Archive for October, 2012
I’ve moved on to my next 1001 book, which is one that I’ve been wanting to read for a while now: Wittgenstein’s Mistress. It’s a little different than I expected. In fact, it’s experimental and unlike any book I’ve ever read before, but I kind of like it so far. It’s basically constant narration, although I think the best way for you to get a feel for what it’s like is to read it yourself. So here’s how the book starts:
“In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.
Somebody is living in the Louvre, certain of the messages would say. Or in the National Gallery.
Naturally they could only say that when I was in Paris or in London. Somebody is living in the Metropolitan Museum, being what they would say when I was still in New York.
Nobody came, of course. Eventually I stopped leaving the messages.
To tell the truth, perhaps I left only three or four messages altogether.
I have no idea how long ago it was when I was doing that. If I were forced to guess, I believe I would guess ten years.
Possibly it was several years longer ago than that, however.
And of course I was quite out of my mind for a certain period, too, back then.”
It’s difficult to find a place to stop with this book because it just goes on and on and on, building off of what was said before or changing topic so quickly that you can’t tell when this is about to happen. I just started this afternoon, and I’m about 50 pages in. We’ll see if my interest in it will be able to keep up for an entire book like this or whether I’ll get tired of it once the novelty wears off. It certainly is interesting, though.
After this, I think that I might have to switch to something happier. Not that Villette was a particularly depressing book, but in American Lit we’re back on slavery, which recalls Olaudah Equiano. Not to mention that the play our theater department is putting on right now is about a woman who hid Jews during the Halocaust, and I went to see that this weekend. It’s important to read/watch plays about these things, but there’s only so much a person can take in a given amount of time. I’m open to suggestions if you have them.
- Sometimes, You Have to Read Something Depressing (dste9.wordpress.com)
My experience reading this book is really best described in stages. Stage 1, the beginning of the book, was good. I liked the set up, I was getting familiar with the characters, and then comes Stage 2, in which all the characters except the narrator abruptly dissapear.
That would be fine except for the fact that the author had really given me no reason at all to care about the narrator up to this point. In fact, I thought that another character named Polly was the one that we were supposed to focus on (I also liked her best). I may have mentioned this before, but, for me, a huge part of any book is the characters, especially the main character. If I don’t like the main character, the book is basically sunk. In this case, I didn’t care about the main character, perhaps because there was so little revealed about her. Thus, I was thrown off course for basically the entirety of Stage 2.
Stage 3 is where things are gradually beginning to get better, but it doesn’t really pick up until Stage 4, the last 50 or so pages at which point I found it difficult to put the book down. So that’s good, but I’m not sure that those 50 pages can entirely make up for the fact that the plot was SO SLOW to develop. I should not be wondering what the real plot is supposed to be when I’m halfway through the book. Sometimes I can take slowness (I am, after all, still reading Clarissa, practically the longest, slowest book of all time), but in this case I just wasn’t happy about it.
It probably also didn’t help that I didn’t particularly care for a certain character that I’m sure I was supposed to like by the end. Nor did it help that I can’t speak a word of French (little bits of it pop up frequently, usually in dialogue). And it especially didn’t help that my dislike of the main character was exacerbated when she started narrating things like this:
“…a subtle essence of Romanism pervaded every arrangement: large sensual indulgence (so to speak) was permitted by way of counterpoise to jealous spiritual restraint. Each min was being reared in slavery; but, to prevent reflection from dwelling on this fact, every pretext for physical recreation was seized and made the most of. There, as elsewhere, the CHURCH strove to bring up her children robust in body, feeble in soul, fat, ruddy, hale, joyous, ignorant, unthinking, unquestioning.”
And then she goes on to compare this to the terms that the devil offers to people in exchange for worshipping him. REALLY? No matter what your religion, I’m sure you can see the offense in that. As a Catholic myself, I was personally offended. Very highly.
So, I’ve decided to give this book a rating of 2 1/2 stars, which puts it just under the average book. I went back and forth a bit, considering bumping it up to 3 stars, but Stage 2 was just too long. If the portions I enjoyed would have been a greater part of the book, it might have made it there. As is, I’m disappointed to find that it wasn’t nearly as good as Jane Eyre.
- LT Group Read: Villette (dste9.wordpress.com)
- Villette Reflections 1: Where’s the Plot? (dste9.wordpress.com)
- Villette Reflections 2: It Gets Better (dste9.wordpress.com)
- Villette-Charlotte Brontë (akilollipop.wordpress.com)
My second reflection for Villette. Spoiler warning.
There’s a certain time every Friday afternoon when I look around and suddenly realize that everyone is gone. 95% of the students here live off campus, and the remaining 5%… well, let’s just say that most of them seem to see little value in hanging around on weekends. Many go home, others work, and those of us who are left experience a very particular type of quiet.
Having very little to do, I spent the afternoon reading. At first I was in my dorm room, but when I returned after taking a walk, I found it stifling (I have no real control over the heating). So I left again. It’s a unique feeling to walk through hallways that are normally bustling with people and find them almost completely empty at 3:00 in the afternoon. I could almost have believed myself entirely alone. As I sat outside the library, the only occupant of a large area filled with comfortable chairs, I could hear nothing but the gentle whirring of the ventilation system.
Actually, it was quite relaxing. I got a lot of reading done– over a hundred pages. But it also had a certain strangeness, as though the world outside held a raging blizzard, permitting no one to stir from home, instead of a clear and sunny day in late October. Such are most Saturdays on campus.
Here’s my first reflection on Villette. Warning, it does contain multiple spoilers.
As I may have mentioned, the book that brings us the list of 1001 books you must read before you die has been updated a few times. The original edition was published in 2006, and since then there have been updated editions every two years. I’ve been reading the combined list, which basically means that any book that was listed in any edition is fair game. Recently, a 2012 edition of the list was published. Unfortunately, it wasn’t published in the United States (where I live) so it’s basically impossible for me to get a copy.
Fortunately, we have the internet. A very nice person on Goodreads put up a shelf containing the books that were added to the 2012 edition. The list includes:
- The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
- 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
- Nemesis by Philip Roth
- Cain by Jose Saramago
- A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
- The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
- A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
- There but for the by Ali Smith
- The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
- The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
So, since I read 1Q84 this summer, I’m adding it to my total. Since I would have read it anyway, it’s kind of like getting a freebie. How nice!
Because of my little experiment, I’ve done a lot of reading over the past few days, but all of it has been in Villette. I probably should have balanced it with a bit of The Victory Lab, but I just felt like taking a short break from that one. As for Clarissa, the fact that I only have it as an e-book made it impossible for me to read while trying to avoid technology.
I actually started reading Villette as an ebook also because it’s one of the ones you can get for free through Amazon. But when I found out that there was a copy of it in our University library, I made the switch in a minute. I definitely prefer physical books to ebooks (in most cases) mostly because technology is so needy. My laptop needs to be turned on and off, it needs time to load, it needs to periodically be plugged into the wall for charging. And after all that, it’s somewhat glitchy in that it can sometimes get stuck on a page for 30 seconds before it loads the next one. All of these are annoyances that are not found with a physical book, and that’s why I will always prefer them.
As I read the first three chapters, I became very interested in the character Polly, so when she disappeared and the plot began to revolve instead around Lucy, a narrator who doesn’t reveal much about herself as a character, it took some time for me to adjust. I also found in this new section that bits of French began popping up more and more. Normally I would be fine with this, but there aren’t any translations given either in the text itself or in footnotes added for the edition itself. As I can’t understand a word of French, these present a constant annoyance to me, like being repeatedly reminded of something a bit unpleasant. I know that the portions are so small that they can’t possibly be very significant, but I want to understand everything.
Apart from that, though, it is a rather enjoyable book, especially once I caught on to a plot and a particular hint. I quickly finished volume 1, which ended on such a cliffhanger that I had to continue. Volume 2 completely subverted an expectation I had been forming, so now it seems that I might have to reexamine everything. I don’t know whether anyone else would have read it the same way, but I did.
I can’t help comparing it to Jane Eyre as I read. The style is such that it’s very easy to see that both have the same author, and because Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books, they keep jumping out at me.
Villette: page 224 of 618
The Victory Lab: page 100 of 321
Clarissa: 70% through volume 9 of 9