Sunday Post #11: Candide

Sunday PostI usually review books in separate blog posts, but rather than write two, I’m rolling my review of Voltaire’s Candide into this post.

First, I haven’t done as much reading the last few days as I had done earlier in my spring break, which comes to an end today. My last few days of spring break I spent binge-watching UK episodes of Who Do You Think You Are?, which made me want to work a little bit on my own family history. I resurrected my family history blog after a three-year silence. I quite like learning about family history for the same reasons Stephen Fry describes in his own episode of Who Do You Think You Are?: 1) you learn a lot about who all these people are who make up who you are, and in turn, you learn a little bit about yourself, and 2) you learn about how history is not something that happens in some abstract way to other people—history happened to people in your family, and you have that personal connection to history. I also really love how it shows the ways in which we are all connected. It’s a fun hobby, if time-consuming and hard to do when you can’t really travel.

I did manage to finish listening to Stephen Fry read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy this week. Loved it. I am thinking I might listen to the other books in the series. I started listening to Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants. I am enjoying that one quite a lot when I’ve had time to listen to it.

So, Candide. I understand this is not really a novel in the sense we think of them today, but more of a philosophical allegory. It tells the story of young Candide, who lives in an idyllic castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh in Westphalia and his instruction in Leibnizian optimism by his tutor, Pangloss. A series of rather unfortunate events follows after Candide is caught kissing Cunégonde, the beautiful daughter of the castle’s baron. Of course, Candide is too low born to consort with Cunégonde, so he is banished from the castle and must make his way in the harsh world. And he goes pretty much everywhere, even El Dorado, never willing to let go of his optimism entirely until the end, when he and his friends decide to live the rest of their lives on a simple farm, and Candide concludes, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.” Often translated as “We must cultivate our garden.” The translation I read renders it “We must work our land,” as the translator argues the word garden in English doesn’t tend to mean the same thing as Voltaire intended in describing the farm. Regardless, I see that statement as meaning we need to worry about ourselves and our small communities, but also that we should be happy with what we have and enjoy it for what it is. We need to work together to cultivate the good and weed out the bad. Candide finally has everything he wanted, but he no longer wants it. Is it the best of all possible worlds? No, but that doesn’t seem to be something that really exists, as Candide only experienced the feeling that he was in the best of all possible worlds in a place that doesn’t exist. He’s become a realist.

The biggest problem I had with the story was the end. Cunégonde loses her looks, but noble Candide marries her anyway, though he no longer wants to. What the hell? So what that means to me is that all he ever really felt for her was infatuation and lust, and he expended a great deal of energy on it and went through a lot of trauma for it, too. Are women worthy of love only insofar as they are beautiful? Is that the only reason to love a woman? Are we supposed to admire Candide because he sticks to the original plan and marries Cunégonde even though she’s ugly? Are we supposed to like him because he bucks up when the world hands him lemons? Bah. I realize we’re supposed to put books squarely in the time in which they are historically set, but I was still quite bothered by the chauvinism and antisemitism in the book. Does it get a pass because it was written in the eighteenth century? I don’t know. Part of me says that we give historical works like this a pass too often.

I wasn’t bored while reading Candide, and it’s quite a quick read. The story moves along and is tightly paced if not very descriptive, but as I said, it is not a novel in the sense we understand, and allegories are often about making another point besides telling a story. It’s funny, too, and has some good (and some pretty dark) humor. Candide suffers just about every calamity Voltaire can think of, and none of it seems to have a point. Other than being rather appalled at how awful people can and have treated each other, I wasn’t able to empathize much with Candide, and in the end, when he was no longer interested in Cunégonde because she wasn’t beautiful anymore (especially given how much she suffered and how much effort she put into being true to him (notwithstanding constantly being raped and enslaved), I thought he was a shit. I’d have liked it better if she’d told him where he could get off with his pity marriage.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

Related posts:

Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, narrated by Stephen Fry

I may in fact be the last person on Earth to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I will, therefore, dispense with any summary. The Internet makes a lot more sense to me now that I’ve read this book.

Stephen Fry’s narration was excellent. He gave the perfect irritating note (in an American accent) to the ship’s computer. He made Zaphod Beeblebrox sound a little bit like Austin Powers, but not so much that you decide he’s not cool.

If I had to pick favorite parts, they would be as follows (in no particular order):

  • The dolphins, unable to communicate Earth’s impending doom to less intelligent humans, leave and say “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”
  • The bowl of petunias thinks, “Oh no, not again.” After which many people speculated that if we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias thought this, we would know a lot more of the nature of the Universe than we do now.
  • The poor sperm whale created by one of the missiles.
  • The Infinite Improbability Drive as a whole concept.
  • Shooty and Bang Bang, the Galatic Police.
  • Devious super-genius mice who seem to be running everything.
  • Oolon Colluphid’s books.
  • Vogon poetry.
  • The Babel Fish. We should get those things for real.
  • The Earth as a giant computer designed to figure out the the Question.

I first tried to read this book when I was in sixth grade, and perhaps some sixth graders could have read it and appreciated it quite a lot, but I didn’t get it, so I put it down without finishing it. Then years passed, and for one reason and another, I never managed to pick it up again until now. It’s hard to believe it was written in 1979, as much of seems prescient while other parts of it are timeless. It’s quite funny, and I could definitely see its influence on other writers I enjoy, such as Neil Gaiman. I see its influence on Doctor Who as well. And yes, I realize Douglas Adams wrote for that series.

So, one more book I should have read a long time ago crossed off the list, and wouldn’t it have been perfect if I had read it last year, when I was 42? My daughter Maggie told me on my birthday that year that I was “the answer to life, the Universe, and everything.”

Rating: ★★★★★
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Sunday Post #10: Sweet Sunday

Sunday PostAh, sweet Sunday, about halfway through my spring break. I’m curling up with a glass of wine at the end of the day. I usually try to write my Sunday Post blog earlier in the day.

This week, I finished and reviewed two books: The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli and Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman. I absolutely loved The Lotus Eaters; it prompted me to want to learn a little bit more about Vietnam. I’ve been watching a documentary on Netflix. I feel the documentary is barely scratching the surface. More reading might be necessary. You know, I have a clear memory of General Westmoreland visiting my high school in Anaheim. It must have been 1987 or 1988. We had some sort of assembly, and he talked to us. I had the distinct impression he was trying to defend himself, and I couldn’t figure out why. I had no idea who he was, really. I wonder why in the world he came to speak at my school?

I started reading three books this week as well: Candide by Voltaire, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (audio book narrated by Stephen Fry), and Pleasantville by Attica Locke (TLC Book Tour; galley copy). I know what you’re thinking: you haven’t read Candide? You haven’t even read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Nope, I haven’t read either, but I’m fixing it. I am really enjoying Hitchhiker’s Guide. Stephen Fry is a perfect narrator.

Isn’t it nice to be on spring break? I have all this time to read and watch documentaries on Netflix. I have been making a lot of soap this week, too. Most of it is for a wholesale customer, but I made a batch of Cedar & Saffron for my store. It smells great. Quite masculine. Those are safflower petals on the top. It won’t be that pretty shade of yellow, sadly, once it hardens up. It will turn a brown color due to the fragrance. I hope it will be pretty.

Cedar & Saffron SoapAnother thing I did this week is make a digital story about my grandmother, who taught herself to sew in the 1950’s and established a nice sewing business in her home. You can watch the digital story here if you like.

YouTube Preview Image

I ordered this copy of Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr’s Wayfaring Strangers this week as well.

Wayfaring StrangersThe book comes with a CD of music that includes music from artists on both sides of the Atlantic, including Dolly Parton and Dougie MacLean. I’m excited to dive into that one. I am particularly interested in the migration of music from Ulster and Scotland to Appalachia. I have ancestors that I’m quite sure were Ulster Scots, Irish, and Scots, and in some branches of my family, a strain of music runs in a thread in nearly every generation. I’m a musician. My uncle is a musician. My grandfather was a musician. His grandmother played the organ, as did her mother; his grandfather played the fiddle. My grandfather’s grandmother had an ancestor who also played the fiddle. Perhaps this musical thread is one reason why I connected so strongly to Sharyn McCrumb’s novel The Songcatcher. I am certain it’s why I connect so strongly to Celtic and Appalachian music.

So that was my week. How was yours?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

Related posts:

Review: Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman

I listened to Neil Gaiman’s latest short story collection, Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, on Audible, mainly because I know that Gaiman is quite a fantastic reader (not all writers are). Unfortunately, that also meant that I didn’t have a real sense of the way in which the collection might hang together as a whole because I listened to it mostly in bursts as I cleaned house or made soap. As such, I can only really recall my favorite stories with any clarity, and I don’t have a print book to examine in order to refresh my memory, so I skimmed what pieces I could find in Amazon’s preview and Google Books. Finally, I found this review, which discusses each piece with a rating out five stars. I won’t discuss each story. Just the ones I liked or remembered better than the others.

“The Lunar Labyrinth” is the first story in the collection (following the poem “Making a Chair”). This story made me think of American Gods, and given that I knew the collection had an American Gods story in it, I assumed it would be this one. It wasn’t. Still, the story does nod toward the American Gods concept that those silly roadside attractions are more than they seem.

I liked the story “The Thing About Cassandra” quite a bit. How would you feel if you made up an imaginary girlfriend, and years later your friends and mother are insisting they ran into her?

“The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” reminded me of straight up fantasy. It’s a little bit Tolkienesque, but doesn’t quite make it.

“Orange” story told completely as answers to questions the reader doesn’t hear. Humorous and a little scary at the same time.

“The Case of Death and Honey” is a Sherlock Holmes story about Holmes’s quest to solve the ancient question of how to live forever. I quite enjoyed this one as both a story and a contribution to the Sherlock Holmes repository.

“The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” is a poignant comment on loss of memory as well as a love letter to one of Gaiman’s favorite authors.

“Nothing O’Clock” is a Doctor Who story. As I listened to this one, I kept wishing it had been filmed. It would have made an excellent episode. It’s set during the time of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companion Amy Pond. The Doctor and Amy land on Earth in the TARDIS to discover that no one exists, and a voice insists they’re trespassing.

“Black Dog,” as it turns out, is the American Gods story, and I didn’t like it. As with American Gods, I could see that Neil Gaiman was doing something interesting with the idea of ancient gods in modern times, but in the end, I just wasn’t into it.

The other stories and poems didn’t leave enough of an impression on me to merit discussion here.

I thought the collection as a whole was a bit uneven, despite moments that I absolutely enjoyed. The individual stories I mentioned in this review are worth seeking out (with the exception, in my opinion, of the last. As much as I did enjoy Gaiman’s reading, I don’t think I’ll listen to another short story collection on Audible. I can’t recall enough of the individual stories, and there is not an easy way for me to glance back at the book again. I was tempted to give this only three stars, but the truth is, when the stories are good, they are really good.

Rating: ★★★½☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Review: The Lotus Eaters, Tatjana Soli

Walt Whitman once said that “the real war will never get in the books,” but that hasn’t stopped writers from trying, from Stephen Crane to Ernest Hemingway to Tim O’Brien. Tatjana Soli’s debut novel The Lotus Eaters tells the story of a woman photojournalist, Helen Adams, who covers Vietnam. Helen is drawn to cover the conflict in order to find out what happened to her brother Michael, who was killed in action. Even long after she discovers the truth, she has been seduced by the war, the country, and its people—both repulsed by the horrors she sees and compelled to cover them, hence Soli’s title, inspired by Homer’s land of the Lotus-eaters in a quote that opens the novel:

… we reached the country of the Lotus-eaters, a race that eat the flowery lotus fruit … Now these natives had no intention of killing my comrades; what they did was to give them some lotus to taste. Those who ate the honeyed fruit of the plant lost any wish to come back and bring us news. All they now wanted was to stay where they were with the Lotus-eaters, to browse on the lotus, and to forget all thoughts of return.

I remember first reading The Odyssey and finding the passage about the Lotus-eaters poignant, even though it’s short and perhaps not as striking in terms of its danger as other passages involving the Cyclops, Circe, and Scylla and Charybdis. In their way, the Lotus-eaters might be the most dangerous group of people Odysseus and his men encounter because one thing that keeps them going is their desire for home. The title is an apt one for the novel.

Helen arrives in Vietnam a naive young woman who dropped out of college to become a freelance photographer because she was afraid that if she waited until graduation, the war would be over. She has only rudimentary photography skills, and she’s woefully unprepared for what she will see. However, she learns quickly and discovers she has a natural talent for capturing a shot. By the end of the war, she is a respected photojournalist with several Life magazine covers under her belt. She has an opportunity to escape with her fellow photojournalist (and lover) Linh as the last Americans are leaving Saigon. Linh is wounded, and Helen is concerned about his safety. As the helicopter prepares to leave, Helen decides she has to stay through the Fall of Saigon and cover the very end, but she ensures Linh is safely aboard the helicopter and on his way to treatment before she plunges one more time into the war.

The novel begins at the Fall of Saigon and then steps back in time to Helen’s arrival, tracing her experiences through the war and back to the end of the war. Soli explains the frame device and why she used it in this video:

YouTube Preview Image

The book’s language is gorgeous, and I found as I read that I had to underline passages. I don’t typically do that when I read paper books, unless I plan to teach them, but this novel is so beautiful, and I found so much truth in the language, that I had to mark it up.

To be honest, I don’t know a lot about Vietnam. I teach several students from that country in my classes, and I have learned some really interesting things from them, but I haven’t read a lot about the war. My father was in Vietnam when I was born, and as far as I know, he was never in a position of extreme danger, but that’s relative when you’re in a war-torn country. I think I have actually avoided the subject to a certain degree. The senselessness of the whole thing is heartbreaking, and perhaps more so now that I’ve read this book. One thing Soli does that intrigues me is she captures the brutality and horror of the war, yes, but she also captures the beauty of the country and its people.

The patrol was still out, and they watched the sun rise up out of the east and color the western mountains from a dull blackish purple to green. So many shades of green. Darrow said, that Vietnamese legend told that every shade of green in the world originated in this mountain range. The emerald backbone of the dragon from which the people of Vietnam sprang. Until then she had been blind, but when she saw those mountains, she slipped beneath the surface of the war and found the country. (17)

The air boiled hot and opaque, the sky a hard, saline blue. For miles the black mangrove swamp spread like a stagnant ocean, clotted, arthritic. Farther on they passed the swollen tributaries of the Mekong. Papaya, grapefruit, water palm, mangosteen, orange—fruit of every variety grew in abundance, dropping with heavy thuds on the ground to burst in hot flower in the sun. (162)

I found the characters easy to become invested in. I liked them, and at the same time, they infuriated me, which I think is partly the point. They were driven in a way I can’t claim to have experienced, but Soli infuses them with reality—they seem like flesh-and-blood people rather than figments of the imagination. By the end of the novel, their compulsion to capture the war makes a sort of sense.

The narrative is as intriguing as the characters. The last 100 pages or so I read in almost one gulp in an attempt to find out if everyone would be okay in the end. Some passages are so gripping in their imagery that I had to put the book down and catch my breath—to come up for air in the real world, as it were.

Even more than the characters and the narrative, however, I loved Soli’s writing. She tells a gripping story with lush, beautiful language that actually made me long to see the places she was describing, even in the midst of the horrors of a war.

I also felt drawn to learn more of the history of the war and of the country. It’s amazing how so many stories of Colonialism—and I’m thinking here of Heart of Darkness, The God of Small Things, The Poisonwood Bible, and Things Fall Apart—eventually wind up traveling down the same roads. And yet. It’s a story we repeat over and over again. This novel is, in my estimation, as good as any of these books, and I can’t give it higher praise than that.

I’m calling this one a new favorite, and I’m recommending it to everyone. I haven’t read such a lyrically beautiful, haunting book in quite some time. I can’t understand why this book isn’t more known. Or perhaps it is and just escaped my radar. I’m not sure it was a bestseller (no claims to that effect, anyway), but it won several awards. It’s literary fiction and a true descendent of books like A Farewell to Arms. A gorgeous book.

Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Sunday Post #9: Spring Break!

Sunday PostMy spring break started this weekend. More time to read! I didn’t have a lot of time to read this week, so unfortunately, I didn’t make a whole lot of progress to report about.

In my last post, I reported I was about an hour away from finishing Neil Gaiman’s short story collection Trigger Warning. I still am. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it at all this week. I also haven’t picked up Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser in the last week. However, I did start Candide by Voltaire for the Literary Movement Reading Challenge. Well, I read the introduction, at least.

Mainly, I have been reading The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. Fantastic so far. I find sometimes I have to put it down for a while almost because it’s too much sensory input. I am not sure if that makes sense, but the descriptions are so vivid, and given it’s a book about Vietnam War photojournalists, it’s quite intense. I have always felt sort of a weird connection with that war, as though it somehow defined the world in which I grew up. I guess it did. My dad was serving in Vietnam when I was born, and in many ways, it didn’t seem over. I remember the Vietnam vets and the controversy over the Vietnam Memorial. It was as I was growing up that artistic media like movies and TV seemed to be exploring the war for the first time. The book is so fantastic that I really wish I had a book club to discuss it with. I wonder if I can convince my book club to read it. I did talk them into reading Wolf Hall, and I’m not sure I get two turns in a row, or that folks will want to read two historical fiction novels in a row. The Lotus Eaters is reminding me a lot of Hemingway—not so much stylistically, but perhaps the poetic way in which Soli describes war. If any characters might see poetry in that situation, it might be combat photographers. I don’t know.

The journalists were in a questionable fraternity while out in the field, squabbling and arguing among themselves, each sensing the unease of the situation. No getting around the ghoulishness of pouncing on tragedy with hungry eyes, snatching it away, glorying in its taking even among the most sympathetic: “I got an incredible shot of a dead soldier/woman/child. A real tearjerker.” Afterward, film shot, they sat on the returning plane with a kind of postcoital shame, turning away from each other.

In terms of the present moment, they were despicable to the soldiers, to the victims, to even themselves. In the face of real tragedy, they were unreal, vultures; they were all about getting product. In their worst moments, each of them feared being a kind of macabre Hollywood, and it was only in terms of the future that they regained their dignity, became dubious heroes. The moment ended, about to be lost, but the one who captured it on film gave both subject and photographer a kind of disposable immortality. (111)

 

Pictures could not be accessories to the story—evidence—they had to contain the story within the frame; the best picture contained a whole war within one frame. (118)

Exquisite.

So that was my reading week. How was yours?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

Related posts:

Sunday Post #8: Reading Challenges Update

Sunday PostMarch 1 seems like a good time to reflect on how I’m doing with the various reading challenges I’ve taken on this year. As of today, I’ve completed nine books. The goal of the Outdo Yourself Challenge is to read more than the previous year. So far, I’m on track with that challenge. I don’t think I have ever been in the position of having read nine books at the beginning of March before.

I’ve read four books for the Historical Fiction Challenge: Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel; The Wolves of Andover aka The Traitor’s Wife, Kathleen Kent; The Fiery Cross, Diana Gabaldon; and The Serpent of Venice, Christopher Moore. I committed to reading ten historical fiction books for the challenge. I’m currently reading The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. I’m only a little over two chapters into it, but wow, what a beautifully written, gripping read so far. I have to read it in small sips, put it down and think about it, and plunge in again when I’m ready. I got a pencil and went back over the two chapters I had finished and underlined my favorite parts.The Lotus Eaters

This is how the world ends in one instant and begins again in the next.

It seems early days to be predicting this will be my favorite read of the year, but perhaps not. It is gorgeous so far.

I’ve read three books for the Reading England Challenge:

I committed to reading twelve books for this challenge.

The Literary Movement Challenge involves reading at least one book a month for that month’s movement. So far, I’ve read one selection each for the Middle Ages and for the Renaissance: The Lais of Marie de France and As You Like It by William Shakespeare. I committed to reading twelve books.

The Back to the Classics Challenge involves reading classic selections from various categories. I committed to nine books and have read two:

This week I posted reviews for As You Like It by William Shakespeare and The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson. I am about an hour away from finishing Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning.

One last glimpse of The Lotus Eaters before I go.

The Lotus Eaters

 

Related posts:

Review: As You Like It, William Shakespeare

I read William Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It as my selection for the Renaissance era in the Literary Movement Reading Challenge. I had been wanting to read it ever since reading James Shapiro’s excellent book, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599.

For those not familiar with the plot, it’s one of Shakespeare’s cross-dressing comedies. Rosalind is the daughter of Duke Senior, the rightful duke. Duke Senior’s younger brother, Duke Frederick usurps his older brother’s dukedom. Frederick allows Rosalind to stay when he exiles his brother to the Forest of Arden because his daughter Celia loves Rosalind so much. Frederick arranges a wrestling match that is supposed to end in defeat for Orlando de Boys, but Orlando is victorious. He captures Rosalind’s heart. In a fit of pique, Frederick banishes Rosalind. However, Celia decides to leave with Rosalind as the two are close, and Celia cannot bear to see Rosalind exiled without her company. They decide to disguise themselves, Rosalind as a boy, Ganymede, and Celia as Ganymede’s sister Aliena, and they also decide to take the fool Touchstone with with them to keep them company. They plunge themselves into the forest, where they find Orlando has been carving Rosalind’s name on trees.

While in the forest, they encounter shepherds who help them find shelter. The shepherd Silvius is in love with a woman, Phoebe, who falls in love with Ganymede, not realizing Ganymede is Rosalind in disguise. Meanwhile, Orlando is hiding from his brother Oliver, who wants him dead. Orlando rescues Oliver from a lion in the forest, which leads to Oliver’s decision to change his ways. In typical Shakespearean fashion, everything works out in the end with a bunch of marriages. Oliver is further transformed by love for Celia and no longer desires Orlando’s destruction. Orlando and Rosalind find happiness. Rosalind manages to set Silvius and Phoebe together in a problematic marriage, and even Touchstone marries Audrey. Duke Frederick experiences a religious conversion and sees the error of his ways.

As Shakespeare goes, it’s not my favorite. I much prefer A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a comedy. However, I do see maturity in his characterization of Rosalind that had me wondering greatly about the boy actors in his acting company at the time he wrote the play. It would have taken a strong actor to pull off that part. I found her to be a refreshingly smart character, and in control of so much of the action. I liked her very much. As You Like It is perhaps most famous for Jaques’s speech “All the world’s a stage.”

I waited to watch the film version directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind before reviewing the book. She is a wonderful Rosalind. The cast is great: Celia is played by Romola Garai, Touchstone by Alfred Molina, the Dukes by Brian Blessed, Orlando by David Oyelowo, Jacques by Kevin Kline, Audrey by Janet McTeer, and that’s just a start. Set in feudal Japan, the story begins as Duke Frederick and a bunch of ninjas take over Duke Senior’s palace and send the rightful Duke and his men into exile in the forest. The setting change was interesting and still worked despite the importance of the Forest of Arden as setting in the play. The costumes were beautiful. The actors were fine. But I still didn’t like it, and I don’t know why. I liked parts of it, but as a whole, it was just sort of boring. I kept picturing how my students might respond to it if we watched in class, and I kept picturing them nodding off. I wonder if the issue with this play is that in order for this story to remain compelling, the action needs to move a little more quickly? I can’t put my finger on what was wrong with it, as I liked the elements separately. They just didn’t cohere for me. Your mileage may vary if you decide to watch it.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

Set in Warwickshire, this book will serve as my entry for that county in the Reading England Challenge and will serve as my Renaissance selection for the Literary Movement Challenge.

 

Related posts:

TLC Book Tour: The Tell-Tale Heart, Jill Dawson

The Tell-Tale HeartJill Dawson’s novel The Tell-Tale Heart begins with an unusual premise: Patrick, a fifty-year-old history professor, undergoes a heart transplant. He begins to notice subtle changes in his personality. He discovers his heart donor was a teenage boy named Drew Beamish, and he finds himself becoming curious about Drew.

Patrick discovers Drew was a local boy with a long family history in the Cambridgeshire Fens close to the hospital in Papworth Everard where Patrick’s transplant occurs.

Patrick’s story is woven together with that of Drew and of Drew’s ancestors, who were involved in the Littleport labor riot of 1816.

The heart has always been the symbolic seat of human emotion, and when Patrick finds himself changing after his transplant, unsettled with his previous self and wondering about his link to Drew and his family, he begins to wonder if the heart’s role is more than symbolic.

Patrick is a womanizer and a bit of jerk, but given his reflective nature and the changes in his personality, it’s easy for the reader to like him. His new heart not only gives him a second chance at life but also allows him to rethink his old ways. Even Patrick seems not to like the old Patrick very much (perhaps old Patrick didn’t like old Patrick either).

Drew, on the other hand, inherited a rebellious streak from the Beamishes, who first make waves in Littleport when they are involved in labor riots. Drew himself discovers his family’s history and becomes fascinated not only by their story but by history itself—and his history teacher. A young boy with much intellectual promise, much like his ancestors, Drew has also inherited a constant heart from another of his ancestors as well.

I enjoyed this story. The historical aspect was intriguing and was told in the novel much as it actually happened. Papworth Hospital, the setting for Patrick’s transplant, is a heart and lung hospital known for performing some of the first beating-heart transplants, just as described in the novel. Interspersing Drew’s story along with that of his ancestors underscored the circular nature of time, and Patrick finds himself connected to the Cambridgeshire Fens in ways he can’t explain after the transplant.
QuoteI have felt this kind of connection myself to places near where I later discovered my ancestors lived 200 years earlier. Patrick’s desire to simplify, reflect, and reconnect made sense to me. I found myself much more drawn to his story than to Drew’s, but that may be because I’m closer to Patrick’s age and stage of life than I am to Drew’s. I found the flashback to Drew’s ancestors interesting, but it also felt a little disconnected from the rest of the book. It establishes some rather important aspects of Drew’s personality, but I wonder how it might have been integrated more tightly with Patrick and Drew’s stories.

The Tell-Tale Heart is an interesting read that will make you wonder about the power of the human heart.

Jill DawsonJill Dawson’s website | Twitter

tlc logoRating: ★★★★☆

Related posts:

Sunday Post #7: Forest and Fen

Sunday PostI finished up two books this week, but I am waiting to review both of them. The first is William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, which I had never read before, but had decided to read way back when I read A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 (review). It was during that year that Shakespeare wrote As You Like It. I liked it, though not as much as some of Shakespeare’s other plays, but I wanted to watch a movie version of it so I could review both the play and the movie version together. Unfortunately, Netflix is being extremely slow about sending it along.

The other book I finished just today is The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson. I am reviewing this book as part of a TLC Book Tour this coming Friday. The book has an interesting premise regarding the after-effects of a heart transplant, and it did get me thinking quite a bit, but more on that this Friday.

Both books allowed me to explore two counties in the Reading England Challenge. The Forest of Arden in As You Like It was in Shakespeare’s own home county of Warwickshire. Sadly, I discovered, not much of it remains aside from a few very old trees. The Tell-Tale Heart is set in some smaller towns around Cambridge in the Fens in Cambridgeshire. Both books relied a great deal on setting in the stories to the extent that moving them might change the story quite a bit, especially in The Tell-Tale Heart.

I am still reading Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette and Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. I will probably take up a new paperback today since Marie Antoinette is on the Kindle and Trigger Warning is an audio book. Some weeks ago, I was feeling in the mood for The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. My dad was serving in Vietnam when I was born. He left when my mother was, I think, about six months pregnant with me. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set there. I have several students from Vietnam. Last year, one of my Vietnamese students used to have really interesting conversations with me about the differences between our countries.

I am still waiting for The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan and I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira to arrive in the mail, though I’m really looking forward to reading those books. I did order them from third-party sellers, so shipping is not the quick Prime shipping I’m used to from Amazon. I think I have decided to read Hilary Mantel’s massive French Revolution novel A Place of Greater Safety as well. I am not sure when I’ll get to that one, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. I’ll likely get that on the Kindle so I don’t have to try to hold it up.

In case you missed it, I posted my review for Christopher Moore’s novel The Serpent of Venice this week. I haven’t written any other reviews this week, nor have I started other books.

Given how much snow we’ve had, I suppose it’s logical that I have been able to do so much reading. I think I’ve read more so far this year than I can remember reading in the same time period… ever. Also, my kitchen scale broke, which is a necessity for soapmaking, so I wasn’t able to make soap this weekend either. It’s sad because I have a few wholesale orders and a custom request as well as some spring soaps I want to make up. It will have to wait!

In other bookish news, I have a book club! I am an idiot and somehow missed the memo about the book we were supposed to read until it was too late for me to finish before the meeting, but I did go, and we did talk about the book, and it was wonderful. For the record, the book I was supposed to read (which is on my list, though I didn’t get to it this time) was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. We are reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for next time, so I should be in good shape for that meeting at least.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

Related posts: