Hotel Canopus in the desert outside Las Vegas, a hotel filled with lost people or people searching for what has been lost. Their stories sometimes parallel each other, intertwine strangely, yet are lived without any knowledge of whether the other is alive.Lovers of magical realism, rejoice! This is a magical book that, whatever depths it may or may not reveal, tells a mesmerizing story.
The Polish Boxer

by

The Polish Boxer is like nothing else I've ever read. It is sometimes meta-fiction; the narrator, Eduardo Halfon, has the name of the author and reflects on a story that he has written about his grandfather's life with details that his grandfather changes when he tells his story to a newspaper. The characters are artists; there are painters and a pianist, but the narrator is a teacher of American literature in Guatemala. They talk about their art and its limitations; he works on a speech for a conference about how literature tears reality. People come and go and send postcards. For a short little book, it's full to overflowing with the nature of reality or the reality that each person makes. (There's a story that the natives didn't see Christopher Columbus' arrive because the concept of a such a big ship was so far from their reality that they couldn't acknowledge it.) Eduardo is always open to life, and if he's searching for something, he is willing to take what he finds along the way. What he finds along the way is often loss.The writing is exquisite although I found the first chapter feeling very much like a translation. After that, it was lovely. I started by trying to mark particularly apposite turns of phrase and quickly realized that I would be marking everything. It is also surprisingly funny. In Belgrade a guide tells him, "I like Garcia Marquez.... And also Cantinflas. Once,... I slept with a girl from Ecuador, which is almost like saying Guatemala, right?"This is a book to reread. I should have reread it before trying to write a review, but the nature of my beast is that I move on for now. Thank you, Early Readers, for an experience that I wouldn't have found on my own!
The Inbetween People

by

The Inbetween People is the story of Avi Goldberg, reared on a kibbutz, who is serving 25 days in prison rather than an equal amount of time in the Israeli army. At night he writes about his present, and about his past relationship with a young Arab, Saleem, whose wife visits Avi when possible. The book also contains letters from Avi's father to his wife in the Netherlands, who deserted her family when Avi was four. The reader is meant, I think, to experience the meaninglessness of war through these two young men. My problem is that although many of their experiences are vividly told, I understand no more about them at the end than I did at the beginning. Other reviewers have remarked on Ms. McEvoy's style. A blurb on the back cover characterizes her as "Turning away from traditional and well-trodden literary landscapes,...." Why did she do that? Much of the narrative is fresh and readable; however, more is a series of sentence fragments interspersed with comma splices and other run-ons and no quotation marks for dialogue in the whole book. Did McEvoy never master the conventions of writing or is this an artistic decision? If artistic, what is it meant to convey? Moreover, she has adopted first person, present tense narration for Avi's present along with second person, present tense, for Saleem's past, first person past tense for their shared time, a generalized second person present tense for Saleem's story told in the past in which Avi is referred to in the third person, and Sahar's story in the first person present - and the letters, which are, of course, the father's first person present. Now this is as trendy as all get-out, but it's also a mess. For me the final blow is the fact that the narration is all one voice, no matter who the speaker is. I condemn out of hand a book in which a letter is in no way differentiated in style from the general narration. I will not believe that a man would write to his ex-wife, "And I remember you, an orphan from Tel Aviv, adopted by the kibbutz after the death of your parents, our immediate connection, as if we already knew each other you said, the awe in your grey eyes, the pride and the desire, and the sadness, for it was a tough war with many losses, and the kibbutz lost too." A young reader may find that touching and evocative of depth. I'm old, and reading these 176 pages felt a lot like reading 671.
Above All Things

by

Above All Things is an excruciatingly difficult book for the reader who knows that Mallory and Irvine did not survive their attempt on Everest. Rideout's descriptions of the effects of cold and oxygen deprivation on the human body carry conviction. I forced myself to suffer with the members of the expedition, whom I came to care about, and to wait with Mallory's wife at home.Rideout's writing is smooth and accomplished. Her decision to follow Mallory from beginning to end with insertions of a day in Ruth's life is effective. Time has stopped for Ruth. She can't sleep; she acts the part of mother for her children, but she is simply marking time until she hears from her husband. Mallory, on the other hand, is completely alive as he and his comrades assault the mountain, fail, question, regroup, and try again. Memories haunt George, Ruth, and Sandy Irvine, and add depth to their characters.If I have a quibble, and I always do, it is Rideout's decision to change some facts, including the time of George's brother's death. She explains her decision in an author's note, which left me with a bit of doubt about the rest of her research. I'm sorry for that because otherwise, this was an outstanding novel.
My Cleaner

by

My Cleaner studies the relationship between two women with much more in common than either of them suspects. Vanessa is a sixtyish English woman, solidly middle class, a writer with two novels and several successful Pilates books to her credit who now teaches creative writing, the divorced mother of a son. Mary is a younger Ugandan woman, college educated, linen supervisor in a hotel in Kampala, also the divorced mother of a son, who once worked for several years as Vanessa's cleaner. When Vanessa's son Justin has a nervous breakdown, she appeals to Mary to return to England to help him. Mary realizes that she can save most of the money she makes in England and use it for a better life with her boyfriend and for the girls in her village.The two women do not like each other. Vanessa is jealous of Mary's relationship with Justin, but Mary mothered Justin when he was a baby and Vanessa was too busy. In fact, Vanessa is jealous of Mary's relationships with everybody and spends a good bit of her time shoring up her own shaky ego. Mary, on the other hand, lost her son to her husband when they divorced, and although she was devoted to him, she was not able to spend a lot of time with him when he was a baby because she was taking care of Justin. Now Jamil (or Jamey or Jamie - Does Mary not know how he spells his name?) has disappeared, and Mary is as fearful for him as Vanessa is for Justin. Mary sees Vanessa as out of touch with reality, a small woman swamped by her possessions, spoiled, and too self-indulgent to be of any use in the world.What ensues is a charming, funny, touching journey to self-understanding and accommodation through misunderstandings and deception. Maggie Gee's writing is pitch-perfect, understated, and insightful. As Mary and Vanessa haggle over money, she writes, "They are a breath apart, with the world between them." I thought before I wrote this that I liked the book very much. Now I believe I love it.
Blood And Beauty

by

A lot good can be said about Blood & Beauty. Dunant is a clear and graceful writer, and she seems to have done good research (my ARC didn't include a bibliography, so I can't be sure --- and thank you for the book, Early Reviewers). The Borgias themselves certainly did not lack drama. All the same, it falls a little flat, and I can't tell why.Dunant portrays the young Lucretia as a mostly innocent, devout, transparent woman who understands her duty in advancing her family's ambition and makes the best of whatever her situation may be. She didn't love her first husband, but she made him a good wife. She adored her second husband. What she would make of her third husband is left for the next novel. Cesare is rather two-dimensional - one dimension being his love for his sister and the other being his eagerness to fight for his family's place in the world or maybe just to fight. Alexander is a man on the make with a sentimental feeling for his children and mistress. None of these people really spring off the page, and I guess that's the reason for my feeling for flatness. I enjoyed the book, but I didn't love it as I do Hilary Mantel's historical novels, for example.
Life After Life: A Novel

by

Jill McCorkle doesn't write "great" literature, not even "very good" literature. In the ranks of the "good," however, Life After Life is excellent. It is set in Fulton, North Carolina, Jill's hometown and my own as filtered through the creative spark of the novelist. Specifically, it is set in Pine Haven, a retirement community/nursing home, among the residents and a couple of the people who work with them.Joanna is a hospice volunteer who sits with the dying and listens and records their summings up of their lives - what they love, what they regret, what is important to them, who they were. She comes with a lot of experiential baggage of her own which she has learned to handle. C.J. is a young woman with a baby born out of wedlock, who runs the beauty salon at the facility and helps Joanna with her father's business. The residents whom we meet are in the "assisted living" section with one exception - two school teachers and two lawyers. And there is Abby, a twelve year-old who finds in the grandmotherly Sadie the support that she doesn't receive from her parents.We meet some dementia and witness several deaths as these folks live and reflect on what is important for living. It's a quiet book, and I agree that a plot twist near the end is gratuitously violent and unnecessary. Otherwise, I was happy to spend time with these people and maybe will appreciate them when I meet them in real life more than I might have before I read the book.
Winter Journal

by

Oh dear. Obviously, I don't know what a memoir is supposed to be or do. I think that in this one the reader was to feel herself looking over the author's shoulder as he recalled the physical facts of his life. I could never get by the second-person narration. I still wonder, "Who does that? Is there anybody in the world who remembers what he did by saying, 'So there you were lying in the bed...'" Not me. Then there are the lists. I loathe listing as an excuse for writing. Even if you're Paul Auster, I don't want to read "...the hundreds if not thousands of candy bars you consumed before the age of twelve: Milky Ways, Three Musketeers, Chunkys, Charleston Chews, York Mints, Junior Mints, Mars bars, Snickers bars,..." (I am kinder to you, my reader, than Auster is.) Then there is the sheer bloody-minded self-indulgence: "...an ancient longing will suddenly take hold of you, and then you will cast your eyes down at the sweets on display below the cash register, and if they happen to have Chuckles in stock, you will buy them. Within ten minutes, all five of the jellied candies will be gone. Red, yellow, green, orange, and black." On the other hand, I was often fascinated with the stories that he chose to tell. I also found moments of wonderful expression and insight as when he quotes and comments on Joubert,"One must die lovable (if one can)," or "Writing begins in the body, it is the music of the body, and even if the words have meaning, can sometimes have meaning, the music of the words is where the meanings begin." What I take away from the book is scattered pictures and feelings with nothing solid beyond Auster's intention to keep on living whatever his life as an old person will be.
The Philosopher's Pupil

by

What to say? What to say? I absolutely decline to follow IM's tantalizing paths through philosophical, symbolic, thematic wildernesses in The Philosopher's Pupil. A person could get lost. I do look forward to discussions of this book, my favorite Iris Murdoch, in the biographies that I plan to read. I might even pick up some general criticism.Told by an observant narrator, N who steps into the story from time to time, the book is set in Ennistown (Get it?), an English village with a restructured circle of standing stones and a very active hot spring. The whole town is crazy for swimming, and this is a very watery book. If people are not swimming at the baths, they are at the ocean or it is raining or about to rain or the rain is just stopping. There are suggestions of baptisms of one kind and another and one rescue from drowning and one death, maybe. Tom, the archetypal Fool, goes underground to find the Source of the springs and returns to the surface a man able to act decisively. And there you have a hint of the complexities that I refuse to follow one step further.Well. The story revolves around the McCaffrey family: brothers George and Brian, their wives and mother and their half-brother Tom and Brian's son Adam. George is a wild man whose attempted murder (or maybe not) of his wife Stella opens the book; Brian, something of a nonentity, is married to Gabriel, who is fascinated by George. Into this seething mix of relationships returns John Robert Rozanov, the philosopher of the title, who has ruined George's life by ending their teacher-student relationship. Alex, their mother, would like to explore a relationship of her own with John Robert, who had married her college friend to her own great disgust. John Robert rents the Slipper House, a sort of live-in folly on the McCaffrey property, but to Alex's disappointment he plans to install his granddaughter and her companion there rather than live in it himself. The companion, Pearl, is sister - or is it cousin? - to Alex's own companion and servant Ruby and George's mistress, Diane (originally Diamond).This begins, and only begins, to describe the widening net of characters who twine and intertwine in a mosh of emotions and intellect gone mad. IM must have had so much fun writing this. The plot twists are over the top; I shrieked, "Oh NO, you didn't!" more than once before dissolving in helpless laughter. On the other hand, as always, IM is examining the nature of Good and religion and non-religion, so this has to be a serious work, right? Whatever it is, it will bear rereading and thinking on. I'll do both.
The Time of the Angels

by

The Time of the Angels is definitely not Christmas. Carel Fisher has lost his faith but not his place in the church hierarchy. He, his daughter, niece, and housekeeper have moved to a parish in London without a church building or congregation. There they find a Russian refugee who takes care of the manse and his beautiful amoral son. Finally there are Marcus, Carel's brother and his friend Norah, two teachers who have taught Leo, the Russian's son and Muriel, Carel's daughter. Anthea Barlow, presumably a church woman who keeps trying to get in to see Carel, rounds out the cast of characters. The book explores the relationships among these nine people as they discuss the nature of Good without God and wander around in a cold London fog.Although Carel is at the center of the book, we don't get to see him often and know him mainly through his influence on the other characters. As a hint, I'd say that Carel doesn't so much hate God (that's what the blurb on the cover of my copy says) as that he has appropriated God's place. The angels that have been loosed by the death of God are the principalities and powers - and nobody should expect any good of them. Marcus, on the other hand, never believed in God but sees man seeking to be Good for nothing because goodness does exist.This is not one of Murdoch's best. There's little humor to lighten the miasmas of dysfunction. She wrote it in 1966, and I was as shocked today as I would have been then at the first major plot twist. Plot twist number two should have been equally shocking but wasn't. Plot twist number three provided the only laugh in the book for me. I would not recommend it as the first for someone curious about Murdoch.
scribd