Friday, March 28, 2014

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Boy, did I underestimate this classic! Perhaps I’ve always misjudged it because of the cheesy mass market paperback cover. You know the one I’m talking about. Basically the vibe of every dime store romance novel: red satin sheet, big gold lettering. I purchased my copy from a local Goodwill more than a year ago mostly for the haunting cover to the left. This is such a better representation of the material between the covers.

From the famous opening line “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again“, Rebecca begins as a woman cryptically looks back on her life. Soon you are transported to Monte Carlo where the young woman's story began. Working as a companion for an older American woman, this unnamed narrator seems happy to be free from her old life but yearns for something to come along and shake things up.

Enter Maxim de Winter, intelligent, suave and the owner of Manderley, his estate a little outside of London. He lost his wife, the devastatingly beautiful Rebecca, over a year ago and has come to Monte Carlo to help distance himself from such a tragic event. Over the course of the summer, our heroine and Maxim begin a courtship that results in a hasty and business like marriage proposal. Eager to embark upon a new chapter of her life she agrees and soon they are arriving on the grounds of his massive estate.

The rest of the gothic romance is best experienced with little spoilers. I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. Du Maurier creates a very atmospheric estate at Manderley with her descriptions of the gardens, the palatial house, the sea, and that damn fog. There is an interesting dynamic that plays out between the couple and the servants that I think would appeal to Downton Abbey fans.

With so many plot turns, I sped through the last half of the novel with such fervor. Rebecca is one of those novels where the narrator enters your head and has you thinking about the story even when you’re not currently reading it. There was such a need to find out what happens.

While not short, clocking in at a little under 400 pages, Rebecca grabbed me by the collar and wouldn’t let go. I can see why this is a favorite read for Halloween and the many spooky reading challenges. Highly recommend!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner

After being sent away for committing a public transgression, romance novel author Edith Hope, who writes under the pseudonym Vanessa Wilde, finds herself checking into the remote and exclusive Hotel du Lac. Located on a lakeshore in Switzerland with grey mountain views, the hotel provides a bit of a sanctuary in which to rest and gather one’s thoughts. The yearly tourist season is coming to a close and Edith finds herself wrapped in the quiet solitude needed to honestly analyze her life choices so far and contemplate her future. Here she is able to work on her latest novel as well as write letters to David, the married lover she left behind in London.  

Soon though, Edith decides to venture from her room and begins encountering the other guests of the hotel, many of which have been disgraced or spurned by love in one way or another. Through her eyes and introspective observations, we meet the interesting and somewhat stereotypical cast of characters that make up the bulk of the story, including wealthy and pretentious Mrs. Pusey and her daughter Jennifer, the elderly Mme de Bonneuil who has been dumped at the hotel by her son, the astonishingly thin Monica who was sent away by her husband, and the devilish middle-aged businessman Philip Neville. Beginning as just passive people watching, Edith is soon drawn into each character’s sphere in one way or another. These interactions, situational reflections, and recollections through letters allow these characters to fully develop. From here Brookner builds the slow, perceptive narrative that makes up this meandering novel of manners.

As is often the case when I read books that have won prestigious awards, Hotel du Lac has many elements of a well-crafted piece of literature but isn’t necessarily the most interesting read.  Not much actually happens within the short 184-page story, and at first I had a hard time getting into it. 

However, once I realized that the prose was the focal point and let go of my need for interesting characters or a plot full of action, I was able to ‘get’ what Brookner was doing. In fact, I’m glad to have read this story for the pure fact that now I have an example of not having to like or care about a novel’s characters to enjoy the book. Many readers get caught up in the idea that the only great stories are those with relatable or appealing characters.

In fact, Hotel du Lac feels off kilter but in an intentional way. This quiet novel is quite subtle and depressing and many people will find it boring. The main character Edith does border on hollow, but Brookner seems to do that intentionally in order to keep the focus on those around her. I found the females' judgment of other women, as well as men, particularly disheartening but all too realistic. Forget ‘the man,’ sometimes women can be each others worst enemies.  
People love this one, especially women. Now you will notice, Harold, that in my books it is the mouse-like unassuming girl who gets the hero, which the scornful temptress with whom he has had a stormy affair retreats baffled from the fray, never to return. The tortoise wins every time. This is a lie, of course,’ she said pleasantly, but with authority. ‘In real life, of course, it is the hare who wins. Every time. Look around you. And in any case it is my contention that Aesop was writing for the tortoise market. Axiomatically,’ she cried, her voice rising with enthusiasm. ‘Hares have no time to read. They are too busy winning the game.
The purpose seems to be to critique society’s values and morals by creating characters that typify the stereotypes, especially female, on which Edith can mull and ponder and question. I enjoyed the meditation on personal choices and the examination of one’s own life and views as well as of the people that surround you.

Least you think I’m a huge champion of this book, I did find the whole spinster motif a little tiring. I can't even think of a novel that stars a male spinster, but I digress. While written in the 1980s, the book read like it was set in the 1940s but there was no indication of a historical setting.  There wasn't much I found particularly witty within the pages, but I enjoyed the read. It was perfect for weathering this insanely cold winter we’ve been having. In fact, I would say the book was an accurate match to my mood at the time. Overall, I would call Hotel du Lac a solid read that is somewhat thought provoking but not life changing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tackling Mount TBR - Summer Edition

Reading is one of my favorite things to do during the hot and lazy days of summer! More daylight hours means more natural light to read by. With so many great books being released lately, it has never been more easy to increase the size of my TBR pile. This summer I'm hoping to put a sizable dent in the mountain of books I've amassed. I'm not imposing any book buying bans on myself (because I know I would fail miserably), but I would like to pay special attention to all the potentially wonderful books currently residing on my shelves. So, without further ado I present:


The Darlings by Cristina Alger - After reading Greg's review over at The New Dork Review of Books, I knew I had to read this one soon. Books set in NYC always hold a special place on my shelves, but add in a wealthy dysfunctional family going through a scandal, and you've hooked me.

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons - I've heard this one would be great for fans of "Downton Abbey." Many books like to tie themselves to famous works but don't actually have much in common, so we shall see if the comparison is accurate. Based on all the positive reviews, this sounds like a great atmospheric novel to lose myself in. 

When She Awoke by Hillary Jordan - Borrowing from Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Jordan erases the line between church and state in a very powerful and dystopian way. I'm really interested in seeing what kind of reaction I will have while reading about such stigmatization of women. 

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami - Talk about major intimidation! I signed up for Dolce Bellizza's Japanese Literature Challenge as a way to push myself to tackle this Murakami which has been sitting on my shelf for years. 

The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont - Another addition to the TBR pile based on a book blogger recommendation. Ti at Book Chatter says, "The Starboard Sea is a book that reads easy, yet gives you plenty to think about." I also love books that center around prep schools.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton - No summer is complete without throwing in a classic novel. I adore Wharton and consider her the queen of dramatic irony. While there wasn't as rigid a class structure in the US as in other countries at that time, Wharton manages to subtly remind us that they did exist and explores them with such nuanced writing. I have no doubt the this one will not disappoint.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain - The title alone speaks volumes to my introverted heart. Succeeding in today's world often feels like a contest to see who can talk the most and/or the loudest. I'm not saying one way or the other is right, but I'd love to see a little more respect for those of use who are "quiet."

The Submission by Amy Waldman - Another novel centering around a controversial topic. The jacket copy promises a "debate about the claims of grief, the ambiguities of art, and the meaning of Islam." Hopefully this one will be presented in a way that gets me thinking and questioning. I love a good philosophical debate. 

Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee - In an effort to add more non-fiction to my reading  repertoire I've decided to dive into this Pulitzer winner. Cancer has always been mystifying and, in all honesty, quite a scary disease, so I'm hoping to find a little more insight in this "biography." If nothing else I'm sure I'll take away some interesting anecdotes with which to pepper my conversations. 

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer - Armchair travel alert! Hungary, Paris, and Budapest all in one book. I've had my sights set on these cities as vacation destinations for a while, but until I have unlimited funds, I will have to settle for a journey through the written word. Plus, this satisfies my need for a chunkster clocking in at around 750 pages. 

             What one book are you hoping to tackle this summer? 

As always, Top Ten Tuesday is brought to you by the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish. Be sure to check out what others are listing as their must-reads this summer. Who knows what new titles you'll find!