This is the third book in a series (previous books are The Whistling Season and Work Song), neither of which I had heard of before this. I gather from scouring the Internet that to tell you what is going on in book 3 will totally spoil things for books 1 and 2. Therefore, in a first for this website, this entire review will go below the spoiler cut. I really enjoyed the book and will be keeping an eye out for the other two, and this gets four stars.
In Tarrytown, New York, there's a home/business called The Stitchery. Throughout the years, the Van Ripper ladies have been knitting bespelled garments for people upon request. You may or may not pay them money, but you will have to sacrifice an object of yours that has great sentimental value for the project--and while the ladies will hold on to it forever, you can't get it back ever. Without the sacrifice, they don't think the magic will work. And alas, there are no guarantees and no take-backs if it doesn't. The Stitchery is a run-down house in a run-down artist/hippie enclave known as Tappan Square, and the city Powers That Be are looking to tear it all down to build shopping centers and retiree homes and the like.
The story kicks off when family aunt and matriarch figure Mariah Van Ripper drops dead while yelling at the mayor about his plan. She leaves The Stitchery to all three of her nieces--not just Aubrey, the one everyone expected it to go to. One girl in every generation is destined to be the heir to The Stitchery and (presumably) to give up the rest of her life to knitting spells for people. The heir develops an unusual magical trait, such as smelling like roses all the time (Mariah) or developing incredibly eerie blue eyes (Aubrey).
Aubrey and her sisters grew up being raised by Mariah after their rebel mom Lila disappeared and was presumed dead, but her sisters basically flew the coop as soon as they could. Oldest sister Bitty became completely disillusioned about magic and made sure to run off and marry a well-to-do guy and settle down and have his kids instead. Youngest sister Meggie split as soon as she turned 18 to roam around the country, secretly looking for her missing mother. After Mariah's death, they return to Tarrytown and find out that The Stitchery can only be sold with the agreement of all three parties. Of course Aubrey doesn't want to sell, but the other sisters would be much more inclined to. And even if the sisters agree one way or the other, they may not get a choice about keeping the building when the town wants to demolish everything.
Bitty's marriage has been crumbling for awhile, and she's brought her two kids, Nessa and Carson, along with her. Nessa already feels the call to learn to knit, which Bitty is decidedly unthrilled about. Meggie finds herself bonding with Carson and reuniting with her long-lost best friend, but this conflicts with her inner need to chase after her mother, wherever she ended up. And Aubrey, who's been considered a freak for most of her life due to The Stitchery and her eyes, is falling in love with a nice fellow named Vic. But is the guardian of The Stitchery even allowed to fall in love at all? And when Aubrey gets the whopping idea to try to save Tappan Square with a giant amount of knitting....what is she going to do for a sacrifice? Ouch, indeed. And can it even work? I was reminded of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movie arguments over whether or not it was okay to sacrifice dating Mary Jane without oh, asking her if she wanted to risk it first.
This is the sort of "magic realism" book, kind of along the lines of things written by Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen. Except this story is much more on the side of realism. In those other books, magic seems guaranteed. In this world, however, the only clearly magic things are Mariah's brief ghostly appearances and the traits of the guardians and heirs. Other than that, it's a crapshoot as to whether or not the magic will work--and you could just as easily argue that it didn't do anything even if you got what you wanted. Just like real life--which could be good or bad, I don't know. But it's realistic. I think the knitting magic system is worked out well, though I did wonder at the nature of the sacrifices, some of which are incredibly hardcore (for example, the family founder aborted a wanted child to do a spell to keep her husband alive during wartime). Like real life, who knows if it'll work or not? Especially if the odds are against you. I was reminded of reading theSummoningseries, which works on possibilities. If there's a possibility that the magic can kick the outcome to the side you want, then it may work. If there isn't and the odds/numbers are against you, then...well, it won't.
While Bitty and Meggie come to their own resolutions about what to do with their lives, the story really felt like it was Aubrey's. Can she keep The Stitchery? Does she even want to? She wants Vic, but can she balance the two? What sacrifices are required of people in order to get what they want? And how do you deal with utter heartbreak and loss--and the hope that might come after that loss? In the end, she manages to find a place of peace within herself to deal with all of those conflicts, and how to deal with real life and real people instead of hiding away. It's a good journey for her, and I will admit that the book went to a few places that I did not expect it to go. And yet it ends on a good note, for all that I've probably made it sound like kind of a downer. This book isn't a downer, but it is realistic for what it is.
Oh yeah, and there is much yarn bombing, and I loved that.
Overall, I think I'm going to give it three and a half stars. I did feel like it was a little less deep in places--Bitty and Meggie kind of get short shrift compared to Aubrey, and when they're supposed to be main characters, I think that lessens the book a little. But it's a good read and I recommend it to other yarnies.
This is an interesting book, but it's not what you'd expect from reading the back of it. I am a card-loving dork, and a tarot/divination dork in particular, and on that level it's a fascinating setup. (I think I shall blog about the Octavo layout on another one of my blogs later.) And if you're a history nut, this is probably a book that is right up your alley. However, I would like to say to the folks that aren't totally up on the knowledge about what was happening in Sweden from 1789-1793....well, I would recommend that you NOT read the handy-dandy timeline that starts out the book. I say this as someone who is normally a total spoiler whore: it will mostly ruin the suspense/investment in the plot for you to read where this book is going. The timeline doesn't 100% spoil the plot for you because the author has enough leeway to work in the shadows enough to surprise you with hidden plot details, but I actively wished I hadn't known throughout the read of the book where it was going. That's the joys of writing a historical novel that takes place in real history, I guess.
A note on the formatting: this book is written after the main events of the novel. Most of it is from the narrator Emil's point of view, but he decided to try to make it as cohesive of a tale as possible by interviewing folks involved in/witnessing the events of the book afterwards, and he writes a fair number of chapters from other people's points of view. I didn't find this to be particularly bothersome or anything, but other folks seem to have found it strange in book reviews. Emil helpfully notes who he interviewed about things as well.
Emil Larsson is a secretaire (think customs official) in Stockholm, Sweden, always referred to as The Town, He's a loner, a man about town, a card player, and a man who takes great delight in his position and his shiny red cape. He's never been interested in marriage before, but his boss decides that he's going to make it mandatory that all secretaires get married, and Emil's the only one who doesn't even have a girlfriend. Emil has a psychic friend, Sofia Sparrow, who has a vision of him getting "love and connection." To lay out the situation for him, she does him an elaborate tarot* layout she calls the Octavo. It identifies 8 people who will be intertwined in Emil's life and search for a lady love, and he'll have to identify who in his world fits each slot. Mrs. Sparrow also does one for herself, which is about how she wants to save her royal friend Gustav's life. She figures out that her octavo and Emil's fit together and have some of the same people in them.
* note: Mrs. Sparrow's tarot deck is a bit different from the usual Rider-Waite variety, but you can pretty much figure out which cards mean what. And the exact deck she uses is mentioned somewhere, I just forget what it was.
The plot mostly revolves around Mrs. Sparrow's octavo/life goal in saving Gustav more than it does Emil's love life. The primary villain of the plot is the Uzanne, a noblewoman and the expert in the language of fans. She's backing Gustav's brother Karl for becoming ruler (and so she can be First Mistress), and is engineering a plan to kill Gustav with a powdered poisoned fan. To this end, she takes on a protegee, apothecaire Johanna Grey, who's provided to her by Town calligrapher/ally Fredrik Lind. Johanna's fleeing a horrible arranged marriage and is happy to be taken on, but as things go on, she's more and more creeped out at the Uzanne's demands. The Uzanne's fan prodigy, Anna Maria, on the other hand, is more into this sort of thing--plus she starts dating the brother of The Town's premier fanmaker, Christian Norden. Emil becomes friends with Christian's French wife, Margot, who's a nice lady. Lars the brother, on the other hand, is a blabbermouth whose loose lips sink ships.
For some dumbass reason, the Uzanne bets her favorite fan, Cassiopeia, in a card game. Mrs. Sparrow makes damn sure she wins it in the game (with Emil's help) and then sends it off to the Nordens to have the beading altered on it--some kind of magical spell reason, I guess? I wasn't sure what that did for it. Anyway, the Uzanne spends the rest of the book throwing shit fits about how her fan was "stolen" and keeps trying to get it back, and eventually Emil is more or less dragged into being the guy who will get her fan back. Ironically, Mrs. Sparrow planned on giving the fan back after its alteration, and she has Emil get it back when he buys a fan for his future fiancee. The Nordens are hired to make a bunch of similar fans for all of the Uzanne's teenaged protegees from fan class, and everything is all to culminate at a masked ball....
I liked the story in general. The characters are interesting and scheming and manipulative in creative ways. Everyone has a standout personality and has their role(s) to play in the upcoming drama, and I liked seeing how everyone fit into the Octavo. I've mentioned that the author had to work "in the shadows" for some of the later plot developments, and I think she makes that work well under the circumstances. I especially loved (and was even shocked by!) something Emil does at the end, very subtly. The callback that happens then is also quite on the nose. And the tarot aspects of are definitely neat to me.
What doesn't work so well:
(a) Emil comes off as a callow dude early on. I am happy to report that he comes into depth and caring for others as the story goes on. However...this ain't a romance, despite the supposed point of the book being one. Emil pretty much jumps at any attractive single female within his range throughout the book--even at the end. (Emil isn't the sort that can maintain platonic friendship well, apparently.) Honestly, I think he'll just marry anyone if he can ever get one to say yes. Even with the woman that we're supposed to assume is the winner, I don't know...I can't say I felt like there was much romance, love, connection, what have you going on there beyond the drama of the plot. They don't spend much time together getting to know each other. I don't even know if the lady in question loves Emil back or if she is just fond of him for helping her out. I guess Emil's choice at the end of the book is supposed to show growth, but mostly I just wonder how that's going to play out since I don't even know if it's all that mutual. Good luck to you, buddy.
(b) I.....had issues on some level with the plot of the book being all about fans. Not only are they a bit hard for someone reading it in 2013 to relate to, it's...well, related to what actually went down in history..... argh, I really can't comment without spoiling. Let's just say that I wish this book was a little more fictionalized and didn't go down in the way that history said and I found it kind of frustrating that for all of the buildup....things couldn't go as awesomely as they could have. And Mrs. Sparrow disappears for a part of the book, and when she returns...I don't know, I guess I expected a bigger reaction from her about how things went? The ending mostly kind of feels like a fizzle.
(c) And I'll be honest with you: this isn't a book for everyone. A lot of people will find it slow going or not to their taste in the style.If you're a history buff or a card buff or someone who's into court intrigues, sure, but everyone else? Maybe not.
I'll give it three and a half stars overall. It's cool for what it is and if you are into that sort of thing, but a few things don't quite pan out as you might wish or expect, and that's a ibt of a buzzkill to me.
This book is "the new Downton Abbey." Every single thing you will see mentioned about this book everywhere requires that you mention Downton Abbey. I think it is a legal requirement. So I will say that yes, if you're into one, you will like the other. The main difference here is that (a) the lead couple is less sterling and in love than on DA, and (b) there's a lot more illegitimate babies.* But still, there's a good start to juicy drama, and it does start at around the same point as DA, at the start of WW1 just before things get crazy.
Before I begin, I just want to praise the name. "Rutherford Park" sounds nicely snooty, with that lovely upper-crust tone of somewhere that's a fancy institution of bluebloods. I still don't quite understand the English tradition of naming their fancy buildings something other than "Ourlastname Manor" or whatever, but I approve of the name choice!
Anyway: William Cavendish is lord of Rutherford Park, and he's a 59-year-old priggish stick-in-the-mud that wants everything to go according to tradition, and he worships his dead relatives and lineage, especially his dead dad. He married an enthusiastic rich girl, Octavia, and then proceeded, along with everyone else at Rutherford Park, to browbeat the fun out of her. The poor girl wasn't allowed to enthusiasticallly embrace her husband, to go barefoot, to plant any plants, to make any decisions, or even to play with her own children. THE SHAME of wanting to do anything fun! Oh noes! The poor woman gets crap for so much as speaking to a maid or going down to look at a tree. So twenty years and three children later, Octavia is completely and utterly depressed and bored and not allowed to have any liveliness to her whatsoever.
Christmas is when everything blows up for the family:
(a) Harry has knocked up Emily the housemaid, and a six-months-pregnant Emily is finally discovered to be knocked up. She tries to drown herself in the river and is saved from the drowning, gives birth, and then dies. Harry feels guilty about the whole thing and takes up being a party boy to try to drown out the guilt. Octavia secretly has her granddaughter taken care of. Harry would like to become a pilot, and eventually starts investigating plane flight. This may be awfully convenient when war breaks out, don'tchaknow.
(b) William's pretentious and annoying French cousin Helene comes to visit...again...and Octavia spots her embracing William. And he doesn't seem to be 100% against the idea either. Soon after that, the family goes up to London for youngest daughter Louisa's presentation and Helene comes to visit again...bringing her 21-year-old son Charles, who's looking for an inheritance from William. Yup. William and Helene have been having some kind of off-and-on crazy affair even before William got married. Octavia can't deal with it any more and goes home to Rutherford Park alone for the summer, leaving the rest of the family to their own devices.
While left alone with some family friends, the newly-presentable-for-marriage Louisa starts getting some woo pitched to her by Maurice, a Frenchman who seems transparently like a bounder. He's employed at a job and otherwise penniless, and he claims to know Harry but Harry is all "who?" (Note: there's a third child, Charlotte, but she's pretty much forgotten about in the narrative. Maybe in the next book.)
And then there's John Gould, an American amateur historian who's boffing about to the various English country houses to do research. Having received a forgotten-about vague invitation from William already, he shows up for the summer and meets Octavia. Octavia's jealous as hell of someone who can actually do something with his life, unlike her and her relatives. John, for the record, is a fellow who tends to travel around and seems to have a short attention span for relationships, but he seems to fall for Octavia because she's needy. So yeah, they end up having an affair, to the point where Octavia flat out tells William that she plans on leaving because William's never loved her and she wants the experience of being loved by someone. He wouldn't begrudge her that, would he?
Except, of course, he would. Which leads to the debate as to whether or not William actually cares about the wife that he's usually ignoring except ot rebuke her. Eventually Louisa's romance blows up, leading to secrets being discovered and plans being thrown awry, and an open ending that makes you wonder where it's going to go.
There's some other brief diversions to talk about the lives of the servants at Rutherford Park, but I'll be honest with you: they weren't all that interesting. It's stuff like Mary the other housemaid hating her lot in life, but it's still better than working at the factory with the rest of her family, and Mrs. Jocelyn the housekeeper being secretly in love with William and hating the shit out of Octavia. It might have benefitted the book more to drop some of these brief diversions with the characters, especially when they weren't getting a whole lot of plot in the first place.
Overall, it's interesting, but the drama's only barely begun. I don't know if I'm madly in love with any one character as yet, but you sympathize with them--even William as he starts to become less douchey towards the end, finally. I've heard that the author is working on book 2, which is a good thing because it feels like this is just the start of things...
You've probably already heard how this book works since the movie came out, but it's a book review, so I need to lay down the line about what's going on here in order to do that.
"Spent the fortnight gone in the music room, reworking my year's fragments into a 'sextet for overlapping soloists': piano, clarinet, 'cello, flute, oboe, and violin, each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor; in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan't know until it's finished...." --Robert Frobisher.
This book tells six stories in wildly different styles, narrations, and time periods, ranging from the 1800's to the way fare future. Each story except for the sixth breaks off halfway through, and it's structured like a Russian nesting doll-- you read half of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, then read the sixth in its entirety, then go back to 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Each story is tracking the same soul as it gets reincarnated, and we know who it is because they have a random comet birthmark*. Each story is heard of by the person after them in some way, in that they found someone's journal, or letters, or read the story as a fictional novel, or saw it in a movie, or saw the recording of them speaking. Whether or not they're real or fictional is vagued up in at least one person's case. The stories don't really tie together with the previous stories very much--one character exists in 2 out of the 6 stories as himself, the memory of another character is brought up a lot in a subsequent story, and one character figures out that she's the reincarnation of the previous fellow when she starts remembering things he did/knew.. And only one story (the sixth) lets you know ahead of time before the fifth story returns as to how it ends. Most other folks just refer to losing the other half of the story and then finding it later.
* Which really doesn't make any sense in the case of the tank-grown clone fabricant, though. Gotta say it. Also, two of the same reincarnated characters were probably alive at the same time, so what the fuck there?
Do these stories tie together beyond that? Eh...not really.... I will say it seems to me to be a stretch to imagine that all of these six main characters are the same soul. I can see the similarities between the male characters--especially Frobisher and Cavendish, both of whom are snarky, shifty dudes-- and the female characters are all awesomely heroic. I just don't really see that they're ALL the same person in different ways like we're told by this whole comet birthmark thing. Going from Frobisher to Rey to Cavendish to Somni in particular is rather whiplash-y for a person's soul, like they were backsliding every other life or something. I just read a quote elsewhere saying that the point of reincarnation is to improve from life to life--and I don't think this is the case here.
Anyway, beyond this point, I am just going to comment on each story separately. Heck, you could pretty much just read each section and then skip ahead to the other half of it without really missing a lot. And yes, I tried that after awhile. Especially since you'll mostly forget about the plight of Adam Ewing after so much time spent away from him. Mostly this just seems like the author's excuse to write stories in different narration styles and genres. Fun for him, but does it work overall? Does each story work by itself? Hmmm....
"The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing" is a journal written up by American Adam Ewing in the 1800's or so as he sails around islands. He makes a "friend" named "Dr. Henry Goose" who he first thinks is nuts, but unfortunately befriends him later on and they later board the same ship Adam makes another friend when a stowaway slave hides out in his room on the ship and Adam helps him out. But Adam becomes ill, and his "friend" the "doctor" starts treating him for a "parasite," except the "treatment" seems to be making him worse...yeah, you get where that's going faster than poor Adam does. In between writing about how ill he is, Adam notes the buggery and beatings going on on the ship and the racial tensions going on. I found this one hard to get into, especially since (a) the racial stuff isn't exactly fun to read about, (b) someone writing about being ill isn't exactly captivating stuff, and (c) essentially you're just sitting around waiting for Adam to figure out what's going on already. I liked the resolution for the most part and how Adam changed his thinking, but this wasn't my favorite.
"Letters from Zedelghem" are the letters sent from Robert Frobisher (a young, spendthrift, scammy, bisexual British composer who's been disowned) to his lover, scientist Rufus Sixsmith, in 1931. Frobisher gets the bright idea to offer himself up as a musical amanuensis to Vyvyan Ayrs (wow, so many y's, and how do you pronounce it?!), a composer of renown who has lost the abilitiy to write down his compositions due to ill health and an especially whopping case of syphilis. Lord knows the dude needs a job and a home, and this works out for awhile. Frobisher is very serious about his composing (see above), and he does sound like he does good work for the dude. He also comes across Adam Ewing's journal as his bedtime reading, making a comment that "A half-read book is a half-finished love affair" when it takes him awhile to find the second half. But there's no doubt when you're reading the letters that Frobisher is a rotter type-- he steals expensive books from the library and sells them (hey, it's not like anyone's CHECKING...), he boinks the man's wife when she offers herself up on a platter and then denies the affair, and he's always hitting Sixsmith or someone up for cash. Plus there's the boss's daughter, who Frobisher dislikes at first and vice versa, but when she comes back from her travels acting much more friendly, he decides that he's falling for her, Mrs. Robinson-style. None of this goes well for him. (Plus I seriously wonder why he writes all this shit about other women to someone else he's romantically involved with-like, it doesn't occur to him that Rufus might mind?) So in general, it's clear that the guy is kind of a dick. And yet, he's snarky enough to keep you entertained even though you know he's a jerkwad. I feel sorry for everyone that ever dealt with him (and to some degree, vice versa as well), but his flippant tone of voice does keep you amused even as you think, "Geez, dude, keep your hands out of the honey pot." So at least he's more interesting, if unpleasant. I feel a little sorry for the dude, though And I definitely feel sorry for Rufus.
"Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery:" This one's a straight up mystery thriller, taking place in the 1970's. Intrepid young reporter Luisa Rey is investigating a power plant that is most likely very unsafe. Rufus Sixsmith, now an old scientist, meets her in an elevator during a power outage and realizes she's a person he can trust with this terrible secret, especially when she indicates she'd do anything to protect a source just like her dad used to. He tells her that the new nuclear reactor on Swannekke Island isn't as safe as it's supposed to be, so Luisa goes to investigate. Sixsmith flees for his life and is eventually killed, but he stashed his report of this...somewhere... Luisa has several near-death experiences as bad guys try to kill her repeatedly, and they do eliminate a lot of folks. Including Isaac Sachs, an engineer Luisa barely meets a few times, but he seems to have fallen in love with her at first sight. (Doesn't do him any good, though. Kinda pointless to bring it up, even!) While risking her life to investigate this, she does come across Frobisher's letters and starts to remember things about his life--and she even orders a copy of the Cloud Atlas Sextet. This was my second favorite of the stories--it was very nearly number one except that Somni is such a whammy. This is also what really got me into reading the book compared to the first two. Maybe I'm just more of a mystery/thriller girl, but it's a good story and Luisa is very intrepid!
"The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish:" Tim Cavendish is a semi-shifty, kinda scammy old English publisher in our time who has a stroke of luck when a thug client of his pitches a client off a balcony. Suddenly his book is a best seller, or at least it sells enough to pay off Cavendish's debts. Alas, that gets the attention of the client's thug brothers who want a chunk of that money...which turns out to not actually exist. Cavendish goes aorund begging for funds from his brother, who is clearly tired of being hit up for cash. Instead, the brother offers him a "safe house" in Hull to hide at from the gangsters. Except Aurora House isn't a hotel--it's a nursing home/roach motel for old people. You can check in, but you can NEVER, EVER check out. And poor Cavendish gets drugged to the point where he thinks he had a stroke for awhile.... Then he starts plotting a breakout. Well, several breakouts.
On the one hand, evil nursing homes are definitely in my top ten list of things I never, ever want to read about in my life. I've spent enough time in those hellholes and it freaks me out. On the other hand, Cavendish is pretty much an older version of Frobisher in the same style of "you know he's a jerkass, but he's entertaining about it", and he's throwing off snarky quips left and right. It's both a horror story and a silly comedy all at once. Strange tale, and freaks me out in places, but it's not bad otherwise. I was also amused when he commented about the movie that would be made of this.... Oh yeah, and as a publisher, he's reading Luisa's story as a fictional novel submitted to him. Whatever that means here, I do not know. It's getting a little weirdly meta at this point on the crossovers here. I wish the Luisa book had been nonfiction because "it's made up!" just feels like the author threw that in to fuck with you. Come on, dude.
"An Orison of Sonmi-451" is the recorded confession of a fabricant (manufactured slave) named Sonmi-451 in 2144, as she explains to an archivist how she got to the point of being executed. Sonmi is one of the many fabricants working at a McDonald's-ish fast food restaurant in Nea So Copros (formerly known as Korea) in a world where everything revolves around consumerism. Sonmi was of limited intelligence, but wondered as she saw her coworker Yoona-939, who had interests no other fabricants had and eventually tried to make a break for it--and died, of course. After that, Somni starts noticing that her intelligence is going up--she's remembering more complicated words than she should be able to know--and worries about anyone noticing. Eventually she's abducted from her job and taken to a college, where she's supposedly the project/experiment of a rich slacker grad student. Left to her own devices most of the time, Somni starts reading like a fiend and educating herself way beyond her station--and eventually she's taken charge of by higher-up folks and even alllowed to attend lectures. You see, she's a science experiment--they're boosting her intelligence to prove that fabricants can be intelligent. She's recruited into a rebel movement....which is not going to end well for her, and she knows that. This is the most gut-punchy story in the series. It doesn't end happily-- what would in these circumstances?-- but you'll remember this one. It's inspiriing in its own horrifying kind of way, I guess I'd say. The language is a little different--mostly the spellings (like "xactly") and reference to things like "disneys" (Cavendish's tale was turned into a movie!) --but it's comprehensible enough, thank goodness. Either way, this one was more of a mindblower than anything else to me.
"Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After:" In the far future, Zachry is a Valleysman living on Hawaii after the apocalypse came/the world ended/society collapsed/something. There's one society of Smart people remaining, the Prescients, and they periodically roll in on boats for visits. When one Prescient woman, Meronym, wants to stay with the tribe and learn their ways, Zachry is totally suspicious of her and her motives. However, they eventually become friends despite the differences in age (Zachry sounds pretty young, like teenager/20's, Meronym is 50), intelligence, upbringing, comprehension, language, etc. She even helps secretly save his sister's life with secret medicine. But when the evil Kona tribe charges in to kill or enslave everything, the two of them are stranded alone with only each other to save.
Oh god, the language in this one is a slog to read. It's an eroded future where the language went downhill, and Zachry is barely comprehensible to read at all. The entire chapter is kind of like slogging through mud that's up to your knees, and I suspect I definitely missed plot details because they're so hard to read through the dialect. (Sample: "Oh, you was right 'bout the dammit Prescients first time, Bro Zachry! She's fuggin' your b'liefs'n'all up'n'down'n'in'n'out!" Oh god, make the apostrophe use stop.) I can't help but want to say that future or not, your readers are still living in the modern era and they are just gonna find halfassed language like this FREAKING HARD TO READ AND YOU WANT TO STOP READING IT. It is a damn slog to plow through and makes you want to quit halfway through the novel. It has to be said. As for the story itself, I wasn't super interested in the primitive tribesmen of the future or that cannibal slavers (it's always slavery around here!) are trashing Hawaii. Zachry is...okay as a person, I guess, but I can't say I was super delighted to have to wade through his rather childish POV and terrible speaking to get to the story. It would have been a drastically different story to tell it from Meronym's POV, I'm sure, but it's also weird that she's not the lead character/narrator if she's the comet reincarnated person (something I've heard is changed in the movie). I don't know...I guess I kind of didn't feel like there was much of a point to this one. Society's gone downhill, and there's very few Smart people left, but people are people? Um, okay. Whatever, I guess. This was probably my least favorite of the bunch.
Revolutionary or gimmicky? I....think I mostly lean towards gimmicky, mostly because I don't feel like the gimmick does much for the overall story. They feel like six tales, not one super overlapping one. The plots don't really relate to each other enough for that to happen, and I would have preferred that each tale kind of REALLY pick up on some level where the last left off, rather than it being some other book a character was reading or something.There's very little continuation and it doesn't feel like the one giant story I think I am supposed to think it is.
The individual stories are food for thought in their own ways. Some I liked better than others for various reasons, but overall...well, I kept reading it, even the Zachry ov'r'ap'os'tro'ph'd chapter. And that may just be a selling point right there: I cared enough to keep going, even with the drastic changes from section to section and the long periods of time before followups.
I'm going to give it three and a half stars. It's a relatively good read, though I don't quite feel like it got what it was shooting for. But eh, what does my opinion on this one matter by now anyway?
Will Freeman is a 36-year-old boy, essentially. He's never had to work due to living off of the royalties of his dad's one-hit-wonder song "Santa's Super Sleigh." He just...kinda putters and exists, more or less. Eventually we find out why this is--his dad was bitter over the whole song thing, his family split up, and eventually Will learned to not really give a shit about anything or anyone. It makes life more pleasant that way.
However, Will ends up dating a single mom and liking the experience, and after she breaks up with him, he wants to meet more single moms. So he joins a single parents' social group--abbreviated SPAT--and thus has to fake a son, 2-year-old Ned. While on a date with single mom Susie, he ends up meeting 12-year-old Marcus, who is brought along to the park without his mum.
Marcus is a weird yet pragmatic kid. His mom Fiona is a big ol' hippie sort who doesn't let him listen to the same tunes everyone else does or dress the way that everyone else does, and at his new school, he's getting bullied for being a weirdo. His dad's living with his new girlfriend and essentially, Marcus and his mom are on their own. Which is a massive problem when Fiona becomes depressed enough to want to kill herself while Marcus is on that park outing.
After that, Marcus decides that not having enough people in his life as backup is a Bad Thing, and he decides to deliberately grab on to Will--eh, he seems nice enough and he seems to have money, why not--as a lifeline. He tries to fix up Will with Fiona--which absolutely isn't going to happen on both sides of the equation--but after that doesn't take, Marcus just starts visiting Will after school and refusing to leave. Will is taken aback by this sort of thing, but eventually goes along with it and he starts to feel for Marcus a little, especially when he finds out how much Marcus is getting picked on. He even goes so far as to buy Marcus some less-nerdy sneakers (er, trainers--it's England) to make him blend in more.
But after the sneakers get stolen the next day, Fiona finds out about Marcus's forced adoption of Will and has some issues with that, as anyone would. Marcus is forced to use the "nuclear option" of claiming he needs a father to keep Will around--something that works on Fiona as intended, even though Will can tell right off that's what Marcus was up to. Marcus is a semi-manipulative kid, but he's got his reasons and his needs. And Will figures out that Marcus isn't so much looking for another dad so much as he needs someone to tell him how to be a regular/normal/less nerdy boy. Will may not be much of an adult, but he is up for that--and finds out that he does care about somebody, surprisingly, after all.
Then they meet girls: Will meets another hot single mom, Rachel, and falls in love at first sight. He realizes that he's spent his whole life being boring and useless except for his relationship with Marcus, so what else does he have to impress a girl with? As for Marcus, he falls for 15-year-old school rebel and Nirvana fan Ellie, who starts to like and adopt him as a pal after he has the nerve to speak to her in school--even if he doesn't know who "Kirk O'Bane" is. I should point out that this book is set in 1993-1994, so what happens to Kurt Cobain has a lot of relevance to the end of the plot. It becomes an interesting musing on suicide, what with Marcus's mom having had the urge herself. It gives you a lot to think about (and kind of makes me want to read A Long Way Down). The whole Nirvana thing is so well done that I'm rather sad it was left out of the movie. (The movie is very good and stays pretty true to the plot and tone of the original, except for leaving out Nirvana and replacing it with a musical plot.)
This book really is surprisingly well done--not that I expected it to be shit exactly, I did not, but I didn't expect as much subtle depth as it has. There's some great twists of phrase that come from Marcus or Will that really reveal their hidden depths and motivations and why they act as they do. And Fiona's issues aren't magically resolved one bit--she's probably still depressed enough to at least worry about by the end and nothing really is super Happily Ever After. I'd call it "Better For Now." At the very least, Marcus has more of "his people" around in the event of emergency, even if they themselves don't know how to deal with things perfectly either. And Will, much to his surprise, has people too. And is even getting a little better with time.
Once upon a time, I read this book without having read the first one. I reviewed it fairly well at the time, but upon finally reading the first book, it made me think that I needed to reread this book. And hoo boy, would I write this review differently had I done that. I usually don't say this, but since I seem to be in an experimental/long-winded phase of writing book reviews these days, what the hell. So I'm going to write this review a second time, from a different perspective.
First off...this second go at this review goes below the spoiler cut for spoiling the ending of book one! Man, I had no idea that I'd done that (though I guess reading the book's back cover would do that as well). I foolishly assumed that the big spoiler dropped early on was something that readers of the first book would have been aware of!
I am not a "literary" reader. Overall, I tend to like very few books that are dubbed "intellectual" or "profound" or anything that deep. Mostly I just find those sorts of books to be depressing, or frustrating, or incomprehensible. Which, y'know, made life fun as an Englisih major :P Mostly I read things that are genre because that's what entertains me, and most of the time, people actually use logic and figure things out and explain them and make their world building work. In this book? WHO THE HELL KNOWS WHAT THE SMACK IS GOING ON HERE.
I am stumped as to how to write this review. I am stumped as to what the hell to rate this book, to the point where I am considering just calling it a "?" I can see why some folks, who are by far more intellectual than I, give it high ratings. However, I think most of the rest of us will mostly just be confused and lost. I am not a person who is prone to seasickness, but I'd imagine that reading this book gives you the mental equivalent of that feeling. Every few pages, SOMETHING MAJOR CHANGES. Out of the blue, frequently with no logical reason that you can figure out for doing so. The waves never stop tossing, the storm never lets up, and lightning strikes occur constantly.
I read some other folks's reviews online in hopes of figuring out what to do with mine. This one from BoingBoing was a glowing review, but this line in it stuck out to me:
"Carroll is the omnipotent god of his characters and situations, and he is totally in control of every variable, so that we trust him throughout, even though he never plays fair. "
This last bit is incredibly true. This book does not play fair. There is no way in hell that you can deduce on your own what the hell is going on without the author having to just eventually flat out tell you. Ass pulls are going on all over the place.
This review was more along the lines of how I felt about it:
"Personally, it has been several days since I finished it, and I still can't decide quite how I feel about it. There were times when I was listening when I was struck by the truth of a point that Jonathan Carroll was making, and the simplicity of the language and the elegance of the writing with which that point was made. Other times, though, I'd draw back from the story, particularly when another bizarre paranormal element was introduced in service of some Deep Truth about the Nature of the Self, and think to myself: "Really? I mean, really?"
So what is this book about? I'll attempt to explain:
A few folks on the planet were supposed to die, and then somehow survived their freak deaths. Ben Gould was supposed to have fallen and bashed his head in, but he survived it. Danielle Voyles survived a freak head injury. After that, both of them are developing weird magical powers out of the blue. Ben starts having psychic flashes of Danielle's life, but when he tries to talk to her, she literally can't see that he's there. Ben feels weirded out about this, which makes him frustratingly distant from his girlfriend, German (yes, that's her name, not her ethnicity/language). German has just moved out in frustration, but still sees Ben due to having custody of their mutual dog, Pilot. They're still in love, but are totally baffled as to wtf is going on. Eventually Ben tells German what is going on and sends her to talk to Danielle, but that goes weirdly.
The title ghost, Ling, was supposed to haunt the world and take Ben's place trying to figure stuff out after he died. But since he didn't die, she's stuck. The Angel of Death, Stanley, tells her to just hang around and watch him and see what the hell is happening while they figure out what kind of glitch is keeping people from dying, or whatever it is. Ling technically falls in love with German while watching her with Ben, but this has little, if anything, to do with the story and who the hell cares.
Then some random homeless bum named Stewart Parrish kills the Angel of Death (or...something...), and starts running around space and time trying to kill Ben for some reason. Ling and the verzes--some kind of earless white guard dogs--protect Ben and run around with him in the past a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, trying to dodge this guy. Stewart Parrish goes back in time and grabs an object that's sacred to German and then by using the object and threats of killing her dog, tries to get her to help him find where Ben is hiding in the past. Stewart seems to be the representation of Making Things Go Back The Way That They Were, a la Jack on Tru Calling.
Honestly, it just gets fucking weirder and weirder and less related to any kind of anything at all. These people basically lose their resemblance to how any humans would act and suddenly everything is happening in this weird netherworld where Danielle starts interacting with all of her past selves and Ben is suddenly pulling powers out of his ass and sharing them with German and Pilot and he doesn't know why he suddenly knows what he's doing and Ling starts becoming human for no good reason and suddenly everyone in Danielle's apartment building starts reliving the one best moment of their lives and....At this point, I give up on trying to explain what is going on, and I'll resort to quoting the book blurb:
"The Ghost in Love is about what happens to us when we discover that we have become the masters of our own fate. No excuses, no outside forces or gods to blame—the responsibility is all our own. It’s also about love, ghosts that happen to be gourmet cooks, talking dogs, and picnicking in the rain with yourself at twenty different ages."
Well, yes. Technically that happens.
Now, don't get me wrong: that plot idea of becoming master of your own fate after you haven't totally died is good. That's interesting. The author does take some fascinating mental side trips along the way that are incredibly cool. I'll list the memorable stuff:
German's lost thing, which was a rock that a cute boy gave her and made her feel like she was valuable and loved. I really liked this description, and we all have our "lost things" that we feel something about and it pangs us to lose them. If I suddenly got my lost thing back, I'd be thrilled--even though the circumstances that German gets hers in are kinda bad.
Danielle figuring out that even though she started shoplifting at age 12, it was her 6-year-old self that led her to start the shoplifting. This leads her to realize that we're all influenced by our past selves, which have different feelings on things than the current one does, and we have to figure out how to cope with all of our selves somehow.
Danielle has a "picnic" with all of her past selves, most of which are asking her how things are going to come out. She has an interesting time trying to figure out what, exactly, to tell them. And if you think about that, that would be a dilemma, wouldn't it? She is also prompted to start asking her past selves about their memories, which are clearer to them then they are to her now, which leads her to... well, that I'll discuss below the spoiler cut.*
Pilot is a fully realized participating, talking character in this one, who does take action and has thoughts and does the best he can in an ever-shifting landscape. I don't know why he's suddenly the reincarnation of Ben's dead girlfriend, or what that has to do with anything, or who the hell cares (not Pilot, he's horrified and easily blackmailed into doing something at the threat of being told that in the next life they'd somehow make him become human again)., but his reaction to such is kind of amusing.
On the human side, German is the most well done character, cheerfully sketched out and realized. Though unfortunately, she seems to lose that as the book gets weirder and starts to focus on the weird shit that Ben and Danielle are doing. By the end she feels like another ghost self, or something.
It's a good thing the book is relatively short (just over 300 pages) and a quick read. I don't know why I stuck with it, other than I read it on a random Sunday when I had a few hours to kill and was trying to figure out a weird knitting problem, but had it been longer I probably would have keeled over instead of "oh hell, I'm just going to plow through this sucker and finish it."
But on the other hand:
There's no way to figure out what the hell is going on. Every few pages, there's yet another dramatic ass pull sea change going on.
The characters kind of lose their humanity, or to some degree just kind of lose their ties to reality, or what a normal person would be like...Who the hell is Ben, by the end of this book? I don't know. There's too many of him (literally) and I don't know what I am supposed to make of what has happened to him. Uh...okay...I...guess?
People rapidly lose their ability to have logic. Things just happen, out of the blue, and suddenly at least one character (probably Ben) Knows how to deal with it, and poof, there it is! Are these people even on Earth any more? Who knows? ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN! AND DOES! TOTALLY AT RANDOM! Do these people even go to work and have jobs any more?
Is this a happy ending? I...guess...? Does it work? Fuck if I know.
Overall, the philosophy of this book definitely gives you something to THINK about. I cannot deny that. But would I recommend that folks read this? I think the answer is "probably not." It is not precisely bad, per se. There are some nuggets of goodness in here. But will you understand what's going on? PROBABLY NOT. And that's why it's getting a two and a half star rating. If you are super intellectual and snobby (in which case, you probably don't usually read my book reviews because I don't read your sort of thing), you'll probably get this book and understand it and love it, and good for you! For you, it will probably be five stars! But the rest of us? Yeah, I have no idea how one finds their way around this author's works. "Lost" doesn't even begin to describe.
The back of the book has the following quote from the author:
"The Grail legends are usually about men with swords and women getting rescued. I thought, "You know, I want the women to have the swords." It's all about them doing their things, they get lots of sex, and they fall in love, but that's not the point of the story for them. They are the heroes."
That sounds so promising...it's just a shame that I wasn't really feeling this story, somehow, for whatever reason.
800 years ago, Alais, a young married woman, found out that her dad was in charge of keeping the safety of one of the three books that one uses to summon the Holy Grail. After he dies, she ends up in charge of the book, running for it while her evil sister is looking for her. There's some marital drama and separation on her end, along with her young friend who has a whopping crush on her that isn't mutual.
In the modern era, her reincarnation, Alice Tanner, is roped into working on an archaological dig run by a friend of hers in France. She comes across some corpses and a ring in a cave and is suddenly dragged into the drama of 800 years ago. Everyone is once again scrambing for the Holy Grail...
Frankly, I just plain had a hard time reading this book. I think it is just Not For Me. Even though I have taken French, this book is VERY FRENCH and very European and very foreign to me in general, and I found it hard to follow as a crass American. I appreciate that it was female-centered (female heroines and villains), certainly, and that they're taking an active role in things. I just...was mostly confused and not super attached to anyone.
I mildly sympathized with Alais's struggles, though there's a big chunk of "one, two, skip a few" going on in her story that kind of annoyed me--at one point we're just told what happened to her for the next ten years and we don't really know too much about why that is. I didn't feel super strongly about her relationship with her husband because that's not mentioned very often, but I guess it works at least a little from what we see of it. There's one big honking revelation about one character--in all honesty, I thought that was really cool--but how it came about isn't mentioned until the very end, which seems odd. There's also...well, let's say that the foreshadowing comes from one guy knowing WAY too many details than he should, I guess.
As for the modern-day characters, I didn't really feel strongly about anyone. The so-called romance between Alice and Will just kinda...shows up and they briefly interact and then I guess they're in love or something? Huh? Also, hasn't he been dating someone else recently? I'm not real thrilled at having characters named "Audric" and "Authie" in the same story because I kept mixing them up--awkward when one of them is a bad guy. Am I supposed to care about Shelagh? I don't think so because it doesn't seem like anyone does.
Overall, I was mostly just confused. Had I not gotten this book for cheap and had been shopping in a bookstore and possibly paying full price for it, I doubt I would have bought or finished it really.
I picked this one up as kind of a fluke. I haven't really been super interested in fictional books about knitting lately--mostly I just kind of feel like it's all the same sort of plot. But I needed a hardback book to get me through the weekend while I was running around the Bay Area (I read one paperback, one e-book, and one hardback at the same time, depending on the portability needs of my life situation) and my current hardback is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and that's such a giant brick that it's living at my work. So I grabbed this one off the top of the pile of bathroom reading and took it along. But while this book has its weaknesses, it was a lot better than I was expecting it to be. Sure, it's about knitting, but it's also a really poignant meditation on long-term grief and how to deal with it. I don't normally read books on grief either--The Year Of Magical Thinking is about where I wanted to stop with that--but this is a good one.
Mary's five-year-old daughter Stella died unexpectedly of meningitis. She's been utterly crushed ever since. Her mother Mamie hasn't been terribly helpful--she was always distant to Mary growing up, and was an alcoholic to boot until she took up knitting. Now that Mamie lives in Mexico, she couldn't even be arsed to show up to her granddaughter's funeral. However, Mamie suggested that Mary take up knitting....and called up her old friend Alice who runs a knit shop. Alice called with an offer of a lesson, and Mary goes along and tries to learn how to make a scarf. Alice has a knitting circle of people who have all had whopping grief issues, and as Mary progresses in her knitting skills, she gets to know the other members and find out what bad things happened to them and how they're coping with it. A lot of emphasis is put on how just giving your hands something to do and your brain something else to think about really, really helps. Now, god knows I know from experience, but reading this book suddenly made me want to kind of force people I know in difficulties to knit, even the ones who have no interest or ability. (Don't worry, I'm not gonna become a knit nag.)
I mentioned that this book had its weaknesses. Well, it pretty much kind of boils down to one medium-sized one: whenever a character decides to tell Mary what his or her tragic story is, it comes off as a monologue. This especially comes off as kind of odd when Mary barely knows the person and yet here they are, trotting out their sad tale. And while I can't say for sure they haven't been told what Mary's deal is by Alice when Mary wasn't there (Mary doesn't tell her entire story until the end of the book, though you get the gist of it from the start), it is kind of like, "This is the first time we've hung out alone together, why are you telling me the story of your horrible tragedy right now?" It seemed....theatrical and kind of off from how real people would behave. Call me crazy, but revealing major tragedies in great detail seems like something that most folks might wait a while to tell you. Now, this effect lessens as the book goes on--both in that Mary gets to know some people better before they reveal their life stories, and in that the stories become more conversational and less "I could totally use this as a monologue at my next audition." Heck, some characters actually keep it fairly short or end abruptly, as humans do.
But that said....I'd probably watch a show of monologues done from this book. They are good, after all. I was genuinely touched and even a little teary-feeling at times, and that's saying something coming from blackhearted me. Mary's journey is slow and not easy, and it takes her a long time to adjust to things and get back into working and to deal with her family relationships. I found that to be pretty realistic. But people eventually manage to resolve their feelings and move on, and it's beautiful.
I'm going to give it four stars. Even if you're not into knitting, if you've had some whopping bad thing happen to you in your life, this is a good one to read.