Olivia (olivialove) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Books 33-35

Book# 33

The Grownup/ Gillian Flynn/ 2015
Description: A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the "psychic" visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan's terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore.
Date read: 12/25

This short story was okay... Kind of shallow and one dimensional, but I don't expect much more from very short stories. I mainly picked it up out of curiosity because she wrote it for George RR Martin.
3 stars for a quick entertaining read.


The Cement Garden/ Ian McEwen/ 1978
Date read: 12/26
Description: In this tour de force of psychological unease - now a major motion picture starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Sinead Cusack - McEwan excavates the ruins of childhood and uncovers things that most adults have spent a lifetime forgetting or denying. "Possesses the suspense and chilling impact of Lord of the Flies." Washington Post Book World.

I can't quite put my finger on one particular response to this book. There are a lot of things here, rattling about in my mind after finishing the story.
Most pressing to me, were the actions and thoughts of our narrator, 15 year old Jack. He is selfish, cruel, self absorbed, unsympathetic.. And yet, none of this is surprising. Children and teens are mostly all the same. They are mentally under developed and lack a degree of awareness, empathy and foresight that distinguish them from adults. While what happens in this book, is morbidly fascinating, it is not really surprising or shocking considering the age of each sibling.
Poor weak Tom is bullied by his father first then schoolmates and Jack after his father dies. He is never allowed to feel safe, not even in his own home, until finally Julie & Sue allow him to act as a girl and baby (which makes him feel happy and safe). Sue is thoughtful and introverted and really just goes along with whatever Jack or Julie say. Julie is the stand-in mother, although self-absorbed to a level that her own life, her appearance and dating life, get the attention that she should have put into running a home responsibly. And Jack is... well Jack it seems has folded into himself, and is fascinated with himself (staring into mirrors for hours), and later he is repulsed by himself and the real or imaged scent he can't seem to scrub away. We get the sense that Jack is actually much crueler than his narration led on during the brief excerpts that Sue's diary is read. Everyone in the house is afraid of him hitting them, she says, and yet he never really admits to being very mean, and when he does it seems light and not at all malicious. It just seems normal in a way that children sometimes are.

How these children react to their new freedom, to loneliness, isolation, and bodily curiosity, comprises the action in most of the book. The theme of being in urban decay, and on a concrete island distinct and apart from society, recur in many passages. Exploration of adolescent sexuality is also prevalent throughout the novel, from the first chapter, to the very last.
While this novel can easily be compared to or called a modern Lord of the Flies, I don't think it is really that simple. I think Lord of the Flies is really a statement on man's place in society, the need for what Locke would call a 'social contract'. Or as Hobbes describes, society would be a war against all, unless a government exists to ensure order and safety. Man's state of nature cannot be trusted, and thus we cannot rule ourselves, is what Lord of the Flies tells us.

I do not think this book is really saying any of that. Nothing much happens among these siblings that is destructive or blood thirsty. Rather they behave as you would expect any teen or child would. Lazy, dirty, useless... Enjoying their freedom in a summer that seems timeless and fixed. By the last page the spell is broken by blue lights, and yet as readers, we don't see the aftermath to any of that. We are left only with the images of what an unsupervised isolated adolescence might look like.

Book #35

Lolita/ ladimir Nabokov/ 1955
Dates read: 12/10-12/27
Description: Humbert Humbert - scholar, aesthete and romantic - has fallen completely and utterly in love with Lolita Haze, his landlady's gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love.

I really loved and hated this book. I hated that it was so convincing, I felt stuck in the mind of this depraved pedophile.. and detested the continuous meanderings about petit nymphets. I also resented the constant phrases in Latin or (mostly) French, that had me checking my google translate app every other page and veering me off course of reading.
Now all that aside, I can see how this novel is a bit of a masterpiece. The vocabulary range alone is worth the read. I think I must have looked up at least 100 words during my read, and loved learning so many new words I never knew existed. I also loved the fact that Humbert is self-loathing, completely honest in his narrative, and accepting, even welcoming, of his fate. It was funny, eloquently graphic, and elaborately detailed.
4 stars for Lolita

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