Thursday, November 1, 2012

What I read (October 2012)

Altogether, October was a bit of a disappointing month for reading. Three out of the five books I read will not make it on my "2012 Best Reads" list. Let's hope for better luck in November! For full reviews of these books, click on the title to go to Marie's Book Garden 

Most disappointing:

In One Person, by John Irving
As a long-time John Irving fan (one year I even gave my husband tickets to go see/hear him at Portland's Wordstock, and he was great, talking about his novel about tattoo addicts [Until I Find You]!), I have never failed to finish one of his books. But I could not bear to go on. Life's too short to read a book I'm not enjoying. The premise sounded intriguing, but as one reviewer put it, Irving manages to make the life of bisexual Billy seem completely boring and uninspired. He fails to elicit any kind of sympathy for his main character because Billy is so detached. Even the early theater and Shakespeare descriptions bored me (and I'm a theater lover!). The sexual proclivities and lust were tiresome and hard to comprehend...perhaps because I've never been drawn (sexually or otherwise) to people who were horrible to me.


 Audition, by Ryu Murakami
Audition is the story of a documentary film maker, Aoyama, who was widowed seven years before. His teenage son Shige suggests that he think about remarrying, so he decides to do just that. He hatches a plan with his friend, Yoshikawa, to hold auditions for a movie so that he can screen dozens of women in the hopes of finding someone suitable for a wife. Through these fake film auditions, he meets Yamasaki Asami, and he becomes completely obsessed with lust. All he knows about her is that she had a difficult childhood. Of course, being Japan, the search for a wife means that he must find a docile, beautiful, elegant, obedient, and submissive woman. On the surface, Yamasaki Asami appears to fit the bill, but of course she turns out to be a sadistic murderer. 
I was not impressed, for several of which was because 3/4 of the book moved along slowly and all the action was in the last two chapters, with no suspense.

Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James
I didn't have high expectations for this book, because the reviews were lukewarm at best. The unpopular Wickham is accused of murdering his best friend on the Pemberley estate, and Darcy is forced to come to his aid. The upshot is that this is a book mostly about the male characters of Pride and Prejudice, with Darcy mostly in the spotlight. The female characters are very weak and lackluster, including our previously spunky, independent Elizabeth. The biggest difference, however, between this book and the original Pride and Prejudice is the complete lack of comedy, which was one of the most memorable bits about P and P. I have never read a P.D. James book before, but I'm told that this book is very different than her usual ones. Altogether, this book just didn't hold together well, and I missed Elizabeth Bennett.

Classic of the month:

All Passion Spent, by Vita Sackville-West
I'd heard of Vita Sackville-West but didn't know much about her before my book group chose this for October's selection. Sackville-West was married to Sir Harold Nicholson and spent most of her life at their estate at Sissinghurst Castle. She and Nicholson had an open marriage, and both of them carried on extensive same-sex relationships. Sackville-West's most famous lover was Virginia Woolf.

The story begins with the death of Lady Slane's husband. Suddenly, Lady Slane is presented with freedom for the first time in her the ripe age of 88. She retires to a modest cottage in Hampstead and directs her scheming children that she is to live on her own. Lady Slane reflects back on her life and her regrets, chief among them the fact that she was never able to pursue her artistic ambitions. She revels in the precious time she has left, finding pleasure in sitting outside in her back garden, going for brisk winter walks, and quietly reflecting back on her life, mistakes, and relationships. It's a beautiful, feminist story about what women in those days (and still, now) give up to pursue marriage and family. And she realizes that she doesn't, really, want to be completely alone. She just wants to carefully choose her companions and how she will spend the remainder of her time. I enjoyed this book very much and plan to view the BBC miniseries about Vita Sackville-West's relationship with her husband, "Portrait of a Marriage," based on their son Nigel's book of the same name.

The long-awaited book!

The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling

Mike gave this to me for my birthday, and once I got over my horror of the fact that he spent $35 on it, supporting our local bookstore, I decided to just shut up and dive in. Do not read this if you are expecting anything like Harry Potter! This is a story about a town full of Dursleys. None of the characters, really, are likable. Some are despicable. I found this book to be very timely during our American election season, as it depicts the battle between the "47 percent" and those that support them, and those who do not wish to help the less fortunate. When Barry Fairbrother dies suddenly in his 40s, his death opens up a seat on the Pagford Parish Council. Soon a war of factions begins in the town, between those who want to keep the idyllic town of Pagford pure (not in my backyard), and those who believe in lending a hand to the poor, addicted, and disadvantaged. 

J.K. Rowling is, as always, a great storyteller. This book starts off slowly because it's a great character study of the town's residents as well as those in the council flats in "the Fields," on the edge of Pagford. It's an intensely political book, based much on the fact that Rowling was living on the dole before she struck it big, and her husband once worked as a doctor in an addiction clinic. The book tackles drug abuse, child abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder, cutting (self-mutilation), theft, Internet bullying, infidelity, racism, homophobia, cruelty, and marital unhappiness. It's not an easy book to read. But it has an important message about how we live our lives and our responsibility to help people by giving them a lift out of their miserable lives. Those who refuse to do so do not come across very well in this book.

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