Where's the book?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book #2: Euphoria

I started off the year with a bang (The Paying Guests) and now here's a whimper.

Euphoria, by Lily King, was on a lot of 2014 best-of lists. But I'm not sure why.

Loosely based on the early life of anthropologist Margaret Mead, the book takes place in New Guinea in the 1930s. The woman at the center of the story, Nell, has already made a name for herself in, and outside of, her field. Her husband Fen is jealous and competitive. And Andrew, the fellow anthropologist they meet up with, is so lonely, lost, and depressed that he is, when the story begins, suicidal. He is rejuvenated by his connection with Nell and Fen, and Nell responds to him as he reinforces her passion for her work.

The jungle setting is not one that every interests me. Although there are near constant references to the bugs and heat, King didn't really convey the setting, and although there were certain interesting details, I didn't feel myself there, in the place, with these people. The people themselves were nearly as thinly portrayed. Nell herself, the woman at the center of the story, is not terribly well-drawn, Andrew slightly better, and Fen is little more than a stock character -- the angry, jealous husband. He is so Snidely Whiplash-despicable that it's hard to give Nell the credit she deserves, since she chose this buffoon as her mate.

I appreciated the way King wove the many strands and voices -- Andrew's first-person account, Nell's diary, an omniscient third-person narrator. And the exploration of the science of anthropology itself was interesting -- King makes the case that the work reveals more about the anthropologist than the people studied. But it's hard to recommend a book when the most positive thing you can say about it is that it's relatively short and reads quickly. But there it is -- it's relatively short and goes by in a breeze. Enough?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Starting off the new year with a bang (and a resolution)

I resolved in 2014 to read a book a week, 52 books in total for the year. And I did it, with one book to spare: 53 books in all. Some were quick reads (any of Liane Moriarty's) and some took a while (any of Trollope's, particularly The Way We Live Now). But given my pace, I was a bit hesitant to go in for the really deep dives. So this year my resolution is somewhat different: instead of going wide, I'm going long.

I resolve to read those big, heavy, hard-to-hold-in-your-lap books that I've put off reading (or in one case, re-reading). In 2015 I will read War and Peace (doesn't everyone say that? but I mean it!) and The Power Broker and several more big Victorians (there are many of Dickens and Trollope that I've never cracked) and George Elliot's Daniel Deronda. And I will re-read A Suitable Boy, because it's been a long time and I loved it so much.

Onward! And read-ward!

Herewith the first book of 2015. And it was a good one:

#1 The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Absolutely brilliant. I completely agree with all the critics who put it on the Best Books of 2014 lists. Set in London in 1922, it's total immersion in post-WWI England. 26-year-old Frances Wray and her widowed mother have lost nearly everything in the war -- Frances's father, her two brothers, and almost all their money. All they have is their home, into which they are forced to welcome lodgers -- the paying guests of the title -- a young, lower-class married couple. Dozens and dozens of pages go by with very little happening, but it doesn't matter in the least. Frances scrubs the floors, makes lunch, her mother reads the parish newsletter, they go to the cinema to see the latest American crime thriller. The detail is anything but dull -- you are completely absorbed into this world. And unlike so many writers of period novels, Waters isn't showing off how much research she did -- she's pulling you so far in that you start to feel like you've time traveled to another era.

But just when you're wondering where it's all going, it goes places with a bang. A forbidden love story, lust, sex, murder, an investigation, an accusation...so much happens and it's all absolutely gripping. Alfred Hitchcock would have loved to make this book into a movie -- it reminded me very much of the quiet tension and particularly British Rebecca or Dial M For Murder. 
darkness of

Nearly 600 pages in three days -- that's an un-put-downable book. What a great way to start the year.

Monday, January 5, 2015

All the books I read in 2014

Here's the list, in chronological order, starting back in January:

  1. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  2. Someone by Alice McDermott *
  3. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel *
  4. The Boy Who Went Away by Eli Gottlieb
  5. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth Silver
  6. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Store
  7. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles *
  8. Little Failure by Gary Schteyngart *
  9. Straight Man by Richard Russo
  10. The Reef by Edith Wharton
  11. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger *
  12. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson *
  13. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger *
  14. Citizens of London by Lynne OIson
  15. Dr. Wortle’s School by Anthony Trollope
  16. Zoli by Column McCann
  17. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud *
  18. Longbourn by Jo Baker *
  19. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote *
  20. Time and Again by Jack Finney
  21. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
  22. The Book of Salt by Monica Truong
  23. How to Be Good by Nick Hornby
  24. Whose Body? By Dorothy Sayers *
  25. Lady Susan by Jane Austen
  26. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner *
  27. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
  28. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier *
  29. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
  30. Roman Fever and Other Stories by Edith Wharton (also Omicidio alla Moda)
  31. A Guilty Thing Surprised by Ruth Rendell
  32. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  33. ½ of The Luminaries by Elinor Catton
  34. The Emperor’s Children by Clair Messud
  35. The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer
  36. Bartleby the Scrivener * and Benito Cerino by Herman Melville
  37. When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson
  38. What Maisie Knew by Henry James
  39. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
  40. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
  41. Colorless Tsukuru Tasaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruka Murakami *
  42. The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
  43. Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
  44. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas *
  45. The Steppe and The Duel* by Anton Chekhov
  46. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel *
  47. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters * and Seymour an Introduction by J.D. Salinger
  48. My Brilliant Friend by Elana Ferrante
  49. The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
  50. The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty
  51. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  52. Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty
  53. Offcomer by Jo Baker
The ones with asterisks are those I particularly liked. My favorites? We Are Not Ourselves, Station Eleven, In Cold Blood, and Crossing to Safety. Two old, two new. How tidy. All quite different -- a post-apocolypic adventure, a rich family saga, a non-fiction crime novel, and a powerful story of friendship and marriage. But all have compelling characters, fascinating narratives, and beautiful, moving language. It was a good year. Onward!