writereaderly

writing of readerly reviews of writings

Month: December, 2012

Review: Nell Dunn’s “Poor Cow”

Warning: Cover dysphoria!

Warning: Cover dysphoria!

A random grab off the uni library’s “leisure reading” shelves – Virago is one of my favourite publishing houses – this was a breezy little narrative of a poor-white shazza living in South London in the early ’60s. It has vibrant pub and street snapshots, sweet scenes with baby Jonny, and loads of mouthy women characters who like lots of drink, sex and men (possibly in that order). Not fabulously written, it is as messy and glib as real life ought to be. Recommended.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Two bed-reads, with quite sharp sociological interest
Where it went:
Home
Reminds me of/that: That Bookclub discussion about which women writers who are good role models for women’s sensual experience – I’d add her to the list
Who I’d recommend it to:
The historically curious
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch;The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon;Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

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Review: Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Jane Austen Book Club”

karen joy fowler jane austen book clubI put this on the Bookclub list. I’d read it once before when I was stuck at forgottenperson’s house – it was the only possible reading material – even though I was embarrassed to touch it. However, once I noticed just how clever Fowler’s plotting was to tie her modern characters in with Jane’s plots, I promised myself I’d reread it with all six Austen novels under my belt. I did enjoy it this second time round, it was fun, pop-smart Austen for Austenians of all degrees, and sharply funny in its own right. Light, witty and fun, which is probably what an Austen-loving author should always aspire to. Go for it.

Where it came from: Library via Bookclub
Time and manner of reading:
About three reads, attentive
Where it went:
Home
Reminds me of/that: Personality cults do have their own momentum, don’t they?
Who I’d recommend it to:
Other “Janeites”
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch;The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon;Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy”

jk rowling the casual vacancyI only read this one because it got three rave reviews on the farm and my opinion was specifically sought. Accordingly, my opinion: Not worth reading. It’s pacy, she’s obviously set up a plot full of conflict, but all of the characters seem to be more-or-less clichéd cretins, I’m unmoved by their issue, and neither the writing nor the premise have originality or charm to recommend them. Negligible fluff. Abandoned.

Where it came from: JI’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading: Two attempts, total of 70-odd pages; little has stuck in my mind
Where it went:
Home
Reminds me of/that: An overplayed small-town soap opera – KS sneers that it’s a book version of East Enders
Who I’d recommend it to:
Nope
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch;The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon;Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Review: Paul Bowles’ “The Sheltering Sky”

paul bowles sheltering skyLikewise bought to further KAM’s quest, and likewise snuck in before the on-send. I thought I’d already read The Sheltering Sky, then gainsaid myself, then realised I had actually read it but couldn’t remember the outcome – which is a little odd, considering how dreadful the final section is. The novel tells of bored bourgeois “travellers” – *never* tourists – Port(er) and Kit Moresby (yes, that’s his name), their bored bourgeois hanger-on, Somethingorother Tunner (no, I can’t remember his name), and their dramatic misadventures in North Africa just after WWII. I’d been enjoying the desperation-born philosophising of the first part – “we’re so rich and wandering so aimlessly, what could our lives really be about?” – mostly because the marital heroes are seeking their transcendence so poetically through the beautifully drawn landscapes. Even the second part, stretching belief as it does because of the heroine’s ridiculous fecklessness, had its merits as philosophy. The third part, however: puh-LEASE! Apparently, if you repeatedly rape a woman, and imprison her so you can keep doing so, she starts craving it and really loves you. And if you describe it all really shallowly, because she’s a monumentally shallow woman, then really you’re focussing on her precarious mental state. Humph. And — for good measure — WTF?! All of the first-world self-centredness I could take, and the somewhat strained plotting with those objectionable secondary-character Australians, but that level of misogyny is intolerable and utterly exceeded the narrative’s needs. The predicted “better’n good” rating vaporised in the last 50pp, and I reckon you can stop at Part II without losing out.

Where it came from: Bookshop
Time and manner of reading: Three or four good solid reads, with abruptly dashed enjoyment
Where it went:
KAM
Reminds me of/that: Lars von Trier and his sick adorations of women’s suffering, but before that, the contrast with Isabelle Eberhardt’s life in North Africa
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch;The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon;Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Review: Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”

giuseppe di lampedusa the leopardBought to help KAM in her list-quest, I snuck this read in before the birthday send-on – and what a superb book it was. The novel tells the downfall of the house of the Leopard of Sicily – Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina – in the half-century following the 1860 Risorgimento (which led to the founding of the current Italian State). Di Lampedusa’s prose is sumptuous and carefully crafted, his historical details (to this unschooled eye) well placed, and his stagecrafting of the tragedy splendid. A fine analysis of character(s) illuminated by political events. Nearly flawless, highly recommended.

Where it came from: Bookshop
Time and manner of reading:
As many squeezed-in reads as I could wangle over a two-day period, ending in a prolonged early-morning bed-read
Where it went:
KAM
Reminds me of/that: Oh, the pleasure of gorgeous writing — AND in gorgeous translation
Who I’d recommend it to:
Seekers of an excellent novel
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch;The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon;Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Review: Jean Rhys’ “Wide Sargasso Sea”

jean rhys wide sargasso seaI first read this when I was an undergraduate studying 19th century women writers (two subjects at two unis!), and I seem to remember that I was disappointed because it wasn’t “about” Jane Eyre enough. Shallow me: it is, of course, yet it isn’t. Rhys has taken the madwoman out of Charlotte Brontë’s attic, Bertha Mason, and fleshed her out into this counter-novel without a word wasted or out of place. Bertha, christened Antoinette and forcibly renamed by the (interestingly unnamed) young Rochester after their wedding, is drawn in fine, passionate detail as an isolated woman fending off the venomous tendrils of colonial hatred. Her husband is painted as an inconsiderate, money-hungry thug more interested in rumours and vengeance than understanding. Together their relationship makes a bleak tale of otherness and cruelty, set in the richly detailed ambivalence of Dominica, known to Rhys from her childhood. An impressive and cogent novel, much more than the much-touted “woman writing back to Empire”. Recommended, but be ready for the darkness within…

 Where it came from: Bookshop
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair, bed, and armchair reads
Where it went:
???
Reminds me of/that: How desirable it is to reread classics when you’re actually old enough to understand them!
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readers of thought-provoking fiction written in finely honed anger
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch;The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon;Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Ramsay Wood’s “Kalila and Dimna: Fables of Friendship and Betrayal”

ramsey wood kalila and dimnaSelected from the Bedside Bookshelf under the misapprehension that this would make a charming out-loud read, Wood’s rewriting of the Oriental Eastern “Bidpai” tales proved instead to be dull and overworked. The fables of friendship and power are complexly inter-nested, told by a variety of speakers and creatures, and provide a mildly interesting sociological history-wash of relationships in feudal Oriental life. They aren’t, however, fascinating, and Woods writing style is an awkward melange of traditional tale-telling with uncomfortable modern inserts: e.g., “Moved with compassion and being a hearty well-wisher to the sweets of adultery, the old bag agrees” (p. 95). The most interesting thing about this book was the genealogy of the text, which I found utterly charming. Otherwise, a largely negligible book which may provide a few more “traditional” plot lines to blocked scriptwriters. For the sake of the gifting, I wish I’d enjoyed it more.

Where it came from: Gift from KE
Time and manner of reading:
Numerous bitser reads, some out loud (leading immediately to snoozing), in a slightly bored time-passing manner
Where it went:
???
Reminds me of/that: —
Who I’d recommend it to:
Cognoscienti of Orientalism or fables, etc.
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch;The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon;Being Alive edited by Neil Astley