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review 2018-07-17 01:55
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Moby Dick (Vintage Classics) - Herman Melville

I've been trying to read Moby-Dick for years, abandoning it many times since high school. When asked to set up a book club for those wanting to tackle the big classics, I couldn't do anything but pick the most large, 'uge, magnificent book ever written.

And, having finally finished it, it's OK. I see why people invest so much energy into this work and enjoy parsing it out, but in the end I would have preferred a little more sailing adventure and less arcane mythological references and asides. Melville had a plan and he followed through with his deconstruction of the novel by constructing an even larger novel around its architectural corpse.

There were passages of brilliant intensity and longing, rewarding humor, wide progressive streaks on race, relgion and sexuality, and romantic squeezes in the spermacetti, but the dull implacability of much of the novel was too intense for me. We were quite torn up about the book at the meeting, but we all agreed that the foreskin helmet was awesome.

'Moby-Dick' is something you have to read for yourself, if you want to. Like with everything, I suppose, your mileage may vary and you might not want to invest the energy needed to break into a novel like this, and that's OK. I gave it a solid 65% of my attention and appreciated it, but its not for everyone.

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review 2018-07-04 11:20
The Return of the Soldier (Virago Modern Classics) - Rebecca West

Kitty and Jenny sit at home, awaiting the end of the war and the return of Chris, Kitty’s husband and Jenny’s cousin. However he returns to them sooner, suffering amnesia from shell-shock. He can remember Jenny and Margaret, his first love, but has no recollection of Kitty. Between the women they have to decide if they should allow Chris to remain 15 years in the past or to find a cure. That cure will be an act of love.

 

It is little wonder that Chris resorts to only remembering his past. It is a coping mechanism, his brain’s way of allowing him to heal, by remembering the happiest time of his life. It is telling perhaps that his mind does not remember the early courtship with his wife, though she is inextricably linked to the loss of his son.

 

The house and it’s grounds are idealised. It is the house of old that Chris longs to return to, a place for him to be comfortable and to heal. Jenny marvels at its beauty in the present day, at the wonderful grounds and the many changes wrought by Kitty. With Chris’ situation her eyes are opened to the fact that these changes may not be as welcome to him as once believed.

 

The house and it’s setting are also used to juxtapose the battlefields. Rebecca West doesn’t attempt to portray the horror of war. It is mentioned briefly by Jenny, referring to the film reels seen and the dreams they cause. However the reader is left to imagine the scenes, stark in their absence, when compared with the idyllic life Chris has left behind. To Jenny it is a haven, a cocoon to keep them safe. The house is in a perpetual golden glow if her descriptions are to believed but it becomes more apparent that it may be something of a gilded cage.

 

Kitty isn’t a particularly likeable character. She seemed less concerned with Chris’ mental health than how it affected her. She thinks that by draping herself in the jewels he bought her, he will suddenly remember her. Her avoidance of him seems more caused by petulance than anxiety. She is discourteous to Margaret, though this seems less to do with jealousy and more to do with snobbery. Jenny is a more complex character. She views Margaret initially with disdain, a disdain towards her poverty and obvious signs of beauty than anything else. She is quick to assume that Margaret is unhappy with her life in her pokey little house, that her lack of style and money has leached her of beauty. She misses the signs of fidelity that are briefly brought before her when Margaret and her husband interact. She fails, initially, to see the beauty behind the shabby clothes. But she gets to know Margaret, learns the history of her and Chris and soon comes to rely on her. Margaret is ultimately selfless. She does attend on Chris in part to remember happier days, to relive her youth and in some respects to obtain closure or to confirm her life choices. She is also there for Chris, to help him heal. Chris is the tie that binds them together and though he is the focal point for the women, it is those women that are very much the focal point of the novel.

 

This is a slim volume, but nonetheless is an effecting story, despite it’s size. It is a quiet, beautifully told story of love and war. Recommended.

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review 2018-07-03 03:58
A Clockwork Orange -- wow.
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

I'm now going to allow myself to see this film, now that I've read the entire book, including the redemption/change final chapter that was so gallingly removed from the US versions for so long. I've never seen Kubrick's film because I knew I wanted to read the book first. This is marked as "dystopia" and I'm having a bit of trouble differentiating it from regular old life.. Not sure what that says about me.

 

For some reason the entire time I read this - from the very first scene, I kept thinking "what if these were girls?," "What if Alex was an Alexa?" (or just a female Alex, actually.) Every section I saw both the way Burgess wrote it and then I'd sit back and wonder how it would be perceived if the narrator was female. Would this be a classic novel if Alex was a 17/18-year-old girl? And what would we think of the Ludovico technique if it was used on a girl? I mean, we do use this technique - not exactly, but some very similar techniques, for various reasons still (as troublesome as that is.) I'll let you all play that little gender game on your own, but I couldn't stop doing it (which is sort of maddening, actually.) 

 

I've only read two other books by Anthony Burgess (Earthly Powers and A Dead Man in Deptford.) From what I've read, he could probably easily have written this with a female narrator - he was versatile. His introduction to this corrected American edition is pretty awesome all by itself, and he shares that this is not one of his favorite works.

 

I'm actually just sort of gobsmacked by this novel. I have no idea how much I liked or disliked it. I don't know that I felt like or dislike, but I'm really really glad to have read this story because it's just amazingly original -- despite having read many rip-offs, and the ethical questions are overwhelming. I'll be puzzling through them for quite some time, actually. 

 

I'm glad the final chapter was included in the version I bought (I'd been trying to buy it for a while and kept ending up w/ old copies that lacked the final metanoia.) I've had a period of life-change come from pure exhaustion myself. I wasn't murdering people, but I was not doing good things either. There is a point when the trouble to make trouble (for oneself or others) actually can just be too much. 

 

Oh, I have so many thoughts on this & I'm too beat to write more tonight. I wanted a place-holder b/c I finished another book too, and this needs to come before it in my blog.  I'll try to rent the film by next week, & maybe I'll amend this with a book/film review.

 

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review 2018-06-28 04:06
Be good to each-other and Work
An Old-Fashioned Girl - Louisa May Alcott

Pretty much an edifying book packaged into a collection of stories of a wholesome country-girl visiting her city-girl friend. Second part, written later, continues the theme with the girls grown up, and the work-is-good general idea tackles also romance, flirtation, marriage and women's independence.

 

Whether it'll be received as a charming lesson or an eye-rolling inducing morality tale would be up to the reader, I guess. I wavered in times, but I have to admit I like Alcott too much to begrudge her some opinionated pushing.

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review 2018-06-27 07:37
They Came to Baghdad
They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

This was a surprise.  I'm certainly a long way from having read the entire Christie canon, but I've read enough to expect a certain...atmosphere in her books.  They Came to Baghdad certainly defied those expectations.  Exuberant is the only word that comes to mind.

 

Unfortunately the plot is ludicrous.  For the first 13 chapters, Christie was on fire, creating rich characters and setting.  The breaking of the fourth wall in Chapter two, when Christie's narrator uses the collective present (Victoria was like most of us, ...), has left me wondering if there isn't a touch of the autobiographical in Victoria.  I can imagine Victoria's first impressions of Baghdad being Christie's and I could well believe her final thoughts on relationships are pulled from Christie's first hand knowledge.  It isn't until the plot is revealed that it all goes sideways.  It's all just a bit too Austen Powers.

 

Still, if you can overlook it (and it becomes harder to do so in the second half of the book, to be honest), it's a highly entertaining book; practically a romp.  I enjoyed it overall, and it was worth the wobbly plot to see Christie's lighter side.

 

(This was a buddy read for Summer of Spies.)

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