Wednesday, May 20, 2009

65. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen

June 2007
History: It was written about the years 1798-1799. It was revised by Austen for the press in 1803, and sold in the same year for £10 to a London bookseller, Crosby & Co., who decided against publishing. The bookseller was content to sell it back to the novelist's brother, Henry Austen, for the exact sum that he had paid for it at the beginning, not knowing that the writer was already the author of four popular novels. The novel was further revised before being brought out posthumously in late December 1817
Plot: The story's heroine, seventeen year old Catherine Morland, is invited by her neighbours in Fullerton, the Allens, to accompany them to visit Bath for a number of weeks. While, initially, the excitement of experiencing such a place was dampened by her lack of other acquaintances, she is soon introduced to an intriguing young gentleman named Henry Tilney, with whom she dances and converses. She does not see him again for a few days however, though her attention was quickly taken upon meeting a young lady named Isabella Thorpe. Isabella tries to make a match between Catherine and her brother John. Catherine is not interested in this, and tries to maintain her friendships with both the Thorpes and the Tilneys. John Thorpe continually tries to sabotage her relationship with the Tilneys, which leads to many misunderstandings.
Meanwhile, Isabella becomes engaged to Catherine's brother James, though Isabella is dissatisfied that James is not as rich as she had previously thought. At a ball, when James is away, she meets Henry's older brother, Captain Tilney, who is dashing and charming; Isabella and Captain Tilney immediately start flirting. Innocent Catherine cannot understand her friend's behavior, but Henry understands it all too well. The flirtation continues even when James returns.
The Tilneys (Henry, his sister Eleanor, and their father General Tilney) invite Catherine to stay with them for a few weeks at their home, Northanger Abbey. Catherine, who has read too many Gothic novels, expects the abbey to be large and somewhat frightening, and Henry encourages her fears in order to tease her. Her first night there is very stormy; she discovers mysterious manuscripts in her bedroom, and her candle suddenly goes out. The next morning, she reads the papers and discovers they are only laundry lists. She is disappointed that Northanger Abbey is pleasant and positively un-Gothic. However, there is a mysterious suite of rooms that no one ever goes into: Catherine learns that they were Mrs. Tilney's, who died nine years earlier. Catherine, with her overactive imagination, decides that since General Tilney does not seem affected by his wife's death now, he must have been indifferent or perhaps hostile to her. Perhaps he murdered her. Or she may still be alive and imprisoned in the house.
Catherine persuades Eleanor to show her Mrs. Tilney's rooms, when General Tilney suddenly appears. Catherine flees, sure that she will be punished. Later, Catherine sneaks back to Mrs. Tilney's rooms, but is startled by Henry, who is passing in the corridor. Panicked, she admits her speculations about his father. He is horrified but, surprisingly gently, corrects her wild notions. She leaves crying, fearing that Henry will want nothing to do with her. James informs Catherine, via letter, that he has been deceived by Isabella, and that he broke off their engagement because she flirted with Captain Tilney. The Tilneys are shocked; Catherine is disenchanted with Isabella. Catherine passes several more enjoyable days with the Tilneys; the General goes off to London and Eleanor becomes even more fun. One night, he returns abruptly, and Eleanor tells Catherine that the whole family has an engagement that prevents Catherine from staying any longer. Catherine must go home early the next morning, in a shocking and inhospitable move.
At home, Catherine is unhappy. Several days later, Henry visits her and explains what happened. General Tilney was enchanted with Catherine and wished her to marry Henry, but only because John Thorpe (who was infatuated with Catherine at the time) had misinfomed him that Catherine was an heiress. In London, he ran into Thorpe again, who, disappointed with Catherine, said instead that she was nearly destitute. He returned home to kick Catherine out. Henry says that he still wants to marry Catherine despite his father's disapproval. Eventually, General Tilney acquiesces, because Eleanor has become engaged to a wealthy and titled man, and he discovers that the Morlands, while not extremely rich, are far from destitute.
Review: This was my first introduction to Jane Austen, and I was very disappointed. Having heard so much about this author, I expected to enjoy it more. I found the story line ridiculous, her descriptions silly, and mostly really boring stuff. There are some Austen fans who just think her writing is the best, I find it trivial and silly.
Opening Line: “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her to be a heroine.”
Closing Line: “To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well; and professing myself, moreover, convinced that the General’s unjust interference, so far being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled to whomsoever it concern, whether the tendency of the this work to be altogether to recommend parental tyranny or reward filial disobedience.”
Quotes: “Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”
Rating: Poor and boring.

64. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

June 2007
History: When Rebecca was first published in 1938, du Maurier became – to her great surprise – one of the most popular authors of the day. Rebecca is considered to be one of her best works. Some observers have noted parallels with Jane Eyre. Much of the novel was written while she was staying in Alexandria, Egypt, where her husband was posted at the time. However, it did not receive critical acclaim
Plot: While working as the companion to a rich American woman vacationing on the French Riviera, she becomes involved with a wealthy Englishman, Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter. After a fortnight of courtship, she agrees to marry him, and after the marriage, accompanies him to his mansion, the beautiful West Country estate, Manderley.
Only upon their arrival at Manderley does the new bride realize how difficult it will be to lay to rest the memory of her husband's first wife, Rebecca. Rebecca is understood to have drowned in a sailing accident off the coast next to the mansion a year before, but her memory has a strong hold on the estate and all of its inhabitants and visitors, especially its domineering housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, one of literature's most infamous female villains.
Mrs Danvers, who was profoundly devoted to Rebecca, tries to undermine the second Mrs de Winter, suggesting to her that she will never attain the urbanity and charm that Rebecca possessed. Whenever Mrs de Winter attempts changes at Manderley, Mrs Danvers points out how Rebecca ran Manderley when she was alive. Each time Mrs Danvers does this, she implies that the new Mrs de Winter is lacking in experience and knowledge and understanding of the complexities of the management of such an important estate such as Manderley. The second Mrs de Winter is cowed by Mrs Danvers imposing manner and complies with the housekeeper's suggestions.
Lacking self-confidence and overwhelmed by her new life, the protagonist commits one faux pas after another, until she is convinced that Maxim regrets his impetuous decision to marry her and is still deeply in love with the seemingly perfect Rebecca. The climax occurs at Manderley's annual costume ball. Mrs Danvers manipulates the protagonist into wearing a costume replica of one of the former inhabitants of the estate--the same costume worn by Rebecca to much acclaim the previous year, shortly before her death. In the early morning hours after the ball, the storm that had been building over the estate leads to a shipwreck. A diver investigating the condition of the wrecked ship's hull discovers the remains of Rebecca's boat. It is just prior to this shipwreck that Mrs Danvers reveals her contempt for and dislike of the second Mrs de Winter. Taking the second Mrs de Winter on a tour of Rebecca's bedroom, her wardrobe and luxurious possessions, which Mrs Danvers has kept intact and a shrine to Rebecca, she encourages the second Mrs De Winter to commit suicide by jumping out of an upstairs window, but is thwarted at the last moment by the disturbance created by the shipwreck.
The revelations from the shipwreck lead Maxim to confess the truth to the second Mrs de Winter; how the willful and adulterous Rebecca taunted him with a series of love affairs and suggested that she was pregnant with another man's child. Maxim, truly hating her, shot her and disposed of her body on her boat, which he sank at sea. The narrator is relieved to hear that Maxim did not love Rebecca.
Rebecca's boat is raised and it is discovered that holes had been deliberately drilled in the bottom which would have caused it to sink. There is an inquest and despite it not being clear who drilled the holes, a verdict of suicide is brought. However Rebecca's cousin (and also, apparently, her lover) Jack Favell appears on the scene claiming to have proof that Rebecca could not have intended suicide. Jack attempts to blackmail Maxim because he believes that Maxim killed Rebecca and then sank the boat.
Rebecca, it is revealed, had an appointment with a doctor shortly before her death, presumably to confirm her pregnancy. When the doctor is found he reveals instead that Rebecca had been suffering from cancer, and would have died within a few months. Moreover she could never have become pregnant. The implication is that, knowing she was going to die, Rebecca lied to Maxim that she had been impregnated by another man, because she wanted Maxim to kill her (thus her death could indeed be considered a form of suicide). Before returning to Manderley, Maxim and his bride hear that Mrs Danvers has disappeared. Maxim feels a great sense of foreboding and insists on driving through the night to return to Manderley. However, before they come in sight of the house, it is clear from a glow on the horizon and wind-borne ashes that it is ablaze.
It is evident at the beginning of the novel that Maxim and the second Mrs de Winter now live in some foreign exile. The events recounted in the book are in essence a flashback of the narrator's life at Manderley.
The given name of the second Mrs de Winter is not revealed in the novel. However, in chapter 3, after she receives a note from Maxim, she says how her name was "spelt correctly, an unusual thing", which implies that her name is either strange or complex. Early in the story, Mr. de Winter compliments her on her "lovely and unusual name".
Review: Captivating is perhaps the best one-word description for the book. It opens with one of the most well-known lines in fiction “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” It ends with ashes and salt. In between, the reader follows the narrator into Maxim de Winter’s second marriage. A marriage that is inextricably hooked into the line of his first marriage and is sinking quickly. The narrator struggles to understand her situation and to learn all she can about Max’s first marriage and his dead wife Rebecca.
While the narrator struggles to untangle the web around Rebecca’s life and death, she makes observations about the nature of reality and perception. “This moment was safe though, this could not be touched. Here we sat together, Maxim and I, hand-in-hand, and the past and the future mattered not at all. This was secure, this funny little fragment of time he would never remember, never think about again…For them it was just after lunch, quarter-past-three on a haphazard afternoon, like any hour, like any day. They did not want to hold it close, imprisoned and secure, as I did. They were not afraid.”
Opening Line: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
Closing Line: “And before us, long as the skein of wool I wind, stretches the vista of an afternoon.”
Quotes: “Why don't you go? Why don't you leave Manderley? He doesn't need you. He's got his memories. He doesn't love you. He wants to be alone again with her. You've nothing to stay for. You've nothing to live for really, have you? Look down there. It's easy, isn't it? Why don't you? Why don't you? Go on. Go on. Don't be afraid!”
Rating: Excellent.

63. Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

June 2007
History: Published in 1998. The social rules at the time were certainly a major constraint. As we see in the book, servants who wish to get married and have children immediately find themselves without a job, since married life is seen as incompatible with total devotion to one's master. A truly "great butler" does not abandon his profession, and, as such, Stevens feels that such choices are foolish in regards to the life of a butler.
Plot: The novel The Remains of the Day tells the story of Stevens, an English butler who dedicates his life to the loyal service of Lord Darlington. The novel begins with Stevens receiving a letter from an ex colleague called Miss Kenton, describing her married life, which he believes hints at her unhappy marriage. The receipt of the letter allows Stevens the opportunity to revisit this once-cherished relationship, if only under the guise of possible re-employment. Stevens' new employer, a wealthy American, Mr Farraday, encourages Stevens to borrow a car to take a well-earned break, a "motoring trip." As he sets out, Stevens has the opportunity to reflect on his unmoving loyalty to Lord Darlington, the meaning of the term "dignity", and even his relationship with his father. Ultimately Stevens is forced to ponder the true nature of his relationship with Miss Kenton. As the book progresses, increasing evidence of Miss Kenton's one-time love for Stevens, and his for her, is revealed.
Working together during the years leading up to the Second World War, Stevens and Miss Kenton fail to admit their true feelings. All of their recollected conversations show a professional friendship, which came close, but never dared, to cross the line to romance.
Miss Kenton, it later emerges, has been married for over 20 years and therefore is no longer Miss Kenton but has become Mrs Benn. She admits to occasionally wondering what her life with Stevens might have been like, has come to love her husband, and is looking forward to the birth of their first grandchild. Stevens muses over lost opportunities, both with Miss Kenton and with his long-time employer, Lord Darlington. At the end of the novel, Stevens instead focuses on the "remains of [his] day", referring to his future service with Mr Farraday.
Review: This is 1950's England as seen through the eyes of Stevens, one of the last remaining true butlers, who lives only to do his duty, to serve his master and humanity in the hope of preserving justice throughout the world. But as Stevens undertakes a journey to the West Country that ultimately becomes a journey into his past we realize, as does he himself, that his view of the world is strangely double-edged, blurred by a shiny veneer of self-deception. Slowly a sterile, duty-bound life of missed opportunities and stifled emotions arises as Stevens prepares to face his old age.
Opening Line: “It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.”
Closing Line: “I should hope then, that by the time of my employer’s return, I shall be in a position to pleasantly surprise him.”
Quotes: “I am able to recall numerous occasions when the silver at Darlington Hall had a pleasing impact on observers.”
Rating: Good

62. God Bless You Mr. Rosewater – Kurt Vonnegut

June 2007
History: Published in 1965.
Plot: Founded originally to help Rosewater descendants avoid paying taxes on the family estate by Eliot's father, a senator in Rosewater County, Indiana, the Rosewater Foundation is operated by a large legal firm in New York and provides an annual pension of $3 million to Eliot. Eliot had been seen as restless early on trying all the typical things that philanthropists do to help the poor, but he eventually sets out across America, going from small town to small town before landing in the city of Rosewater, Indiana and setting up shop. He calls Rosewater home after becoming a volunteer firefighter in numerous cities across the U.S. This fact, along with his drunkenness, his generous relationship with the poor in Rosewater, and his odd relationship with his French wife make him appear a bit crazy. A conniving lawyer by the name of Mushari has set out to prove him insane so he can collect a portion of the Rosewater fortune for himself during the transfer of it to the unwitting distant cousins in Rhode Island.
The novel is told mostly through a collection of short stories dealing with Eliot's interactions with the citizens of Rosewater County, usually with the last sentence serving as a punch line. The antagonist's tale - Mushari's - is told in a similar short essay fashion. These stories usually reveal different hypocrisies of mankind in a very dark and humorous fashion.
Review: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is a quick and entertaining read that cleverly pokes fun at capitalism and greed while being fun all the way through. Eliot Rosewater is a fat slob. His family has recently inherited a large sum of money ($87,472,033.61 to be exact). What makes this book so funny is that Eliot Rosewater is sort of a moron as well as a mediocrity. That he ends up with 57 illegitimate children at the end is beside the point, but the character goes to such extremes to make up for the guilt he feels from having accidentally killed three innocent fire fighters during WWII that his “goodness” borders on insane.
Opening Line: “A sum of money is a leading character in this tale about people, just as the sum of honey might be properly a leading character in a tale about bees.”
Closing Line: “And tell them,” He began again, “To be fruitful and multiply.”
Quotes: "Pretend to be good always,
and even God will be fooled."
Rating: Good but not his best.

61. Amsterdam – Ian McEwan

May 2007
History: Published in 1998.
Plot: The book begins with the funeral of Molly Lane. Clive, a composer, and Vernon, the editor of a large newspaper, are old friends, both of whom had had affairs with Molly. Also, Julian Garmony, an important political figure, right wing conservalist who is going to challenge the leadership in the upcoming election, is there. Her husband George has become more distinguished, having taken care of her prior to her death, even though she didn’t treat him well during the marriage. All four has a very high opinion of himself, and still competing against eachother even after her death.
Clive and Vernon muse upon Molly's death. It seems she had some kind of rapid-onset brain disease (not specified) that left her helpless and mad. Her death causes them to think about their own mortality, and this makes them enter into a euthanasia pact with each other. Should either of them get as sick and helpless as Molly the other one will take him to Amsterdam, where euthanasia is allowed, and end his life there.
Clive returns home to continue work on his symphony. He has been commissioned to write a piece for the forthcoming millennium and much of the work is complete, all save the crucial signature melody. He is planning a trip to the Lake District, because hiking will inspire him to finish the piece.
Vernon is the editor of a newspaper whose readership is falling. He is trying to change the content of the paper to be more sensationalist, to sell more papers. George, Molly's husband, gives him a golden opportunity: He gave to Vernon pictures of Julian Garmony dressed up like a woman, that Molly had photographed, so that Vernon could publish them in the paper and ruin his career. Clive doesn’t think he should publish the pictures, and the two argue furiously about the moral responsibility of the act. Clive is still upset about this when he leaves for his trip.
However, Clive faces a difficult moral decision himself. When going for a walk in the Lake District, he witnesses a man (who is a serial rapist however Clive thinks it is just a marital dispute) attacking a woman during his moment of inspiration, but instead of helping her, he crouches unseen beside a rock and writes his music. He leaves the Lake District that night, and returns home to finish his piece.
Vernon calls Clive to apoligize, and Clive tells him about seeing the attack, but refuses to go to the police. Vernon threatens to report him. With the newspaper publishing the story that Garmony is a cross dresser (but not the pictures, waiting until the end of the week so the papers will sell), Vernon is enjoying applause from his colleagues because the sales are so high. But Garmony’s family is forced to appear in the press. Apparently Mrs. Garmony has known that her husband is a cross dresser and defends him well to the public, and shows the pictures on an interview, blowing the paper’s big finale. Vernon is suddenly depicted as a despicable person, while Garmony is glorified, and he is forced to resign from the paper.
Clive is called to the police station to see a line up, and he recognizes the rapist in a line up. He then has to leave for Amsterdam, to be there when the orchestra rehearses his piece. Vernon calls and invites himself to go. Apparently the two are planning to poison each other, which they do with the help of euthanasia teams. The ending is when George and Julian are in Amsterdam to bring the two bodies home. The composition was a dud, with the crucial ending copied from “Ode to Joy.”
Review: The characters -- a free-spirited classical composer, an on-the-ropes editor, a rich publisher, and a conservative foreign secretary ripe for a fall -- are linked by the death of the lover they share and the subsequent discovery of potentially damaging photographs. Everyone's a sinner, but when comeuppance is served, it's too harsh and implausible, turning McEwan's otherwise finely crafted novel into a morality tale with a distorted moral. I think the ending is the most puzzling, because there is no real reason for the two to kill each other.
Opening Line: “The two former lovers of Molly Lane stood waiting outside the crematorium chapel with their backs to the February chill.”
Closing Line: “He smiled, and as he raised his hand to touch the doorbell, his mind was already settling luxuriously on the fascinating matter of the guest list.”
Quotes: “He was trying to call it back, but his concentration was being broken by another voice, the insistent, interior voice of self-justification: whatever it might have involved – violence, or the threat of violence, or his embarrassed apologies, or, ultimately, a statement to the police- if he had approached the couple, a pivotal moment in his career would have been destroyed.”
Rating: Good

Sunday, May 17, 2009

60. Candide – Voltaire

May 2007
History: Published in 1759. A number of deadly historical events inspired Voltaire to write Candide, most notably the Seven Years' War and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The earthquake had an especially large effect on the contemporary doctrine of optimism, a philosophical system which implies that such events should not occur. Optimism says all is for the best because God is a benevolent deity. Voltaire actively rejected Leibnizian optimism after the natural disaster, convinced that if this were the best possible world, it should surely be better than it is. Immediately after the earthquake, unreliable rumours circulated around Europe, sometimes overestimating the severity of the event.
Plot: All is well in the Baron's castle, until Cunégonde accidentally sees Pangloss sexually engaged with Paquette in some bushes. Encouraged by this show of affection, Cunégonde drops her handkerchief next to Candide which entices him to kiss her. For this infraction, Candide is evicted from the castle, at which point he is captured by Bulgar recruiters and coerced into military service. For attempted desertion, Candide is flogged and nearly executed, before being forced to engage in a large battle between the Bulgars and the Abares (French). Candide successfully escapes the army and makes his way to Holland where he is given aid by Jacques, an Anabaptist, who strengthens Candide's faith in optimism. Soon after, Candide finds his master Pangloss, now a beggar with syphilis. Pangloss reveals he was infected with this disease by Paquette and shocks Candide by relating how Castle Thunder-ten-Tronckh was destroyed by Bulgars, and that Cunégonde and her whole family were killed. Pangloss is cured of his illness by Jacques, losing one eye and one ear in the process, and the three set sail to Lisbon. However, at the end of their journey, they are overtaken by a vicious storm which destroys the boat. The only survivors are Pangloss, Candide, and a "brutish sailor". Shortly after these three set foot in Lisbon, the city is hit by an earthquake, tsunami and fire which kill tens of thousands.
In the wake of the destruction, Candide and Pangloss are arrested by the Portuguese Inquisition for their uncommon philosophy, and set to be punished in an "auto-da-fé", a ceremony designed to eliminate heretics, appease God and prevent another disaster. Candide is flogged again and sees Pangloss hanged, but another earthquake follows. Candide is then approached by an old woman who leads Candide to a house where Lady Cunégonde waits, alive, to relate her story: after Bulgars raided the baron's castle, killed her family, and attacked her, Cunégonde was rescued by a captain who, in turn, sold her to a Jewish merchant and banker, Don Issachar. When Candide finds Cunégonde, her ownership is shared by this Don Issachar and a Grand Inquisitor, each possessing the girl on alternate days of the week. Having heard this story, Candide kills both the Jew and the Inquisitor, then escapes with Cunégonde and the old woman to Cádiz.
Cunégonde falls into self-pity, complaining of all the misfortunes that have befallen her. The old woman reciprocates by revealing her own tragic life, which has included having a buttock cut off in order to feed some starving men.
Leaving Cádiz, the trio embarks for the port at Buenos Aires. There, Governor Don Fernando de Ibaraa y Figueora y Mascarenes y Lampurdos y Sousa, asks to marry Cunégonde. Just then, an alcaide (a Portugese fortress commander) arrives in Buenos Aires pursuing Candide for killing the Grand Inquisitor. Candide escapes to Paraguay by following the advice of his practical and heretofore unmentioned manservant Cacambo. At a border post on the way to Paraguay, Cacambo and Candide speak to the commandant, who turns out to be Cunégonde's brother (who is not named). This brother explains how he was saved by Jesuits and came to be there. The character of this brother is likely based on Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia, with whom Voltaire corresponded. When Candide proclaims he intends to marry Cunégonde, the brother is enraged and strikes Candide with the flat of his sword. Candide then apparently kills him, steals his robe and flees with Cacambo.
Candide and Cacambo wander into El Dorado, a geographically isolated utopia where the streets are covered with precious stones, there exist no priests, and all of the king's jokes are funny. Candide and Cacambo stay a month in El Dorado, but Candide is still in pain without Cunégonde, and expresses to the king his wish to leave. The king points out that this is a foolish idea, but generously helps them do so. The pair continue their journey, now accompanied by one hundred red pack sheep carrying provisions and incredible sums of money, which are slowly lost and stolen. Candide and Cacambo find a slave on the road to Surinam who is missing an arm and leg. Candide and Cacambo, taking pity on the slave, help him to reach Surinam. This reflects Voltaire's hatred of slavery, a revolutionary concept in his time. Candide and Cacambo reach Suriname, where they split up: Cacambo travels to Buenos Aires to retrieve Lady Cunégonde, and Candide travels to Venice to await his arrival, finding a ship to take him to Bordeaux. Feeling in need of companionship he interviews a number of local men who have been through various ill-fortunes and settles on a man named Martin.
This companion, Martin, discusses Pangloss's philosophy with Candide and reveals that he himself is a Manichean scholar from Amsterdam. The character of Martin is based on the real-life pessimist Pierre Bayle, who is a chief opponent of Leibniz. For the remainder of the voyage, Martin and Candide argue about philosophy, Candide still being an optimist at heart since it is all he knows. Just before docking in England they witness the execution of a British naval officer on the charge of not killing enough of the enemy. Horrified, Candide refuses to even set foot on British soil.
In Venice, Candide and Martin meet Paquette, the chambermaid who infected Pangloss with his syphilis. She is now a prostitute, and is spending her time with a monk, Brother Giroflée. Although both appear happy on the surface, they reveal their despair: Paquette has led a miserable existence as a sexual object, and the monk detests the religious order in which he was indoctrinated.
Candide and Martin even visit the wealthy nobleman Signor Pococurante (meaning "taking little care" in Italian) in his palace. This man is surrounded by beautiful girls, wonderful paintings, books and music which greatly impress Candide. Pococurante, however, is unimpressed with it all: he finds no pleasure in anything, for he sees only faults. In the twenty-seventh chapter, Candide, Martin, and Cacambo are on board a ship to Constantinople, on which Cacambo relates Cunégonde's status: she is washing dishes for a prince of Transylvania, and has become ugly. On the way to rescue her, Candide finds Pangloss and Lady Cunégonde's brother rowing in the galley. Candide buys their freedom and further passage at steep prices. The travellers arrive in Transylvania where they rejoin Cunégonde and the old woman. Cunégonde has indeed become hideously ugly but Candide nevertheless buys their freedom and marries Cunégonde to spite her brother. Paquette and Brother Giroflée, too, are reconciled with Candide on a farm which he just bought, his only property remaining.
Returning to their farm, Candide, Pangloss, and Martin meet a Turk whose philosophy is to devote his life only to simple work and not concern himself with external affairs. He and his four children work a small farm to keep "free of three great evils: boredom, vice and necessity". Candide, Pangloss, Martin, Cunégonde, Paquette, the old woman, and Brother Giroflée all set to work (on this "louable dessein", or "commendable plan", as the narrator calls it), each to one specific task. Candide ignores Pangloss's insistence that all turned out for the best by necessity, and he is resolved only that "we must cultivate our garden".
Review: "Candide" moves forward with the frenetic pace of a comic book adventure. With his twisted brand of humor, Voltaire subjects Candide to tortures that are at once cruel and hilarious. Voltaire also uses his novella to make snide remarks about his personal enemies.
Opening Line: “In the country of Westphalia, in the castle of the most noble Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, lived a youth whom Nature had endowed with a most sweet disposition.”
Closing Line: “Excellently observed,” answered Candide, “but we must cultivate our garden.”
Quotes: "'[I]s there not pleasure in criticizing, in finding faults where other men think they see beauty?' 'That is to say,' answered Martin, 'that there is pleasure in not being pleased.'"
Rating: Mediocre.

59. The Handmaids Tale – Margaret Atwood

May 2007
History: Published in 1985.
Plot: This is a dystopian novel, in which a nightmare future is created. The Handmaid's Tale takes place in the Republic of Gilead, a country formed within the borders of what was originally the United States of America after nuclear, biological, and chemical pollution rendered a large portion of the population sterile and a staged terrorist attack killed the President and Congress. After the attack, a revolution occurred which deposed the United States government and abolished the US Constitution. New theocratic governments, including the Republic of Gilead, were formed under the rule of a military dictatorship. The story is told from the point of view of a woman called Offred, who is kept by the ruling class as a concubine ("handmaid") for reproductive purposes shortly after the beginning of what is called in the epilogue the Gilead period. The story's narrative is disjointed and out of order and ends abruptly, which is revealed at the end to be caused by its supposedly having been narrated onto a series of unnumbered audio tapes.
Review: A ''forecast'' of what we may have in store for us in the quite near future. A standoff will have been achieved vis-a-vis the Russians, and our own country will be ruled by right-wingers and religious fundamentalists, with males restored to the traditional role of warriors and us females to our ''place'' - which, however, will have undergone subdivision into separate sectors, of wives, breeders, servants and so forth, each clothed in the appropriate uniform. A fresh postfeminist approach to future shock, you might say. Yet the book just does not tell me what there is in our present mores that I ought to watch out for unless I want the United States of America to become a slave state something like the Republic of Gilead whose outlines are here sketched out.
Opening Line: “We slept in what once had been the gymnasium.”
Closing Line: “He says, “I didn’t.””
Quotes: "Live in the present, make the most of it, it's all you've got."
"It was like being in an elevator cut loose at the top. Falling, falling, and not knowing when you will hit.
Rating: Good.

58. The Body Artist – Don Delillo

May 2007
History: Written in 2001. Some critics consider it to reflect elements of Zen. The basic plot of this book is a woman tries to heal from the death of her husband using nontraditional methods.
Plot: The plot of the novel -- and it is only just abstractedly plotted -- follows a woman (a body artist) in her secluded existence as she deals with the suicide of her husband. It seems simple enough, a very human condition. As the novel progresses, we are given little snippets of her and her husband's lives together. Some warm. Some biting. Just enough to piece together a little of their way of being together, just enough so that we understand what, precisely, his absence means to her.
Then enters the magical. A man. A man whose existence (or nonexistence) is never really explained, and who encapsulates the embodiment of the unreal within the novel. The woman discovers him in a room of her house, as though he had been there all along. And it makes sense to her almost immediately that he must have been there all this time. The man himself is child-like, and mysterious. He speaks, but never original speech, only re-enacts past conversations between the woman and her husband. This man is the magic of The Body Artist. He is the soul of the unreal within the novel.
Review: A short book about a woman grieving for her husband, who takes her mind elsewhere… twists her body into different positions as an art form.
It’s one of those novels that makes it hard to tell what is going on. I found that there wasn’t much going on at all. Another book about how the living deal with the dead, I guess.
Opening Line: “Time seems to pass.”
Closing Line: “Because how petty it would be to say such a thing, in the morning or at any time, on a strong bright day after a storm.”
Quotes: "He said, "The word for moonlight is moonlight.""
Rating: Mediocre.

57. Choke – Chuck Palahniuk

May 2007
History: Published in 2001, much of Palahniuk’s research on Choke was conducted with total strangers at the gym and sexual addiction groups
Plot: This book follows Victor Mancini and his friend Denny through a few months of their lives with frequent flashbacks to the days when Victor was a child. Victor grew up while going from one foster home to another. Victor's mother was found to be unfit to raise Victor. Several times throughout his childhood, his mother would kidnap him from his various foster parents. They would eventually be caught and he would again be remanded over to the government child welfare agency.
In the present day setting of the book, Victor is now a man in his mid-twenties who left medical school in order to find work to support his feeble mother who is now in a nursing home. He cannot afford the care that his mother is receiving so he resorts to being a con man. He consistently goes to various restaurants and purposely causes himself to choke mid-way through his meal, luring a "good Samaritan" into saving his life. He keeps a detailed list of everyone who saves him and sends them frequent letters about fictional bills he is unable to pay. The people feel so sorry for him that they send him cards and letters asking him about how he's doing and even continue to send him money to help him with the bills.
While growing up, Victor's mother taught him numerous conspiracy theories and obscure medical facts which both confused and frightened him. This and his constant moves from one home to another have left Victor unable to form lasting and stable relationships with women. Victor therefore finds himself getting sexual gratification from women in sexual addiction support groups.
Review: Choke is just the simple story of a pathetic man, Victor Mancini, who�s addicted to sex: hand jobs, simulated rape, objects inserted into the anus, and of course, good old-fashioned intercourse. Our society likes to believe that sex should be used only as a tool for procreation and/or for bringing two people who love each other closer together. Choke shows us the gritty truth; Largely unerotic, the paint-by-numbers act of sex seems to drive Victor away from women instead of bringing him closer to them, and vice versa.
Opening Line: “If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.”
Closing Line: “Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.”
Quotes: “Here in your mind you have complete privacy. Here there's no difference between what is and what could be.”
‘It's pathetic how we can't live with the things we can't understand. How we need everything labeled and explained and deconstructed.’
Rating: Mediocre.

56. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

May 2007
History: the only published novel written by Oscar Wilde, first appearing as the lead story in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine on 20 June 1890. The amended version was published by in April 1891. The Picture of Dorian Gray is considered one of the last works of classic gothic horror fiction. It deals with the artistic movement of the decadents, and homosexuality, both of which caused some controversy when the book was first published. However, in recent times, the book has been regarded as one of the modern classics of Western literature
Plot: The novel begins with Lord Henry Wotton, observing the artist Basil Hallward painting the portrait of a very handsome young man named Dorian Gray. Dorian arrives later, meeting Wotton. After hearing Lord Henry's world view, Dorian begins to think that beauty is the only worthwhile aspect of life, and the only thing left to pursue. He wishes that the portrait of himself, which Basil is painting, would grow old in his place. Under the influence of Lord Henry, Dorian begins an exploration of his senses. He discovers an actress, Sibyl Vane, who performs Shakespeare in a dingy theatre. Dorian approaches her, and soon proposes marriage. Sibyl, who refers to him as "Prince Charming," rushes home to tell her skeptical mother and brother. Her protective brother, James, tells her that if "Prince Charming" ever harms her, he will kill him.
Dorian then invites Basil and Lord Henry to see Sibyl perform in Romeo and Juliet. Sibyl, suddenly loses her acting abilities through the experience of true love with Dorian, and performs very badly. Dorian rejects her, saying that her beauty was in her art, and if she could no longer act, he was no longer interested in her. When he returns home, Dorian notices that Basil's portrait of him has changed. After examining the painting, Dorian realizes that his wish has come true - the portrait's expression now bears a subtle sneer, and will age with each sin he commits, while his own outward appearance remains unchanged. He decides to reconcile with Sibyl, but Lord Henry arrives in the morning to say that Sibyl has killed herself by swallowing prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide). Over the next eighteen years, Dorian experiments with every vice, mostly under the influence of a "poisonous" French novel, a present from Lord Henry. One night, before he leaves for Paris, Basil arrives to question Dorian about the rumours of his indulgences. Dorian does not deny his debauchery. He takes Basil to the portrait, which is revealed to have become as hideous as Dorian's sins. In a fit of anger, Dorian blames the artist for his fate, and stabs Basil to death. He then blackmails an old friend named Alan Campbell, who is a chemist, into destroying Basil's body. Wishing to escape his crime, Dorian travels to an opium den. James Vane is nearby, and hears someone refer to Dorian as "Prince Charming." He follows Dorian outside and attempts to shoot him, but he is deceived when Dorian asks James to look at him in the light, saying that he is too young to have been involved with Sibyl eighteen years ago. James releases Dorian, but is approached by a woman from the opium den, who chastises him for not killing Dorian and tells him that Dorian has not aged for the past eighteen years.
While at dinner one night, Dorian sees Sibyl Vane's brother stalking the grounds and fears for his life. However, during a game-shooting party a few days later, a lurking James is accidentally shot and killed by one of the hunters. At his apartment, Dorian wonders if the portrait has begun to change back, losing its senile, sinful appearance, now that he has changed his immoral ways. He unveils the portrait to find that it has become worse. Seeing this, he begins to question the motives behind his act of "mercy," whether it was merely vanity, curiosity, or the quest for new emotional excess. Deciding that only a full confession would truly absolve him, but lacking any feelings of guilt and fearing the consequences, he decides to destroy the last vestige of his conscience. In a fit of rage, he picks up the knife that killed Basil Hallward, and plunges it into the painting. His servants hear a cry from inside the locked room and send for the police. They find Dorian's body, stabbed in the heart and suddenly aged, withered and horrible, beside the portrait, which has reverted to its original form; it is only through the rings on his hand that the corpse can be identified.
Review: I listened to this book. It is a thought-provoking novel that vacillates between ambling, seemingly directionless conversation and a riveting narrative thread that eventually bubbles up to the surface with the intensity of a volcanic eruption.
Opening Line: “The studio was filled with the rich odor of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amongst the trees of the garden, there came through the door the heavy scent of the lilac, or more the delicate perfume of the pink flowering thorn.”
Closing Line: “It was not till they examined the rings that they recognized who it was.”
Quotes: " . . . there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."
"Young men want to be faithful, and are not; old men want to be faithless, and cannot . . . "
Rating: Mediocre

Saturday, May 16, 2009

55. Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe

May 2007
History: Published in 1722. Defoe wrote this after his work as a journalist and pamphleteer. By 1722, Defoe had become recognised as a novelist, with the success of Robinson Crusoe in 1719. His political work was tapering off at this point, due to the fall of both Whig and Tory party leaders with whom he had been associated. Defoe's Whig views are nevertheless evident in the story of Moll. The true title reveals the entire plot… "The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest and died a Penitent.”
Plot: Moll's mother is a convict in Newgate Prison who is given a reprieve by "pleading her belly", a reference to the custom of staying the executions of pregnant criminals. Her mother is eventually transported to America and Moll Flanders (which is not her birth name) is raised until adolescence by a good foster mother, and then gets attached to a household as a servant where she is loved by both sons. The elder son convinces her to "act like they were married" in bed, but eventually unwilling to marry her he convinces Moll to marry the younger brother. She then is widowed, leaves her children to the care of in-laws, and begins honing the skill of passing herself off as a fortuned widow to attract a man who will marry her and provide her with security.
The first time she does this, her husband goes bankrupt and flees to the Continent leaving her on her own with his blessing to do the best she can and forget him. The second time, she makes a match that leads her to Virginia with a kind and good man who introduces her to his mother. After two children, Moll learns that her mother-in-law is actually her biological mother, which means her husband is her half-brother. She dissolves their marriage and travels back to England, leaving her two children behind, and goes to live in Bath to seek a new husband.
Again she returns to her con skills and develops a relationship with a man in Bath whose wife is elsewhere confined due to insanity. Their friendship is at first platonic but eventually develops into Moll becoming something of a "kept woman" in London. These two truly fall in love and have a son, but after a severe illness he repents, breaks off the arrangement and commits to his wife.
Moll, now 42, resorts to another beau, a banker, who is still married to an adulterous wife but proposes to her after she entrusts her with her money. While waiting for the banker to divorce his wife Moll pretends to have a great fortune in order to attract another wealthy husband. She becomes involved with some Roman Catholics in Lancashire that try to convert her and she marries one of them, supposedly a rich man. She soon realises he expected to receive a great dowry which she denies having, which leads him to admit that he has cheated her into marriage, lying about having money, which he does not possess. He is in fact a ruined gentleman and discharges her from the marriage but still says she should inherit any money he might ever get. Although now pregnant again, Moll lets the banker believe she is available, hoping her husband returns. Moll's boy is born when the banker's wife commits suicide following the divorce, and she leaves it in the hand of a countrywoman for the sum of £5 a year. Moll marries the banker now, but realises: “what an abominable creature am I! and how is this innocent gentleman going to be abused by me!” She also dislikes being married in an inn at night by the landlord who is also a minister, an hour after she agreed to marry at all. But he dies in financial ruin after five years, when Moll had two more children by him.
Truly desperate now, she begins a career of artful thievery, which, by employing her wits, beauty, charm, and feminity, as well as hard-heartedness and wickedness, brings her the financial security she always sought. Only here, she takes the name of Moll Flanders and is known by it. On the downside, she is even robbing a family in their burning house, then a lover she becomes a mistress to, and is later sent to Newgate Prison. Here, she is led to her repentance. At the same time, she reunites with her soul-mate, her "Lancashire husband", who is also jailed for his robberies (before and after they first met, he acknowledges). She is found guilty of felony, but not burglary, the second accusation; still, the sentence is death anyway. But she convinces a minister of her repentance, and with her Lancashire husband is sent to the Colonies to avoid hanging, and happily are together. Once in the colonies, she learns her mother has left her a plantation and her own son (she had by her brother) is alive, as is her brother (husband).
She carefully introduces herself to her brother and their son, in disguise. With the help of a Quaker, the two found a farm with 50 servants in Maryland. She reveals herself now to her son in Virginia and he gives her her mothers’ inheritance, a farm he will now be her steward for, providing £100 a year for her. In turn, she makes him her heir and gives him a (stolen) golden watch.
At last, her life of conniving and desperation seems to be over. She tells her (Lancashire) husband when her (brother) husband is dead, the entire story, and he is “perfectly easy on that account”. “For, said he, it was no fault of yours, nor of his; it was a mistake impossible to be prevented”. Aged 69 (in 1683), they return to England to live “in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived”.
Review: Set in the 18th century English society, the subject matter of the novel is marriage and the battle of the sexes. In the 18th century, it was not possible for a lady to get a husband without being in possession of landed property or other forms of property. Women were responsible for the payment of their dowry. For this reason, Moll needs to have cash, bonds or landed property in order to get married. Since she is not rich, she pretends to men that she has money so that she can seduce them. But she soon discovers that the men too are all pretenders like she. She is a wife five times and a thief twelve years. There is so much similarity between 18th century English society depicted in the novel and the contemporary times.
One of the themes of the novel is feminism and the place of woman in the society. Defoe tries to argue a case for the women in the society. Moll Flanders represents women who are opposed in the society.
Fate also plays very important role in the novel. Arguably, Moll would have avoided most of her criminal tendencies but for fate.
Defoe also seems to use the novel to criticize the penile system in England. Newgate has become a breeding camp for criminality. The prisoners suffer a great deal and for this reason, they are more hardened rather than being reformed. A place that supposes to be a place of moral regeneration has become a place of moral laxity. Moll Flanders is therefore a subtle critic of the justice system in England.
Another theme in Moll Flanders is love as a cheat. Marriage supposesto be based on love rather than material possession. But love has become the last thing to consider when it comes to the issue of marriage. Moll has to consider the men’s financial capability before considering them for marriage. It is a worse crime to go into marriage without love. Money may give security but not happiness. Sex may give pleasure but not happiness.
Moll Flanders also seems to show that human nature is cyclical. Extreme circumstances demand extreme measures. It could be argued that it is extreme circumstances that make Moll commit the worse crimes in the novel. But all the same, Defoe uses this picaresque as a piece of moral treatise with a high degree of dedication to exhort people to be moral.
Opening Line: “ My true name is so well known in the records or registers at Newgate, and in the Old Bailey, and there are some things of such consequence still depending there, relating to my particular conduct, that it is not be expected I should set my name or the account of my family to this work; perhaps, after my death, it may be better known; at present it would not be known; at present it would not be proper, no not though a general pardon should be issued, even without exceptions and reserves of persons or crimes. “
Closing Line: My husband remained there some time after me to settle our affairs, and at first I intended to go back to him, but at this desire I altered that resolution, and he is come over to England also, where we resolve to spend the remainder of our lives in sincere penitence for the wicked lives we have lived.
Quotes: “ and principally his disturbance was because I could not be persuaded to conceal our relation and live with him as my husband, after I knew he was my brother..”
Rating: mediocre

54. The Little Prince – Attoine de Saint Exupery

April 2007
History: Published in 1943, it is ostensibly a children's book, but the book makes several profound and idealistic points about life and human nature. On December 30, 1935 Saint-Exupéry, along with his navigator André Prévot, crashed in the Libyan Sahara desert en route to Saigon. Both of them had survived the crash, but they were then faced with rapid dehydration in the Sahara. Lost in the desert with a few grapes, a single orange, and some wine, the duo had only one day's worth of liquids. Both men began to see mirages, which were quickly followed by more vivid hallucinations. Sometime between the second and the third day, the two were so dehydrated that they stopped sweating altogether. Finally, on the fourth day, a Bedouin on a camel discovered them and administered native dehydration treatment that saved Saint-Exupéry and Prévot's lives.
In the desert, Saint-Exupéry had met a fennec (desert sand fox), which had most likely inspired him to create the fox character in the book. In a 1918 letter that he had written to his sister Didi from Cape Juby, he tells her about raising a fennec that he adored.
Plot: The home asteroid or "planet" of the Little Prince is introduced. His asteroid (planet) is house-sized and named, B612, which has three volcanoes (two active, and one dormant) and a rose among various other objects. The Prince spends his days caring for his "planet", pulling out the baobab trees that are constantly trying to take root there. The trees will make his little planet turn to dust if they are not removed. Throughout the book he is taught to be patient and to do hard work to keep his "planet" in order. The prince falls in love with the rose, who returns his love but is unable to express it. He leaves to see what the rest of the universe is like, and visits six other asteroids (numbered from 325 to 330) each of which is inhabited by an adult who is foolish in his own way. "So then the seventh planet was the Earth". On the Earth, he starts out in the desert and meets a snake that claims to have the power to return him to his home planet The Prince meets a desert-flower, who, having seen a caravan pass by, tells him that there are only a handful of men on earth and that they have no roots, which lets the wind blow them around making life hard on them. The little prince climbs the highest mountain he has ever seen. From the top of the mountain, he hopes he will see the whole planet and find people, but he sees only a desolate, craggy landscape. When the prince calls out, his echo answers him, and he mistakes it for the voices of humans. He thinks Earth is unnecessarily sharp and hard, and he finds it odd that the people of Earth only repeat what he says to them.
Eventually, the Prince comes upon a whole row of rosebushes, and is downcast because he thought that his rose was the only one in the whole universe. He begins to feel that he is not a great prince at all, as his planet contains only three tiny volcanoes and a flower he now thinks of as common. He lies down in the grass and weeps. Prince then meets and tames a fox, who explains to the Prince that his rose is unique and special, because she is the one that he loves. He also explains that in a way he has tamed the flower, as it has tamed him, and that this is why he now feels responsible for it. The Prince then meets a railway switchman and a merchant who provide further comments on the ridiculousness and absurdity of much of the human condition The switchman tells the Prince how passengers constantly rush from one place to another aboard trains, never satisfied with where they are and not knowing what they are after, only the children amongst them bothering to look out of the windows. The merchant tells the Prince about his product, a pill which eliminates thirst and is therefore very popular, saving people fifty-one minutes a week; the Prince replies that he would use the time to walk and find fresh water.
The narrator's point of view changes again from third person to first person. The narrator is dying of thirst, but then he and the Prince find a well. After some thought, the Prince bids an emotional farewell to the narrator, explaining to him that while it will look as though he has died, he has not, but rather that his body is too heavy to take with him to his planet. He tells the narrator that it was wrong of the narrator to come and watch, as it will make him sad. The Prince allows the snake to bite him and the next morning, when the narrator looks for the Prince, he finds the boy's body has disappeared. The story ends with a portrait of the landscape where the meeting of the Prince and the narrator took place and where the snake took the Prince's life. The picture is deliberately vague but the narrator also makes a plea that anyone encountering a strange child in that area who refuses to answer questions should contact the narrator immediately.
The Little Prince is represented as having been on Earth for one year, and the narrator ends the story six years after he is rescued from the desert.
Review: Saint Exupery's classic tale can be read on many levels and enjoyed by readers of any age. He tells the story of being stranded in the desert and meeting a tiny blond boy. This Little Prince proceeds to tell of his travels from planet to planet until he arrived on Earth and of what he has learned along the way. The most important thing he reveals is a secret that was taught him by a fox that he tamed. Regardless of whether you read the story as simply a delightful children's fable or read it as an existential or a Christian myth, or read it multiple times and find a different meaning each time, it is endlessly rewarding and quite beautiful.
Opening Line: “Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest.”
Closing Line: “And no grown-up will ever understand that this is a matter of so much importance!”
Quotes: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye."
"It is the time you have spent with your rose that makes your rose so important."
Rating: Okay

Friday, May 15, 2009

53. A Room with a View – E.M. Forster

April 2007
History: Published in 1908. The main themes of this novel include repressed sexuality, freedom from institutional religion, growing up and true love. It is written in the third person omniscient, though particular passages are often seen "through the eyes" of a specific character. A Room with a View is Forster's most romantic and optimistic book. He utilizes many of his trademark techniques, including contrasts between "round" and "flat" characters. "Round" characters are those whose ideas and inner-self develop or change in the plot, whereas "flat" characters remain constant. Published in 1908, the novel touches upon many issues surrounding society and politics in early 20th century Edwardian culture. Forster differentiates between conservative and radical thinking.
Plot: The first part of the novel is set in Florence, Italy, and describes a young Englishwoman's confusion over her feelings for an Englishman staying at the same hotel. Lucy Honeychurch is touring Italy with her overbearing older cousin and chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett, and the novel opens with their complaints about the hotel,'The Pension Bertolini'. Their primary concern is that although a "room with a view" has been promised to each of them, their rooms instead look over a courtyard. A Mr Emerson interrupts their "peevish wrangling", offering to swap rooms as he and his son, George Emerson, look over the Arno. Without letting Lucy speak, Miss Bartlett refuses the offer, looking down on the Emersons because of their unconventional behaviour and thinking it would place her under an "unseemly obligation" towards them. However, another guest at the pension, an Anglican clergyman named Mr Beebe, persuades the pair to accept the offer, assuring Miss Bartlett that Mr Emerson only meant to be kind. Although their manners are awkward and they are deemed socially unacceptable by the other guests, Lucy likes them and continues to run into them in Florence. One afternoon Lucy witnesses a murder in Florence. George Emerson happens to be nearby and catches her when she faints. As they make their way back to the hotel, they have an intimate conversation. After this, Lucy decides to avoid George, partly because she is confused by her feelings and partly to keep her cousin happy. However, when a party made up of Beebe, Eager, the Emersons, Miss Lavish, Miss Bartlett and Lucy Honeychurch drive to Fiesole, Lucy and George accidentally meet alone on a hillside. George is overcome by Lucy's beauty among the violets and kisses her, but they are interrupted by Lucy's cousin, who is outraged. Lucy promises Miss Bartlett that she will not tell her mother of the "insult" George has paid her because Miss Bartlett fears she will be blamed. The two women leave for Rome the next day before Lucy is able to say goodbye to George.
In Rome, Lucy spends time with Cecil Vyse, whom she knew in England. Cecil proposes to Lucy twice in Italy; she rejects him both times. As Part Two begins, Lucy has returned to Surrey, England to her family home, Windy Corner. Cecil proposes yet again at Windy Corner, and this time she accepts. Cecil is a sophisticated and "superior" Londoner who is desirable in terms of rank and class, even though he despises country society; he is also somewhat of a comic figure in the novel, as he gives himself airs and is quite pretentious.
The vicar, Mr. Beebe, announces that new tenants have leased a local cottage; the new arrivals turn out to be the Emersons, who have been told of the available cottage at a chance meeting with Cecil, who brings them to the village as a comeuppance to the cottage's landlord, whom Cecil thinks to be a snob. Fate takes an ironic turn as Lucy's brother Freddy, befriends George and invites him to play tennis one Sunday at Windy Corner. Although Lucy is initially mortified at the thought of facing both George and Cecil (who is also visiting Windy Corner that Sunday), she resolves to be gracious. Cecil annoys everyone by reading aloud from a light romance novel that contains a scene suspiciously reminiscent of when George kissed Lucy in Florence. George catches Lucy alone in the garden and kisses her again. Lucy realizes that the novel is by Miss Lavish (the writer-acquaintance from Florence) and that Charlotte must thus have told her about the kiss.
Furious with Charlotte for betraying her secret, Lucy forces her cousin to watch as she tells George to leave and never return. George argues with her, saying that Cecil only sees her as an "object for the shelf" and will never love her enough to grant her independence, while George loves her for who she is. Lucy is moved but remains firm. Later that evening, after Cecil again rudely declines to play tennis, Lucy sours on Cecil and immediately breaks off her engagement. She decides to flee to Greece with acquaintances from her trip to Florence, but shortly before her departure she accidentally encounters Mr. Emerson. He is not aware that Lucy has broken her engagement with Cecil, and Lucy cannot lie to the old man. Mr. Emerson forces Lucy to admit out loud that she has been in love with his son George all along.
The novel ends in Florence, where George and Lucy have eloped without her mother's consent. Although Lucy "had alienated Windy Corner, perhaps for ever," the story ends with the promise of lifelong love for both her and George.
Review: This book might be a little bit disappointing if you expect stories that are complex and elaborate, because compared to some of the later works written by E.M. Forster, A Room With a View is a lighter, and a simpler novel. Despite its simple plot line, rich metaphors and symbols enhance the book and Forster’s wits and sarcasms are truly entertaining.
Opening Line: “The Signora had no business to do it,” said Miss Bartlett, “No business at all.”
Closing Line: “The song died away; they heard the river, bearing down the snows of winter to the Mediterranean.”
Quotes: It is fate, but call it Italy if it pleases you, Vicar.
Miss Katherine Allen: “Why, whatever's the matter with Miss Lucy?”
Reverend Beeb: “I put it down to too much Beethoven.”
Rating: Very Good

52. Siddhartha – Herman Hesse

April 2007
History: It was first published in 1922, after Hesse had spent some time in India in the 1910s. The word Siddhartha is made up of two words in the Sanskrit language, siddha (achieved) + artha (meaning or wealth). The two words together mean "one who has found meaning (of existence)" or "he who has attained his goals". The Buddha's name, before his renunciation, was Prince Siddhartha Gautama, later the Buddha. In this book, the Buddha is referred to as "Gotama".
Plot: The story takes place in ancient India likely between the fifth and seventh centuries. It starts as Siddhartha, the son of a Brahmin, leaves his home to join the ascetics with his companion Govinda. The two set out in the search of enlightenment. Siddhartha goes through a series of changes and realizations as he attempts to achieve this goal.
Experience is the aggregate of conscious events experienced by a human in life – it connotes participation, learning and perhaps knowledge. Understanding is comprehension and internalization. In Hesse’s novel Siddhartha, experience is shown as the best way to approach understanding of reality and attain enlightenment – Hesse’s crafting of Siddhartha’s journey shows that understanding is attained not through scholastic, mind-dependent methods, nor through immersing oneself in the carnal pleasures of the world and the accompanying pain of samsara; however, it is the totality of these experiences that allow Siddhartha to attain understanding.
Thus, the individual events are meaningless when considered by themselves—Siddhartha’s stay with the samanas and his immersion in the worlds of love and business do not lead to nirvana, yet they cannot be considered distractions, for every action and event that is undertaken and happens to Siddhartha helps him to achieve understanding. The sum of these events is thus experience.
The novel ends with Siddhartha being a ferryman, talking to the river, talking to stones, at long last at peace and capturing the essence of his journey:
Review: Siddhartha makes no real sacrifice in his quest for wisdom. He chooses his path and runs roughshod over the lives of those around him. When his son unexpectedly appears, the Ferryman tells him to let his son go (which he does) because his son will not be happy raised by two old men by the river. Never for a moment does Siddhartha consider giving up his Ferryman existence and moving back into the town to raise his son. He doesn’t even really care about his son FOR his son. He spends most of the time worrying about his own bruised heart caused by the son’s rejection of his “love.”
The book teaches you some important lessons about the spiritual journey of life, that life is a deep spring, a fathomless ocean of identity. It is your soul that is the ultimate illusion that is there in you but you are aware of its demanding presence. You are seeking the ultimate goal of Nirvana, an illusion itself, without realizing that Nirvana rests in human mind. When human mind breaks the shackles of time and sentiment, it reaches the ultimate, all powerful entity that dwells inside it.
Opening Line: “In the shade of the house, in the sunshine on the river bank by the boats, in the shade of the sallow wood and the fig tree, Siddhartha, the handsome Brahmin’s son, grew up with his friend Govinda.”
Closing Line: “He bowed low, right down to the ground, in front of the man sitting there motionless, whose smile reminded him of everything that he had ever loved in his life, of everything that had ever been of value and holy in his life.”
Quotes: "When all the Self was conquered and dead, when all passions and desires were silent, then the last must awaken, the innermost of Being that is no longer Self - the great secret!"
Rating; Okay

51. White Teeth – Zadie Smith

April 2007.
History: Published in 2000. It is the author's debut novel.
Plot: It's New Year's Day 1975 at the beginning of the novel, and we are introduced to Archie Jones, a 47 year old man whose disturbed Italian wife has just walked out on him. Archie is attempting to commit suicide by gassing himself in his car, nonetheless, a chance interruption causes him to change his mind. Filled with a fresh enthusiasm for life, Archie flips a coin and finds his way into the aftermath of a New Year's Eve party. There he meets the much-younger Clara, a Jamaican girl whose mother is a devout Jehovah's Witness. They are soon married to each other and have a daughter, Irie, who grows up to be intelligent but with low self-confidence.
Samad, on the other hand, who has emigrated to Britain after World War II, has married Alsana. Alsana is also much younger than he is, and their union is the product of a traditional arranged marriage, instead of one based on idealistic romance or personal choice. They have twin boys, Magid and Millat, who are the same age as Irie. The marriage is quite rocky, as their devotion to Islam in an English life is troublesome. Samad is continually tormented by what he sees as the effects of this cultural conflict upon his own moral character, and sends 10 year old Magid to Bangladesh in the hope that he will grow up properly under the teachings of Islam. From then on, the lives of the two boys follow very different paths. Ironically, Magid becomes an atheist and devotes his life to science (a grave disappointment to Samad). Whereas Millat, despite his earlier womanizing and drinking, eventually becomes an angry fundamentalist, and part of a Muslim brotherhood known as the Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation (or KEVIN).
The lives of the Jones and Iqbal families intertwine with that of the Chalfens, a Jewish-Catholic family of Oxford educated intellectuals. The father, Marcus Chalfen, is a brilliant but socially inept geneticist working on a controversial 'FutureMouse' project. The mother, Joyce Chalfen, is a part time housewife with an often entirely misguided desire to mother and 'heal' Millat. Although they wish to be thought of as intellectual liberals, the Chalfens often demonstrate complete cultural ignorance and a blindness to the changes happening in their own family.
Later on in the story, Clara's mother, a strict Jehovah's Witness, also becomes involved along with Clara's ex-boyfriend when Irie runs away from home.
Returned from Bangladesh, Magid works as Marcus' research assistant, while Millat is also befriended by the Chalfens. To some extent the family provides a safe haven as they (believe to) accept and understand the turbulent lives of both Magid and Millat. However this sympathy comes at the expense of their own son, Josh, whose own difficulties are ignored by his parents as he too begins to rebel against his background.
The strands of the narrative grow closer as Millat and KEVIN, Josh and a radical animal rights group (FATE), and Clara's mother (Hortense) and her religious connections all begin to oppose FutureMouse as an evil interference with their own beliefs and plan to stop it. Irie, who has been working for Marcus, briefly succeeds in her long hidden attraction to Millat but is rejected under his KEVIN inspired beliefs. Irie believes that Millat cannot love her, for he has always been 'the second son' both symbolically and literally; Millat was born two minutes after Magid. After losing her virginity to Millat, she makes Magid the 'second son' for a change by sleeping with him right after. This causes her to become pregnant but is unsure who the father is because they are identical twins.
Extraordinary consequences result as the seemingly divergent stories of the main characters coalesce in a stunning finale- the unveiling of FutureMouse, the revelatory actions of the warring groups, and of a long kept secret from the past of Samad and Archie.
Review: There’s imperialism, race, immigration, sexuality, genetics, teenage angst, religion and pretty much everything else including the meaning of life. This is, of course, an extreme example of cultural differences but even when the differences are slight, the characters still battle to reach mutual understanding with no seeming basis on which to do so. This very accurately, I feel, reflects the moral marsh in the UK at the moment with the result that it is becoming increasingly difficult to actually say what you personally believe any more.
White Teeth is an important novel then, because it captures the mindset of the generation and, although I didn’t enjoy reading it, it did give me insight into the shifting tides of moral confusion that most of my contemporaries are subject too.
Opening Line: “Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway.”
Closing Line: “Go on my son! thought Archie.”
Quotes: “Our children will be born of our accidents. Our accidents will become their destinies.”
Rating: Very Good.

50. The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

March 2007
History: Published in 1951. In 1960, a teacher was fired, and later reinstated, for assigning the novel in class. Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States. The book is written as if Holden were speaking out loud, like a transcription of him telling the story to another person.
Plot: The first-person narrative follows Holden's experiences in New York City in the days following his expulsion from Pencey Prep, a fictional college preparatory school in Pennsylvania.
Holden shares encounters he has had with students and faculty of Pencey, whom he criticizes as being superficial, or as he would say, "phony." After being expelled from the school, Holden packs up and leaves the school in the middle of the night after an altercation with his roommate. He takes a train to New York, but does not want to return to his family's apartment immediately, and instead checks into the derelict Edmont Hotel. There, he spends an evening dancing with three tourist girls and has a clumsy encounter with a prostitute; he refuses to do anything with her and tells her to leave, although he pays her for her time. She demands more money than was originally agreed upon and when Holden refuses to pay he is struck by her pimp.
Holden spends a total of two days in the city, characterized largely by drunkenness and loneliness. At one point he ends up at a museum, where he contrasts his life with the statues of Eskimos on display. For as long as he can remember, the statues have been fixed and unchanging. It is clear to the reader, if not to Holden, that the teenager is afraid and nervous about the process of change and growing up. These concerns may largely have stemmed from the death of his brother, Allie. Eventually, he sneaks into his parents' apartment while they are away, to visit his younger sister Phoebe, who is nearly the only person with whom he seems to be able to communicate. Holden shares a fantasy he has been thinking about he pictures himself as the sole guardian of numerous children running and playing in a huge rye field on the edge of a cliff. His job is to catch the children if they wander close to the brink; to be a "catcher in the rye".
After leaving his parents' apartment, Holden then drops by to see his old English teacher, Mr. Antolini in the middle of the night, and is offered advice on life and a place to sleep. During the speech on life, Mr. Antolini has a number of "highballs," an alcoholic drink popular at the time. His comfort is upset when he wakes up in the night to find Mr. Antolini patting his head in a way that he perceives as "perverty." There is much speculation on whether or not Mr. Antolini was making a sexual advance on Holden, and it is left widely up to the reader whether or not this is true. Holden leaves and spends his last afternoon wandering the city. He later wonders if his interpretation of Mr. Antolini's actions was correct.
Holden intends to move out west, and relays these plans to his sister, who decides she wants to go with him. He refuses to take her, and when she becomes upset with him, he tells her that he himself will no longer go. Holden then takes Phoebe to the Central Park Zoo, where he watches with a melancholy joy as she rides a carousel. At the close of the book, Holden decides not to mention much about the present day, finding it inconsequential. He alludes to "getting sick" and living in a mental hospital, and mentions that he'll be attending another school in September. Holden says that he has found himself missing Stradlater, Ackley, and the others--warning the reader that the same thing could happen to them.
Review: The storyline is remarkably intriguing and is exceptionally simple. The reason for this book's success, in my opinion, is the way the story is told. Since the story happens to be so common (adolescent escapades) Salinger had to make the book standout in his own way. His formula for success in this case was speaking in a truly original dialect. The slang that Holden speaks, is still edgy to this very day. Salinger is a master of dialect, and it really shines in The Catcher in the Rye.
Salinger's characters are also among the main ingredients in his recipe for success. Each character with it's own trademark. He really captures the different personalities in the world. The characters are written about in such a way that keeps you entertained, and interested. The emotions portrayed by the characters make such a strong impact. When someone is annoyed you can empathize, when someone is angry, you feel bad for them.
Opening Line: "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
Closing Line: “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
Quotes: “I don't know about bores. Maybe you shouldn't feel too sorry if you see some swell girl getting married to them., most They don't hurt anybody of them, and maybe they're secretly all terrific whistlers or something. Who the hell knows? Not me.”
“In the first place, I'm sort of an atheist. I like Jesus and all, but I don't care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible.”
Rating: Okay

49. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas – Gertrude Stein

History: a 1933 book by Gertrude Stein, written by Stein in the style of an autobiography by her lover, Alice B. Toklas.
Plot: Alice B. Toklas says she was born into an affluent family in San Francisco. Later she met Gertrude Stein's mother during the San Francisco fires, and finally decided to move to Paris in 1907. Alice talks about the important role of Helene, Gertrude's housemaid, in their household in Paris. She mentions the preparation of an art exhibition. She goes on to talk about Picasso and his mistress Fernande. The couple break up and Fernande moves to Montparnasse to teach French. Alice and Gertrude visit her there.
Alice tells of Gertrude and her brother Leo Stein buying paintings by Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse from Ambroise Vollard. They subsequently become friends with them. She then talks about the summer they spend in Fiesole while Picasso goes to Spain. Back in France, Gertrude falls out with Guillaume Apollinaire. Later, Picasso has an argument with Matisse. Alice tells how Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, then moved to Vienna, Passy, and finally New York City and California. She then went to college at Radcliff College, where she was taught by William James. She decided to do a Master's degree at Johns Hopkins University but dropped out because she was bored, then moved to London and was bored there too, returned to America, and eventually settled in Paris. Alice tells stories about Matisse, Apollinaire, and many other Cubist artists. She recounts their holidays in Italy and Spain. Finally, they move to England on the eve of the First World War to meet with Gertrude's editor, leaving Mildred Aldrich alone in Paris.
Gertrude and Alice are first in England, then go briefly to France to rescue Gertrude's writings. They then live in Spain for a while and eventually move back to France. There, they volunteer for the American Fund for the French Wounded by driving around France to help the wounded and homeless. By the end of the war, it seems Paris has changed.
Alice tells of Gertrude's argument with T. S. Eliot after he finds one of her writings inappropriate. She talks about her friendship with Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway - the latter helped with the publication of The Making of Americans. They then make friends with a coterie of Russian artists, but it is no real movement. Later, Gertrude gives a lecture at Oxford University. Alice then mentions more parties with artists. Later, they abridge The Making of Americans down to four hundred pages for commercial reasons, and eventually think of the idea of an autobiography.
Review: Written in a mere six week, Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is an entertaining document. Written on behalf of Toklas (much as Defoe did for Robinson Crusoe, Stein suggests), the book is certainly as much about Stein as Toklas. While avoiding most mentions of true intimacy, Toklas is presented as a close and keen observer of Stein and her influence in Paris. Supremely self-assured, and convinced of her own genius Stein pulls off this neat feat of being center stage in an autobiography in which the first-person narrator (Alice B.) humbly defers to her. It is fun. Centered on the time that Stein spent in Paris, the autobiography does also fill in some of the details of Stein's youth (as well as a Toklas' origins). It provides a useful, if not entirely reliable, overview of Stein's life.
Once Toklas joins Stein in France the focus is very much on who Stein knows and what role she plays among the artists of the day. The name-dropping and gossip amuse, because these are big and important names and Stein does give us unexpected glimpses of them. However, there is not that much depth to her account -- well and breezily related, it still is little more than idle gossip. It gives an excellent picture of intellectual Europe (and specifically Paris) in the early 1900s, and the cast of characters -- from Picasso to Hemingway to regal Gertrude herself -- is hard to top. This book is essentially about Gertrude Stein, but told through her girlfriend’s eyes, but really through Stein’s eyes. I think that is genious. I also liked the nonfiction part of it, telling about Picasso, and Mattisse, and art shows back in Paris. I loved it.
Opening Line: “I was born in San Francisco, California.”
Closing Line: “And she has and this is it.”
Quotes: “Americans living in Europe before the war never really believed that there was going to be a war.”
Rating: Very Good

48. Independent People – Halldor Laxness

History: Published in 1946. The novel (and author) is considered among the main proponents of social realism in Icelandic fiction in the 1930s. It is an indictment of materialism, the cost of the independent spirit to relationships, and capitalism itself. It helped propel Laxness to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955.
Plot: Set in early 20th century rural Iceland, it chronicles the life of a proud and stubborn freeholder Bjartur who is desperate to remain independent–of the banks, of family, of God–despite desperately harsh conditions and extreme poverty.
Review: Laxness, in Independent People, exalts in the idea of sympathy as one of the only ways that vastly different people -- dreamer and realist, socialist and independent, father and child (alone among the sheep) -- can truly touch each other's lives. He intimates it as a kind of respect when respect cannot otherwise be given, the fruit of grudging tolerance, each noteworthy according to its own nature. Through sympathy -- though never pity -- Laxness mitigates the frustration of the idea of the other: accepting what cannot be changed, and living nonetheless. No less each human life; no less our own.
Opening Line: “In early times, say the Icelandic chronicles, men from the Western Islands came to live in this country, and when they departed, let behind them crosses, bells, and other objects used in the practice of sorcery.”
Closing Line: “Then they went on their way.”
Quotes: "To stand alone, is not that the perfection of life, its aim?"
Rating: Worth reading, but difficult at times.

47. The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides

History: Published in 1993.
Plot: The Lisbons are a Catholic family living in Grosse Pointe, Michigan in the 1970s. The father, Ronald, is a teacher at the local high school and the mother is a homemaker. The family has five daughters: 13-year-old Cecilia, 14-year-old Lux, 15-year-old Bonnie, 16-year-old Mary, and 17-year-old Therese.
Their lives change dramatically within one summer when Cecilia, a stoic and astute girl described as an "outsider", attempts suicide by cutting her wrists. A few weeks later, the girls throw a chaperoned party at which Cecilia jumps from their second story window and succeeds in ending her life, by being impaled by a fence post.
The cause of Cecilia's suicide and its after effects on the family are popular subjects of neighborhood gossip. The mystique of the Lisbon girls also increases for the neighborhood boys, the narrators of the novel.
Lux begins a romance with local heartthrob Trip Fontaine. Trip negotiates with the overprotective Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon to take Lux to a homecoming dance, on the condition that he finds dates for the other three girls. Lux then misses her curfew - consequently, the Lisbons become recluses. Mrs. Lisbon pulls all the girls out of school, believing that it would help the girls recover. Mr. Lisbon officially takes a leave of absence. Their house falls into a deeper state of disrepair and none of them leave the house. A strange smell coming from the house permeates the neighborhood. From a safe distance, all the people in the neighborhood watch the Lisbons' lives deteriorate, but no one can summon up the courage to intervene.
During this time, the Lisbons become increasingly fascinating to the neighborhood in general and the narrator boys in particular. The boys call the Lisbon girls and communicate by playing records over the telephone for the girls.
Finally, the girls send a message to the boys to come to the house. Shortly after the boys arrive, three of the sisters kill themselves, Bonnie hangs herself, Therese overdoses on sleeping pills, Lux dies of carbon monoxide poisoning. Mary attempts suicide from putting her head in the oven, but fails. Mary later suceeds by taking sleeping pills. Newspaper writer Linda Perl notes that that mass suicide comes a year after Cecilia's first attempt. After the suicide "free-for-all," Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon leave the neighborhood. The house is sold to a young couple from the Boston area and most of the Lisbons' personal effects are either thrown out or sold in a garage sale. The narrators scavenge through the trash to collect much of the "evidence" they mention.
Review: The novel is atypical in that it was written in first person plural from the perspective of an anonymous group of teenage boys who became infatuated with the girls, a style mirroring a Greek chorus. The narrator(s) rely on relics and interviews gathered in the two decades after the suicide to construct the tale. The novel is rich in descriptive detail, using observations about the state of the Lisbon house and the contents of the girls’ rooms to advance the plot. The effect is that the reader glimpses the novel’s main characters as if he or she were one of the neighborhood onlookers. It remains unclear whom the narrative chorus is addressing. Though it sometimes seems as though the mourners have collected all their memorabilia and conducted their interviews for some official purpose, this is never made clear. In their attempt to understand who the Lisbon girls were and why they committed suicide, they never find a truly satisfying answer. But the entire novel, meanwhile paints a poignantly sharp and critical portrait of the suburban American life experienced by the baby boom generation.
Opening Line: “On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.”
Closing Line: “It didn’t matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only htat we had loved them, and that they hadn’t heard us calling, still do not hear us, up here in the tree house, with our thinning hair and soft bellies, calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.”
Quotes: “We realised that the version of the world they had rendered for us was not the world they really believed in, and that for all their caretaking and bitching about crabgrass, they didn't give a damn about lawns.”
Rating: good

46. Life of Pi – Yann Martel

History: First published by Knopf Canada in September 2001,
Plot: The book has three parts. The first section is an adult Pi Patel’s rumination over his childhood in Pondicherry, a former French Colony in India. The main character, Piscine (Pea-seen) Patel (shortened to "Pi" because his classmates had mocked him, calling him Pissing) talks about his life living as the son of a zookeeper, and speaks at length about animal behavior and religion. In the book, Pi stated simply, "I just want to love God. Because of the political situation in India, Pi’s father decides to sell the zoo and relocate the family to Canada. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the cargo ship on which the family is traveling sinks. The second part is an allegory in a medieval style. Pi manages to find refuge on a lifeboat, though not alone. He shares the limited space with a female orangutan named Orange Juice, a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, and a Royal Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. At first Pi believes that Richard Parker has abandoned the boat. He focuses on surviving the hyena. It is not long before the hyena begins to feed on the zebra. The only reason it had hesitated at first is because it was afraid that it was the tiger's prey, and didn't want to interfere. After the zebra's death, the hyena kills the orangutan, after which Pi approaches it. It is then that he notices that Richard Parker has been resting under a tarpaulin and has been aboard the lifeboat the entire time.
The tiger kills and eats the hyena, but does not immediately attack Pi. The young man manages to construct a raft using supplies aboard the boat, and avoids direct confrontation with Richard Parker by keeping out of the tiger's territory below the tarpaulin. Pi reasons that while the tiger is healthy, he poses less of a threat, as an injured or hungry beast is more dangerous. Therefore keeping the tiger alive becomes his primary focus. During a storm, Pi's raft is destroyed. The young man is forced to climb aboard the lifeboat. He loses his store of food and most of his fresh water. At this point, due to poor diet, nutrition, and weakness, Pi goes temporarily blind. During this state he meets another castaway on a boat traveling parallel with his own. The other man has a French accent. After a period of amicable conversation, he boards Pi's boat. As soon as the man boards, however, Richard Parker kills and devours him. Soon after, the duo wash ashore upon a strange island of vegetation, populated by meerkats, and containing pools of fresh water. After some time, Pi finds a strange tree on the island. When he examines the fruit, he finds it contains human teeth. He realizes that the island is carnivorous, and he and the tiger must leave immediately. Their lifeboat finally washes up on the beach in Mexico. Richard Parker bounds off into the jungle and is never to be seen again.
Here begins the third part of the story. After Pi is rescued and taken to a hospital, two men representing the Japanese Ministry of Transport interrogate and quiz him to find out why the ship sank. Pi offers his story. That does not satisfy the Japanese, and they dismiss it as a fantasy. Pi then offers an alternative explanation. He said he was on board the lifeboat with three other people: his mother, the ship's French chef, and a wounded sailor. The chef first killed and ate the sailor, then brutally killed Pi's mother. After that, Pi killed and ate the chef. Pi asks the men from the shipping company which story they prefer, who respond that they liked the first tale more.
The novel ends with the ministry representatives' report to the Japanese government, in which the two men tell Pi's first story.
Review: Martel has large amounts of intellectual fun with outrageous fable. The novel occasionally develops little disquisitions on the idea of faith, on the limits of credulity or the nature of nature; it asks you to find reference points in Robert Louis Stevenson and Blake, the Bible and the Ramayana.
Mostly, it dramatises and articulates the possibilities of storytelling, which for this writer is a kind of extremist high-wire act: almost every time he looks as if he is about to fall, he contemplates instead a thrilling handstand, or swallows a sword. Though this performance eventually becomes a bit tiresome, you cannot help but admire its showmanship. There is also some useful practical advice: should you ever find yourself alone in a dinghy with a man-eating tiger never forget to blow your whistle at full blast and be sure to puke on the edges of your territory.
Opening Line: “My suffering left me sad and gloomy.”
Closing Line: “Very few castaways can claim to have survived as long as Mr. Patel and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.”
Quotes: “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”
“I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life.”
Rating: Good.

45. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

History: The book was first published in Spanish in 1985. The title is very famous, and has been used in several popular tv shows and movies. The funniest, In The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Rival," Marge is reading a book entitled "Love In The Time Of Scurvy." Also, in the episode titled "Bart vs. Lisa vs. the Third Grade," Lisa is on the bus reading "Love in the Time of Coloring Books."
Plot: The main female character in the novel, Fermina Daza, is the strong axis around which the story revolves. Fermina easily rejects Florentino Ariza in their youth when she realizes the naïveté of their first romance, and she weds Juvenal Urbino at the age of 21, the "deadline" she had set for herself, ultimately because he seemed to be able to offer security and love to her. Urbino is a doctor in medicine devoted to science, modernity, and "order and progress." He is committed to the eradication of cholera and to the promotion of public works. He is a rational man whose life is organized precisely and who values his importance and reputation in society to the utmost. Urbino is a herald of progress and modernization.
His function in the novel is to provide the counterpoint to Ariza’s archaic, romantic style. He proved to be a faithful husband, save for one small affair late in their marriage, though the novel suggests that his love for her was never as spiritually chaste as Ariza's was. By the end of the book, Fermina has recognized a change in Ariza and their love is allowed to blossom once more in their old age. For most of the novel, their communication is limited to correspondence by letter; not until the end of the book do Fermina and Florentino converse at length
Review: García Márquez's main notion is that lovesickness is a literal illness, a disease comparable to cholera. Ariza suffers from this just as he might suffer from any malady. At one point, he conflates his physical agony with his amorous agony when he vomits after eating flowers in order to imbibe Fermina's scent. In the final chapter, the Captain's declaration of metaphorical plague is another manifestation of this. The term cholera as it is used in Spanish, cólera, can also denote human rage and ire. (The English adjective choleric has the same meaning.) It is this second meaning to the title that manifests itself both on the level of Ariza's hatred for Urbino's marriage to Fermina, as well as the theme of social strife and warfare that serves as a backdrop to the entire story.
Opening Line: “It was inevitable; the scent o biter almonds always reminded him of the fate o unrequited love.
Closing Line: “Forever” he said.”
Quotes: “A man should have two wives: one to love and one to sew on his buttons.”
Rating: mediocre