Literary Livewire – it’s electric!

Welcome to Literary Livewire!  I use this blog to write short blurbs about the books I read so that I have an easily accessible list and also to start conversations with fellow readers about shared books.

Use it as an idea list, scroll through the posts to browse or use the categories on the right to find books you’re interested in.  They are sorted by genre and my approximate rating.  happy reading!

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood's End cover artChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

A single brilliant star glowed in the center of the screen: no one could have told, from this distance, that the sun had ever possessed planets or that one of them had been lost.

p. 218 Ballantine Books 1991

In Childhood’s End, Clarke kills off the human race and wipes out Earth.

First, he has disappear all human individuality, he asserts that Man has no place in the stars, and he gives us up to an inevitable evolutionary leap in mental prowess.

Clarke makes some problematic leaps in telling the narrative of the last generation:  People will be corralled into a stagnation of peace. They will let go of all creativity. They will lose the will to live once their children are gone.

Secondly, Man will give up space exploration as an unnecessary science, because a far superior technology exists that we could never rival and because there is so much still to be discovered here on Earth after all. (This is particularly striking to me at this time considering that the US’s last manned space flight took off this week. What would Clarke think of that?) To compound this assertion, when one traveler stows away Jonah in the whale style to the world of the Overlords, he struggles to deal with a few months in the new environment and is cowed, also contending that Man could not deal with what he would find or the enormity of the universe.

The build-up of the novel is that mankind is ready to take the evolutionary leap to lose all self and merge suddenly psychic minds into the Overmind, like the essence of the universe and his answer to religiosity and the Armageddon. He mixes end-of-the-world myth with paranormal as a grand explanation. Let me note that I did like the gimmick of why mankind has a deep and lingering concept of the devil. (Not going to say more and ruin that one for you.)

For historical context, the feelings of post-WWII and the beginning of the Cold War weigh heavily on Clarke’s creation of a Utopia on Earth after the Overlords arrive, with lingerings on themes such as total war, and on the exercise of their power mostly through psychological maneuvering.

This is science fiction, but asking the reader to suspend their disbelief that the evolutionary leap to a mind power could happen in one generation and could be the same across life forms in the universe is preposterous. Individuality is overrated, as declared by his comments on the final punch, when the children lose their physical forms and go to join the Overmind.  He makes the comparison to the individual parts making the mass in a colony of bacteria, or organs operating in a body, which I actually ascribe to.  Imagine all the working parts on this Earth, interacting and living and making up the history of humanity.  But important in that, and a theme in many works, is the human element both of unpredictability and of ingenuity. One cannot minimize these in any telling of humans as a collective entity.

I find these three ways of killing off the Earth objectionable and annoying.

But check the inside cover.

The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author.

Thanks Mr. Arthur C. Clarke, but even if it is all in satire, I would contend that it did not adequately convey that.  As a whole the novel is not focused enough to be gripping or compelling in theme. There is mismatched pacing; the first portion is inordinately long compared to all that could be developed around the last part, such as when Jan returns or when George and Jean start their new life on Athens.  If you want to read in my opinion a better example of what Clarke is capable of, pick up Against the Fall of Night or Rendezvous with Rama.

But I am glad that Clarke does not believe in his heart that Man has no place in the stars.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Verne

Jules Verne 1870

(Note: 1 league = 3.45 miles)

If you wanted to write a book about all the cool places in the ocean, and if you were a scientist who had studied the classifications of many hundreds of species, you would write this book. What better frame: a professor, curious about everything, who gets invited on a fantastic-al submarine voyage, where he studies both the enigma of Nemo and the enigma of the seas. With creative yet impressive or too-convenient inventions, the furtive Captain Nemo takes Prof. Aronnax from wonder to wonder circling the globe–and then some.

Prepare yourself for awe. Verne wrote this I feel to talk about the splendid places below the waves that he could share his visions with the people of the 1850s. But I said to prepare yourself because the moments of awe are sometimes tucked in long paragraphs of descriptions of fish and fauna. Jules Verne loves himself a fish. He also loves a startling vista, which he offers many even fathoms under the ocean, and he loves a scene of human interest. Continue reading

Spinners

Donna Jo Napoli and Richard Tchen 1999

Another retelling, this of the Rumpelstiltskin fable.  I liked it fine.  The storyline ebbed and flowed, picking up different pieces well.  The characters’ feelings towards spinning, the baby were telling and fascinating for the reader.  It is skillful how the authors set up a lot of sympathy for the crippled spinner character but hold his wrongdoings and appearance in the story and end with his defeat.  One wonders whether to forgive his theft and presumption for the grain of pure heart he holds.

I wonder, which fairy tale is most often pondered and retold?  This and Beauty and the Beast are ones I’ve seen quite often, is there a special draw that these stories hold for an author?  Maybe a current that ties them together is the undefined identity and intentions of the villain characters, Rumpelstiltskin and the Beast.  Some authors choose to emphasize their villainy and others tell of the misrepresented soul forsaken in the sweep of history.

Personally, I think authors should feel free to take more leeway with these tales, to branch out from the hard and fast story line and make leaps of assumptions that lead to new truths.

Beauty

Robin McKinley 1978

(This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.) Kind of nice.  This book reminded me a lot of Spindle’s End.  Please pardon me, but for whatever reason, some of McKinley’s books do not agree with me.  Mainly I feel that the core story of Beauty and the Beast was neglected and most of the emphasis is on the back story, which I suppose is understandable and likely what she was going for.  But personally I get more enjoyment out of my shady perception of the tale and the Disney depiction.

First off there was a severe separation between the life with the sisters at home and the (short) life with the Beast in the castle.  The transition’s drama and emotional upheavals didn’t seem real.  The magic, integral to the story, was left murky where it could’ve been explained, and there were weird bits like one finds at the end of Spindle’s End.  Because after all magic has to make sense a little bit.

Secondly, none of the details of the fantasy world really struck me.  I felt like McKinley much more focused on the blacksmith shop and the garden by the little country house than the lawns and gardens of the castle.  But that’s not altogether true; Beauty’s room was a nice enough place that saw some setting development.  Importantly, though, I was severely unaware of what the Beast was supposed to look like and struggled to visualize him the whole time, even after he transformed.  His past self, the character in the painting, was well-played though.  And I think the character with the best development is the horse.

Overall, there are points where this book shines and others where I was left grasping.  But in the end it did not leave me with a strikingly different interpretation or probing look at the tale that I always knew.  So, sorry Ms. McKinley, but I’d say stick with the real greats, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown.

At Home in Mitford

Jan Karon 1994

Definitely enjoyable, a quaint view of a preacher’s flock in small-town Mitford, North Carolina.  Unlike some religious books, this story does not drown the reader with passages from the bible, barely masked sermons and declarations of divine faith.  It is an honest and heart-warming easy look at their daily lives.

Father Tim has led his flock in Mitford for over thirty years with nary a vacation– no time for one!  Besides conducting services, visiting parishioners and other regular duties, he suddenly becomes the owner and friend of a large scripture-loving dog, takes in a 11-year old who has had too much to bear, contracts diabetes, and finds stolen jewels in a church closet.

(It has also been made into a musical.)

They’re not real books?

Want to see some authors being goofy and the banter that surrounds their creation of fake titles & covers for the little Hypothetical Library managed by Chuck Orr?  And don’t miss Chuck’s post about an engineering joke that will intrigue some extraterrestrials when they look through our debris on the moon.

The Time Machine

1957 cover art, courtesy of monikalel42 on flickr

H.G. Wells 1895

Thanks Wishbone for exposing a young mind to another great story, this, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

This book harbors more than just the era-typical beginnings of sci-fi and drawing-room stories, topics of communism, social stratification and Darwin-ism murmur in its pages.  Furthermore, the cover portrays the most striking part of the book, the end where The Time Traveller witnesses the eclipsing of a very red, cold sun.  The rest of the tale revolves around H.G. Wells’ speculations on the direction humanity was headed, namely towards a complete stratification into two separate species in 800,000 years.  The “Haves” or Eloi live  in beautiful comfort but also ignorance, the “Have-nots” or Morlocks live below ground in darkness and savagery.  The future the inventor emerged into is humanity in decay.

His book is interesting and imaginative, although at times he speaks like the fluttering of a moth, the character tiring and resolving and worrying constantly.  I liked very much his imagined mechanics of time travel, with days blurring in and out to grey.  The Epilogue holds a gem not really explored in the book but great at an ending thought as a friend of the traveler reflects on what he has witnessed and his lost friend: “And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers–shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle–to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.”

And being a Doctor Who fan, I found this intriguing: “The Time Machine book appears in Doctor Who when the Doctor is reading the novel in the 1996 TV Movie. H.G. Wells’ story is the inspiration for many modern time travel science fiction, including Doctor Who.” ~ Monikalel42‘s flickr page

More on Richard Powers’ sci-fi cover art, or this fun selection of his images

eReading: eSharing?

Further implications of digital media & books emerge.  Great networks of people reading the same thing and leaving their marks on it for others?

Den of the White Fox

Lensey Namioka

From School Library Journal– An intriguing blend of historical fiction and mystery that will be appreciated by fans of either genre. Freelance samurai Matsuzo and Zenta are warned that the valley they are about to enter is an “unwholesome place after dark.” Rumors about a powerful spirit that haunts the area and the more tangible threat of an occupying army fail to dissuade the two, however, and they descend into the valley’s depths. The place is rife with intrigue and the samurai establish an uneasy existence among the locals, ever unsure of who is friend and who is foe. As the plot unfolds, the two warriors attempt to solve the mystery of the White Fox, a shadowy figure who might be the leader of a political rebellion or a supernatural spirit. This extremely well-researched work gives readers a real sense of what life was like in 16th-century Japan. As a mystery, it is methodically planned and resolved with no loose ends. The characters are all well developed and interestingly drawn and YAs will be as unsure as the samurai about whom to trust. The language is challenging and includes some Japanese words. This novel will expose teens to a fascinating period in world history. -Robyn Ryan Vandenbroek, formerly at Otterville Public School, Ontario. Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

This might make more sense if I had started with the first Zenta & Matsuzo book.  I did like the historical aspects and some of the characters, but I don’t know how subtly the “plot unfolding” happened.  Intriguing thoughts presented, switching between characters could be a tad more perceptible?

The Robots of Dawn

Isaac Asimov 1983

Asimov completed this book much later than the first two in the series.  Knowing this, and curious to see if his writing style had changed, I would say that it is more descriptive (the book is indeed much longer) but altogether stays very much true to the voice of the other works.

This book is a triumphant tale for earthmen, the general progress of humanity, and productive compromise.  The murder mystery itself causes much consternation to both Elijah Baley and the reader, but it comes with many discoveries about the case that prevent throwing down the book in disgust.  Baley again delves into a foreign culture, this time with less encouragement and much more pressure, and finds that the Aurorans are not as perfect as they think suppose to be. Continue reading

The Naked Sun

Isaac Asimov 1956

Second installment of the Lije Baley, Daneel Olivaw detective cases.  Baley’s success with the murder case of Dr. Sarton from Aurora, mostly his success at working with the Spacers and navigating the cultures, has gotten him the attention of the Outer Worlds.  He is called to Solaria to help solve a murder case on a planet where there are no police–nor need of them, they thought.

Lije Baley’s trip to an Outer World, him being one of the only humans to do so in the past few hundred years, gives humanity a glimpse at their haughty rivals.  Lije has to not only solve a murder case under galactic scrutiny, but he has to do so in a culture completely opposite to his own.  On Solaria there are ten thousand robots for every human, and humans each have their own estate covering miles of the planet.  Personal contact is absolutely taboo and most interaction happens through “viewing,” advanced holograms.  This attitude towards space also means that Baley will have to confront the openness of outside.

As he frustratingly deals with the Solarians he discovers their greatest strengths are their weaknesses and that they aren’t as dissimilar from their earth-men beginnings as they’d like to believe: they still harbor jealousy, fear, and insecurity.  He also discovers strife between Solaria and Aurora and a hint at greater workings in the galaxy.

The scene where Baley is interviewing the sociologist felt like talking to Candide’s professor.  And can anyone tell me why the blue eyeshadow on earlobes?

The Caves of Steel

Isaac Asimov 1953

But now, Earthmen are so coddled, so enwombed in their imprisoning caves of steel, that they are caught forever.  Caves of Steel, Del Rey page 120

summary Mankind has continued to boom in population and has entrenched itself in highly efficient Cities, so efficient that the slightest imbalance or disaster would be fatal. Space travel did allow the colonization of 50 Outer Worlds, but that was hundreds of years ago.  The emigrants’ descendants, Spacers, are much different now and thoroughly disliked by Earthmen.  The Spacers are powerful, and the murder of one of their researchers calls for an investigation between Spacetown and the City, as well as investigators from both cultures.  Lije Baley must work with a Spacer robot (robots, a group hated even more than Spacers) to solve the case, with his job, his family’s status, and Earth’s relationship with Spacers depending on it.  Surprises are in store for Baley as he learns the truth about Earth and races to save his life and the future of humankind.

At first Baley’s false guesses about the murderer, done in dramatic fashion, struck me as sudden, bordering on hasty, but they ultimately serve to divulge new clues that fit into the end solution.  It is also surprising how things work out between Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw.  The novel becomes less about the conflict between human labor and robot replacement than about the agendas of Spacers, Medievalists, politicians and romanticists.

Asimov creates a futuristic world (well-woven into storyline) with intriguing technologies and a very interesting look at how the human psyche may evolve and cope with a densely packed and controlled environment, but with much more brevity and positivity than a future such as Aldous Huxley envisioned.  For a murder mystery, I liked the ending; Baley on his toes, working off of evidence he suspects is there.  The cerebroanalytic analysis, however, is just too convenient.  And no error?  Quite an advanced robot.

book pages: a distinctive wallpaper


Recently I saw Toni’s post for a Harry Potter Themed Room (also see TLC’s discussion board on the topic, quite a many good ideas) and it led me to Jennifer’s SewHooked craft: cover a wall with decopaged pages from an old book.

This reminds me of similar projects involving old maps or clock faces.  Now I just need to find two books in different tones that I don’t mind ripping apart!  And I will have to content myself with simply taping them up instead of adding the varnish.  Wouldn’t want any irate parents and/or college staff persons.

The Three Apples (Arabian Nights, 1001 Nights)

An annotated index of the Arabian Nights tales (very good), Full-text: dasburo.com/Sacred-texts.com, translated by Sir Richard Burton 1850

I love the Arabian Nights tales!  Reading Guys Lit Wire last night & their list of favorite short stories I was prompted to read The Three Apples:

The story begins with governors going to the streets to ask how their officials are doing.  They meet a man, very poor with no fish to bring home to his family, and bring him back to the river with the promise to buy anything he catches.  He goes home happily with coins in exchange for the large chest that they pulled out of the river.  Inside, in a basket of palm fronds and wrapped in a hanging, is the corpse of a fair lady.  The Caliph charges Jafar to find the murderer or die in his place. 

After three days Jafar is up on the scaffold to be hanged when two men approach and insist that they murdered the lady.  The young man tells that his wife had been sick for many days and desired an apple, he loved her dearly so he searched and had to travel many days, but he brought her back three apples.  Later he saw a slave in the marketplace tossing an apple, and the slave said that he dined with the lady and she gave him the apple.  In a rage the man returned home and killed his wife, cutting her to pieces and putting her in the chest.  When he returned home his son was weeping by her bed, and he told how he had taken one of the apples to play outside when a slave had walked by and beaten him up for his apple.

On hearing this tale the Caliph is again furious and charges Jafar to find the slave or die in his place.  Again after three days Jafar has written his will and is saying goodbye to his family when he discovers an apple in his daughter’s pocket.  It is the same apple, and he discovers that the slave is one of his own.  He brings the slave to the Caliph but saves him by offering an even more impressive story than the one of the three apples that the king just witnessed in exchange for the slave’s life, the story of Nur Al-Din Ali and his son Badr Al-Din Hasan.

Gentlehands

Pic courtesy of fantasticfiction.co.uk

M.E. Kerr -1978

What happens to all of those moderately successful short fiction books from decades past? I can tell that some of the titles one sees at Borders or on the library shelf will not live on past their first printing, but where do these stories go? Are they stored away in giant publishers’ archives or are they gathering dust on shelves of no-longer children or filling up boxes at thrift stores and rummage sales? Surprising that fiction could follow the way of fashion, trends ruling the tides of the market. A story seems less ephemeral than a cut of fabric to me.

Pretty good, I liked this book. One strength is how the author approaches her “imparted morals” on what makes a good or bad person and how to grow up and get your act together. I especially like the parallel drawn between the assumption that a German in Germany was responsible at least passively for the conflict and the feeling in the US during Vietnam that we should “support our own” and that any fight that our country enters must be a good one. Her novel implicitly raises the debate over the prosecution of someone for a past crime even though they may have changed into a different person.  Otherwise it is fairly short and simple; I wanted more in the way of development and complexity. Continue reading

Book jackets: an endangered art

In the debate about the switch to digital media and its implications for newspapers, books, etc., one realizes the little details that we will miss by transitioning to laptops and Kindles.  For those that think fondly on their colorful novels, this article by Bob Greene will especially resonate.  He mourns a loss of the book jacket and a concept of books:

“almost a piece of art independent of the words, when the jacket is evocative and illuminating. …

The existence of a gorgeous jacket amplifies the truth that a book is not, or at least should not be, disposable. It is a part of your life that is there for the long run.”

Judging a book by its cover is useful in the information that it gives, as Greene cites Motoko Rich, people notice a cover when others are reading in public and are inspired to learn more about the book or to start a conversation with the reader.  Scott Bowen joins the conversation on True/Slant.com: Losing the book jacket, losing ourselves.  Think of all the effort that goes into making cover art, the artists employed, numerous versions based on book release, the friendly rivalry among book enthusiasts.  I would agree that for me covers are a beautiful addition to the reading experience and become associated with my memories of the lovely words I find inside.  I hope book jackets remain a part of the industry no matter what direction it takes.

Le premier jardin

Anne Hébert

Entrez dans le monde de l’actrice Flora Fontagne quand elle retourne à son pays natal, la place à laquelle elle a juré de jamais retourné.  Elle explore la ville de Québec où elle lutte avec son passé caché et essaie de trouver sa fille.  Pour remplir le vide de son propre histoire et identité, elle crée et joue des rôles du passé du Québec.  Grace à ces imaginations, on apprend beaucoup concernant l’histoire de la ville mais surtout concernant Flora Fontagnes elle-même.

En tout c’est un roman interéssant, avec beaucoup de symbolisme.  Hébert examine l’epreuve de s’occuper d’un passé tragique/difficile et le travail dur qu’on fait pour être “actrice.”  Je pense aussi qu’elle aime beaucoup la France.

Author J.D. Salinger passed away yesterday

J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, died yesterday at age 91.  The Wall Street Journal has a very good article about the author, including this info about other books you can read by Salinger:

Mr. Salinger’s other books don’t equal the influence or sales of “Catcher,” but they are still read, again and again, with great affection and intensity. Critics, at least briefly, rated Mr. Salinger as a more accomplished and daring short story writer than John Cheever.

The collection “Nine Stories” features the classic “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the deadpan account of a suicidal Army veteran and the little girl he hopes, in vain, will save him. The novel “Franny and Zooey,” like “Catcher,” is a youthful, obsessively articulated quest for redemption, featuring a memorable argument between Zooey and his mother as he attempts to read in the bathtub.

Mr. Salinger also wrote the novellas “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” and “Seymour—An Introduction,” both featuring the neurotic, fictional Glass family that appeared in much of his work.

His last published story, “Hapworth 16, 1928,” ran in The New Yorker in 1965. By then he was increasingly viewed like a precocious child whose manner had soured from cute to insufferable. “Salinger was the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school,” Norman Mailer once commented.

In 1999, New Hampshire neighbor Jerry Burt said the author had told him years earlier that he had written at least 15 unpublished books kept locked in a safe at his home.”   Does that mean that we will be seeing more works by Salinger, published posthumously?

Son of the Shadows

Juliet Marillier

Very good.  A great fantasy read.

{LitLiv Summary: Sorcha and Iubdan, protagonists of Daughter of the Forest, have built up a lovely life and brought stability and prosperity to Sevenwaters.  Their three children, Sean (a born leader learning from his father and uncle Liam), Niamh (very much a Briton, fiery and willful), and Liadan (unforeseen, a healer, and inwardly strong) grow and experience the events of this novel.  Ripples of problems begin when Niamh falls in love with a man she should not, the adults keep a lie which starts to erode the family, and Liadan’s suitor is consumed by the pursuit of her.  Liadan is the protagonist and must navigate the dangerous times while everyone attempts to influence her decisions.  She realizes her important role in the prophecy (that a child of Sevenwaters with the mark of the raven will gain back the three sacred islands from the Britons), but she is not sure of the great danger that is awakening.  As events unfold she manages to stay true to herself and follow her own heart, Fair Folk and prophecy be damned.}

I really liked the character of Liadan and learning about her world and her brother and sister.  She grew as a character, and she matched very well with Bran, even though their relationship frustrated me at first: they wouldn’t admit that they loved each other.  Bran as a character was also very cool, with his raven persona and complicated past and emotions.  The climatic conflict that stemmed from Eamonn was unexpected.  At first I didn’t quite like the idea of Liadan having a baby everywhere with her, it was definitely different, but Marillier made it work well for the story.  The historical aspect of mercenaries and maneuverings of the feudal system in ancient Ireland/Britain is very interesting and makes a great premise for Son of the Shadows.

+ Her website has the cover images of the book from different countries and a map of the places in the book.

Rose in Bloom

Louisa May Alcott, 1876

In this sequel to Eight Cousins, Rose has just come back from a two-year tour through Europe with Uncle Alec and Phebe. Eight Cousins left off when she was 14, she left for Europe when she was 18, and now she is 20. She has grown wiser and even more beautiful, and will inherit her parent’s fortune in a year.  The chemistry between the young people has changed too, which becomes evident to them, “No sooner were they shut up in a carriage, however, than a new and curious constraint seemed to fall upon the young people, for they realized, all at once, that their former playmates were men and women now.” (pg. 3)  There are many who seek her hand, especially when she tries “coming out in society” for a few months, some who are desperate, some who are foolish, and some who genuinely feel affection for her.  But it becomes evident (without even looking at the cover) that the two greatest contenders are Mac, the bookworm, and Charlie, the Prince.

It feels like the writing style changed a bit from the first book.  As if we, the reader, are growing with Rose, the writing changes focus and contains more human emotion and intrigue.

Continue reading

Rapture of the Deep

Cover image courtesy of Goshen Public Library

Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Soldier, Sailor, Mermaid, Spy

L.A. Meyer

{Just minutes away from walking down the aisle to finally be united with her Jaimy, Jacky is snatched up again by that despicable British Intelligence.  In her wedding dress she hears the terms of her new mission: diving for the treasure of a Spanish ship that sunk in the Caribbean (because King George’s coffers are getting empty from fighting Napoleon).  The tricky part is that she must do it without the Spanish finding out, and she must dive farther than anyone has before by using a new apparatus from Boston.  In return she will receive a full pardon.

So the Nancy B. Alsop (with two new young crew members) and the HMS Dolphin (with Jaimy on-board) sail down to the West Indies to find the Santa Magdalena, where they will have happy reunions with old faces and make new friends and new enemies.}

Very good, very fun.  The seventh book in the Bloody Jack Adventures, L.A. Meyer is still delivering the same quality, novelty, and excitement.  The book before this– My Bonny Light Horseman– was very heart wrenching whereas this book sees more going right for Jacky Faber.  But the book does seem to be a little more racy, with dirtier jokes, and I would like to see more character development concerning Jaimy.  Rollicking around Havana, Cuba, the reader picks up some interesting info about her history and culture in 1807.  Upon finishing I cannot wait for the next book to come out!

Continue reading

Reviewer, Writer A.S. Byatt

A famous reviewer has interesting things to say about fairy tales:

One of the pleasures of the tales is the brilliant mosaic they offer of isolated things and materials. Loaves of bread, magic swords, frying pans, spindles, necklaces, shoes. And these things have brilliant colours – the Swiss scholar Max Lüthi has remarked that they also have a restricted range – red, black, white, gold and silver. Materials shine – a glass mountain, golden coins spouting from the good daughter’s lips. Materials contaminate – a bad daughter has slimy toads springing from her lips. Pitch defiles. Blood wells up and betrays crimes. Birds glitter and shimmer and sing significant songs. The animal world is a close extension of the human world – bears help (or devour), foxes and deer are helpers or punishers, fish speak from lakes and birds help in the sorting of seeds or peck out the eyes of the wicked. It is a mosaic world capable of endless retelling in varied ways.”

The Guardian, Monday 12 October 2009

I hope to read more of her work, maybe one of her books.

Le Silence de la Mer

par Vercors (Jean Bruller), 1942

Published covertly in Nazi-occupied France, this was a publication for the French people, a sort of “guide for la Resistance” to this country still dazed and reeling from the invasion.  There were underground publications of newspapers going on, but Vercors approached a publisher to do this larger project.  It is a short story, only 50 pages, but still very good and with psychological depth in its intricacies of symbolism and character interactions, as well as an inspiring greater message.

The story enfolds as two lower soldiers examine the narrator’s house.  Several comings and goings later a soldier tells the man and his niece that there will be an officer staying in their house.  When they meet him he is actually fluent in French and very polite.  Still, neither the niece nor the narrator utter a word or even acknowledge him.  This was the start of an unspoken agreement that they would continue their lives as usual as if he had never came. Continue reading

Troy

Adele Geras

{Summary found on Wikipedia.com} :  The plot focuses on several women of Troy, ranging from powerful rich maidens to the servant girls who live in the town. The women all suffer in emotional ways with the decade long war at the center of their pain. Orphan sisters Xanthe and Marpessa live in Priam’s palace as maids and surrogate daughters to Andromache and Helen, respectively.  Andromache is Hector’s wife and mother to Astynax, whom Xanthe cares for like her own child. Marpessa sees the gods but keeps to herself because she knows that people will label her “disturbed” like Hector’s sister Cassandra.

The story picks up steam when Eros hits Xanthe with a silver-blue arrow, while she is working in the Blood room (where the fallen soldiers are taken to be nursed back to health). Xanthe falls in love with Alastor, who then impregnates Marpessa, a triangle brought about because Aphrodite longs for any entertainment other than the war. Polyxena, a friend of the two sisters, is hopelessly in love with Iason, who loves Xanthe.

Geras fills in the holes between each of the subplots with gossip from the servants of Priam’s palace. They serve as the Greek chorus and converse among themselves with how lazy Helen is or how estranged from her family Andromache is. Eventually the story winds down with the inevitable wooden horse and the sacking of Troy.

Geras shines as a storyteller and multi-subplot manager. She carefully scripts each plot to tell the inner feelings of the Trojan woman. The reader knows how the story ends (the rape and pillage of Troy) but what keeps them reading is the interest in the characters’ dreams and ultimate futures.

Continue reading