June 13th, 2010

rose

Books 50 - 58 / 100


50.  Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
              About Saleem Sinai, a boy born at midnight of the day of India's independence.  This endows him with powers of telepathy, especially with other children born during that hour.  Along with Saleem's story, this book is about India's birth and life as a modern country.
               I was mightily excited to read this book, but found it kind of irritating.  I'm not sure if I like Rushdie's style.  I think I might have liked it more if I knew more about India's history and culture.

51. The Death of Ivan Ilych - Leo Tolstoy, translated by Aylmer Maude
                  About Ivan Ilych's life and death.  His life is pointless until he gets sick and realizes he's dying.  Pretty short and I enjoyed it till the end.

52. The Bell - Iris Murdoch
                A religious community attached to a convent prepare to receive a new bell to replace one lost hundreds of years ago.  There is a variety of people living in the community, some with true religious feeling and many dealing with or hiding from their problems and secrets. 
               My first Murdoch book, it started off slow, but gradually I grew to like it.  I'll definitely be reading the rest of her work.

53.  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream - Hunter S. Thompson

                    I guess pretty much everyone knows about this.  The only thought I had was:  How can two people do that much drugs?  I'm impressed.

54.  The Reader - Bernhard Schlink, translated by Carol Brown Janeway
                           I'm excited to see the movie, so I read the book instead.  It's about a teenager who becomes the lover of a much older woman (twice his age)  until she disappears one day.  He meets her again years later in different circumstances and their relationship changes. 
                           This was an ok book.  I kept waiting for something amazing or heart-wrenching or thought-provoking to happen.  Nope.

55.  The Accident - Elie Wiesel, translated by Anne Borchardt
                The third book in the Night trilogy, this short book is about a man, a Holocaust survivor, and his inability to forget his past and his sorrow.  Deals with what is means to be a survivor of such all-encompassing trauma, and whether or not a person can move forward after an experience that destroys everything.

56.  War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy, translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude
                      Two and a half months reading this book.  Oy vey.  So glad to be done!  About a quarter of the way through, I got very interested in the characters, and felt that I liked this book more than other Russian novels that I've read, but I still got frustrated and bored.  I didn't care at all for the sections on war and history that didn't have anything directly to do with the characters.  
                     Whenever I read Russian literature, and Tolstoy in particular, I find the style to be really stilted and that it's difficult to understand what the characters motivations are.  I feel too removed from what's going on and don't care. 

57.  Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates
                  Saw the movie.  Meh.  The book on the other hand was fantastic.  I know that it's terribly cliched with the suburban hell and discontent with society and the "crazy" guy who's the only one telling the truth.  But this was good.  Perhaps what really made it great, in an uncomfortable way, was the fact that the main characters, the Wheelers, keep talking about how they want to break the chains of a conventional life, how disdainful they are of the people around them, while not doing anything to change their lives.  They're too scared, and deep down, too conventional to ever do something truly interesting.

58.  Dexter in the Dark - Jeff Lindsay, narrated by Nick Landrum for Recorded Books
               The third in the Dexter series.  This was a lot more supernatural, involving the historical origins of "dark passengers," and having scenes not narrated by Dexter.  Which makes sense, given that Dexter is in the dark during this book.  As the reader, you know more than Dexter does for the first time in the series.
Dead Dog Cat

#46

Tuesday evening I picked it up, and this afternoon I finished reading Anthony Bourdain's new book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. As in his other books, he write some outrageous but funny material, and he does leave me thinking about some things. I'd recommend reading it; it's probably his best work since Kitchen Confidential.
lady in black

Book 58: The Colour by Rose Tremain

Book 58: The Colour .
Author: Rose Tremain, 2003.
Genre: Literary. Historical Fiction. mid-19th century.
Other Details: Paperback. 384 pages.

I have to admit that when I read the back cover of this novel after it was handed out by the librarian who facilitates our library reading group my heart sank a little. English settlers in New Zealand getting caught up in the gold rush just felt like something I was going to find a hard slog. Well I was wrong and realised very quickly that Rose Tremain is a superb story-teller.

The central story involves Joseph and Harriet Blackstone, who emigrate to New Zealand's South Island where they buy some land and plan to farm. Accompanying them to their new life is Joseph's mother, Lillian. Joseph has something terrible on his conscience and wishes to escape this past. Harriet had been a governess for twelve years and sees this marriage and move across the world as an opportunity to 'go beyond the boundaries society had set for her'. Despite hostile conditions they manage to just scrape out a living.

Then comes the day when Joseph spots a glint of gold dust in the creek on their land. He secretly begins to pan for gold, hiding the small amounts he finds from his wife and mother. When he hears news of a major gold strike in the Southern Alps, he is struck by gold fever and basically abandons Harriet and Lillian to follow his dream of riches. During this journey and in the gold fields he and others face terrible hardships. I won't say too much more about the plot though it does take some unexpected directions in terms of how characters respond to various challenges.

While Harriet and Joseph's story is the main focus, there is a sub-plot involving the Orchards, an English family living nearby who have prospered in this new land. The relationship between their young son, Edwin and Pare, the Maori woman who had been his nurse when he was an infant, introduces aspects of indigenous culture and a touch of magical realism. There is also a dream-like quality to other sections including some evocative opium fuelled experiences.

It was these mystical elements that some members of the reading group and critics cited as the weakest part of the novel and yet I felt that the aspects of Maori culture were important in terms of highlighting that the settlers were very much at odds with the land and that their desire for gold was not something that had meaning for the native peoples. Pare's presence also introduced issues of colonialism even if the scope of the book did not explore this in depth.

Tremain's rich narrative drew me into the story that I was full of admiration for her use of language, especially in terms of descriptions of landscape. In places it was quite uncomfortable reading as characters experienced various natural disasters, hunger and deprivations, especially in the gold fields. So parts of the book were very bleak indeed and yet overall there was a sense of optimism. My positive response to the novel inspired me to obtain her latest book, Trespass, from the library and place other works on my 'to be read' list.