Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Audio CD, 12 disks (14.75 hours)
Published November 30th 2004 by Naxos Audiobooks (first published 1938)
ISBN: 9626343230 (ISBN13: 9789626343234)
original title: Rebecca
5 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
"Last Night I Dreamt I Went To Manderley Again."
So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past the beeches, white and naked, to the isolated gray stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten...her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant -- the sinister Mrs. Danvers -- still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca...for the secrets of Manderley.

My Thoughts:
I absolutely loved this book. In my opinion, it is an absolutely perfectly crafted gothic novel. It is dark and mysterious, with an air of the supernatural surrounding Manderley and all that goes on if the entire estate is infused with Rebecca's presence. I love the insular, nearly claustrophobic nature of the book. Du Maurier does a superb job of making every element of the novel feel like it is cut off from the outside world - Manderley itself, the cove, the boat, Mrs. Danvers, even the relationship between Maxim & the second Mrs. de Winter. The occasional interactions with those outside of Manderley are exhausting and fraught with anxiety, and though Mrs. Danvers casts a pall over the second Mrs. de Winter's existence at Manderley, she & Maxim both always seems relieved to recede back into their private life there.

That the second Mrs. de Winter's name is never revealed is a very effective way of illustrating her second tier status with regard to everyone except Maxim himself. She allows herself to be pushed around and insulted by Mrs. Van Hopper, and feels it necessary to sneak around with Maxim de Winter to avoid Mrs. Van Hopper's rude comments and judgmental attitude. When she arrives at Manderley, she is so intimidated by the illusion of Rebecca that she appears incapable of asserting herself and making Manderley hers. She endures Mrs. Danvers' incivility and subtle evil to the point that I as the reader wanted to shake her until her bones rattled.

Although the entire novel is compelling, it is the second half that is full of the unexpected. The unraveling of the truth of Rebecca's demise and the subsequent revelations related to that are done in a way that hold's the reader in suspense until the very end. Du Maurier had an impeccable eye for the mysterious and inexplicable, and she created a dynamic story of unparalleled suspense that culminates in a hugely satisfying way because it is both characteristically plausible and yet completely unforeseen. Spectacular in every detail.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Paperback, 482 pages
Published March 30th 2010 by Penguin (Non-Classics) (first published June 16th 2001)
ISBN: 0143117149 (ISBN13: 9780143117148)
original title: The Slap
4.5 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:
Winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap is a riveting page-turner and a powerful, haunting rumination on contemporary middle-class family life. When a man slaps a child who is not his own at a neighborhood barbecue, the act triggers a series of repercussions in the lives of the people who witness the event-causing them to reassess their values, expectations, and desires. For readers of Jonathan Franzen and Tom Perrotta, this is a compelling account of modern society and the way we live today. 

My Thoughts:
I will start with the caveat that I am a big fan of Australian literature, and this book was no exception. I had a lot of mixed reactions to the book - it was very well written, and certainly deserving of literary attention, but definitely controversial. Tsiolkas is Greek by birth, and he spent a lot of time on prejudice & how it plays out in Australia, starkly exposing the prejudices and biases that pervade Australian life. What was intriguing to me is how these prejudices & biases are nearly a mirror of those that we contend with in the US, though the clashing cultures have different backgrounds. The difficulties that arise when cultures interact (and clash) are so similar to what we encounter here in the US that it makes for a story that is easy to relate to and easy to understand.

Tsiolkas did what I believe to be an extraordinary job of writing authentically on controversial subjects without falling into the silly stereotypes of bigots & bigotry. I like that he makes a point to try & reflect human nature and how we contend with cultural, political, spiritual and personal controversy. It would have been very easy for him to hyperbolize these characteristics - and that is a very effective writing tool (the use of the grotesque) - but in this context I believe that the realistic portrayal of daily life in the wake of a very controversial incident shone a light on the good and bad (and sometimes ridiculous) in fairly equal measure.

I loved the book, the setting, the writing style, the insights. Even where I objected to beliefs or actions, I liked that they were presented because they represent life as we know it.

The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Audio CD - 6 disks (7 hours)
Published 2006 by Recorded Books Classics Library (first published 1866)
ISBN: 1419398067
primary language: English
original title: Игрок
3 stars overall / 4 stars audio narration 

Goodreads Synopsis:
The Gambler paints a stark picture of the attractions--and addictions--of gambling. Using skillful characterization, Dostoevsky faithfully depicts life among the gambling set in old Germany. This probing psychological novel explores the tangled love affairs and complicated lives of Alexey Ivanovitch, a young gambler, and Polina Alexandrovna, the woman he loves.

My Thoughts:
Can't say I loved this book. It took probably the first 1/3 of the book to get to a point where the story became interesting. However, after that it was quite good. I did love the character of the old Russian grandmother. She was hilarious and crabby and irascible, and I got a huge kick out of the fact that she denied her son any vestige of an inheritance, particularly since he was the one person (of all who stood to gain from her death) who wanted it so desperately that he was keeping regular tabs on her health and hoping she would die so he could get his hands on her money. The Gambler - Alexei Ivanovich - was not actually a very likeable character, and became less likeable (to me) as the book progressed. However, I thought Dostoyevsky did a really good job of illustrating how easy it is to fall into the thrall of gambling.

I don't know that I'd necessarily recommend it. It is the first work of Dostoyevsky that I've read, and my impression is that it is not nearly his best work. However, I am glad that I read it, and I'll definitely read more Dostoyevsky in the future.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bookish Trends I'd Like To See More (or Less) Of

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because they are particularly fond of lists at The Broke and the Bookish. They love to share their lists with other bookish folks and LOVE to see your top ten lists!

Each week they post a new Top Ten list complete with one of their bloggers answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND sign Mister Linky at the bottom to share with all those who are participating. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Don't worry if you can't come up with ten every time...just post what you can!


1.  AUDIOBOOKS - Perhaps the single most effective means I've found to significantly increase my annual reading total, not to mention the fact that an appropriately dramatic audio presentation makes for a rockin' reading (er...listening) experience.

2.  BETTER (AND/OR PRIVATE) LIBRARIES - I get so discouraged when I go into a library anticipating that it will be fab, and am assaulted with the paltry and dismal selection of books.  I'm a library girl, especially when it comes to audiobooks, and it makes me so sad when a big city or county has an (apparently) minuscule library budget, and makes a (seemingly) pathetic effort to make their libraries desirable places to be.  Then there's the disrepair of the books, and draconian fines (I effort to improve the bottom line).  Maybe it would be better to have private libraries, run by those who love the business of books, designed for those who love books, marketed in attractive & inventive ways.  I'd be there so often I'd need a chair with my name on it.

3.  USED BOOK STORES - There is no better type of bookstore in the world.  I love, l-o-v-e, LOVE the look, the smell, and feel of a used bookstore, full of books that have been read and loved by others.  Not only can I buy more of the books I love, but the selection is insane.  AND there is marginalia, which I love.  How fun to read a great book, and see notes from a previous reader who loved & appreciated it like I do.  Sometimes the notes reiterate my own thoughts, and sometimes they expand my understanding in a whole new way.  You can't find that in a retail book store.  Long live McKay's, Powell's, Half Price Books, and so many other brilliant places to find my favorite "legible leftovers."

4.  AUTHORS LIKE MARK TWAIN, STIEG LARSSON, PAT CONROY, TONI MORRISON, FLANNERY O'CONNOR, KATHRYN STOCKETT...  Wouldn't the reading world be improved many times over if most of the authors were of the talent and brilliance of these authors?  I'm so hard pressed to find a bad book (or idea) by these authors, and it is gratifying to know that every time I pick up one of their books, I will be satisfied to the end of the story and sorry to leave the pages and move on.

5.  EBOOKS - I do, in fact, much prefer the look and feel of a well made trade paperback.  I love seeing margin notes or a folded down page.  I love the ease of passing it along to some other bookish type when I'm finished.  BUT...I favor anything (anything) that gets (and keeps) people reading.  If it's digital readers, daily email excerpts, digitized copies to print, it doesn't matter, because reading is good.  Really good! 

6.  BOOK CLUBS / GROUPS - More people talking about books they have read, recommending books they have read, pressing some tome they ADORE into your hands and begging you to read it, discussing the myriad ideas and themes and controversies of great literature.  Sounds like a little bit of heaven on earth to me. 


7.  SERIES - Well, I suppose I should qualify and say that fewer series in the vein of a formula that is used over and over and over with little variation.  This is so common in adolescent / young adult fiction, romance writing and detective / mystery series.  I don't mind a formula that works, if it is used inventively and the author strives to avoid predictability.  But for heaven's sake...lazy writing drives me nuts.

8.  TERRIBLE WRITING - I'm not just referring to bad story lines here.  Grammar mistakes and spelling mistakes are incredibly distracting, and even if the story line has a reasonable chance of working, to be a grammar & spelling nimrod is tantamount to heresy for my seasoned reading eyes.  Use a dictionary...a (good) editor...spell check...grammar check.  Study & learn!  Don't be lazy...and for God's sake, proofread!!

9.  BOOKS BASED ON MOVIES / TV SERIES - Really, have authors completely run out of ideas?  Is there so little left to write about that books must be made from movies or tv?  It's bad enough that movies and tv regurgitate ideas over and over, but now we have to waste time, money & materials to print this trash?

10. BOOK COVERS PICTURING THE MOVIE/TV CAST - I don't know about you, but I HATE buying books that have the cast of characters from the movie or tv adaptation pictured on the cover.  Part of my love of reading includes my imaginative renderings of characters, scenes, places, etc. etc. that are all part of the story.  To have those elements rendered for me (and sometimes none too well) is highly annoying, and I do, in fact, shun those books in favor of the original covers.  Here's a note to publishers...STOP IT!  It sucks!!

There's my ten...what are yours?