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vampsandtramps "Lindsey" (St. Louis)

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The Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers Karamazov
by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.54
79 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A review by a realist, June 2 2004
I'd first like to correct an error from a previous review. The translator is not Constance Garnett; it is one Andrew MacAndrew (tragic name, I know), and the prose is snappy and completely understandable. I was surprised by how informal the writing was at times, and I think the translator probably captured the style, although I can't be sure because I don't know Russian. As for the actual book, the material presented, the characters developed and the themes explored, this book is really good. But not perfect.
It starts out wonderfully. Meeting the brothers, and that crazy father of theirs, is a joy. Hilarious, sometimes painfully awkward. The saga of Grueshenka and Katya is compelling, and the plight of our little boy Ilyusha is the best part of the book. Other parts of the novel are not so exciting. Like the entirity of Book VI, about the Elder Zosima. He tells us all about his life and his thoughts on the Bible, and how you should be nice to kids. If you are looking for a book to skip, this is it. Some of book XII is painful as well. We already know all about the theories of the murder, but we have to listen to both the prosecutor and defense attorney tell us about it from a psychological point of view. Important I know, because Dostoevsky was trying to say something about justice, about crime and punishment. But, all literary snobbery aside, it's boring. So chapters 6-13 in Book 12 can be optional if you're not interested in the nature of judgement.
The book also relies on excessive coincidence and unlikely circumstances. It can get pretty outlandish. But overall, an enjoyable read. Good characterization, and the conflicts and love between the brothers is fascinating to read about. The theories early on in the book about the existence of God are thought-provoking. You'll love that Alyosha, whether you are a believer or non-believer.

Absalom, Absalom!
Absalom, Absalom!
by William Faulkner
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
50 used & new from CDN$ 3.50

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Know what you're getting yourself into, May 9 2004
This review is from: Absalom, Absalom! (Paperback)
I can understand why this book has so many 5 star ratings. It's ideas on the decay of the South are pretty brilliant and perceptive, and the plot is devastating. However, the language, although poetic, is enigmatic and completely exhausting. What's more troubling is that every character in the book has the same way of talking, without ever stopping or completing a thought. Sentences literally go on for over a page. Apparently, that's how every single person talked in 1909.
"Not cowardice which will not face that sickness somewhere at the prime foundation of this factual scheme from which the prisoner soul, miasmal-distillant, wroils ever upward sunward..." This continues for quite some time. While an occassional sentence like this would add a sense of mystery and mysticism to the novel, when the whole thing reads like this, you get pretty tired. Another reviewer noted this sentence: "I became all polymath love's androgynous advocate." What?
I do like the narrative style though. You have a basic idea of the plot from the beginning, but pieces get filled in my different sources, leading to the overall picture of murder, decay, revenge. I didn't think the characterization was very good though, and that to me is the most important part of a book. Sure, you know who Sutpen is, but you don't really understand him. Ellen is called a moth, desperately clinging to the light but not understanding why. That's pretty a beautiful simile, but not incredibly useful, since we don't know why Ellen is a moth, just that she is.
Basically, if you're going to read this novel, know what you're getting yourself into, and read it slowly, or you'll have to go back a million times and re-read.

Look Homeward, Angel
Look Homeward, Angel
by Thomas Wolfe
Edition: Paperback
42 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars self-indulgent, self-pitying, pretentious, cliched, May 5 2004
This review is from: Look Homeward, Angel (Paperback)
OKay, I think my title pretty much sums up the book. But I suppose I should elaborate. In general, I do not like coming-of-age stories because all the author does is reflect on his youth without any plot. The main characters are always flawless heros, in a struggle against a cruel world that cannot understand their genius. Of course, no character in a book can be flawless. The authors just use the novel format as an excuse to lament on the cruel injustices that happened in their youth. I was punished in school when I didn't deserve it! I had to work at a job I didn't like! Boo hoo, poor me! No one is as smart as me! I have really deep thoughts! It's me against the world! Yep, arrogant, self-indulgent, and self-pitying all the way.
Wolfe's writing is also particularly bad and cliched. "Negroes" are always snoring "through blubbering lips." When they are awake, they do everything "sleepily." You never see Eugene's mom without her pursing her lips. You never see his brother without him saying "damn!" The bad descriptions wouldn't be so intolerable if they didn't happen over and over again. And for the record, I like description, and I don't judge novels for racism that was considered politically correct in their day. I love Conrad, for example. But this is pretentious and generic and bad. Avoid at all costs.

20th Century Nostromo
20th Century Nostromo
by Joseph Conrad
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
49 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A little more Nostomo, a little less Costaguana, May 4 2004
Nostromo is one of Conrad's best characters, a man with a dangerous singleness of intention and of dashing good looks. Unfortunately, he does not appear regulraly in the story line until the last 120 pages. Much time is given to explaining the politics of Costaguana, a fictional South American country. I understand that revolution and corruption is essential to the plot of this novel, but I think Joseph went a little overboard. He has such a talent for characterization, and he focuses so much in this novel on history and confusing minor figures.
That said, when Nostromo does appear in the book, he steals the show. As one character puts it, he has "a particular talent for being on the spot whenever there is something picturesque to be done." A dying woman says to him, "(You are) always thinking of yourself and taking your pay out in fine words from those who care nothing for you." Indeed, Nostromo's main purpose in life is to have a reputation as a hero, to be well-thought of and well-known. Other characters shine in this book as well, such as Decoud, a "man with no faith in anything except his own sensations," and the doctor, with his "misanthropic mistrust of humanity." Charles Gould is an intriguing figure who confuses his materialism with idealism. His wife is uncorruptible. Outstanding, compelling characters who are engaged in a plan to protect silver from revolutionary thugs.
This has all the great ideas Conrad explores in other novels, such as the corruption of ideals, moral ambiguity, intellectual farce, the fleeting nature of purpose and order, and the absurdity of blind faith. He is contemplating the "immense indifference of things," the imperfection of men's motives. It's worth the effort to get to the heart of this story, especially if you are a Conrad fan. If you're unfamilar with his work, I'd recommend starting out with something else.

Heart of Darkness and Other Tales
Heart of Darkness and Other Tales
by Joseph Conrad
Edition: Paperback
38 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Full of crazy characters and vivid images, May 2 2004
Heart of Darkness is, without a doubt, one of the best and most confusing books ever written. It is probably the most discussed book of the 20th century, and an obscene number of academic papers, criticisms and interpretations have been written about it. What does it mean, everyone wants to know. It is so impenetrable, to use one of Marlow's favorite words. Even if you don't want to spend the time figuring out the "message" (if there is one), this is a great novel simply for the characters and the images.
Our narrator, Marlow, is a fascinating character in himself, and he always makes me smile with his wit and insight, though he can be a little pretentious. Kurtz is an enigma, a man who has set himself up as a god with unclear motives. He is taken care of my a Russian harlequin, a hilarious idealist who forgives that Kurtz once threatened to kill him (you can't judge a man like that by ordinary standards!) Marlow comes across many others, such as the fat Englishman who cannot stop fainting on their way to see Kurtz. The imagery is evocative and haunting. A group of starving indiginous men are referred to as a "bundle of acute angles." The scenery is described better than a movie could portray (Apocalypse Now does the jungle no justice.)
It's a short book too, so you have no excuse for not reading it!

Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Bronte
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
56 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Great fiction is not an illusion, May 2 2004
This review is from: Jane Eyre (Mass Market Paperback)
Jane Eyre is a fascinating, introspective novel about a girl who refuses to let herself be stepped on and reaches out for what she wants, while always keeping her Christian ethics in check. The writing is beautiful and haunting, and the characters are vivid and real. However, this novel relies too much on coincidence and is at times sentimental and melodramatic.. Overall, it is not nearly as good as Charlotte Bronte's final novel, Villette, which is more mature in its writing, themes and characterization.

Sometimes a Great Notion
Sometimes a Great Notion
by Ken Kesey
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.00
39 used & new from CDN$ 2.14

5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant rambling book, May 1 2004
Sometimes a Great Notion could very well be the most ambitious book I have ever read. And not only is it ambitious, but the author pulls off the effect wonderfully. Kesey epitomized the sixties, traveling across the country on a multi-colored bus and engaging in much drug abuse. Although the rambling stream-of-consciousness style may be remniscent of the sixties, his ideas ultimately are not. At least from my interpretation of the book.
I won't repeat the plot since you can read about that in other reviews, but let me say that the character development in this novel is legendary, right up there with Conrad. I can still hear an angry townsperson screaming, "Stammmmmmper! Damn you Hank Stammmper!!" You see, the townspeople don't like ole Hank, because he just keeps on working while the rest of the men are on a strike, spending their time drowning their sorrows in watered down whisky. And Hank could care less what they think, since they are mostly hypocrites. He lives for himself, and always treats the men who hate him with the utmost respect, which just infuriates them even more. The high school football team has his picture on their dummies.
The book is full of secondary characters who we only see fleetingly while they struggle with life and meaning and their own failures. We have Viv, Hank's wife, who is only loved for the comfort she can provide. Love is selfish, life isn't fair. This book is full of insight, incest, infuriation and...what else starts with an i....oh it is just incredible. I recommend it without reservation.

The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale
The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale
by Joseph Conrad
Edition: Paperback
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Joseph, what happened?, April 29 2004
As a die-hard Conrad fan, I was disappointed by The Secret Agent, which seemed to try too hard to be ironic. Conrad is best in character studies, such as Lord Jim, and this plunge into political satire does not suit him. I love to make fun of socialists and anarchists as much as the next person (since, you know, they believe the same things when their ideologies are contradictory), and Conrad really wants us to feel contempt for the characters. Mostly, however, I felt indifference. There are some witticisms in here, and I enjoyed Stevie, the "slow" brother of Mrs. Verloc. Overall, however, Conrad was best at sea. Everyone should read Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, and if you appreciate those, try Chance and Victory. But don't look to this book for an accurate or flattering representation of Conrad.

The Mayor of Casterbridge
The Mayor of Casterbridge
by Thomas Hardy
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.90
41 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars All cynicism, no realism, no insight, April 29 2004
Modern novels can be so pretentious, with their needless philosophizing and conscious experimentation with the language. So isn't nice to read a classic novel with straight-forward writing that aims for no insight into society or people? Actually no, it's kind of depressing. The Mayor of Casterbridge relies on coincidence, melodrama, and, as the afterword in my edition puts it, "the constant exploitation of chance happenings to determine situation and hence the fate of his characters." I chose this Hardy novel because it was supposed to be character-centered. The story starts with Michael Henchard selling his wife and child at a fair. I thought this book would examine his redemption, it would be a Lord Jim type tale of profound psychological insight. A strange event like that is a good way to get a book started, but the crazy, unlikely events just keep a-coming. You feel nothing for the characters, ever. You learn nothing in the end, except life is cruel and if something can go wrong, it will. Read something else.

Villette
Villette
by Charlotte Bronte
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.79
45 used & new from CDN$ 0.09

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My stoic, passionate Lucy Snowe, April 29 2004
This review is from: Villette (Paperback)
As other reviewers have noted, this is a haunting tale, featuring the withdrawn yet passionate Lucy Snowe. Lucy is always trying to make the book about the other characters, and she feels awkward writing about herself and her own feelings. Through her evasion of her own importance, we still get a clear and moving portrait of the narrator. She glides over the incidents of her life, including a vague reference to a ship wreck, and focuses on the story of her friends, like the insufferable Ginevra Fanshawe. While these characters may be happier, more attractive, more liked, they do not have the feeling and intensity of Lucy. Although she tries to remain stoic, her passion does burst through every once and while, and those scenes are some of the most memorable. Otherwise she is patient and self-deprecating, and allows herself to be stepped on. She is a sympathetic, throughly believable character, but Ms. Bronte never gets too sentimental or pitying.
This novel is gothic, romantic and realistic, set in a biblical and mythical framework. There are ghosts and shadows, death and grieving, practical jokes and dry wit. To put in plainly, this is one of the best books I have ever read. Much much better and more mature than Jane Eyre.

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