The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

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Read 28/08/2017-29/08/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Weezelle of Words and Leaves posted about her holiday reading recently. One of the books she consumed was The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly. I’ve picked this book up many times over the last couple of years, drawn by its elegant cover design. I’ve also always put it back down again, partly because it’s the cover that has drawn me more than what’s on the pages behind the cover, and partly because I’ve been trying to rein myself in on the book buying front.

On my most recent visit to the library, Hwang Sun-Mi’s best seller caught my eye. It’s such a slim book, I thought it would make a nice break from all the US literature I’ve been reading recently. So I brought it home. Continue reading

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The Lowland

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Read 22/11/2014-28/11/2014

Rating: 3 stars

I just read Erik’s review of The Lowland over on The Past Due Book Review, and can’t believe I didn’t post my review when I started this blog. Perhaps it was one of my random thought offers that I didn’t think worthy of a second airing beyond LibraryThing. Or perhaps it was because I hadn’t jotted anything down in my book thoughts notebook on Evernote.

Anyway, here’s what I thought at the time. A few weeks later, I read Rohanton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, which I much preferred.

As I started to read this book, I didn’t think I was going to like it. The characters seemed so blank, so disinterested in their surroundings, so unwilling to say what they were really thinking and feeling. They float through their lives, occasionally making momentous decisions that never really live up to their promise. There was nothing particularly to grab onto with any of them, nothing that made me warm to them or want to root for them as life happened around them.

The book is a sequence of events, sometimes recounted in a linear way, sometimes using flashbacks and multi-character perspective. It never really gets going, it jumps around too much, and doesn’t have anything striking to say. Despite beginning at a time of civil unrest in India, despite portraying the lives of a fragmented family.

And yet, by the end of the book I didn’t want it to end. I’d spent everyday time with the characters and they felt like neighbours I might nod to in the street. Nobody I would sit down with for a cup of tea and a chat, but people I would miss seeing around. The final chapter, told from the perspective of the character I was most interested in, but who doesn’t really get a voice in the rest of the novel, was sad. All of that, and for what, he seemed to be saying. I didn’t know, either.

The End of the World: A Love Story

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Read 19/08/2017-26/08/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

I hadn’t heard of Edward Eggleston before. I’m unsure how well known he and his brother George are in the US, but they were certainly celebrated in life and their home in Indiana is now an historical monument. I needed to find a book for the Indiana stage of the Road Trip Across America challenge I’m doing, so I Googled authors from the state and sought out something I liked the sound of. My local library wasn’t much help, so I ended up downloading Edward Eggleston’s second novel from Project Gutenberg.

The End of the World sounded like the kind of easy going 19th century literature I typically enjoy. It’s very much as you would expect a novel written in 1872 to be. The characters are extremes of human nature, almost clichés. There is the hen pecked husband who is easily manipulated by his shrewish wife, and a pair of young lovers who are kept apart by her parents because he, a farmhand and a foreigner, isn’t good enough. Lots and lots of prejudice, and lots and lots of over dramatisation. On the first page, Mrs Anderson is introduced as a manipulative harridan, and I almost stopped reading right there. However, as other characters were introduced, I realised that the descriptions were intended as comedic, and the novel was tongue in cheek. It made me think of the musicals I loved watching when I was young. Calamity Jane, Oklahoma!, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Lots of rambunctious action and foolhardy decisions before everything comes right in the end. Continue reading

Deadeye Dick

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Read 12/08/2017-18/08/2017

Rating: 5 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge.

I love Kurt Vonnegut. He is one of my favourite authors. I enjoy his deceptively simple prose and his wryly weary take on how ridiculous humanity is. His books are part satire, part morality tale, and part whimsy.

Deadeye Dick follows Rudy Waltz, resident of Midland City, Ohio, a fictional place based on the Midwest towns Vonnegut was familiar with. Rudy is the son of the black sheep scion of a family whose wealth came from their success in the pharmaceutical industry. Continue reading

Random thought: film vs book, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild

I watched Wild before I read Cheryl Strayed’s book. Well, I watched most of Wild. I was on a plane and turbulence meant that I didn’t get to finish watching before landing. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, but the film didn’t prepare me for the emotional rollercoaster that the book turned out to be for me.

I don’t mind watching a film before I’ve read a book, but I’m often reluctant to watch films based on books that I have read and loved with a passion, mainly for the reason that the screenwriter and the director don’t share my impressions of the book and its characters.

Wild was on TV last night, though, and I watched it again so that I could see the end. Having read the book, and knowing that Cheryl and her experiences are so much more than the film could contain, I enjoyed Reese Witherspoon’s performance much more. I’d found her strangely earnest on my first watch.

What I didn’t enjoy was the knowledge of what had been cut from the full story in order to fit within the time boundaries of a cinema release. So much of what was behind Cheryl’s life decisions was omitted, and the flashbacks to the actions she was driven to by grief lacked nuance. I suspect that this paring back of context was what made Witherspoon’s performance seem so earnest first time around.

I watched the credits and saw that the screenwriter was Nick Hornby. I recognise that reducing such a packed and complex book into a feature film is a big challenge. I think he did a good job, but it did make me wonder how a female screenwriter would have tackled Cheryl’s past and the way the hike changed her, and whether a woman would have interpreted Cheryl’s encounters with the people she meets along the way differently. One thing in particular that Hornby seemed not to appreciate was why Cheryl’s time with Jonathan was so significant for her.

And for all that Nick Hornby’s own writing as a novelist is peppered with musical references, the film didn’t make the most of how important music is in Cheryl Strayed’s memoir. I found that odd second time around.

Film adaptations can be a double edged thing, I guess. How do you feel about watching films based on books you love?

Rabbit, Run

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Read 05/08/2017 to 11/08/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

Rabbit, Run is the first novel in John Updike’s series about Rabbit Angstrom, an unlikeable man in his mid-twenties who is suffering an existential crisis. He lurches from selfish act to selfish act, abandoning his pregnant wife and two year old son, taking up with an escort, playing golf with the local minister, and all the while bemoaning the fact that he hasn’t achieved anything since his high school basketball team. He has no self-awareness, no interest in other people, and is almost a parody embodiment of the male condition.

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a number of years. I bought it because I’d never read any Updike, and he’s a Pulitzer prize winner twice over, so there must be something about him. Recently, though, I’ve read a few reviews and comments on social media written by women excoriating him for his misogyny. Passages that have been quoted show a man who lacks the desire to see women as anything other than objects in the lives of his male protagonists, objects that are a source of irritation and a receptacle for loathing.

As I took in these opinions and comments, I knew that I had Rabbit, Run coming up as one of my Road Trip Challenge reads. I don’t like to knee-jerk to others’ opinions, even when I respect the people giving those opinions, but part of me felt I shouldn’t read the book, knowing that I was approaching it with an expectation that bordered on prejudice against Updike, and that it would likely raise my hackles. Another part of me felt that this wasn’t giving me the chance to experience Updike on my own terms, that I should put the opinions of others to one side and approach the book without preconceived ideas. Continue reading