Monthly Archives: November 2015

Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

Doctor Thorne1858. Kindle ebook. 661 pages.

Review:

I heard about the #6Barsets reading project from JoAnn at Lakeside Musing. I believe she did succeed in reading all of the Chronicles of Barsetshire this year. Inspired by the project, I managed to get one book further in the series with the completion of the third book, Doctor Thorne, having read The Warden and Barchester Towers some years ago. I absolutely adore these books, but their length and the lures of other books lead to my procrastination.

Trollope’s combination of warmth, humor, and insight into the human mind has few peers in literature, or at least in my affection! In Doctor Thorne, these skills are applied to the story of Doctor Thorne, his ward and niece, Mary, and their array of friends, family and acquaintances. Doctor Thorne is a man of deep integrity and stubborn pride. Mary is an intelligent young woman who is loved by her childhood friend, Frank Gresham. Unfortunately, Frank’s family is besieged by debt and so he “must marry money.” The characters go through many trials, but most come to a happy ending in the end. Trollope knows he has sewn it all up rather neatly, I think, based on his various asides. I must add that part of the joy of reading Trollope’s novels is encountering his flippancy about plot and novel structure, his little lectures and tangents, his pointed favoritism toward certain characters:

As Dr Thorne is our hero – or I should say my hero, a privilege of selecting for themselves in this respect being left to all my readers – and as Miss Mary Thorne is to be our heroine, a point on which no choice whatsoever is left to any one, it is necessary that they shall be introduced and explained and described in a proper, formal manner.

Mary Thorne is definitely a character one can root for. She reminded me a lot of Mary Garth, of Middlemarch, both young women capable of great love but also possessing firm knowledge of their own self-worth. They are not cowed by those deemed superior in rank.

It’s the kind of book where I don’t want to review it as much as I want to chat with someone else who has read it, and compare notes on what parts we liked best, and what we thought of such-and-such character. For instance, there’s this one almost throwaway part that I love where one of Dr. Thorne’s domestic staff smacks a guest’s servant with a rolling pin when he is inappropriately amorous of her. It’s a nice small moment of satisfaction as the guest himself is causing Dr. Thorne no end of great trouble. Then too, I would want to discuss how well Trollope captures the way that wounded pride motivates people to say or not say certain things, to let their friendships lapse and connections fray.

I heard that Julian Fellowes has been tapped to adapt Doctor Thorne as a three-part series airing in 2016. Apparently, he’s a big fan of Trollope and counts him as an influence. As much as Downton Abbey can be a mixed bag, I am hopeful that Trollope’s excellent source material will bring out the best in Fellowes. I couldn’t find who has been cast as Mary Thorne, but I saw that Alison Brie will play the great character of Martha Dunstable (who apparently will be American in Fellowes’ adaptation.) Tom Hollander (Mr. Collins in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice) will play Doctor Thorne. Ian McShane has been cast as the ambitious, alcoholic Sir Roger Scatcherd.

So, looking forward to that and also to reading the rest of the Barsetshire Chronicles in the near-ish future!

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A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Ruth Ozeki A_Tale_for_the_Time_Being

2013. Viking. ebook. 433 pages.

Read in August.

Recommendation from: Jackie at Farm Lane Books

In a nutshell:

On a rural island off the coast of British Columbia, writer Ruth finds possible debris from the 2011 tsunami: a washed-up Hello Kitty lunchbox which contains several intriguing objects including a Japanese teenager’s diary in a ziploc bag. The narrative is divided between the Japanese teenager’s diary entries and Ruth’s life and response to reading the diary.

Nao, the teenage girl, grew up in California, but when her father lost his job, the family had to move back to Japan. Quickly branded as an outsider, Nao is viciously bullied by her new schoolmates. When she is sent to live with her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, for the summer, she becomes interested in family history, particularly the story of her great-uncle, a peaceful scholarly man conscripted to be a kamikaze pilot.

Review:

Like other readers, I found that Nao’s narrative is where the book shines most. Her voice is distinct and compelling. The section of the book where she goes to live with her great-grandmother was my favorite part. I’m perhaps showing my limited exposure to Japanese culture, but something about the scenes at the monastery made me think of the evocative spirit-haunted landscapes of Miyazaki’s films. The passage where Nao keeps vigil for ghosts during Obon especially delivered this powerful sense of atmosphere.

Ruth’s narrative added value to Nao’s narrative by embodying the reader’s response. Several times, I found myself having the same or similar reaction as Ruth to Nao’s story. When Nao describes a particular Zen posture, I felt an impulse to try it myself, though I didn’t. But Ruth does try it out. Also, in her distress over Nao’s predicament, Ruth forgets that the time period of Nao’s diary is many years before Ruth’s discovery of it. Until that reminder, I too was taken up with the immediacy of Nao’s story and had wondered whether Ruth would somehow meet Nao in person. It’s like Ozeki provided a built-in companion to the reader, someone else feeling Nao’s story with you – albeit a more powerful reader than you, since Ruth actually inhabits the same fictional universe as Nao.

The one drawback to the novel for me was Ruth’s husband who isn’t given much to do except explain things, like how garbage moves in the ocean. He is given slightly more depth when their cat goes missing, but is overall a flat character. There’s also some explanation of a surprise plot turn near the end that I thought was unnecessary.

On a random note, A Tale For the Time Being contains some of the best searching on the internet scenes I’ve ever read. Ruth’s online research encounters realistic results and obstacles. As Leslie pointed out in our book club’s discussion back in August, these internet scenes were actually rather suspenseful.

 Excerpts from other reviews:

Bookeywookey – “It is a narrative with a mission, a mission of compassion.”

Feminist Texican Reads – “For all the painful experiences she’s endured, Nao is actually quite funny. Suicidal, but funny. Her diary is written in the tone of a typical sixteen-year-old girl, and Ozeki voices that sarcastic, somewhat melodramatic humor perfectly.”

The Indextrious Reader – “The book recognizes the ability of narrative and storytelling to bend and compress time, to record and bring to life events that may be distant from us in time and space, events that we reanimate and live through as if in our present, by reading.”

Views from the Page and the Oven – “. . . towards the end of the novel, there is a particular sequence of events during Ruth’s chapter that really threw me for a loop. I really could have done without that entire sequence and the impact it had on the rest of the novel.”

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Nonfiction November: Book Pairings

Nonfiction-November-2015

Nonfiction November is a book event hosted by Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness, Leslie of Regular Rumination, Becca of I’m Lost in Books, and Katie of Doing Dewey. For week two of this event, bloggers are invited to match two (or more) books that they think go well together. It can be a nonfiction book and a fiction book, or the pairing can be for two nonfiction books. It can be books you have read or that you want to read. Participants can link their posts here.

My choice for a fiction book is Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. This was one of those books I managed to read in the same year it was published – 2006 – and I loved it. In case you haven’t heard of the book or the movie adaptation (which famously served as Jennifer Lawrence’s film debut), Winter’s Bone tells the story of Ree, a poor teenage girl in the Ozarks with a mentally ill mother and a meth-cooking father. At the start of the book, Ree learns that her father has skipped bail, and that Ree and her younger siblings’ home may be lost as a consequence. She sets out to track down her father, but her quest throws her into great danger.

Meth is the business of the criminal element in Ree’s community, and its destructive impact is an important, though understated, part of the story’s background.

Uncle Teardrop was Jessup’s elder and had been a crank chef longer but he’d had a lab go wrong and it had eaten the left ear off his head and burned a savage melted scar down his neck to the middle of his back. There wasn’t enough ear nub remaining to hang sunglasses on. The hair around his ear was gone, too, and the scar on his neck showed above his collar. Three blue teardrops done in jailhouse ink fell in a row from the corner of the eye on his scarred side. Folks said the teardrops meant he’d three times done grisly prison deeds that needed doing but didn’t need to be gabbed about. They said the teardrops told you everything you had to know about the man and the lost ear just repeated it. He generally tried to sit with his melted side to the wall.

I am pairing Winter’s Bone with Nick Reding’s 2009 book, Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town. Reding’s book has been on my TBR list for a long time. Here is the description from Goodreads:

Crystal methamphetamine is widely considered to be the most dangerous drug in the world, and nowhere is that more true than in the small towns of the American heartland.

Methland tells the story of Oelwein, Iowa (pop. 6,159), which, like thousands of other small towns across the country, has been left in the dust by the consolidation of the agricultural industry, a depressed local economy, and an out-migration of people. As if this weren’t enough to deal with, an incredibly cheap, longlasting, and highly addictive drug has rolled into town.

Over a period of four years, journalist Nick Reding brings us into the heart of Oelwein through a cast of intimately drawn characters, including: Clay Hallburg, the town doctor, who fights meth even as he struggles with his own alcoholism; Nathan Lein, the town prosecutor, whose caseload is filled almost exclusively with meth-related crime; and Jeff Rohrick, a meth addict, still trying to kick the habit after twenty years.

Tracing the connections between the lives touched by the drug and the global forces that set the stage for the epidemic, Methland offers a vital and unique perspective on a pressing contemporary tragedy.

Winter's Bonemethland

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