Posts Tagged ‘love’

This is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read this year. Little Bee has a new home in my top 10 list. I won’t give a synopsis, but I will say that you MUST read this book.

But it’s not the story that makes this novel great (although the story in itself is good enough to accomplish that). It’s how the story is told that is captivating. The structure of the novel is important in the tale. And that’s all that I will say about it.

Cleave is a master of the English language. He employs metaphors so powerful they will change the way that you view our world. His writing is not flowery, it does not waste paper or ink, and it does not get lost in itself. Cleave’s writing is concise and enticing.

This book will probably be the best novel you read this year and it’s only his second novel. Cleave is a writer to follow.

Cleave’s website: http://www.chriscleave.com/

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Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife was a national bestseller and was made into a major motion picture. A friend’s comment on facebook inspired me to purchase Niffenegger’s debut novel before seeing the flick on my 37″ flatscreen at home. The friend had posted a comment about how the movie was disappointing after reading the book, and now I’m not sure I want to see the movie. There were few moments in reading The Time Traveler’s Wife that I didn’t feel like closing the book and picking up the Cormack McCarthy novel Suttree instead.

So lets start with the good. The plot was a novel idea. Heh. Pun intended. Henry, the c0-main-character, has chrono-placement disorder CPD, aka he time travels and he has no control over it. The book is written generally chronologically in time, Clare’s time, from the first time she (at six) meets her future husband, to her at 82 years old. Nifennegger jumps about a bit, to give the reader a sense of Henry’s disorienting experience of life. It’s a new way of telling a story, so that was good.

Unfortunately, Niffenegger, lacks a few essential skills as a writer. Hopefully this novel isn’t the best idea she’s thought of, because her prose is lackluster. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few beautiful moments, but they were overshadowed by her poor understanding of metaphor. There was one metaphor that stood out as deeply egregious in my mind. Henry takes his daughter(s) out for ice cream and states that they eat their banana splits like vacuums. Metaphors are very visual usage of words, so lets zoom in and have a look of what a vacuum eating a banana split would look like. Oh, vacuums don’t eat. Good point. And most vacuums don’t suck liquid either. So really it would just mash the banana and ice cream into the carpet making a giant sticky mess. So children often make messes when they eat, but the point is–it was a bad metaphor, and the book is loaded with them.

Additionally Niffenegger doesn’t seem to mind relying on the cliché. Clare has heard things a gazillion times. I wonder, mathematically, how much of your life would be spent listening to the same thing in order to hear it a gazillion times. These phrases generalize rather than painting a clear picture of what’s happened. Maybe she actually heard it ten times and was feeling frustrated with the repetition. Niffenegger could be more suave with her word choice and metaphors.

Finally, and most importantly to me, Clare and Henry both speak with the same voice. Sometimes I would have to search around to figure out who was speaking to me. At least the sections are labeled as to who is speaking, but they still both speak with the same voice. Working in first person is not easy, but every person thinks differently, and since much of The Time Traveler’s Wife is in thought it seems natural that Henry and Clare should have different thought processes and different tones, different voices.

All in all, if I’d picked this book up when I wasn’t on vacation I probably wouldn’t have expended the energy to finish it. The story itself is excellent, but Niffenegger’s execution isn’t.

The Quiet American is a vibrant novel about love, obsession, murder, redemption, politics, and war. Graham Green was an English writer and the protagonist (Thomas Fowler) is naturally English. The Quiet American was not originally well received in the US because it was perceived as demonizing the American presence in Vietnam. But today it is recognized for beautiful prose and different approach to structure than is typical of a novel.

The structure of the Quiet American is fascinating because it operates like a flashback, except that the majority of the novel is a flashback. Thus the present experiences are like a flashpresent if there were a term for this structure; the tense flashes from the past into the present rather than from the present into the past. This structure is fascinating because the audience already knows the plot, they know Pyle has been murdered, and it quickly becomes clear who is responsible for his death. We even know the motivation, but Graham has used his structure of time and setting in such a way that it feels confessionary.

The entire novel is told through Fowler’s memory. This technique is intriguing partially because fiction-writing books always warn developing writers to use the flashback sparingly. The feeling of movement is created by Greene’s usage of short sections that each comprises a memory. While the time of the novel elapses over a couple of years it feels like Fowlers’s musings occur in a single evening.

Each section is a complete scene. Either the cast of characters or the setting changed entirely in each section. On a structural level this helps keep the pace moving quickly, but it also gives a rich landscape for the novel. By giving us so many memories we witness an apartment, a government facility, a spiritual church, a rice patty, a watchtower, the home of a Vietnamese family, a city street, a restaurant, a scene of mass death, bombings, a club, an opium den, and a brothel (I may have forgotten a couple of places). This myriad of settings gives a realistic glimpse of the life of an expatriate during the Vietnam War.

The only scene that was repeated was the first and second to last chapters in which Pyle and Phuong meet outside his room the night of Pyle’s death. Even though this scene is repeated it is told differently so that it is more of a reminder of the first chapter than a repeat, and it is only a small section of the first chapter. The repetition of this section could mean that Phuong and their relationship is the most important part of the story for Fowler. This statement does not indicate that this novel is a love story; Fowler’s obsession with Phuong might be better categorized as a concern for his loss of stature and pride, and a fight over a woman who he considered as a possession rather than as a human he had deep sentimental connection with. But that is really for the reader to decide.

I highly recomend taking the time to read this beautifully written novel!

Graham Green as told by Wikipedia

The English Translation, “Philosopher or Dog?,” was originally written in Portuguese under the title “Quincas Borbas.” This Portuguese title is perhaps more applicable to the narrative; at the least it does not lead the reader to believe the dog is in any way a philosopher, nor does it suggest that the dog plays a vital role in the novel. The dog’s name is Quincas Borbas, named after it’s original owner Quincas Borbas who was a philosopher. I can only speculate that the English translation title was a simple question in the translator’s mind: did the original title, Quincas Borbas, refer to the philosopher or the dog? Don’t make the same mistake I did, looking for the dog to have any importance in the novel whatsoever. It was a character that was really inconsequential to the narrative.

Although this novel was written more than a hundred years ago, the prose is fresh and interesting. The narrator is occasionally intrusive, and the point of view changes often. This is a fabulous technique because it allows the reader to see differing viewpoints. For example, the reader knows that Rubaio is in love with the beautiful, sophisticated (and married) Sophia, but we might have read the entire novel believing it was mutual if Rubiao’s voice had spoken to us alone. This technique allows the reader to watch the protagonist’s mental decline through the vision of his social climbing leach-like friends.

De Assis did a fabulous job displaying love in the fashion they would have found enchanting in “Love an the Time of Cholera.” His use of chapter breaks is interesting, and I might reread this novel at some point to try to understand what de Assis was attempting. Sometimes a day or several months elapse between chapters, but sometimes they break up a scene. And finally, the end was odd. After also having read Gogol’s “The Overcoat” and Flaubert’s “A Simple Heart” recently, I’m not sure what to make of the ending of this novel. At the same time, I don’t want to give any spoilers. If you love literature, then I recommend reading Philosopher or Dog?. He is considered one of the greatest classic writers in Brazil [thanks Melissa, for noting my mistake in writing Portugal], and his work is assigned for almost every schoolchild. Unfortunately, not all of his work has been translated into English.

Purdue’s link about de Assis

NYT Article on de Assis

This is an absolutely beautiful novel! A story of humanity, of choices and consequences, of love and family,  and of grief all rendered in elegant prose. Not only is this story unforgettable, but it deserves a second read. Bravo!