In the month of February I began my month by reading five poetry books, four of which I wrapped up individually here. The fifth I will feature as an independent book review in the near future. These are the novels I read and/or listened to in the month of February:
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
3.5-4. Mary Yellen is a 23 year old who lives on a peaceful farm when her mom dies. She is forced to move in with her aunt Patience and terrifying uncle Joss Merlyn at Jamaica Inn (which is a real 18th century Inn, made famous by this novel– the structure still stands). Jamaica Inn has a bad reputation mainly because Joss Merlyn hosts evenings with pirates and bad company. Mary stays at the Inn for her aunt. What follows midway through the novel is a romance with an unexpected character (won’t spoil it). The atmosphere of this novel is very Gothic, mainly due to the night time pirates and the fog-covered moors by which the Inn is surrounded.
Du Maurier is an excellent storyteller. Her descriptions, the atmosphere, character depth, and language uses are absolutely flawless. I will definitely read Rebecca in the near future. What I did not enjoy was that Jamaica Inn (published 1936) tried very hard to sound like Wuthering Heights (1847). The two works are almost 90 years apart and I think Du Maurier could have really accomplished more in her novel if she would have used the tools and writing techniques developed in that time for an atmosphere suitable for her contemporary audience (we’re even past the Jazz age at this point). In addition, the romance which begins half-way through the novel feels very forced. The relationship is not developed nor explored and feels unnecessary, which is why the second part of the novel really lacks substance and the narrative takes several directions after the half way point. This is a shame because it really takes away from the great atmosphere built in the first half. I would recommend this novel to anyone who likes Gothic novels, and pirates! Also I would count this novel as straddling the line of a “classic” and “mainstream literature from that time.” It’s not too heavy but it’s well written. I will definitely read more by this author.
Lincoln the Bardo by George Saunders
4 Stars. In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, Saunders said that he was so moved by a story he heard 20 years ago about Abraham Lincoln holding his dead son’s body in the crypt that it inspired him to take the short story long and write his first novel. With this excerpt from history, Saunders then explored the concept of the Bardo, which is a Tibetan word meaning “in between” or “transition”–the Eastern concept of purgatory. Saunders appropriated the Bardo for this narrative so that if one had any unresolved issues he/she would have to resolve them to move on. Willie Lincoln (the son) is stuck in the Bardo and there are many voices around him of other people from across the ages who are not aware they are dead, or what’s keeping them there.
In content, I couldn’t help but compare this story to Dostoevsky’s ‘short’ story “Bobok” which is about a man walking through a graveyard and overhearing conversations of the dead. Stylistically it reminded me of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” I will say, that in this novel Saunders is definitely more focused on style and exploring a very detailed moment (death of Willie) and a very specific concept (consciousness in the Bardo). Academics are going to love this book I’m sure. It’s very “focused” and has room for a lot of discussion. Also if this is ever performed on stage it would have a very Samuel Beckett feel to it.
Personally, I listened to it on audible on a train ride exactly the length of the audiobook. I would STRONGLY recommend the audiobook because Audible got several actors for the different voices and it really comes alive (Nick Offerman is awesome).
All in all, I’m not sure if DURING the experience of listening to it I was intrigued or really into it but after it was done I couldn’t stop thinking about it as a whole. I recommend it to anyone who is into different experimental styles of writing, Beckett, T.S. Eliot, and again strongly recommend it in audio format.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
4.5 Stars. My heart’s a mess right now. At first this book reminded me of The Iron Giant and Coraline with echoes from the Deathly Hallows‘ “The Tale of the Three Brothers” but then it grows into something more, a book about healing, and by the end I just couldn’t believe how well it was crafted. This book was so well written. The book is about a young boy named Conor whose mother is dying of cancer. He is visited by a monster who is also a giant Yew Tree at night (12:07 precisely) and tells him three fairytale-like stories with a highly atmospheric description and a twist. That’s all I can say about the summary without being too spoiler-filled for those who have not read it yet. What is particularly magical about the way this really depressing story is told is the use of language and metaphor (and sometimes allegory). This is a book I would teach and discuss at length. It’s highly memorable and I expect it to haunt me forever. Here are just some lines that stayed with me:
“there is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between” (70).
“And if no one sees you…are you really there at all?” (163).
“But there are harder things than being invisible” (171).
“You must tell the truth or you will never leave this nightmare…you will be trapped here alone for the rest of your life” (204).
A Hermit’s Cookbook: Monks, Food and Fasting in the Middle Ages by Andrew Jotischky
4 Stars. I really enjoyed this book. It’s a great non-fiction read. I never thought someone would look into the eating habits of medieval monks and it’s a topic that absolutely fascinates me. Jotischky not only looks at habits and behaviours around food in relation to faith, but also at where each item would be cooked, the kinds of ovens, and sometimes includes recipes as well. He also contrasts monks in various locations and contextualizes eating habits according to what those people would have access to. Overall it’s a very history-heavy text and I would recommend it to anyone interested in history, and the medieval period, or the history of eating/food
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
3 Stars. I can’t tell if it’s because this book has been so hyped up that I came to it expecting more. The IDEA of this novella is fantastic. Teens who have been to different worlds like Wonderland, Underland etc. return to this world and can’t go back so they go to this “school” that’s kind of a rehab facility. It’s mental institution meets fairy tales. It sounds amazing right? The metaphors and allusions are great. Some characters had such potential. The idea is Golden. Even the book cover design is so alluring that you want to pick it up and read it. BUT the way the story is told is absolutely awful. I gave this three stars for the idea. I wish that someone could re-write this because the idea is so good. I’m so angry that such a good idea with such great potential wasn’t given the chance to be fully explored. There is a chance I read it at the wrong time, in the wrong mood, and it piled up on top of the built-up expectation of how good it’s supposed to be. Maybe I’ll re-read this after a while and see if I feel the same way.