Tuesday, June 30, 2009

122. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

History: Published in 1811, it was the first of Austen's novels to be published, under the pseudonym "A Lady".
Plot: When Mr. Dashwood dies, his estate - Norland Park - passes to John, his only son, and child of his first wife. Mrs. Dashwood, his second wife, and their daughters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, are left only a small income.
On his deathbed, Mr. Dashwood had asked John to promise to take care of his half-sisters but John's selfish wife, Fanny, soon persuades her weak-willed husband that he has no real obligation in the matter, and he gives the girls nothing. John and Fanny move into Norland as its new owners and the Dashwood women, now treated as guests in what was their home, begin looking for another place to live.
Fanny's brother, Edward Ferrars, a pleasant, unassuming, intelligent but reserved young man, comes to Norland for a visit. He and Elinor are clearly attracted to each other and Mrs. Dashwood hopes they will marry. Fanny makes it clear that their mother, a wealthy widow, wants her son to marry a woman of high rank or great estate, if not both. Although Edward is attentive to Elinor, his reserved behaviour makes it hard to guess his intentions. Elinor does not encourage her relatives to hope for the marriage, although she secretly does.
One of Mrs. Dashwood's cousins, the wealthy Sir John Middleton, offers her a cottage on his estate, Barton Park, in Devonshire, and Mrs. Dashwood decides to accept. She and the girls find it tiny and dark compared to Norland, but try to make the best of it. They are warmly received by Sir John, who insists that they dine with him frequently at the great house of Barton Park and join the social life of his family. Also staying with Sir John is his mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings, a rich widow who is full of kindness and good humour and who immediately assigns herself the project of finding husbands for the Dashwood girls.
While visiting Sir John, the Dashwoods meet his old friend Colonel Brandon. It soon becomes apparent that Brandon is attracted to Marianne, and Mrs. Jennings teases them about it. Marianne is not pleased as she considers Colonel Brandon, at age 35, to be an old bachelor incapable of falling in love or inspiring love in anyone else.
Marianne, out for a stroll, gets caught in the rain, slips, and sprains her ankle. The dashing, handsome John Willoughby, who is visiting his wealthy aunt, Mrs. Smith, in the area, happens to be out with his gun and dogs nearby and sees the accident. He carries her home and soon wins her admiration with his good looks and outgoing personality, the opposite of the quiet and solemn Brandon. He visits her every day, and Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood begin to suspect that the couple are secretly engaged. After a picnic outing, during which Willoughby and Marianne are alone together for some time, Willoughby tells Mrs. Dashwood that he will have something important to say on his next visit. Mrs. Dashwood assumes he means to propose to Marianne and seek her blessing for the match. But when the day comes, she and Marianne are devastated to hear Willoughby announce that his aunt is sending him to London on business and that he may not return to their area for as long as a year.
Edward Ferrars visits the Dashwoods at Barton Cottage but seems unhappy. Elinor fears that he no longer has feelings for her. However, unlike Marianne, she does not allow anyone to see her wallow in her sadness, feeling it her duty to be outwardly calm for the sake of her mother and sisters, who dote on Edward and have firm faith in his love for Elinor.
Anne and Lucy Steele, cousins of Lady Middleton, come to stay at Barton Park. Sir John tells Lucy that Elinor is attached to Edward, prompting Lucy to inform Elinor that she (Lucy) has been secretly engaged to Edward for 4 years. Although Elinor initially blames Edward for engaging her affections when he was not free to do so, she realizes he became engaged to Lucy while he was young and naïve and perhaps has made a mistake. She thinks (hopes) that Edward does not love Lucy, but he will not hurt or dishonour her by breaking their engagement. Elinor hides her disappointment and works to convince Lucy she feels nothing for Edward. This is particularly hard as she sees Lucy may not be sincerely in love with Edward and may only make him unhappy.
Elinor and Marianne spend the winter at Mrs. Jennings' home in London. Marianne's letters to Willoughby go unanswered, and he treats her coldly when he sees her at a party. He later writes to Marianne, enclosing their former correspondence and love tokens, including a lock of her hair and informing her he is engaged to a Miss Grey, a high-born, wealthy woman with fifty thousand pounds (equivalent to about five million pounds today). Marianne admits to Elinor that she and Willoughby were never engaged, but she loved him and he led her to believe he loved her.
Colonel Brandon tells Elinor that Willoughby had seduced Brandon's ward, fifteen-year-old Eliza Williams, and abandoned her when she became pregnant. Brandon was once in love with Miss Williams' mother, a woman who resembled Marianne and whose life was destroyed by an unhappy arranged marriage to the Colonel's brother.
Because Fanny Dashwood does not like her sisters-in-law, she declines her husband's offer to let them stay with her. Instead, she invites the Miss Steeles. Lucy Steele becomes very arrogant and brags to Elinor that the old dowager Mrs. Ferrars favours her. Indeed Fanny and Mrs. Ferrars were fond of Lucy so Lucy's sister, Anne, decides it would not be improper to tell them of Lucy's engagement to Edward. When Mrs. Ferrars discovers Edward's and Lucy's engagement, she is infuriated, and demands he end the engagement instantly. However, he refuses so she disinherits him, in immediate favour of his brother, Robert. Elinor and Marianne feel sorry for Edward, and think him honourable for remaining engaged to a woman with whom he isn't in love.
Edward plans to take holy orders to earn his living, and Colonel Brandon, knowing how lives can be ruined when love is denied, expresses his commiseration to Edward for the deplorable circumstance and offers Edward a parsonage on Delaford, the Colonel's estate, with two hundred pounds a year. Colonel Brandon did not intend the parsonage to be assistance for Edward to marry Lucy as it would be insufficient to house a wife but intends it to provide Edward some sustenance. Elinor meets Edward's boorish brother Robert and is shocked he has no qualms about claiming his brother's inheritance.
The sisters end their winter stay in London and begin their return trip to Barton via Cleveland, the country estate of Mrs.Jennings' son-in-law, Mr. Palmer. There, miserable over Willoughby, Marianne neglects her health and becomes dangerously ill. Hearing of her serious illness, Willoughby arrives suddenly and reveals to Elinor that he truly loved Marianne, but since he was disinherited when his benefactress discovered his seduction of Miss Williams, he decided to marry the wealthy Miss Grey.
Elinor tells Marianne about Willoughby's visit. Marianne admits that although she loved Willoughby, she could not have been happy with the libertine father of an illegitimate child, even if he had stood by her. Marianne also realizes her illness was brought on by her wallowing in her grief, by her excessive sensibility, and had she died, it would have been morally equivalent to suicide. She now resolves to model herself after Elinor's courage and good sense.
The family learns Lucy has married Mr. Ferrars. When Mrs. Dashwood sees how upset Elinor is, she finally realizes how strong Elinor's feelings are for Edward and is sorry she did not pay more attention to her daughter's unhappiness. However, the next day Edward arrives and reveals it was his brother, Robert Ferrars, who married Lucy. He says he was trapped in his engagement to Lucy, "a woman he had long since ceased to love", and she broke the engagement to marry the now-wealthy Robert. Edward asks Elinor to marry him, and she agrees. Edward eventually becomes reconciled with his mother, who gives him ten thousand pounds. He also reconciles with his sister Fanny. Edward and Elinor marry and move into the parsonage at Delaford. Still, Mrs. Ferrars tends to favour Robert and Lucy over Edward and Elinor.
Mr. Willoughby's patroness eventually gives him his inheritance, seeing his marriage to a woman of good character has redeemed him. Willoughby realizes marrying Marianne would have produced the same effect; had he behaved honourably, he could have had love and money.
Over the next two years, Mrs. Dashwood, Marianne, and Margaret spend most of their time at Delaford. Marianne matures and, at the age of nineteen, decides to marry the 37-year-old Colonel. We are told that it is not in her nature to do anything by halves, and the gratitude and respect she has come to feel for him develop into a very deep love. The Colonel's house is near the parsonage where Elinor and Edward live, so the sisters and their husbands can visit each other often.
Review: I get so impatient with all the fussing and “he loves me, he loves me not”, and I know we’re talking about the 1800’s here, but it’s so infuriating to read about marriage being the end all be all to life. I just can’t do it. I have tried to like her, I have now read three of her books.
Opening Line: “The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.”
Closing Line: “Between Barton and Delaford, there was that constant communication which strong family connection would naturally dictate; and among the merits and the happiness of Elinor and Marianne, let it not be ranked as the least considerable, that though sisters, and living almost within sight of each other, they could live without disagreement between themselves, or producing coolness between their husbands.”
Quotes: " . . . and yet there is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind, that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions."
Rating: Awful, but the movie was good.

121. The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton

History: Published in 1920, won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize.
Plot: Newland Archer, gentleman lawyer and heir to one of New York City's best families, is happily anticipating a highly-desirable marriage to the sheltered and beautiful May Welland. Yet he finds reason to doubt his choice of bride after the appearance of Countess Ellen Olenska, May's exotic, beautiful thirty-year-old cousin, who had been living in Europe. Ellen has returned to New York after scandalously separating herself (per rumour) from a bad marriage to a Polish Count. At first, Ellen's arrival, and its potential taint to his bride's family, disturbs him, yet he becomes intrigued by the worldly Ellen who flouts New York society's fastidious rules. As Newland's admiration for the countess grows, so does his doubt about marrying May, a perfect product of Old New York society; his match with May no longer seems the ideal fate he had imagined.
Ellen's decision to divorce Count Olenski is a social crisis for her family, who are terrified of scandal and disgrace. Living apart can be tolerated, but divorce is unacceptable. To save the Welland family's reputation, a law partner of Newland asks him to dissuade Countess Olenska from divorcing the Count. He succeeds, but in the process comes to care for her; afraid of falling in love with Ellen, Newland begs May to accelerate their wedding date; May refuses.
Newland tells Ellen he loves her; Ellen corresponds, but is horrified of their love's aggrieving May. She agrees to remain in America, separated but still married, only if they do not sexually consummate their love; Newland receives May's telegram agreeing to wed sooner.
Newland and May marry; he tries forgetting Ellen, but fails. His society marriage is loveless, and the social life he once found absorbing has become empty and joyless. Though Ellen lives in Washington, and has remained distant, he is unable to cease loving her. Their paths cross while he and May are in Newport, Rhode Island. Newland discovers that Count Olenski wishes Ellen to return to him, and she has refused, despite her family pushing her to reconcile with her husband and return to Europe. Frustrated by her independence, the family cut off her money, as the Count had already done.
Newland desperately seeks a way to leave May and be with Ellen, obsessed with how to finally possess her. Despairing of ever making Ellen his wife, he attempts to have her agree to be his mistress. Then, Ellen is recalled to New York City to care for her sick grandmother, who accepts her decision to remain separated and agrees to reinstate her allowance.
Back in New York, and under renewed pressure from Newland, Ellen relents and agrees to consummate their relationship. However, Newland then discovers that Ellen has decided to return to Europe. Newland makes up his mind to abandon May and follow Ellen to Europe, when May announces that she and Newland are throwing a farewell party for Ellen. That night, after the party, Newland resolves to tell May he is leaving her for Ellen. She interrupts him to tell of her pregnancy, and that Ellen was told of it two weeks before; Newland guesses Ellen's reason for returning to Europe. Hopelessly trapped, Newland surrenders his love, Ellen, for the sake of his children, and remains in a loveless marriage to May; he does not follow Ellen.
Twenty-five years later, after May's death, Newland and his son are in Paris. The son, learning that his mother's cousin lives there, has arranged to visit Ellen in her Paris apartment. Newland is stunned at the prospect of seeing Ellen again. On arriving outside the apartment building, Newland, still reeling emotionally, sends up his son alone to meet Ellen, while he waits outside, watching her apartment's balcony. Newland considers going up, but decides that his dream and memory of Ellen are more real than anything else in his life has been; he walks back to his hotel without meeting her.
Review: Nearly every character is memorable—from the massive Mrs. Manson Mingott, May and Ellen's grandmother who is old enough and skilled enough to intuit all and manipulate all; to the womanizing Lawrence Lefferts, whose behavior is acceptable because he knows how to play the game, how things are "done"; to the frigid bastions of society, the van der Luydens; to May's mother, who cannot be exposed in any way to "unpleasantness"; to Archer's virginal sister Janey, who lives life vicariously through gossip and guesswork.
Many scenes and locations are equally vivid: Beaufort's lavish house and party; the contrast of the van der Luydens' dinner party; Archer and May's conventional and stifling honeymoon, more sporty than romantic or passionate; Archer's pursuit of May in Florida and his following Ellen to the Blenkers' and then to Boston; a revealing ride with Ellen in May's brougham; Mrs. Mingott's house in the middle of "nowhere," where she rules like a queen and where the politics are only slightly less complicated than those of Elizabeth I's court—all unforgettable places and scenes.
In less intelligent or skilled hands, the plot could have become mere melodrama, but Wharton knows how her society worked, who inhabited it, what it forgave, and what it could not pardon. Affairs are pardonable; treachery, real or perceived, to the framework of what holds these people together is not. In the end, May saves Archer from himself—and dooms him to her kind of life by doing so. When he gives up all his dreams, he looks into May's "blue eyes, wet with tears." She knows what he does not and remains cold as the moon that the goddess Diana rules.
It could be said that May and Ellen represent two sides of Newland Archer—both are people he is afraid to become. If he is like May, he experiences death of the mind, death of the soul, death of the emotions, becoming what he is expected to be to keep the foundations that society is built upon steady, strong, and standing. (It is no coincidence that a theme in Wharton's The House of Mirth is the vulnerability of that house to the influx of modern ways.) If he becomes like Ellen, he will lose everything that he has built his own foundations on. In the end, he is neither, nor is he himself. His tragedy is not that much less than that of The House of Mirth's Lily Bart, both victims of a society they need but cannot survive.
Opening Line: “On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in the Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.”
Closing Line: “At that, as if it had been the signal he had waited for, Newland Archer got up slowly and walked back alone to his hotel.”
Quotes: " 'I'm sick of the hypocrisy that would bury alive a woman of her age if her husband prefers to live with harlots... Women ought to be free - as free as we are,' he declared, making a discovery of which he was too irritated to measure the terrific consequences."
"It seems stupid to have discovered America only to make it into a copy of another country."
Rating: Good.

120. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

History: Published in 1926, the title is taken from Ecclesiastes 1:5: "The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose." Hemingway's original title for the work was Fiesta, which was used in the British, German and Spanish editions of the novel.
Plot: The novel explores the lives and values of the so-called "Lost Generation,". Jake, a World War I veteran, is unable to consummate a sexual relationship with Brett Ashley because of a severe wound suffered when his fighter plane crashed on the Italian Front, leaving him emasculated. However, he is still attracted to and in love with her. The story follows Jake and his various companions across France and Spain.
As the novel opens, we meet our expatriate friends in their adopted home of Paris. They all have different feelings about the city; Jake clearly relishes his life there, despite his general sense of dissatisfaction. He seems to know, like, everyone in the city of Paris (or possibly in France), and it an expert at everything from picking the right restaurant to schmoozing with Parisian hookers. We get the feeling that Jake could fit in wherever he goes. Robert Cohn, on the other hand, isn’t comfortable anywhere. Jake wants Brett. Brett wants Jake. Brett and Jake can’t be together because Jake is unable to be sexual because of a war injury..
This is a totally classic set-up. The relationship between Jake and Brett presents itself as the primary source of tension and anxiety in the novel. Although both Jake and Brett have romantic feelings for one another, Jake’s impotence is an insurmountable barrier for Brett. Throughout the rest of the novel, we are consistently reminded of the impossibility of their relationship.
Cohn has an affair with Brett in San Sebastian. Cohn, Mike, Bill, Jake, and Brett spend a week together in Pamplona. Jake’s discovery of Cohn’s affair with Brett frustrates his already difficult relationship with her. Because Mike, Cohn, and Jake each have strong feelings for Brett, their mutual presence in Pamplona intensifies everyone’s anxieties. Brett doesn’t help matters by failing to acknowledge the havoc she is wreaking – she doesn’t take responsibility for her actions (kind of a theme with this bunch of people). In a fit of rage, Cohn beats up Jake, Mike, and Romero, then leaves Pamplona. Cohn’s attack of Jake, Mike, and Romero reflects the culmination of his anger about Brett and her liaisons. It embodies in a very physical manner the frustration and disillusionment experienced by all of the novel’s main characters. His departure from Pamplona signals the beginning of the end for everyone. When the fiesta’s officially over, it’s a relief to all of them – and, frankly, to us. Jake’s gang leaves Pamplona with no resolution regarding the relationship between Brett and any of the men in the novel. Jake heads to San Sebastian to rest and recuperate.
When the gang departs from Pamplona, nearly everyone is dissatisfied. Cohn has disappeared, Mike is bankrupt and in emotional disarray, Jake is in need of some major alone time, and Brett has left with Pedro Romero, leaving us to question the nature of the novel’s central relationships. Things are even less certain at this point than ever before, and in their last couple of days together, Bill, Jake, and Mike have the sense that a whole lot of people are missing.
After only a brief respite, Jake learns that Brett has sent Romero; she telegraphs him urgently in San Sebastian to come and help her. The incident renews the question of a potential relationship between Brett and Jake. We hope against hope that something can work out, but by this point in the novel, we should really know better. Jake himself is cynical and resigned to his guilt and unhappiness with regards to Brett.
Brett is left at a crossroads – she has made the right decision in letting Romero go, but now has nowhere to go herself. She eventually decides to go back to Mike, who is "so damned nice and… so awful," and is the kind of guy she can handle. In a final resolution to the central conflict of the novel, it is decided that Brett and Jake could never be together. While this was Brett’s decision earlier in the novel, Jake is the one who finally decides that they never really had a chance
Review: My favorite Hemmingway novel. It is about people overcoming fears and facing the truth. It is about people accepting themselves and learning how to deal with their problems. However, these obstacles are not so easy to overcome. Because of war experiences and personal weaknesses, the characters in this story feel as though their lives have been ruined. Some can accept the way they are, but others have a more difficult time doing so.
Opening Line: “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.”
Closing Line: “Yes.” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Quotes: "You're an expatriate. You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see. You hang around cafés."
Rating: Very good.

119. Enduring Love – Ian McEwan

History: A book written in 1997.
Plot: On a beautiful, cloudless day, a young couple celebrate their union with a picnic. Joe Rose and his long-term partner Clarissa Mellon are about to open a bottle of wine when a cry interrupts them. A helium balloon with a 10-year-old boy in the basket and his grandfather being dragged behind it has been ripped from its moorings. Joe immediately joins, along with several other men, in an effort to bring the balloon to safety, but in the rescue attempt, one man, John Logan, dies.
Another of the would-be-rescuers is Jed Parry. Joe and Jed exchange a passing glance, a glance that has devastating consequences and that indelibly burns an obsession into Jed's soul, for Jed suffers from de Clerambault's syndrome, a disorder that causes the sufferer to believe that someone else is in love with him or her. Delusional and dangerous, Jed gradually wreaks havoc in Joe's life, testing the limits of his beloved rationalism, threatening Clarissa's love for him, and driving him to the brink of murder and madness.
During a lunch with Clarissa and her godfather, Joe witnesses the attempted shooting of another man. However, he realises that the bullet was meant for him and that the similar character of the people at the other table had misled the killers into thinking the other man was their target. Before the hitman can deliver the fatal shot, Jed, orchestrator of the event, intervenes to save the innocent man's life before fleeing from the scene. In the subsequent interrogation, Joe insists that it was Jed who was behind this but the detective does not believe him, possibly because he appears to get many of the facts of the incident incorrect. Joe leaves dissatisfied, knowing that Jed is still out there and looking for him. Like the detective, however, Clarissa becomes skeptical that Jed is stalking Joe and that Joe is in any danger. This, plus the stress Joe suffers at Jed's hands, strains their relationship.
Fearing for his safety, Joe purchases a gun through an acquaintance. On the journey home, he receives a call from Jed, who is at Joe's home with Clarissa. Upon arriving at his apartment, Joe sees Jed sitting on the sofa with Clarissa. Jed then asks for Joe's forgiveness, before taking out a knife and pointing it at his own neck. To prevent Jed from killing himself, Joe shoots him in the arm. He escapes without charges. In the first of the novel's appendices (a medical report on Jed's condition) we learn that Joe and Clarissa are eventually reconciled and that they adopt a child. In the second (a letter from Jed to Joe), we learn that after three years, Parry remains uncured, and is now living in a psychiatric hospital.
Review: It's a meditation on the nature of love, with the relationship of Joe and Clarissa described in ultra realistic if somehow dry and subtle terms. The sequences of events leading to conflict, the inevitability of misunderstanding, the inscrutability of emotions, the birth of mistrust, and - of course - the fundamental and unavoidable self-centeredness of love.
In many ways, the obsessive 'love' of the stalker who 'knows better than you what you feel' is a parody of our 'normal' romantic love, it's a monstrous mirror but a mirror nevertheless. How many times do we find ourselves believing that gestures mean more than words, that there is a deeper meaning in everything, that our beloved, or God for that matter can speak to us in signs
Opening Line: The beginning is simple to mark.
Closing Line: Say it again slowly, that thing about the river.
Quotes: “the relentless plainsong of the divorce novitiate - the pained self-advocacy that hymns the transmutations of love into hatred or indifference.”
Rating: okay

118. I, Robot – Isaac Asimov

February 2008
History: This book first published by Gnome Press in 1950 in an edition of 5,000 copies. The stories originally appeared in the American magazines Super Science Stories and Astounding Science Fiction between 1940 and 1950. The stories are woven together as if Dr. Susan Calvin is telling them to a reporter (the narrator) in the 21st century. Though the stories can be read separately, they share a theme of the interaction of humans, robots and morality, and when combined they tell a larger story of Asimov's fictional history of robotics.
Plot: Several of the stories feature the character of Dr. Susan Calvin, chief robopsychologist at U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., the major manufacturer of robots. Upon their publication in this collection, Asimov wrote a framing sequence presenting the stories as Calvin's reminiscences during an interview with her about her life's work, chiefly concerned with aberrant behaviour of robots, and the use of "robopsychology" to sort them out. The book also contains the short story in which Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics first appear. Other characters that appear in these short stories are Powell and Donovan, a field-testing team which locates flaws in USRMM's prototype models.
Review: It is nice to have a book in which his robots and characters (including the immortal Susan Calvin) are allowed to take the stage all by themselves. It helps, I think, the suspension of disbelief not to be reminded over and over that this is, after all, just a collection of stories. Rather, like a novel, we plunge in at the beginning and it is not until we reach the end that we reemerge into dull reality.
Opening Line: “Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred!” Gloria withdrew her chubby little forearms from before her eyes and stood for a moment, wrinkling her nose and blinking in the sunlight.”
Closing Line: “And the fire behind the quartz went out and only a curl of smoke was left to indicate its place.”
Quotes: “You are so like children. We must save you from yourselves.”
Rating: Mediocre.

117. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

History: Published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877 in the periodical The Russian Messenger. Tolstoy clashed with its editor Mikhail Katkov over issues that arose in the final installment; therefore, the novel's first complete appearance was in book form. Tolstoy considered Anna Karenina his first true novel, when he came to consider War and Peace to be more than a novel. The character of Anna was likely inspired, in part, by Maria Hartung (Russian spelling Maria Gartung, 1832–1919), the elder daughter of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Soon after meeting her at dinner, Tolstoy began reading Pushkin's prose and once had a fleeting daydream of "a bare exquisite aristocratic elbow", which proved to be the first intimation of Anna's character.
Although Russian critics dismissed the novel on its publication as a "trifling romance of high life", Fyodor Dostoevsky declared it to be "flawless as a work of art.
Plot: The novel opens with a scene introducing Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky, "Stiva", a Moscow aristocrat and civil servant who has been unfaithful to his wife Darya Alexandrovna, nicknamed "Dolly". Dolly has discovered his affair - with the family's governess - and the house and family are in turmoil. Stiva's affair and his reaction to his wife's distress shows an amorous personality that he cannot seem to suppress. In the midst of the turmoil, Stiva reminds the household that his married sister, Anna Arkadyevna Karenina is coming to visit from Saint Petersburg. Meanwhile, Stiva's childhood friend Konstantin Dmitrievich Levin ("Kostya") arrives in Moscow with the aim of proposing to Dolly's youngest sister Princess Katerina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya, "Kitty". Levin is a passionate, restless but shy aristocratic landowner who, unlike his Moscow friends, chooses to live in the country on his large estate. He discovers that Kitty is also being pursued by Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky, an army officer.
At the railway station to meet Anna, Stiva bumps into Vronsky. Vronsky is there to meet his mother. It surmises that Anna and the Countess Vronskaya have traveled together in the same carriage and talked together. As the family members are reunited, and Vronsky sees Anna for the first time, a railway worker accidentally falls in front of a train and is killed. Anna interprets this as an "evil omen." Vronsky is infatuated with Anna. Anna, who is uneasy about leaving her young son, Seryozha, alone for the first time, talks openly and emotionally to Dolly about Stiva's affair and convinces Dolly that her husband still loves her, despite his infidelity. Dolly is moved by Anna's speeches and decides to forgive Stiva.
Dolly's youngest sister, Kitty, comes to visit her sister and Anna. Kitty, just 18, is in her first season as a debutante and is expected to make an excellent match with a man of her social standing. Vronsky has been paying her considerable attention, and she expects to dance with him at a ball that evening. Kitty is very struck by Anna's beauty and personality and is infatuated with her. When Levin proposes to Kitty at her home, she clumsily turns him down, because she believes she is in love with Vronsky and that he will propose to her.
At the ball, Vronsky pays Anna considerable attention, and dances with her, choosing her as a partner instead of Kitty, who is shocked and heartbroken. Kitty realises that Vronsky has fallen in love with Anna, and that despite his overt flirtations with her he has no intention of marrying her and in fact views his attentions to her as mere amusement, believing that she does the same.
Anna, shaken by her emotional and physical response to Vronsky, returns at once to Saint Petersburg. Vronsky travels on the same train. During the overnight journey, the two meet and Vronsky confesses his love. Anna refuses him, although she is deeply affected by his attentions to her.
Levin, crushed by Kitty's refusal, returns to his estate farm, abandoning any hope of marriage, and Anna returns to her husband Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, a senior government official, and their son Sergei ("Seryozha") in Petersburg.
On seeing her husband for the first time since her encounter with Vronsky, Anna realises that she finds him repulsive, noting the odd way that his ears press against his hat.
The Shcherbatskys consult doctors over Kitty's health which has been failing since she realizes that Vronsky did not love her and that he did not intend to propose marriage to her, and that she refused and hurt Levin, whom she cares for, in vain. A specialist doctor advises that Kitty should go abroad to a health spa to recover. Dolly speaks to Kitty and understands that she is suffering because of Vronsky and Levin. Kitty, humiliated by Vronsky and tormented by her rejection of Levin, upsets her sister by referring to Stiva's infidelity and says she could never love a man who betrayed her.
In St. Petersburg, Anna begins to spend more time with the fashionable socialite and gossip Princess Betsy and her circle, in order to meet Vronsky, Betsy's cousin. Vronsky continues to pursue Anna. Although Anna initially tries to reject him, she eventually succumbs to his attentions.
Karenin warns Anna of the impropriety of paying too much attention to Vronsky in public, which is becoming a subject of society gossip. He is concerned about his and his wife's public image, although he believes that Anna is above suspicion.
Vronsky, a keen horseman, takes part in a steeplechase event, during which he rides his mare Frou-Frou too hard and she falls and breaks her back. Vronsky escapes with minimal injuries but is devastated that his mare must be shot. Anna tells him that she is pregnant with his child, and is unable to hide her distress when Vronsky falls from the racehorse. Karenin is also present at the races and remarks to her that her behaviour is improper. Anna, in a state of extreme distress and emotion, confesses her affair to her husband. Karenin asks her to break off the affair to avoid society gossip and believes that their relationship can then continue as previously.
Kitty goes with her mother to a resort at a German spa to recover from her ill health. There they meet the Pietist Madame Stahl and the saintly Varenka, her adopted daughter. Influenced by Varenka, Kitty becomes extremely pious, but is disillusioned by her father`s criticism. She then returns to Moscow.
Levin continues his work on his large country estate, a setting closely tied to his spiritual thoughts and struggles. Levin wrestles with the idea of falseness, wondering how he should go about ridding himself of it, and criticising what he feels is falseness in others. He develops ideas relating to agriculture and the unique relationship between the agricultural labourer and his native land and culture. He believes that the agricultural reforms of Europe will not work in Russia because of the unique culture and personality of the Russian peasant.
Stiva stays with Levin on his country estate when he makes a sale of a plot of land, to provide funds for his expensive city lifestyle. Levin is upset at the poor deal he makes with the buyer and his lack of understanding of the rural lifestyle.
Levin pays Dolly a visit, and she attempts to understand what happened between him and Kitty and to explain Kitty's behaviour to him. Levin is very agitated by Dolly's talk about Kitty, and he begins to feel distant from her as he perceives her behaviour towards her children as false. Levin resolves to forget Kitty and contemplates the possibility of marriage to a peasant woman. However, a chance sighting of Kitty in her carriage as she travels to Dolly's house makes Levin realise he still loves her.
In St. Petersburg, Karenin exasperates Anna by refusing to separate from her. He insists that their relationship remain as it was and threatens to take away their son Seryozha if she continues to pursue her affair with Vronsky.
Anna continues to pursue her affair with Vronsky. Karenin begins to find the situation intolerable. He talks with a lawyer about obtaining a divorce. In Russia at that time, divorce could only be requested by the innocent party in an affair, and required either that the guilty party confessed (which would ruin Anna's position in society) or that the guilty party was discovered in the act. Karenin forces Anna to give him some letters written to her by Vronsky as proof of the affair. However, Anna's brother Stiva argues against it and persuades Karenin to speak with Dolly first.
Dolly broaches the subject with Karenin and asks him to reconsider his plans to divorce Anna. She seems to be unsuccessful, but Karenin changes his plans after hearing that Anna is dying after a difficult childbirth. At her bedside, Karenin forgives Vronsky. Vronsky, embarrassed by Karenin's magnanimity, attempts suicide by shooting himself. He fails in his attempt but wounds himself badly.
Anna recovers, having given birth to a daughter, Anna ("Annie"). Although her husband has forgiven her, and has become attached to the new baby, Anna cannot bear living with him. She hears that Vronsky is about to leave for a military posting in Tashkent and becomes desperate. Stiva finds himself pleading to Karenin on her behalf to free her by giving her a divorce. Vronsky is intent on leaving for Tashkent, but changes his mind after seeing Anna.
The couple leave for Europe - leaving behind Anna's son Seryozha - without obtaining a divorce.
Much more straightforward is Stiva's matchmaking with Levin: a meeting he arranges between Levin and Kitty results in their reconciliation and betrothal.
Levin and Kitty marry and immediately go to start their new life together on Levin's country estate. The couple are happy but do not have a very smooth start to their married life and take some time to get used to each other. Levin feels some dissatisfaction at the amount of time Kitty wants to spend with him and is slightly scornful of her preoccupation with domestic matters, which he feels are too prosaic and not compatible with his romantic ideas of love.
A few months later, Levin learns that his brother Nikolai is dying of consumption. Levin wants to go to him, and is initially angry and put out that Kitty wishes to accompany him. Levin feels that Kitty, whom he has placed on a pedestal, should not come down to earth and should not mix with people from a lower class. However, Kitty persuades him to take her with him. Kitty nurses Nikolai until he dies. She also discovers she is pregnant.
In Europe, Vronsky and Anna struggle to find friends who will accept their situation. Whilst Anna is happy to be finally alone with Vronsky, he feels suffocated. They cannot socialize with Russians of their own social set and find it difficult to amuse themselves. Vronsky, who believed that being with Anna in freedom was the key to his happiness, finds himself increasingly bored and unsatisfied. He takes up painting, and makes an attempt to patronize an émigré Russian artist of genius. Vronsky cannot see that his own art lacks talent and passion, and that his clever conversation about art is an empty shell. Bored and restless, Anna and Vronsky decide to return to Russia.
In Petersburg, Anna and Vronsky stay in one of the best hotels but take separate suites. It becomes clear that whilst Vronsky is able to move in Society, Anna is barred from it. Even her old friend, Princess Betsy - who has had affairs herself - evades her company. Anna starts to become very jealous and anxious that Vronsky no longer loves her.
Karenin is comforted – and influenced – by the strong-willed Countess Lidia Ivanovna, an enthusiast of religious and mystic ideas fashionable with the upper classes. She counsels him to keep Seryozha away from Anna and to make him believe that his mother is dead. However, Seryozha refuses to believe that this is true. Anna manages to visit Seryozha unannounced and uninvited on his ninth birthday, but is discovered by Karenin.
Anna, desperate to resume at least in part her former position in Society, attends a show at the theatre at which all of Petersburg's high society are present. Vronsky begs her not to go, but is unable to bring himself to explain to her why she cannot go. At the theatre, Anna is openly snubbed by her former friends, one of whom makes a deliberate scene and leaves the theatre. Anna is devastated.
Unable to find a place for themselves in Petersburg, Anna and Vronsky leave for Vronsky's country estate.
Dolly, her mother the Princess Scherbatskaya, and Dolly's children spend the summer with Levin and Kitty on the Levin country estate. The Levin's life is simple and unaffected, although Levin is uneasy at the "invasion" of so many Scherbatskys. He is able to cope until he is consumed with an intense jealousy when one of the visitors, Veslovsky, flirts openly with the pregnant Kitty. Levin tries to overcome his jealousy but eventually succumbs to it and in an embarrassing scene evicts Veslovsky from his house. Veslovsky immediately goes to stay with Anna and Vronsky, whose estate is close by.
Dolly also pays a short visit to Anna at Vronsky's estate. The difference between the Levins' aristocratic but simple home life and Vronsky's overtly luxurious and lavish country home strikes Dolly, who is unable to keep pace with Anna's fashionable dresses or Vronsky's extravagant spending on the hospital he is building. However, all is not quite well with Anna and Vronsky. Dolly is also struck by Anna's anxious behaviour and new habit of half closing her eyes when she alludes to her difficult position. When Veslovsky flirts openly with Anna, she plays along with him even though she clearly feels uncomfortable. Vronsky makes an emotional request to Dolly, asking her to convince Anna to divorce her husband so that the two might marry and live normally. Dolly broaches the subject with Anna, who appears not to be convinced. However, Anna is becoming intensely jealous of Vronsky, and cannot bear it when he leaves her for short excursions. The two have started to quarrel about this and when Vronsky leaves for several days of provincial elections, a combination of boredom and suspicion convinces Anna she must marry him in order to prevent him from leaving her. She writes to Karenin, and she and Vronsky leave the countryside for Moscow.
The Levins are in Moscow for Kitty's confinement. Despite initial reservations, Levin quickly gets used to the fast-paced, expensive and frivolous Moscow society life. He starts to accompany Stiva to his Moscow gentleman's club, where drinking and gambling are popular pastimes. At the club, Levin meets Vronsky and Stiva introduces them. Levin and Stiva pay a visit to Anna, who is occupying her empty days by being a patroness to an orphaned English girl. Levin is uneasy about the visit and not sure it is the proper thing to do, and Anna easily makes Levin fall in love with her. When he confesses to Kitty where he has been, she accuses him of falling in love with Anna. The couple are reconciled, realising that Moscow life has had a negative, corrupting effect on Levin.
Anna, who has made a habit of inducing the young men who visit her to fall in love with her, cannot understand why she can attract a man like Levin, who has a young and beautiful new wife, but cannot attract Vronsky in the way she wants to. Anna's relationship with Vronsky is under increasing strain, as whilst he can move freely in Society - and continues to spend considerable time doing so to stress to Anna his independence as a man - she is excluded from all her previous social connections. She is estranged from baby Annie, her child with Vronsky. and her increasing bitterness, boredom, jealousy and emotional strain cause the couple to argue. Anna starts to take morphine to help her sleep, and becomes dependent on it.
After a long and difficult labour, Kitty gives birth to a son, Mitya. Levin is both extremely moved and horrified by the sight of the tiny, helpless baby.
Stiva, visits Karenin's to encourage his commendation for a new post he is seeking. During the visit he asks him to grant Anna a divorce, but Karenin's decisions are now governed by a French "clairvoyant" – recommended by Lidia Ivanovna – who apparently has a vision in his sleep during Stiva's visit, and gives Karenin a cryptic message that is interpreted as meaning that he must decline the request for divorce.
Anna becomes increasingly jealous and irrational towards Vronsky, whom she suspects of having love affairs with other women, and of giving in to his mother's plans to marry him off to a rich Society woman. There is a bitter row, and Anna believes that the relationship is over. She starts to think of suicide as an escape from her torments. In her mental and emotional confusion, she sends a telegram to Vronsky asking him to come home to her, and pays a visit to Dolly and Kitty. Anna's confusion overcomes her, and in a parallel to the railway worker's accidental death in part 1, she commits suicide by throwing herself in the path of a train.
Stiva gets the job he desired so much, and Karenin takes custody of baby Annie. A group of Russian volunteers, including Vronsky, who does not plan to return alive, depart from Russia to fight in the Orthodox Serbian revolt that has broken out against the Turks. Meanwhile, amid the joys and fears of fatherhood, Levin no longer feels he lacks Christian faith; he decides to give his life its own meaning through acts of goodness.
Review: Written while Tolstoy was wrestling with a religious crisis that nearly destroyed him, the book is filled with passion and soul-searching. Yet Anna Karenina is a book that covers much more than one woman's misguided love affair. Tolstoy's broad canvas is big enough to include insight into happy marriages, adultery, sexuality, country life, politics, masculinity and femininity, individuality, conformity, altruism, love, death, longing and success. On nearly every one of its more than 800 pages is a sliver of Tolstoy's philosophy of life. Again and again, these small philosophical interludes resound with meaning that is as applicable today as it was more than a century ago. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.
Opening Line: “Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys' house.”
Closing Line: "I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly; there will be still the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall still go on scolding her for my own terror, and being remorseful for it; I shall still be as unable to understand with my reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it."
Quotes: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. “
“And death, as the sole means of reviving love for herself in his heart, of punishing him, and of gaining the victory in that contest which an evil spirit in her heart was waging against him, presented itself clearly and vividly to her.”
Rating: Excellent

116. Anagrams – Lorrie Moore

History: This book was published in 1986.
Plot: A linking of short stories involving Benna and Gerard. Interwoven in fantasy and reality, they both take on different personas, occupations, ages, and environments. It is a collection of short stories, made into a book, because of keeping the man and womans names the same.
Review: Lorrie Moore is most successful at short stories and one of the reasons I love this book so much is that she’s managed to really integrate the short story format into a novel. Moore is also the queen of funny/sad, although upon second reading, I was especially struck by the sadness of the story. The book is an approximation of an anagram, different characters refracted into different situations. Almost an anagram, but not quite.I never really got a sense of who Benna was. She hidesfrom us, from herselfbehind imaginary identities, relationships, and scenarios in which elements of character and action are transposed like the letters of those anagrams she scribbles on napkins. Her fantasies are offered as straight narrative along with a stream of wisecracks. For deep down, Benna is terrified of the contingencies of reality, longs for the very continuity she mocks.
Opening Line: “Gerard Maines lived across the hall from a woman named Benna, who four minutes into any conversation managed to say the word penis.”
Closing Line: “I swear, she is a genius.”
Quotes: "All the world's a stage we're going through."
"One gust of wind and Santa became Satan."
Rating: Good

115. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera

January 2008
History: Written in 1982, and first published in France in 1984. The book centers on Nietzsche's idea of eternal return - that is, the idea that the universe and all the events therein have all happened before, and will continue to recur ad infinitum. Kundera challenges this idea, offering an alternative: each of us has only one life to live, and what happens once will never occur again. He calls this idea "lightness", and refers to the concept of eternal return as "heaviness" or "weight".
Plot: Set against the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the story evolves around different fictional topics but could just as well be the story of real people. Tomas, the male protagonist, falls in love with Teresa and marries her, while still having many one-night stands in an attempt to give weight (meaning) to his life. Moreover, he maintains a love-affair with Sabina.
Teresa is aware of Tomas' adulteries and cannot bear the situation, which manifests itself in numerous detailed nightmares illustrating the realities of life. For Teresa, love and sex go together, whereas Tomas believes that having sex without love is possible. The female protagonist therefore suffers from the heaviness of life, while her male counterpart feels the unbearable lightness of being. Teresa later tries to gain this lightness for herself. Most of us carry the heavy and the light, the expression of either part depending on our character and circumstances. For that reason, one can identify with Teresa as well as Tomas and Sabina too.
Kundera led me to understand that the "specialness" of relationships is not really held in the place that we tend to think it is nor manifests itself in the way that we wish. That love is not what we think it is and unfortunately can sometimes only be gained through situations that we would otherwise find abhorrent if not consumed with these feelings. Sex and love are so intimately joined that it is very difficult to distinguish between the two. Tereza stayed with Tomas knowing he spent most days and nights in another woman’s arms because she loved him, and therefore would suffer anything for him. For her, sex and love were the same thing and that is what tormented her but at the same time made her stay.
The very fact that they stay together and seem to find some degree of happiness illustrates that an acceptance of a relationship that falls well short of satisfying and fulfilling hopes, is possible. Is Tomas and Tereza's tolerance of their imperfect love, their acceptance of where they have arrived at simply a reflection of the fact that you can't change the strong’s oppression of the weak? You may hate it, as Tereza hates Thomas' infidelity, but you have to accept it and move on. However, this suggestion that change can only be incremental. (at best) and that basically everyone must cope with life, however awful, must be rejected. Life without dreams is no life at all, but perhaps this is the very point that Kundera was trying to portray. Kundera plays with opposites: life and death, heaviness and lightness throughout his story. The reader can try to decide which life is happier: the light or the dark? What is "The Unbearable Lightness of Being?" It is the realization that, with no hope of knowing the right path from the wrong, there can be no wrong path. One is necessarily absolved of mistakes. The search for meaning in life leans towards the necessity of significance, which comes from a sense of weight.
The novel is an attempt to identify what makes us need companionship in life so badly, trying to understand the relationships between the conflicting desires that humans possess and act upon. It shows how vulnerable we are, and how miserable we can be made by our contradictory desires, aspirations and impulses. If you read deep enough into this novel you’ll repeatedly think, ‘he’s talking about me’.
Review: I really liked this book. It was the poetic and philosophical book about people that are just interacting with each other, mainly the man and the woman he was in love with. A touching and sad novel, at once a compelling love story, philosophical text, and dialogue with Frederich Nietzsche -- The Unbearable Lightness of Being is all of these and more, perhaps most importantly a manifesto of embracing nihilism.
Milan Kundera opens the novel with a discourse on Nietzsche's doctrine of the eternal recurrence. He rejects any view of the recurrence as being real or metaphysical. It is metaphorical he assures us. In a world of objective meaninglessness one must fall into nihilism unless one acts as if one's acts recur eternally, thus giving our acts "weight," the weight of those choices we make, as though recurring eternally, living forever. Kundera rejects Nietzsche's optimism and in compelling detail and poignancy he give us the story of the painful love affair of Tomas and Tereza, condemned by fate and choice to live together, yet never ceasing to cause each other enormous pain and suffering.
Opening Line: “The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it; to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!”
Closing Line: “The strains of the piano and violin rose up weakly from below.”
Quotes: "Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence...
Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch. The brotherhood of man on earth will be possible only on a basis of kitsch...”
Rating: Very Good.

114. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky

January 2008
History: First published in the literary journal The Russian Messenger in twelve monthly installments in 1866. It was later published in a single volume. It is the second of Dostoevsky's full-length novels after he returned from his exile in Siberia, and the first great novel of his mature period. Dostoevsky conceived the idea of Crime and Punishment in the summer of 1865, having lost all his money at the casino, unable to pay his bill or afford proper meals. At the time the author owed large sums of money to creditors, and he was trying to help the family of his brother Mikhail, who had died in early 1864.
Plot: Raskolnikov, a drop-out student, chooses to live in a tiny, rented room in Saint Petersburg. He refuses all help, even from his friend Razumikhin, and plans to murder and to rob an unpleasant elderly money-lender, Alëna—his motivation, whether personal or ideological, remains unclear. When Raskolnikov kills Alëna, however, he is also forced to kill her half-sister, Lizaveta, who happens to enter the scene of the crime.
After the bungled murder, Raskolnikov falls into a feverish state. He behaves as though he wishes to betray himself, and the detective Porfiry begins to suspect him purely on psychological grounds. At the same time, a chaste relationship develops between Raskolnikov and Sonya—a prostitute full of Christian virtue, driven into the profession by the habits of her father—and Raskolnikov confesses his crime to her. The confession is overheard by Svidrigaylov, a shadowy figure whose aim is to seduce Raskolnikov's sister, Dunya. Svidrigaylov appears to have a hold over Raskolnikov, but when he unexpectedly commits suicide, Raskolnikov goes to the police himself to confess. He is sentenced to penal servitude in Siberia; Sonya follows him, and the Epilogue holds out hope for Raskolnikov's redemption and moral regeneration under her influence.
Review: However famous and meaningful, I found the book to be dull. I understood it. And I got the angst behind the story, but I couldn’t relate to the main character. Had no sympathy, felt he was a loser from the start.
Crime and Punishment is a brooder of a book. It looks unsparingly at the lives of the desperate and destitute - comprising most its central characters - and sends them in circles around a very lonely and philosophically distraught young man who makes a terrible decision: murder. It isn't made in haste, but meticulously planned and carried out until the act itself is within his grasp, at which point it explodes in his face. Rather than empowerment, he comes face to face with reality: his less-empowered and certainly more human inadequacies.
The problem, however, is that the police aren't after him...or are they? He tries several times early in the novel to expose his crime, but barely arouses suspicion - if anything, people around him grow more and more concerned for his health. The irony is that it's after Raskolnikov's crime when everyone around him starts paying him visits and taking care of him - even though half the time he's flirting with madness and fever. It is during this purgatorial reprieve from justice - with the police as close as his friends - that he is drawn into the lives of those around him and takes pains to emancipate the weak from their burdens.
Characters sad and corrupt walk into his life, often literally, and draw him into their own. Vacillating between pity, outrage, and spiritual agony, Raskolnikov takes great pains to make amends with those around him, sensing that the payment for his earlier crime is hanging inevitably in front of him, whatever turn he takes. After all, if the noose is in the mind, there are no lands you can escape to.
Dostoevsky, who spent four years as a political prisoner prior to writing C&P, writes honestly about the souls of those who are defeated by the circumstances of life. The city to which the book is seemingly dedicated - albeit in a poison pen fashion - St. Petersburg, comes across as a Gothic cesspool of poverty and corruption.
Opening Line: “On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.”
Closing Line: “That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.”
Quotes: "If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be punishment-as well as the prison."
"I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity."
Rating: Okay

113. Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

January 2008
History: Published in 1938.
Plot: Fred Hale comes to Brighton on assignment to anonymously distribute cards for a newspaper competition. The antihero of the novel, Pinkie Brown, is a teenage sociopath and up-and-coming gangster. Hale had betrayed the former leader of the gang Pinkie now controls. Ida Arnold, a kind-hearted and decent woman, is drawn into the action by a chance meeting with the terrified Hale, whom Pinkie murders in obscure circumstances shortly afterwards. Pinkie's attempts to cover his tracks lead to a chain of fresh crimes and to an ill-fated marriage to Rose, a waitress who unknowingly has the power to destroy his alibi. Ida pursues Pinkie relentlessly, in part to protect Rose from the deeply disturbed boy she has married.
Review: Pinkie is an excellent villain and the extent to which he will push the boundries in order to preserve his own hide is fascinating. Ida Arnold, an unlikely heroine, pursues the evil but failed gangster; she seeks his punishment, while trying to save from his influence the young woman, Rose, whom Pinkie has married to buy her silence. In these terms, with vivid but usually straightforward characters and well-drawn locations, and the shocking conclusion, Rose discovers Pinkie’s true nature.
Opening Line: “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.”
Closing Line: “She walked rapidly in the thin June sunlight towards the worst horror of all.”
Quotes: “the boy stood and watched them, and as they came down the pool a second time he saw in the flood lit water his own image shiver at their stroke, the anrrow shoulders and the hollow breast, and he felt the brown pointed shoes slip on the splashed and shining tiles.”
Rating: Okay

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

112. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

History: Published in 1838, this is Dickens second novel. Oliver Twist is the first novel in the English language to centre throughout on a child protagonist and is also notable for Dickens' unromantic portrayal of criminals and their sordid lives. the book calls the public's attention to various contemporary social evils, including the Poor Law that states that poor people should work in workhouses/poorhouses, child labour and the recruitment of children as criminals. Dickens mocks the hypocrisies of the time by surrounding the novel's serious themes with sarcasm and dark humour. The novel may have been inspired by the story of Robert Blincoe, an orphan whose account of his hardships as a child labourer in a cotton mill was widely read in the 1830s. Obviously, Dickens' own early youth--he was vulnerable, and a child laborer--must have also entered. The book was originally published in Bentley's Miscellany as a serial, in monthly installments
Plot: Oliver Twist is born into a life of poverty and misfortune in a workhouse in an unnamed town (although when originally published in Bentley's Miscellany in 1837 the town was called Mudfog and said to be within 75 miles north of London). Orphaned almost from his first breath by his mother’s death in childbirth and his father’s unexplained absence, Oliver is meagerly provided for under the terms of the Poor Law, and spends the first eight years of his life at a baby farm in the 'care' of a woman named Mrs. Mann. Along with other juvenile offenders against the poor laws, Oliver is brought up with little food and few comforts. Around the time of the orphan’s ninth birthday, Mr. Bumble, a parish beadle, removes Oliver from the baby farm and puts him to work picking oakum at the main workhouse (the same one where his mother worked before she died). Oliver, who toils with very little food, remains in the workhouse for six months, until the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots; the loser must ask for another portion of gruel. The task falls to Oliver, who at the next meal tremblingly comes forward, bowl in hand, and makes his famous request: "Please, sir, I want some more."
A great uproar ensues. The board of well-fed gentlemen who administer the workhouse, while eating a meal fit for a mighty king, they offer five pounds sterling to any person wishing to take on the boy as an apprentice. Later, Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker employed by the parish, takes Oliver into his service. He treats Oliver better, and, because of the boy's sorrowful countenance, uses him as a mute, or mourner, at children's funerals. However, Mr. Sowerberry is in an unhappy marriage, and his wife takes an immediate dislike to Oliver – primarily because her husband seems to like him – and loses few opportunities to underfeed and mistreat him. He also suffers torment at the hands of Noah Claypole, an oafish but bullying fellow apprentice who is jealous of Oliver's promotion to mute, and Charlotte, the Sowerberry's maidservant, who is in love with Noah.
One day, in an attempt to bait Oliver, Noah insults the orphan’s late mother, calling her "a regular right-down bad 'un". Oliver flies into an unexpected passion, attacking and even besting the much bigger boy. Mrs. Sowerberry takes Noah's side, helps him subdue Oliver, punches and beats Oliver, and later compels her husband and Mr. Bumble, who has been sent for in the aftermath of the fight, into beating Oliver again. Once Oliver is sent to his room for the night, he does something that he hadn't done since babyhood - breaks down and weeps. Alone that night, Oliver finally decides to run away. He wanders aimlessly for a time, until a well-placed milestone sets his wandering feet towards London.
During his journey to London, Oliver encounters one Jack Dawkins, who is also affectionately known as the Artful Dodger, although young Oliver is oblivious to this hint that the boy may be dishonest. Dodger provides Oliver with a free meal and tells him of a gentleman in London who will "give him lodgings for nothing, and never ask for change". Grateful for the unexpected assistance, Oliver follows Dodger to the gentleman’s residence. In this way, Oliver unwittingly falls in with an infamous Jewish criminal known as Fagin, the "old gentleman" of whom the Artful Dodger spoke. Ensnared, Oliver lives with Fagin and his criminal associates in their lair at Saffron Hill for some time, naively unaware of their criminal occupations. He believes they make wallets and handkerchiefs.
Later, Oliver innocently goes out to "make handkerchiefs" because of no income coming in, with two of Fagin’s underlings: The Artful Dodger and a boy of a humorous nature named Charley Bates. Oliver realises too late that their real mission is to pick pockets. Dodger and Charley steal the wallet of an old gentleman named Mr. Brownlow, and promptly flee. When he finds his wallet missing, Mr. Brownlow turns round, sees Oliver, and pursues him. Others join the chase and Oliver is caught and taken before the magistrate. Curiously, Mr. Brownlow has second thoughts about the boy – he seems reluctant to believe he is a pickpocket. To the judge's evident disappointment, a bookstall holder who saw Dodger commit the crime clears Oliver, who, by now actually ill, faints in the courtroom. Mr. Brownlow takes Oliver home and, along with his housekeeper Mrs. Bedwin, cares for him.
Oliver stays with Mr. Brownlow, recovers rapidly, and blossoms from the unaccustomed kindness. His bliss, however, is interrupted when Fagin, fearing Oliver might "peach" on his criminal gang, decides that Oliver must be brought back to his hideout. When Mr. Brownlow sends Oliver out to pay for some books, one of the gang, a young girl named Nancy, whom Oliver had previously met at Fagin's, accosts him with help from her abusive lover, a brutal robber named Bill Sikes, and Oliver is quickly bundled back to Fagin's lair. The thieves take the five pound note Mr. Brownlow had entrusted to him, and strip him of his fine new clothes. Oliver, dismayed, flees and attempts to call for police assistance, but is ruthlessly dragged back by the Dodger, Charley and Fagin. Nancy, however, is sympathetic towards Oliver and saves him from beatings by Fagin and Sikes.
In a renewed attempt to draw Oliver into a life of crime, Fagin forces him to participate in a burglary. Nancy reluctantly assists in recruiting him, all the while assuring the boy that she will help him if she can. Sikes, after threatening to kill him if he does not cooperate, sends Oliver through a small window and orders him to unlock the front door. The robbery goes wrong, however, and Oliver is shot. After being abandoned by Sikes, the wounded Oliver ends up under the care of the people he was supposed to rob: Rose Maylie and her guardian Mrs. Maylie, the mother of kind-hearted Harry Maylie (who loves Rose). Convinced of Oliver’s innocence, Rose takes the boy in and nurses him back to health in 1837.
Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Monks has found Fagin and is plotting with him to destroy Oliver's reputation. Nancy, by this time ashamed of her role in Oliver's kidnapping, and fearful for the boy's safety, goes to Rose Maylie and Mr. Brownlow to warn them. She knows that Monks and Fagin are plotting to get their hands on the boy again and holds some secret meetings on the subject with Oliver's benefactors.
Meanwhile Noah Claypole has fallen out with the undertaker Mr. Sowerberry, stolen money from him and moved to London together with his girlfriend, Sowerberry's maidservant Charlotte. Using the name "Morris Bolter", he joins Fagin's gang for protection. During Noah's stay with Fagin, the Artful Dodger is caught with a stolen silver snuff box, convicted (in a very humorous courtroom scene) and transported to Australia. Later, Noah is sent by Fagin to "dodge" (spy on) Nancy, and discovers her secret. Fagin angrily passes the information on to Sikes, twisting the story just enough to make it sound as if Nancy had informed on him (in actuality, she had shielded Sikes, whom she loves despite his brutal character). Believing her to be a traitor, Sikes murders Nancy in a fit of rage, and is himself killed when he accidentally hangs himself while fleeing across a rooftop from an angry mob.
Monks is forced by Mr. Brownlow (an old friend of Oliver's father) to divulge his secrets: his real name is Edward Leeford, and he is Oliver's paternal half-brother and, although he is legitimate, he was born of a loveless marriage. Oliver's mother, Agnes, was their father's true love. Mr. Brownlow has a picture of her, and began making inquiries when he noticed a marked resemblance between her face, and the face of Oliver. Monks has spent many years searching for his father's child — not to befriend him, but to destroy him. Brownlow asks Oliver to give half his inheritance (which proves to be meager) to Monks because he wants to give him a second chance; and Oliver, to please Brownlow, complies. Monks then moves to America, where he squanders his money, reverts to crime, and ultimately dies in prison. Fagin is arrested and condemned to the gallows; in an emotional scene, Oliver goes to Newgate Gaol to visit the old reprobate on the eve of his hanging, (where he is already dying of some unspecified illness and burning-up with a fever).
On a happier note, Rose Maylie turns out to be the long-lost sister of Oliver's mother Agnes; she is therefore Oliver's aunt. She marries her long-time sweetheart Harry, and Oliver lives happily with his saviour, Mr. Brownlow. Noah becomes a paid, semi-professional informer to the police (a "stoolie", or "stoolpigeon" in American terminology). The Bumbles lose their jobs (under circumstances that cause him to utter the well-known line "The law is a ass") and are reduced to great poverty, eventually ending up in the same workhouse where they once lorded it over Oliver and the other boys; and Charley Bates, horrified by Sikes's murder of Nancy, becomes an honest citizen, moves to the country, and works his way up to prosperity.
Review: I love this book. One of the most misunderstood facts of the books is the many interpretations of Bill Sykes. Considered by many to be the books main villian, Sykes can hardly be viewed as this in the novel. Yes he is violent and cruel but his is a different and less sinister type of villany. Sykes is merely representitive of one of Fagin’s boys, ie: Dodger, grown up. Fagin and Oliver’s half-brother, Monks, are far more devious in their plotting to tarnish Oliver’s reputation.
The relationship between Sykes and Nancy is always very moving, and its relation and manipulation by Fagin is a sort of London slum version of Shakespeare’s Othello.
In the end, the constant oppression of the poor by the rich is the true evil in Dickens story.
Opening Line: “Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.”
Closing Line: “I believe it none the less because that nook is in a Church, and she was weak and erring.”
Quotes: "Please, Sir, I want some more."'
Rating: Very Good.

111. A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway

December 2007
History: A semi-autobiographical novel first published in 1929. The title is taken from a poem by 16th century English dramatist George Peele. Hemingway served as an ambulance driver for the Italian army in World War I. Severely wounded, he recuperated in a Red Cross hospital in Milan where he fell in love with one of his nurses. This relationship proved the model for Frederic and Catherine's tragic romance in A Farewell to Arms.
Plot:. Lieutenant Henry is an American ambulance driver for the Italian army during WWI . While on the Italian front, Frederick Henry is wounded in the knee by a mortar shell and sent to a hospital in Milan. He meets and attempts to seduce Catherine Barkley, a nurse at the hospital, and their relationship begins. Their relationship grows as they spend time together in Milan over the summer. He falls in love with Catherine but is healed, and has to return to the war. Then he returns to his unit, but not long after, the Austro-Germans break through the Italian lines and the Italians retreat. Frederick kills an engineering sergeant for insubordination. After falling behind and catching up again, he is taken to a place by the "battle police" where officers are being interrogated and executed for the "treachery" that supposedly led to the Italian defeat. However, after hearing the execution of a Lt.Colonel, Frederick escapes by jumping into a river. Catherine and Frederick reunite and flee to Switzerland in a rowing boat. They find a small home to raise their child. Frederick and Catherine live a quiet life in the mountains until she goes into labour. After a long and painful labour, their son is stillborn. Catherine begins to hemorrhage and soon dies, leaving Frederick to return to their hotel in the rain.
Review: Here is Hemingway at his pessimestic best. It is an absorbing story, capturing the essence of the great Hemingway writing style: lots of dialogue; short, easy to read sentences; and highly autobiographical. Hemingway imbues both Henry and Catherine with exceptional courage and grace throughout the story. Both are so very lonely and the reader is happy to see them find each other and a bit of themselves in the process of falling in love. Together they seem more capable of dealing with the world around them. They are no longer drifting and in many ways are fighting together and for each other.
Told through Henry's point of view, one gets to experience the tension at the front, the adrenaline rush that comes with running from the enemy, and the camaraderie of the men who are fighting for something they do not understand. All they know is that they would like for the war to be over so they can go home; a common refrain in war. Romance, while it may seem like an odd word to use when speaking of war, is pervasive throughout the story; in the descriptions of the men, the sadness and loneliness that pervade the lives of the individuals at the front, and people waiting at home for them to return.
This is a very sad story.
Opening Line: “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and plain to the mountains.”
Closing Line: “After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”
Quotes: "War is not won by victory."
Rating: Okay.

110. Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut

December 2007
History: Published in 1973.
Plot: The early chapters of the book introduce the two main characters: Kilgore Trout, a struggling science fiction writer, and Dwayne Hoover, an increasingly insane, but "fabulously well-to-do" car dealer. Kilgore receives an invitation to speak at a convention in Midland City.
Dwayne meanwhile is slowly going mad. He hallucinates, and his "bad chemicals" make him do many strange things. He insults his employees, making one of them think that Dwayne knows he is a secret transvestite. Many minor characters are introduced, most of whom have hidden links to other characters. Kilgore hitchhikes his way across the country and ends up in the bar at the same hotel as both the author and Dwayne.
The author points out the spiritual climax of the book: a snobbish painter explains his greatest work to the silent bar. The painting is of a single bright orange band on a huge green canvas. He explains that at the core of everything that exists can be found a shining bright line. A mother and her son, a father and his daughter, or two lovers: nothing but two shining, unwavering bands of light.
The author speaks of various fates that will befall the characters within the world he has created. Dwayne finally meets Kilgore, speed-reads one of Kilgore's science fiction books about the Creator of the Universe speaking to the only sentient being among a universe of robots, and, believing he is that one sentient being, everyone else is a machine, and that the Creator of the Universe is speaking to him, goes on a rampage. He attacks many people at the bar and bites the end off Kilgore's finger. They are all taken away in a large emergency vehicle.
After Kilgore is released from the hospital he is confronted by the author of the novel and has a few last things explained to him. The author tells Kilgore that he can send him anywhere in his past or future. The author then transports himself back to his own dimension as Kilgore shouts out in the author's father's voice: "Make me young!... Make me young!..."
Review: It is peppered with simple, childlike illustrations drawn by the author, and it tells a crazy-quilt story that eventually defies the constraints of the novel format itself. All of this seems to constitute an act of self-liberation, and it is: Vonnegut overhauling his creative world, breathing deeply and toying with the very nature of the novel.
The title echoes the claims of a well-known American breakfast cereal, and it crystallizes the irony of the author´s vision. Breakfast of Champions is one of his greatest successes, a freewheeling and hugely entertaining meditation on modern American life that draws in some definitive figures from the author´s imagination, such as the hapless sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout and the wealthy Elliot Rosewater, and finally the author himself. With a magic that contrasts the white-hot spell of his previous novel, Slaughterhouse Five -- and virtually deconstructs the novel itself -- Vonnegut´s Breakfast of Champions trips through American mindset of the early 1970s, its deadpan irony satirizing the party line on just about everything, from sex and racism to the Vietnam War and the meaning of the American dream.
One of Vonnegut´s most enduring creations, Kilgore Trout is a science fiction writer who has not known much success as Breakfast of Champions begins. To his amazement, he is invited to the Midwest, to participate in the Festival of the Arts in Midland City, at the insistence of the crazy but wealthy Eliot Rosewater. Trout is on a collision course with one of Midland City´s more successful businessmen, a Pontiac dealer named Dwayne Hoover, who happens to be slipping into insanity (too many bad chemicals in his system). Reading a Trout story sends Hoover completely around the bend. The novel itself then follows him, as Vonnegut´s inquisitive imagination divines the freaky chaos beneath the careful surface of American life. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Nora Sayre noted that "in this novel Vonnegut is treating himself to a giant brain-flush, clearing his head by throwing out acquired ideas, and also liberating some of the characters from his previous books ... This explosive meditation ranks with Vonnegut´s best."
I listened to this book. I love the way he writes and it’s just so funny, that the ridiculous story doesn’t really matter you just have to take one paragraph at a time.
The story… well there is one but it’s not going to engage you much
Opening Line: “This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome skinny fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.”
Closing Line: “Make me young, make me young, make me young, etc. “
Quotes: “New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become. “
Rating: Good

109. Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

History: Published in 1926. Mrs. Dalloway continues to be one of Woolf's best-known novels.
Plot: Clarissa Dalloway goes around London in the morning, getting ready to host a party that evening. The nice day reminds her of her youth at Bourton and makes her wonder about her choice of husband -- she married the reliable Richard Dalloway instead of the enigmatic Peter Walsh, and she had not the option to be with Sally Seton for whom she felt strongly. Peter himself complicates her thoughts by paying a visit, having returned from India that day. He stays in her thoughts way after the visit. Septimus Smith, a veteran of World War I, spends his day in the park with his wife Lucrezia. He suffers from constant and indecipherable hallucinations, mostly concerning his dear friend Evans who died in the war. After he is prescribed involuntary commitment, he commits suicide by jumping out of a window. Clarissa's party in the evening is a slow success. It is attended by most of the characters she has met in the book, including people from her past. She hears about Septimus' suicide at the party, and gradually comes to admire the act -- which she considers an effort to preserve the purity of his own happiness.
Review: Woolf's style--she is one of the most foremost proponents of what has become known as "stream of consciousness"--allows readers into the minds and hearts of her characters. She also incorporates a level of psychological realism that Victorian novels were never able to achieve. The everyday is seen in a new light: internal processes are opened up in her prose, memories compete for attention, thoughts arise unprompted, and the deeply significant and the utterly trivial are treated with equal importance. Woolf's prose is also enormously poetic. She has the very special ability to make the ordinary ebb and flow of the mind sing.
Mrs. Dalloway is linguistically inventive, but the novel also has an enormous amount to say about its characters. Woolf handles their situations with dignity and respect. As she studies Septimus and his deterioration into madness, we see a portrait that draws considerably from Woolf's own experiences. Woolf's stream of consciousness-style leads us to experience madness. We hear the competing voices of sanity and insanity.
Woolf's vision of madness does not dismiss Septimus as a person with a biological defect. She treats the consciousness of the madman as something apart, valuable in itself, and something from which the wonderful tapestry of her novel could be woven.
Opening Line: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
Closing Line: “For there she was.”
Quotes: “Love and religion! Thought Clarissa, going back into the drawing room, tingling all over. How detestable, how detestable they were!”
“For the truth is (let her ignore it) that human beings have neither kindness, nor faith, nor charity beyond what serves to increase their pleasure of the moment.”
Rating: Very Good.

Friday, June 19, 2009

108. Lady Chatterly’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence

History: Printed in Florence, Italy, in 1928, it was not printed in the United Kingdom until 1960. The publication of the book caused a scandal due to its explicit sex scenes, including previously banned four-letter words and perhaps because the lovers were a working-class male and an aristocratic female. The story is said to have originated from events in Lawrence's own unhappy domestic life, and he took inspiration for the settings of the book from Ilkeston in Derbyshire where he lived for a while. When it was published in Britain in 1960, the trial of the publishers, Penguin Books, under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 was a major public event and a test of the new obscenity law. The 1959 act (introduced by Roy Jenkins) had made it possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could show that a work was of literary merit. One of the objections was to the frequent use of the word "fuck" and its derivatives. Various academic were called as witnesses, and the verdict, delivered on 2 November 1960, was "not guilty". This resulted in a far greater degree of freedom for publishing explicit material in the UK. The prosecution was ridiculed for being out of touch with changing social norms when the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, asked if it were the kind of book "you would wish your wife or servants to read".
Plot: It is the story of Connie, Constance Reid, who marries Sir Clifford Chatterley in 1917 only to have him wounded in the war such that he must be confined to a wheelchair permanently soon afterwards. After a brief affair with Michaelis the playwright that leaves her unsatisfied, Lady Chatterley enjoys an extremely passionate relationship with Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper on their estate. The later stages of the novel move onto the issue of her pregnancy by Mellors and her trip to Venice to disguise the true parentage of the child. The truth is eventually uncovered and the novel ends with a sense of fulfillment for both Lady Chatterley and Mellors although the situation is never fully resolved.
Review: I listened to this book. This book describes sex and orgasms and erections in more detail than any other book I have ever read, in an almost a nonsexual level. Like separating the sex from sexual. He explains how he believes sex will be as it was intended when our sexual lives and our sexual thoughts are in harmony because mind and body should be in harmony.
Opening Line: "Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically."
Closing Line: "John Thomas says good night to Lady Jane, a little droopingly, but with a hopeful heart."
Quotes: “There is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen."
"And he stuck flowers in the hair of his own body, and wound a bit of creeping-jenny round his penis, and stuck a single bell of a hyacinth in his navel. She watched him with amusement, his odd intentness. And she pushed a campion flower in his moustache, where it stuck, dangling under his nose."
“her spirit seemed to look on from the top of her head, and the butting of his haunches seemed ridiculous to her, and the sort of anxiety of his penis to come to its little evacuating crisis seemed farcical. Yes, this was love, this ridiculous bouncing of the buttocks, and the wilting of the poor, insignificant, moist little penis. This was the divine love!”
Rating: okay but D.H. Lawrence is a poet.

107. Fury – Salmon Rushdie

History: Published in 2001.
Plot: s Fury is about Professor Solanka's Summer of 2000 in New York City. He's come to sort things out after abandoning his wife and young son back in London. He is plagued by feelings of intense anger, triggered by a word here or a word there, which rise up like inner volcanoes and it's all he can do to keep himself in check. Like a roving camera, the narrative follows the 55-year-old Solanka as he walks the mean streets teeming with angry cab drivers and rap-talking stoop-loungers. Solanka has a lot to think about -- he's a celebrity puppeteer whose creation, Little Brain, has become a victim of commercialization. Then there's the failed marriage of his close friend, not to mention his own withering relationship with his wife and son. Solanka bounces like a pinball from one torment to the next. He is an angry, impulsive man; but he is also pitiable and, at book's end, a bit desperate for love and acceptance. Most of the book chronicles Solanka's attempts to fit himself, the odd puzzle piece, into the mosaic of society. He's none too successful ("Something was amiss with the world"), not even in the relationships he strikes up with two women that summer. He has come to America to erase himself: a fury within him, and he fears he has become dangerous to those he loves. He arrives in New York at a time of unprecedented plenty, in the highest hour of America's wealth and power, seeking to "erase" himself. But fury is all around him.
Review: I listened to this book. It was read by Salmon Rushdie himself, and I do admire the way he uses his words, but I couldn’t really get into the story line. It’s about a man in his fifties who has this beautiful wife and wonderful young son, and all these women want him. Probably the authors fantasy. And it’s also about his invention that his sexy girlfriend is using on an island?
Opening Line: “Professor Malik Sulanka, retired history of ideas, irascible dollmaker, and since his fifty-fifth birthday, celibate and solitary by his own (and much criticized) choice, in his silvered years found himself living in a
Closing Line: “I’m bouncing higher and higher!”
Quotes: “To be free of attachment and so also of anger, fear, and pain. Eat me, Professor Solanka silently prayed. Eat me, America, and give me peace.”
Rating: Mediocre.

106. Don’t Move – Margaret Mazzantini

December 2007
History: Published in 2004.
Plot: Filtered through the thoughts and memories of Timoteo, a distant husband and disciplined surgeon, the story chronicles the mental landscape of a man who clings to the hope that his daughter, Angela, will pull through after a serious scooter accident leaves with a subdural hematoma, straddling the tightrope between life and death. Timoteo's helplessness in the situation, his inability to play God and suture her wounds, leaves him in desperation. While the surgical team operates on Angela's brain, he mentally composes a letter of confession and remorse that exposes his failures in matters of the heart and chronicles the love that could have redeemed him.
Through this confession, Timoteo maps his life's coordinates: first distant and cold, marking the growing emotional chasm with his wife, the career headed down the road to success, and the swift advancement to esteemed surgeon at the hospital. But when he meets Italia, an unlikely mistress who with her "peroxided blond hair, her painted face, and her multicolored bag,... looked like a clown left behind by the circus," the floodgate to his passion and desire opens and overcomes him in an outburst of carnality. The coordinates of this hidden life, simultaneously erotic and repulsive, converge in an unexpected manner. Upon their first meeting, Italia invites him into her apartment while he waits for his car's repair, and he rapes her. While disturbing, it's not half as twisted as how the rape then transforms into to a love affair between the two.
Despite Timoteo's egregious machismo, the way he ravishes Italia and uses her ugly, downtrodden body for gratification, their many erotic encounters provoke and pleasure (in spite of the translation's repetitive and awkward reference to her "sex" and his "member"). Still, it's difficult to stomach or believe the range of emotions Timoteo feels for this woman who he abuses, who he manipulates, and who disgusts him, but also who he loves and ultimately yearns for. In retrospect, he regrets this self-absorption, the animal instinct that prompts him to place his pregnant wife in a cab and then pursue Italia down the street, so they can have sex, in an alley, in the pouring rain. But he also excuses it as love, a primitive bond without rational explanation. He finds her physically repulsive, and often refers to her by the pet name "Crabgrass," yet he open himself to her in a way he never has before. It's actually Italia's ungainliness, her troubled heart, and her willingness to follow him like a dog -- from hotel room to hotel room on his business travel -- that allows him to feel safe in his growing affection.
Review: What is one supposed to make of the violation of Italia's body, when in the end Timoteo professes his love for her? Perhaps part can be attributed to a difference in gender roles in Italy -- the setting of the novel and the author's country of residence -- that the women are emotional and submissive and that the men are distant and controlling. But even then, Timoteo's voice comes off as so pointedly sexual, calculating, and remorseless, at least during the course of the affair, that one questions if Mazzantini tries too hard a to paint Timoteo as a self-absorbed, sexualized male. And yet these excesses have left him empty, a progenitor of disharmonious relationships, and ultimately, "a plague-spreader, a man who marks others for misfortune, carelessly including those who love him."
Opening Line: “You ran the stop sign.”
Closing Line: “She’s the last woman in this story.”
Quotes: "nothing can save us from ourselves, and … indulgence is a fruit that's already decayed when it falls to the ground."
Rating: Mediocre.

105. Lord Jim – Joseph Conrad

November 2007.
History: This book was originally published in Blackwood's Magazine from October 1899 to November 1900.
Plot: Jim, a young British seaman, becomes first mate on the Patna, a ship full of pilgrims traveling to Mecca for the hajj. In a momentary lapse (whether from courage, judgment, instinct or other) during an accident, Jim joins his captain and other crew members in abandoning the ship and its passengers. A few days later, they are picked up by a British ship. However, the Patna and its passengers are later also saved, and the reprehensible actions of the crew are exposed. The other miscreants evade justice, leaving Jim to face a court of inquiry alone. The court strips him of his navigation command certificate for his dereliction of duty. Jim is angry with himself, both for his moment of weakness, and for missing an opportunity to be a 'hero'.
At the trial, he meets Marlow, a sea captain, who in spite of his initial misgivings over what he sees as Jim's moral unsoundness, comes to befriend him, for he is "one of us." Marlow later finds Jim work as a ship chandler's clerk. Jim tries to remain incognito, but whenever the opprobrium of the Patna incident catches up with him, he abandons his place and moves further east.
At length, Marlow's friend Stein suggests placing Jim as his factor in a remote inland settlement with a mixed Malay and Bugis population, where Jim's past can remain hidden. Here, Jim wins the respect of the people and becomes their leader by relieving them from the predations of the bandit Sherif Ali and protecting them from the corrupt local Malay chief. Jim wins the love of Jewel, a woman of mixed race, and is "satisfied... nearly." The end comes a few years later, when the town is attacked by the marauder "Gentleman" Brown. Although Brown and his gang are driven off, Dain Waris, the son of the leader of the Bugis community, is slain. Jim continues the conflict and ultimately fulfills his heroic destiny by suffering a fatal bullet in the heart, fired by Dain Waris's father Doramin as savage retribution for the death of his son.
Review: This is an adventure story in which a man’s cowardice was able to be redeemed, however his past does eventually catch up with him. I found it to be tedious to read, however I do think the story is a good one, Conrad’s writing is lengthy and dull.
Opening Line: “He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare that made you think of a charging bull.”
Closing Line: “He feels it himself, and says often that he is ‘preparing to leave all this; preparing to leave…’ while he waves his hand sadly at his butterflies.”
Quotes: "Vanity plays lurid tricks with our memory . . . "
"There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery."
Rating: Poor.

104. Schooling – Heather McGowan

History: Published in 2001, this is the first novel for this author.
Plot: Catrine Evans is a 13 year old American girl who loses her mother and is subsequently sent to a boarding school in England. She struggles with the memory of a childish prank that might have killed a man. She tells her secret to various people at her boarding school, including the Chemistry teacher, Mr. Gilbert. Catrine has a big crush on Mr. Gilbert and he takes her under his wing, teaching her art and spending time with her on weekends since her dad doesn't visit much. The real problem arises when Mr. Gilbert makes it apparent that he is secretly in love with her too.
Review: I could not get into it. Very strangely written, kind of scattered, a stream-of-consciousness narrative that encompasses dreams of her dead mother, a crush on a teacher, regretful memories of the life she left behind, and a determination to grow up--against the odds--into a whole, healed adult. I had to keep reading the reviews to figure out what this book is about, and I still don’t think I ever got it. The are scenes that are related but aren’t interesting enough to keep interest.
Opening Line: “Did it grieve me to bring the girl. Of course it did.”
Closing Line: “He says Your father but you aren’t listening.”
Quotes: “Yes, bored.”
Rating: Pretty bad.