Tuesday, August 11

my last reads

I read these quite a while ago. I ought to have written up the reviews when the books were fresh in my mind, but, as some of you know, things around here have been.... unstable.

The Kite Runner

I really enjoyed The Kite Runner. It had the potential to be something quite special, 5 star even, if it weren't for the second half. Yet I forgave any shortcomings on the strength of the first half.

The first is touching, poignant, subtle, heart-wrenching, gently fascinating. One of the characters stole my heart.

And the second half? It's like a different book! Suddenly there's crazy action, unlikely situations, more coincidences than you can shake a karmic stick at, obvious cliches, and all round predictability.

So why did I enjoy it anyway. Like I said, the first half won me over. When I realised the obviousness of the rest, I didn't cringe. Instead, I saw it all as a high drama. Something akin to a (better) Bollywood film or soap opera. Sure, it was over the top stuff, but it was so thrilling. Well, in a harrowing sort of way. It's a terribly sad story.

I also enjoyed reading into a different culture.

It's a short book. If you can accept the drama, it's worth it. If Hosseini had maintained the story's integrity and subtlety, it could have been a real gem.

Daniel Deronda

Another Eliot for me this year. Enjoyed it many times more than Mill on the Floss.

I was even more impressed with Eliot. She really is wonderously observant. Such a keen eye and ear. But more significantly, a keen inner ear. Reading the motives behind what charcaters do is simply delicious. I wish I had read her more back in my university days as a psych major.

However, she is also very heavy going. As sarah mentioned on the last Eliot review, it feels like you're reading a classic. And that holds true for even if, like me, you read plenty of them. There were paragraphs in this one that were monstrously cumbersome. I mean, I was reading them twice over and still thinking, wth!?

And if she were writing today, an editor would cut out her lengthy ponderings. They are much too self-indulgent. Yet, they are goooood. They are lengthy, but they're not rambles. They are monologues of high intellectual order. She's just so spot on. But it makes for a classic that is 500+ pages of regular head-spining linguistic complexity.

Okay, so what of the story? This heroine, Gwendolen, is more real for me, compared to Maggie in MotF. Maggie is good and sweet and how could we dislike her? But for me, I can't relate to the piously sweet. We may not necessarily like Gwendolen, but she sure keeps our interest. I was a little frustrated with how Eliot evolved her, but won't say more at risk of spoiling anything.

The second story, about Daniel Deronda, that weaves in, out, and through the first, was not so interesting to me. Again, characters being oh so very, very good. Too good. Yawn. But don't think I'm dismissing it entirely. There is much in the way of fascinating ideas, exchanges between characters, and historical interest, to make it worth the read.

Recommended to readers of the classics, or anyone wishing to enrich their souls.

Currently reading: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett


  1. I loved the Kite Runner, too, despite it's wild ending! It still stole my heart, and I do like the way it ended even though it wasn't picture perfect. You should be a book reviewer for profit, though, because you can really separate the good from the bad.

  2. I loved Bel Canto, I'm interested to hear what you have to say on that. I remember wondering the same things you did about the 2nd half of Kite Runner, and wondering if I had missed something - if the change itself was meant to represent something I was missing, or was an ode to Afghan storytelling or something. But moving nevertheless.

  3. I agree with you that Kite Runner was a heart wrencher. I too like the first half better. I'm interested in seeing the movie. From what I undertand, the family had to move away from the area they lived in because of the rape scene in the movie- even though he was the one that was portrayed as being raped! It's hard to believe!!

  4. I have the Kite runner...I should pick that up. But, I am not into reading much this summer. I read Bel Canto a few years ago...I could not put that book down! Hope you are enjoying it.

  5. I really enjoyed Bel Canto. Beautiful book.

    And in regards to the Eliot, I strongly disagree that the ramblings are self-indulgent! I would be horrified if a modern editor got hold of it and slashed. It was written for different attention spans and sensibilities, and certainly not for our generation who are plugged in and receive words in a more economical and immediate fashion. We have a far greater impatience these days for digesting our texts. So, although I can see what you're getting at, particularly in regards to the characterisation which is similarly old-fashioned, I see it as the difference between the 19th century reader's expectations and a contemporary reader's experience and enjoyment of text. For me there is a lot of beauty and complexity, and I love the challenge to slow down and enter into a narrative that requires of me a different way of reading.

    Just my two bits : )

  6. Hey Doc, thanks for your disagreement. woohoo.

    In regards to the WHEN of her writing and our modern short attention spans, we have Austen writing even earlier who is free from the monologues. Eliot was pious herself and her monologues seem to me a reflection of the sermons she probably enjoyed. There is a touch of the pulpit about her. But as I said, I personally DO enjoy them. She's brilliant. But she's most definitely not for everyone.

    As for the slashing, I did mean if she were writing today!

    Mamarose - interesting info!

  7. Have you read A Thousand Splendid Suns? If not, make it next on your "must-read" list.

  8. I think Mia has a copy. If so, will definitely read it.


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