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review 2017-07-13 17:51
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier
I listened to the audiobook for My Cousin Rachel, and it only took two hours to finish. I based my assumptions of this story off the two-minute trailer for the upcoming film adaptation.  While there were heavy implications that Rachel would be the villain, upon reading Daphne du Maurier’s book I can easily say that my sympathy for her supposed victim Philip Ashley is lacking and that his blindness towards others is the real evil.

The primary source of enjoyment when reading this story derives from the classic suspense plot and the Gothic undertones that remind me of Henry James’s Turn of the Screw or the movie Crimson Peak (especially when it comes to all that tea, am I right?) If I was already sensing this kind of literary layout, then I should have suspected that the protagonist would be a selfish and ever-so-slightly unhinged young male heir to a considerable fortune.  Philip hears only what he wants to hear, and honestly I can’t see Rachel’s actions as villainous, but rather powerful in the fact that a woman is claiming her right to live richly and well without marrying.

My two questions: what the heck with Rainaldi? Did anything happen with Louise?
 
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review 2017-07-13 17:47
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

This book has been on my “to read” list for several years.  Given I knew only the synopsis on Goodreads, I had my own idea of what the book would be already formulated before I read the first page.  I suspected a summer tale, three months of glorious fun for two university pals.  This presumption wasn’t far off, but Waugh’s story goes further than romping around in the sunshine. 

The tale of a convoluted family and the witness of their stark emotional lives, Charles Ryder, explores spiritual responsibility and morality.  Despite this heavy subject, I did not feel as if religious opinion was being shoved down my throat, nor did I feel as if I was rifling through a bible. Like Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway, Charles Ryder is the eye over a high and mighty set of people, albeit less glamorous.  

The Marchmains are so pious that they have left very little room for common decency.  And they’re not even truly pious. Mrs. Marchmain’s religious conviction is just as much a form of escapism as Sebastian’s drinking.  While reading this book all I could think about was how everyone just wanted to run away and free themselves from themselves.  Except no one could find a way to do it.  Instead, each person just sunk deeper into what complicated their lives in the first place, be it guilt, drunkenness, or obsession.  I can’t say I would read the book again, but I liked the story while I was in it and I appreciated the prose, even if the characters were icy and impulsive.

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review 2017-07-05 11:00
A Suffocating Village: Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda
Death in Spring - Mercè Rodoreda,Martha Tennent

Less than a year ago I reviewed a novel by Catalan author Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983) who is much celebrated in her country but virtually unknown elsewhere. I was so impressed by the book that I felt like reading also others of her works and from the two novels published posthumously, both of them unfinished, I eventually picked the one available in English translation, namely Death in Spring or in the original Catalan La mort i la primavera, i.e. Death and Spring. At first the title seems a bit strange, if not contradictory because it links death with nature’s rebirth after winter, but given that the novel flows over with powerful as well as poetical symbols and metaphors of life and death it’s quite appropriate. It’s a complex and well-constructed story about society that reminds me a lot of the works of Franz Kafka although it’s different in style.

 

The nameless I-narrator and protagonist makes his first appearance as a fourteen-year-old boy who enters the river passing under his mountain village built generations earlier on the debris of a huge rock-slip. He inhales the beauty of nature surrounding him and realises that he is “being followed by a bee, as well as by the stench of manure and the honey scent of blooming wisteria” representing the village with its pink houses that is always on his mind. As it turns out people there have many rituals to keep misfortune at bay. On the other side of the river is the forest of the dead with a tree dedicated to every inhabitant living or already dead with a plaque and a ring. During funerals all children are locked away into the stifling wooden kitchen cupboards, a custom that clearly mirrors the cruel death ritual practiced by the villagers for generations that requires to force pink cement down the throats of the dying in order to keep their souls from escaping and turning into shadows creeping “among the shrubs, always threatening to attack the village”. At the same time, and less obviously, it reflects the oppressive atmosphere in the village where everybody has to follow strict rules and not even the children are allowed to breathe freely in the literal as well as in the figurative sense. For being a boy the narrator doesn’t understand why the man whom he watches from behind a shrub hollows out a tree and enters it to die. As it turns out the man is his father, but instead of showing himself and talking to him, the boy returns to the village and tells the blacksmith. Everybody rushes out to give the already half-dead father the necessary cement treatment. With his teenage stepmother whom everybody considers retarded and strange he roams the village and its surroundings by night taking fun in vandalising the forest of the dead and using the pink powder of the cave to find out where its waters flow – thus defying the old village rituals that don’t make sense to them. Before long their adolescent urges take over and they have a daughter, but the community doesn’t accept them neither as individuals nor as a family because they are just too different, too free, too alive…

 

Many reviewers argue that Death in Spring represents life during the Spanish Civil War and in the rigid regime of General Franco that followed and that forced the author into exile, but in my opinion this is too limited an interpretation. I think that the author more generally portrayed the workings of human society where conservative forces use to be the stronger ones except in times of deepest discontent and misery. Even in our modern western civilisation that holds individual freedom in such high esteem, those who aren’t like all others or behave in a different, maybe even revolutionary way are marginalised, excluded and eventually crushed, i.e. driven to suicide or madness like in the novel although more subtly than in a totalitarian regime. In a nutshell: this is another great work of literature that would deserve much more attention. Highly recommended!

 

Death in Spring - Mercè Rodoreda,Martha Tennent 

 

»»» read also my review of In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda.

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review 2017-06-27 19:11
My Twelve Years with John F. Kennedy - Evelyn Lincoln

MY TWELVE YEARS WITH JOHN F. KENNEDY” is Evelyn Lincoln’s account of the time she served John F. Kennedy as his secretary. The book begins in 1952 when Mrs. Lincoln was working on the clerical staff of a Georgia Congressman. The U.S. was on the cusp of a major sea change, for after 20 years of Democratic presidential administrations in the White House, a Republican tide in November of that year would bring in the war hero Dwight Eisenhower as President. What’s more, on his coattails, many Republicans would win election to Congress. Mrs. Lincoln had read earlier in the year about a young Massachusetts 3-term Congressman (John F. Kennedy) who had decided to challenge a powerful Senator (Henry Cabot Lodge) for his seat. Kennedy, a Catholic, was not expected to win. But Mrs. Lincoln was impressed with him and sensed he had potential. She told her husband that she believed that Kennedy could someday be President. Indeed, she asserted that he would be elected President in 1960! And for that reason, she wanted to go and work for him. That took some doing, for Kennedy, at the time, was often away in Massachusetts campaigning. What’s more: he already had a secretary. So, in addition to her normal job on Capitol Hill, Mrs. Lincoln got a job as a volunteer in Congressman Kennedy’s office.

Kennedy would defy the odds and win election to the Senate in 1952. Within a year, his regular secretary had left and Mrs. Lincoln, by dint of hard work and having learned to cope with the demands Kennedy would place on his staff (Kennedy challenged his staff much as he challenged himself), had earned the position as his secretary. The book then takes the reader into the life and times of John F. Kennedy as Evelyn Lincoln experienced them between 1953 and his assassination in November 1963. She writes in a way that will make the reader feel that he/she is not only a witness to history, but also to the life of a singularly remarkable politician and human being. I loved this book and will cherish it always.

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text 2017-06-27 04:14
BL-opoly - #24 - Take the Jungle Cruise!
A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in Indi... A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India - Norman Lewis

Several months ago, Open Road Media was offering hundreds of free Kindle books.  I went on a rampage, acquiring about 400 titles over a space of two or three days.

 

I've never heard of Norman Lewis, but I do like learning about new places, so I downloaded this title, amongst all those others.  Last week-end I selected  A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India to fulfill the Take the Jungle Cruise. #24 space on Booklikes-opoly.

 

I'm about 15% into the book, which was written in the 1990s.  So far, it's making me a bit uncomfortable.  I get a distinct colonial feel about it, about Lewis's perspective, but we'll see how it goes.

 

 

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