Saturday, July 2, 2011

Here It Is, Here It Is At Last, the Encounter With Reality. . . All Is Lost Now!

As I mentioned in my review of The Bell Jar, I greatly appreciate an author that can write an interesting and convincing first-person narrative. To date, I have scarcely read one more engaging that Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground. What impressed me most about this short novel was Dostoevsky's ability to completely change my opinion of his main character half-way through. For those who know me well, this may come as a surprise.

I began the story highly irritated by the Underground Man. His constant contradictions make him a remarkably unreliable narrator. While this is part of the point of his character, it annoyed me nonetheless. In the second half of the story, when the mask of his insincerity begins to fall apart, I suddenly found myself completely sympathetic to him. His narrative truly is tragic and his character's evolution highlights Dostoevsky's mastery as a writer. Coming in at less than 200 pages, there's really no excuse for you not to read it! I give it an A.

70 down, 931 to go!

"Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man." (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

In Short, Whatever Does Become of the Gentleman, They Are Not at Cranford

If any of you readers out there have taken the time to look through my earlier posts, you'll know my profound love of Jane Austen. Along a similar vein is Elizabeth Gaskell's novel, Cranford. Differences abound, however, but not without its advantages. As such, it was very interesting to read about an entirely different aspect of the same culture. Rather than the high class attitudes and aspirations of the majority of Austen's characters, Cranford centers around a small, close-knit, and poor town. Even more striking is that the town is entirely comprised of women, all of whom are entirely opposed to the very idea of men. Quite a difference from Austen's husband-seeking protagonists!

If you're a fan of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, these differences alone make it worth the read. I give it an A-.

69 down, 932 to go!

"Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly better than wise people for their wisdom." (Elizabeth Gaskell)

It Seemed To Me a Situation Fraught With Embarrassing Potentialities Had Arisen

I find it difficult to describe what profound love and respect I have for the countries and culture of Great Britain. My semester abroad in London only magnified this admiration, and it is now my future goal to live there (much to the dismay of both my parents and my closest friends). My favorite "products" of British culture are too many to count, but among them is the television series "Jeeves and Wooster" (with excellent performances by both Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry in the title roles). The episodes are based off of various novels by P.G. Wodehouse and, needless to say, I was more than thrilled when one such novel, Thank you, Jeeves, appeared on this list.

Long story short, the "Jeeves" novels chronicle the innumerable mishaps of Bertie Wooster, a privileged and eccentric British gentleman and the unorthodox yet brilliant schemes devised by his overly-qualified manservant, Jeeves, that always seem to prevent complete disaster. As you can imagine, these stories are hilarious and, being written by a comedic British writer, incredibly witty and hilarious. These are just plain fun to read, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. A+.

68 down, 933 to go!

"Every author really wants to have letters printed in the papers. Unable to make the grade, he drops down a rung on the ladder and writes novels." (P.G. Wodehouse)

Show Us How Happy It Makes You To Write a Poem

If you asked my friends to describe me, somewhere along the way, the word morbid would pop up. Now, I’m certainly not serial killer material, but it's true that I am certainly fascinated by them. Generally speaking, I tend to gravitate to stories that examine some sort of emotional or mental anguish or darkness. Perhaps this is the reason that I enjoyed Sylvia Plath’s well known novel The Bell Jar so greatly.

What is most impressive about this specific tale of manic depression, however, is the first person narrative. As events progress, the reader does not just stand by and watch as the main character crumbles; rather, the reader experiences the same confusion, disillusion, and, eventually, resignation. It takes a masterful author to communicate such a singular state of mind, and Plath does so remarkably well. A solid B+.

67 down, 934 to go!

"And by the way, everything in life is writable if you have the outgoing guts to do it and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." (Sylvia Plath)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

To Air Differences and Remain Friends, the Essence of Civilized Existence, Don’t You Think?

As I have written previously, I was wholeheartedly disappointed with the first Ian McEwan novel I read. To this day, Atonement is still the only story for which I enjoy the film adaptation more than the original novel. I had been worried to see so many more of McEwan's novels on this list. Despite this, he survived his second chance, offering readers a beautifully written morality tale.

There is much lacking in this novel: it's characters seem to lose their luster halfway through the book, the excitement of the plot begins to lose steam, and the ending seems hollow. However, McEwan still paints an accurate portrayal of a dramatically conflicted friendship that is riddled with moral questions and debates; I have never read a book that examines euthanasia from such an interior perspective.

What struck me most about Amsterdam, however, really has nothing to do with the plot or themes. One of the main characters of the novel is a musical composer, and the way in which McEwan describes the way that character "sees" his symphony come together is brilliant. The imagery is beautiful and a true delight to read for anyone who loves music.

In the end, I still expect better from McEwan, an author who has four or five books on this list. I give this attempt a B+.

66 down, 935 to go!

"No one knows anything, really. It's all rented or borrowed." (Ian McEwan)

The More I Suffer, the More I Love

I had been looking forward to reading Bernhard Schlink's morality tale, The Reader, since hearing of the film and watching Kate Winslet cinch her Oscar win for it. I still haven't seen the movie, but I knew what it was about and anticipated an intense and dramatic novel to accompany its dark and tumultuous themes. Unfortunately, I found myself a bit underwhelmed.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading the novel. It's plot and themes (without giving away too much) are imaginative and thought-provoking, looking at the divisive nature of the holocaust from an entirely different perspective, but I found that the writing and character development left something to be desired. The whole novel just felt a bit flat. However, the part of the book from which the novel draws its title is beautiful and inspiring. It will be interesting to see if the movie follows along the same lines.

All in all, though, I'm giving The Reader a solid B+. It's minor plot twist and ultimate messages are wonderful.

65 down, 936 to go!

"People who commit crimes are not necessarily monsters. If they were, things would be easy. But they aren't, and it is one of the experiences of life." (Bernhard Schlink)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

He Who Ruled Scent Ruled the Hearts of Men

Anyone that knows me well - actually, anyone merely acquainted with me - knows of my profound love of Alan Rickman. Whether my love is unhealthy or just enthusiastic is up for debate, but regardless, I was thrilled that Patrick Suskind's novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer made this list. The movie (featuring Alan Rickman, of course) that this book inspired is brilliant, one of my absolute favorites. A subtle tale of horror, it's plot is so imaginative and the end is so unexpected that I acutely remember staring at my blank television screen in silence for about ten minutes after the credits were done rolling. Although I am generally of the belief that books are always better than their film counterparts, I admit being somewhat concerned that I would be disappointed; I did, after all, already know the ending.

However, the novel was the farthest thing from a disappointment. For fear of giving anything away, the most I will say about the plot is that the main character, the murderer, experiences the world not through sight or touch but through scent. It is truly an imaginative notion. To have such developed descriptions of his thoughts and feelings that are not explored within the limited narrative voice of the film was delightful. Reading the novel makes Suskin's ideas about scent and the emotions that they can inspire much more of a way of thinking about the world as opposed to mere plot points.

Stylistically, Perfume reads like a good mystery novel; suspense is always subtly building. At the same time, however, it takes the time to offer reflections on such important things as Beauty and Truth. It's fabulously written and truly one of a kind. I give it a resounding A and encourage everyone to read it AND see the film. You won't be disappointed... if not a little disturbed.

64 down, 937 to go!

"No human being can go on living in the same house with a pigeon; a pigeon is the epitome of chaos and anarchy." (Patrick Suskind)