Monthly Archives: January 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; The Submission by Amy Waldman; Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

I’ve had Gone Girl in my e-Reader for nearly a year; I’ve been saving it up as I heard it was such a great book.

Mmmmmm. It’s certainly fun to read, and it gallops along with lots of fun twists and turns, but is it great, exactly? Maybe it wasn’t fair to read it on the heels of Hilary Mantel’s book. John Grisham has great plots too, but once you’ve read it, you’re not going to read it again because you know what happens. That’s kind of how I felt about Gone Girl. Might make a great movie, but is it a great novel? I certainly won’t be reading it again and am kind of annoyed that I didn’t get it from the library. I think Grisham is a good comparison. The Pelican Brief is a good movie, no?

I like plot; I like speed, too. But I also like thoughtful writing and good language. I’m not saying that Gone Girl isn’t thoughtful, it’s just one-dimensional and didn’t give me the satisfaction of a brilliantly-written novel. So, fun to read but not what I was expecting given all the hoo-hah that’s been going on around this book. Plus, the characters are really hateful so there’s nobody to root for. You finish and think, Oh, for God’s sake.

The Submission by Amy Waldman deals with the jury selection of anonymously-submitted proposals for a 9/11 memorial. The winner turns out to be Muslim – nominally so, as he is an American-born architect who is very secular – but you can imagine. This is very well done. The characters are complex and real, the plot just unfolds naturally, uncontrived, and the writing is sharp. The idea is brilliant and I bet parts of this just wrote itself. (Ooo, I deserve the smack Amy Waldman would want to give me for that. Sorry! It’s a compliment!) It’s kind of depressing, of course. The anti-Muslim hysteria after 9/11 was not pretty and this book really reminds you of that time when people lost their minds and turned into bigots. All of a sudden you can see how the Holocaust happened, and how witch trials happened. Something weird happens to some people. Logic just flies right out the window, and takes with it compassion. Sad. Waldman does a good job with a character who is one of these people who use bigotry in the service of their grief, their anger. The Submission also reminded me of that documentary about the Dixie Chicks, Shut Up And Sing, after they made an antiwar statement and people went nuts. Do people forget what democracy is? Apparently they do and this book is a good reminder of that sad fact.

Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy began with A Discoverie of Witches and the second installment is called Shadow of Night. I borrowed Discoverie from the library this fall and enjoyed it well enough to download the second instalment. It’s well-researched, well-written, and if you liked the Twilight series and the Outlander series (Diana Gabaldon’s time-traveler books), you’ll like this. I liked both, particularly Outlander, I’m liking this, but it is what it is. I actually think Outlander is a better series (until the sixth book; my sister read them all one after the other and she abandoned the last book: “Ah, I’m starting to hate these people.”) and this is sort of Outlander with magic bells on. It’s fun.

The next book will hit a little heavier, I’m ready for it. I’ve got Jared Diamond’s new book, The World Until Yesterday, I have Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies, and another G.J. Meyer book called A World Undone, which is about the First World War, I believe. But Alan Bradley also has a new book out and I downloaded it immediately. I don’t know if I can keep back from that one. His books, if you haven’t read them already (and if not why not?) are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

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Deep in the 16th Century…..The Tudors by G.J. Meyer and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Also Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child

I’m only just coming up for air after a week of immersion in 16th-century England. I’ve been glutting on books while on vacation. It’s making me a dull dinner partner as I’m either reading or sitting with glazed eyes meditating on what I’ve read, and I can’t wait to get back to my books (e-Reader). It’s such a luxury to be able to read for hours at a time; this fall and winter have been so busy I haven’t been able to post on things I’ve read; and the reading I’ve done has been of the fits-and-starts kind, a few snatched minutes here and there. Not satisfying. But a week in Tudor England with two brilliant writers? Heaven. Add in 25 degree weather, sunshine, palm trees and the fact that the kids are old enough to play without hawklike supervision? I know, such decadence. I’ve been hoarding books in my e-Reader and finally, finally, I’m diving in.

G.J. Meyer’s The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty is a wonderful piece of research and writing on everyone’s favourite dynasty. I’ve read many books on this period of history and this book is one of the very best I’ve read. Full of insights and thought-provoking observations, G.J. Meyer has given me a whole new way to view this family. It’s interesting that popular culture has decided to present the Tudors in a specific way – we have certain accepted images of Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth I, but Meyer’s book looks critically at these images and now I do too. Chiefly, the idea that Elizabeth was a peace-loving monarch who cared about her people. Propaganda! She was nearly as bloodthirsty as her father, and that’s saying something. I’ve always thought that the reason Elizabeth was reluctant to execute Mary Queen of Scots was because a) she didn’t want to kill her own cousin, and b) she didn’t want to set a precedent of executing an anointed sovereign. B) is closer to the reason that Meyer gives, that with Mary gone, there would be little reason for the Protestants to keep her, Elizabeth, on the throne, and Elizabeth’s aim was to survive and to maintain the status quo. She was always struggling between two opposing religious camps; the Protestants and the Catholics. Her version of the church was one that apparently only she believed in, so she was forced to maintain a balancing act between the two opposing forces. Conversely, Mary (known as Bloody Mary) was not as savage as we’ve thought. Why? Read the book. It’s a big mouthful but tasty, chewy, and totally worthwhile.

Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to her wonderful Wolf Hall, continues the story of Thomas Cromwell as he copes with Henry VIII’s disappointment with Anne Boleyn and his desire to be shed of her and to marry Jane Seymour. Cromwell is another incredibly fascinating historical character and it is great fun to see this episode through his eyes. Mantel’s characterization of Cromwell is complex, thorough, and you can’t help respecting him. In fact, I adored him. I’m worried that Mantel’s next book with deal with his downfall over Anne of Cleves.

I took a deep breath, then I selected Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child from my Reader list: an icy plunge into the wilderness of early 20th-century Alaska – the contrast of the realistic setting with the fairytale storyline is captivating. What happens with a mature childless couple, having gone to Alaska to start new lives, make a snow child, then find a real little girl who flits back and forth between them and the forest? Is she a real child, orphaned, or is she a supernatural being? A beautifully retold fairy tale. I finished it in a day, holding my breath the whole time. Exquisite. Wonderful.

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