Archive for August, 2011

The Mill On The Floss

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , on August 30, 2011 by acousticchick

 

First of all, George Eliot was a chick. Neat, huh? You learned something new today (maybe)!

‘The Mill on the Floss’ is really, really depressing. The whole story revolves around Maggie’s devotion to her brother and her struggle for his approval. Unfortunately, her brother is a cruel jerk. While they’re kids, he’s always telling her he doesn’t love her if she makes any sort of mistake. When they grow up, Maggie falls for the son of her father’s rival, and her brother makes sure to forbid her from seeing the guy. Since this is mid-1800’s England and misogyny is the name of the game, Maggie goes along with her brother’s mandates and lets him make her life miserable, until both of them die in a flood which was probably a regrettable bit of symbolism for all the tears she had to cry.

Allow me to clarify one point here: I didn’t hate this book, and I don’t hate Maggie’s character. If nothing else, she provides an interesting conundrum. Everyone’s motivated by something, and it usually has to do with gaining or keeping someone’s approval (even if it’s his or her own), so I can’t really criticize Maggie for that motive. There’s also something to be said for making a choice and going with it. I can’t say I think her choice to hand over the reins of her life was a great one, but it was hers, and the fact that she didn’t waver is mildly inspiring to someone as easily distracted as I am. She seems to forfeit happiness (in the form of romance), but if she thinks her self-denial makes her brother happy, and her brother’s happiness makes her happy, then she is happy. Uh, right?

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Chaim Potok Double Feature

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , , on August 30, 2011 by acousticchick

 

‘The Promise’ and ‘My Name is Asher Lev’ tell the stories of young Jewish men. Chaim Potok fleshes out the straightforward plots of each by delving into the complex inner lives of his characters. He writes simply and directly.

Reuven, the main character in ‘The Promise,’ is studying to become a rabbi. Instead of relying on blind faith and traditional Talmud interpretations, he uses reason. One of his own instructors accuses him of heresy, but his methods of study are meant to reinforce his faith (and that of others), not dismantle it.

Asher’s desire to be an artist is in direct opposition to his father’s wishes. At the end of ‘My Name is Asher Lev,’ everyone he knows believes he has turned his back on his faith, but it’s still very much a part of him, both troubling and inspiring him. In spite of the conflict it brings, Asher keeps painting.

The beauty of these stories lies in their realism. Potok doesn’t present a black-and-white approach to faith, with fundamentalism and atheism in competition. He illustrates that faith is multifaceted, personal, and that it doesn’t have to look or behave in a certain way. Without vilifying religion or its adherents, his stories encourage independent thought.

The Blood Of Others

Posted in book reviews with tags , , , on August 9, 2011 by acousticchick

I read most of ‘The Blood of Others’ while intoxicated. I didn’t plan it that way; it just ended up happening. I’d just moved out of my friends’ dining room and into a real live apartment, and I had lots of space and silence to fill. I did that the best way I know how to: with lots of books and a bit of alcohol.

I’m pretty good at reading while drunk, so I can’t blame the vodka for the fact that I remember very little of the book’s midsection. Instead, I blame its angsty protagonista, Helene. She’s supposed to come off as spirited, but she only manages to be bitchy, demanding, and childish. There are already a wealth of uninteresting female leads out there, so having determined that Helene was one of them, I gave up and started skimming pages.

If you want the few plot points I managed to glean, though, here you go: Helene tries to manipulate some guy into being her One And Only. He tells her to leave him alone. In a storm of pouting, she goes out, gets really drunk, and ends up pregnant. (Not only is Helene boring, but she’s a terrible problem-solver.) The pregnancy gets complicated, Helene gets sick, and Mr. One And Only finds out and is overcome with guilt and decides he does love her after all. So they end up happily ever after, or as close as they can get with such a botched basis for a relationship.

Actually, Helene might die. I don’t remember. I don’t particularly care, either. I think at one point I found myself hoping she would.

Oh, and World War II is going on in the background. It’s almost not worth mentioning, but there are a few German invasions and some stuff about underground political parties. That part of the book could have been good, actually, but the author seemed to feel it was less interesting than the magnificent romance she was crafting. Or she was just using a wartime setting to add some depth to her novel, which is a pretty lame trick.

As a writer, though, Simone de Beauvoir isn’t hopeless or anything (if you can ignore the contrived romantic dialogues). She does kind of a cool thing with pronouns, switching perspective within paragraphs to give deeper insight into a character’s thoughts or motives. For example, she might start out by saying, “Sam walked into the room,” and then a few sentences later Sam becomes “I” and you start seeing the room through Sam’s eyes, which are now “my eyes.” It’s a bit complicated to describe and a bit more complicated to decipher at first, but it’s the one thing I liked about the novel.

I give it one Charles out of five.