Ever heard of sensation novels? No? Me, neither until I met A Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, published in 1859. For the most part I listened, rather than read the book, courtesy of Librivox.org. I’ve sampled many audiobooks at this site and I take my hats off to volunteers who’ve dedicated precious time and energy to bring classic literature to people who prefer to … Continue reading A Sensation of the Victorian Age: Wilkie Collins’ A Woman in White
L’Assommoir is a veritable tearjerker. The saddest women’s fiction ever. Emile Zola, in Book #7 of his Rougon-Macquart cycle directs his Victorian male gaze on Gervaise, sister of Lisa and the female protagonist of The Belly of Paris (third book in the cycle). But Zola’s gaze, as you might expect, is neither fleeting nor superficial. His perception is filtered through the viewpoint of “literary naturalism.” … Continue reading Emile Zola’s Uncompromizing Victorian Male Gaze: L’Assommoir (The Dram Shop)
Have you read Love In The Time Of Cholera? Have you been as enchanted by it as so many people and big reviewers seem to have been? The Christian Science Monitor thinks it’s boldly romantic, profoundly imaginative, fully imagined work of fiction that expands our sense of life’s infinite possibilities. I don’t quite grasp the difference between “profoudly imaginative” and “fully imagined” but “life’s infinite … Continue reading My Feminist Sensibility vs. Love In The Time Of Cholera
MANY YEARS LATER as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world … Continue reading One Hundred Years of Solitude: A Literary Chameleon About Life
Without a doubt, Like Water for Chocolate is a tasty read. It opens with the ingredients for Christmas Rolls, Mexican style. But it goes beyond the usual food in fiction novel. A little further down, it reads: Tita was literally washed into this world on a great tide of tears that spilled over the edge of the table and flooded across the kitchen floor. That … Continue reading Diving Into Magical Realism: Two Morsels
Why Emile Zola’s title has been translated as The Masterpiece isn’t very clear to me. Literally, l’œuvre means “the work;” “masterpiece is “chef d’œuvre.” Zola’s main character, artist Claude Lantier, actually fails to produce a masterpiece. It isn’t even obvious that Claude thinks of the large piece he’s been working on as a potential chef d’œuvre. He is obsessed by it—that’s clear enough. But as … Continue reading Emile Zola’s L’Œuvre (The Masterpiece): Fine Line Between Artistic Genius and Mental Illness?
Les Halles in Paris—do you know it? Unless you’re into a bit of French history, you may not. It doesn’t exist anymore, demolished in 1969/70, its centennial year. It was a huge market, much of it housed in at least ten pavilions of glass and iron designed by Victor Baltard. Plus a big domed central pavilion that later became the Bourse de Commerce, the French … Continue reading Emile Zola’s The Belly of Paris: Celebration of Food or Satire?
“War is nasty; war is fun, War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.” Harvard University President Drew Faust borrows this quote to illustrate that war fascinates because it is a paradox. The remark actually comes from Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien about the “awful majesty of combat.” For films and books, war is a readymade but challenging setting … Continue reading War Stories: Why they may be worth your time
I picked up the Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway because of my interest in music. But I find that it’s more like a meditation on the senselessness of war than a story on some theme regarding the power of music. The novel has no clear beginning, middle and end. Maybe, that’s how it should be. The story happens during a real war, when Sarajevo … Continue reading The Cellist of Sarajevo’s Tribute to Victims of Ethnic Hatred
Myanmar—does that ring a bell? You guess that, maybe, it’s the same as Burma. And maybe you’ve even heard of its most famous citizen, Aung San Suu Kyi. Or, maybe, you have no idea whatsoever what Myanmar is. And you couldn’t care less. Myanmar is fascinating—rich in resources, diverse, exotic, unique, complex. Once a monarchy, invaded by the British, then terrorized by a military regime … Continue reading Fiction as History: Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace
Forty years after the end of the war in Vietnam comes a widely-acclaimed, generously awarded début novel—The Sympathizer: A Novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen, published by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. in 2015. I’m going to throw in my two-cents worth among the throng of gushing admirers of this 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning novel (plus at least five other awards), because this work says something essential to me. … Continue reading Vietnam War, A Retrospective: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer
The Palace of Illusions A woman with five princely warrior husbands–how cool is that? I didn’t read this book; I listened to it. I borrowed it from the local library while recovering from a vitrectomy (an eye operation). The two-week tedious down time—I literally had to keep my gaze on my feet—became so much more bearable. The dramatic reader was a delight and I appreciated … Continue reading Two Novels With Indian Roots by C.B. Divakaruni
All The Light We Cannot See is a modern day existentialist novel. A book in the tradition of Dostoevsky, although that may not be obvious right away. The title alludes in different ways to the juvenile main protagonists of the novel, Marie Laure and Werner. For Marie Laure, the allusion is more literal. She is blind, from a congenital vision disorder. Nurtured by a loving … Continue reading Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See
How far must writers go to infuse their fiction with that invaluable ring of authenticity? A fiction writer gives meat to her story and makes it credible by describing events, settings, practices of the time and place, and—of course—speech use and patterns. I intend to write about this topic for my author site, but here I present my review of a historical novel for which … Continue reading Fiction Based on Some Fact: Cædmon the Lord’s Poet
About three months ago, I got a copy of The Wedding Group by Elizabeth Taylor. No, not that Elizabeth Taylor. The other Elizabeth Taylor. These are a couple of published reactions when articles are written about that other Elizabeth, a British writer in the mid-1900s. Unfortunately, that shared name may be one big reason so many people have not heard of her. I, for instance, … Continue reading Meet Elizabeth Taylor, the British Writer
When we first meet Isabel, she is in the prime of her youth—beautiful, irresistible to men (every male character seems to eventually fall in love with her), intelligent, poised, vibrant, hungry for life, and marching to her own drums. She has all the potential to be an exceptional woman. To remove the obstacles of poverty that can hinder realizing her potential, admiring dying cousin, Ralph, … Continue reading The Portrait of a Lady: Henry James’ Case Study of Isabel Archer