**** 1/2
Very good
**** 1/2
Just okay
Not for me
Definitely not for me

LibraryThing Early Reviewers



Power By Ringsurf

.: A Year of Reading :.

Weather Forecast

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (book and film)

disgrace-coetzee Winner, 1999 Booker Prize

Disgrace caught me by surprise. I didn't like the main character; I didn't like the events that happened in the book; but yet, as I turned the last page, I realized it was flat out brilliantly written. It definitely deserves its place on the shortlist for Best of the Bookers.

Before reading it, all I really knew about it was that a professor had an affair with a student. As it turns out, that's only a minor point. The book has several issues: men's subjugation of women, South Africa after apartheid, and animal rights. How Coetzee could say so much in just a little over 200 pages is amazing. There are several parallel stories going on. I want to say so much about it, but to do so would be to give away everything. I'm glad I was ignorant going into this novel, so I won't say much except that it will definitely get a re-read from me someday and preferably in a group setting. There would be many, many things to discuss.


(1999, 220 pp.)

As to the film, I thought it followed the book almost exactly. It was produced by Australians but I believe most of the outdoor shots at least were filmed in South Africa; the scenery was beautiful. John Malkovich played David Lurie exceptionally. My only small quibble is that his South African accent went in and out some. I thought the actress who played Lucy was also excellent. I highly recommend this movie IF you have read the book. You probably wouldn't appreciate it as much or at all if you haven't.

Film grade: A

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

amsterdammcewan Winner, 1998 Man Booker Prize

I'm not a huge fan of McEwan's so I had put off reading this book until my sister read it and enjoyed it. I have a commitment to reading all the Booker Prize winners and this was short so that also made it easier to start it.

I was surprised to find it much easier to read than Atonement , where I really bogged down in the initial chapters. It's a darkly comic novel about four men who've all been lovers or married to Molly Lane, who is recently deceased. The book starts out with her funeral, the interactions of the four men during it, and their thoughts on how much they all appreciated Molly.

We then go on to their professional lives. Clive is a composer, Vernon a newspaper editor, George (the husband) is on the board of that same paper, and Garmony is the Foreign Secretary. All of these men and their vocations intersect throughout the story. It was hilarious to hear how the men see and think about themselves. McEwan pokes fun of all these men and their professions, and even of fellow writers.

"He had a number of friends who played the genius card when it suited, failing to show up for this or that in the belief that whatever local upset it caused, it could only increase respect for the compelling nature of their high calling. These types-novelists were by far the worst-managed to convince friends and families that not only their working hours but every nap and stroll, every fit of silence, depression, or drunkenness, bore the exculpatory ticket of high intent. A mask for mediocrity, was Clive's view. He didn't doubt that the calling was high, but bad behavior was not a part of it. Perhaps every century there was an exception or two to be made. Beethoven, yes; Dylan Thomas, most certainly not."

I was enjoying the book for the most part when suddenly I saw what was coming at the end, and thought, "It's not really going to go there, is it?" It did go there. I put off reading the last 50 or so pages because I knew I wouldn't like the ending. Although, the sequences "in the haze of confusion" were quite funny. As was the modern duel.

I don't know. I guess I didn't like how Atonement began but appreciated how it ended, and with Amsterdam it was just the opposite. I liked the beginning and not the ending, though it did have its humor. I didn't like On Chesil Beach at all. Not sure I'll read another McEwan novel, but I was happy to check this one off my list.


1998, 193 pp.

Larry's Party by Carol Shields


Amazon info

Larry's Party is the third novel I've read by Carol Shields; it won the Orange Prize in 1998. Having loved the previous two, The Stone Diaries and (especially) Unless , I had high hopes for this one as well. However, it didn't really live up to my expectations.

Over the course of his life, Larry Weller goes from flower arranger at a flower store to a master designer of landscape mazes. I'm not that into botany, so that part was only marginally interesting to me; however, I would definitely like to visit some of the mazes described in the book, particularly in Europe. More interesting to me was the progression in Larry's thought life and love life over the course of the book. He starts out not knowing much about himself or what he wants in his twenties and of course knowing himself infinitely better by the time he's in his late forties. Youth is so wasted on the young, right? (Not that there aren't exceptions to you youngsters out there!) Being in my early forties, I definitely related to that aspect of the book.

"He (Larry) is recovering; in a sense he's spent his whole life in a state of recovery, but has only begun, at age forty-five, to breathe in the vital foreknowledge of what will become of the sovereign self inside him, that luxurious ornament. He'd like that self to be more musical and better lit, he'd like to possess a more meticulous sense of curiosity, and mostly he'd like someone, some thing to love. He's getting close. He feels it. He's halfway awake now, and about to wake up fully."

Some of the aspects I didn't like about the book are that it was a little boring in places, i.e. the botany and the fact that Larry is just a regular Joe with not much in the way of personality. I think that was supposed to be the point, though. There is even a chapter dedicated to his name and what the stereotypes of "Larrys" are. Another aspect is that in quite a few places she repeats details that we already know about characters or events. I know that was by design, but I'm not sure I liked it. Also, it is a bit raunchy in places. There's a chapter called "Larry's P#n*s" that goes on and on in very descriptive detail about that specific body part and all the different names for it that people use. Some people would find that extremely funny, I'm sure, but I could have done without the more graphic parts of that chapter.

The last chapter is called "Larry's Party," and that chapter and the dinner party itself wrapped up everything in Larry's life to that point very nicely. I really liked the metaphor that our lives are mazes. Sometimes there's only one way in and one way out. Sometimes there are four exits. But always, there is the 'goal' in the center. Honestly, the last chapter made me lift my rating from 3 1/2 stars to 4. It was very cleverly done. And although this book was my least favorite of Shields' books so far, I still plan on reading many more if not all of her works. I really do think she was an amazing writer.


Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa


Amazon info

He first came to the Iris one day just before the beginning of the summer season.

I was really excited when I received Hotel Iris from Picador in the mail. I hadn't requested it, but because I loved The Housekeeper and the Professor so much last year, I knew I would want to read this one. The problem was, though, that I didn't know what it was about. It has a very different 'love story' -- one that didn't appeal to me at all.

Mari is a seventeen year old girl working at the front desk of her mother's hotel when she meets a middle aged man whose voice and manner intrigue her. As they get to know each other, it leads to a sexual relationship involving SM. It wasn't extremely graphic, but still just not my cup of tea nonetheless.

I still enjoy Ogawa's writing style and the translation was great, but I just didn't like the subject matter so unfortunately I was extremely disappointed. However, I'd still read another Ogawa novel -- I just would learn more about the storyline first.

1996, 2010 for the English translation; 164 pp.


Fugitive Pieces

fugitivepieces Of course it's every peasant whose forgiveness must be sought. But the rabbi's point is even more tyrannical: nothing erases the immoral act. Not forgiveness. Not confession.

And even if an act could be forgiven, no one could bear the responsibility of forgiveness on behalf of the dead. No act of violence is ever resolved. When the one who can forgive can no longer speak, there is only silence.

Fugitive Pieces is a must read for those interested in Jewish fiction or the history of World War II. The book is told in two parts. In the first we have Jakob Beer, rescued as a child from the forces of WWII by a Greek scholar. He struggles mightily with the memories of his parents and sister. They haunt him throughout his life, overshadowing even the good. In the second, we have Ben, the son of two Holocaust survivors. He is much influenced by Jakob's poetry, which helps him understand his parents' deep emotional pain, and, in turn, his own. In this regard, I found the second section a bit reminiscent of Maus . In both parts, there is always the question of whether or not the survivors really and truly survived or if they are hopelessly caught in their pasts.

I have a difficult time reading anything about the Holocaust, even if it deals primarily about the aftermath of the survivors. But, I feel it is extremely important for me to do so. I highly recommend this book if you have a similar interest in this topic.

1996, 294 pp.
4.5 stars

The Midwife's Apprentice

The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman won the Newbery Medal in 1996. I listened to this one on audio, and the narrator did a fantastic job.

'Beetle' is an orphan girl who is a midwife's apprentice . All the difficult aspects of being poor in Medieval times are aptly described in the story. There is hard work with very little benefit for Beetle, but yet she knows she is lucky to have her job. She learns midwifery from the very difficult Jane but thankfully doesn't pick up Jane's more callous traits. There are some very graphic birth scenes. I didn't mind it as an adult who has had two children myself, but it may be a bit too much for very young kids. There are also some s*xual connotations in the book that were, to be fair, probably typical for the time period and setting.

One of the best things about this book is that Beetle (who later names herself more appropriately) finds her own inner strength and discovers what it is she wants out of life that is within her means. I really appreciated the book in that regard.

I guess there has been some controversy surrounding the book due to its more graphic content, but I think it is appropriate for 12 and up. I would encourage parents of younger children to read it first if unsure.

1995, 122 pp.