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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on September 19, 2014
A comfortable novel, basically like watching an old movie. I found the main female character to be a little grating but then again, she was supposed to. The supporting characters, all English eccentrics from the world of the theater, were well drawn. I would read more by this author.
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on May 10, 2012
Fantastic writing that flows fluidly from first to last page, as if the book had been written in one sitting. Not a subject matter I was passionate about at first glance (American scholars abroad, really?) but the deep dive into 2 human hearts was very satisfying.
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on July 10, 2004
In alternating chapters devoted to each character, six months in the life of Virginia ("Vinnie") Miner, an unmarried Ivy League college professor for whom the sweet bird of youth has long flown away, are contrasted with the same period in the life of Fred Turner - young and handsome, and a junior faculty member of the same Ivy League college. Although they barely know each other, they are both members of the English department and are both on sabbatical in London at the same time doing research.
Their stories are studies in contrast and in similarities. Fred is lonely, having recently become estranged from his wife; Fred loathes England (at least, at first). Vinnie is beyond lonely - at 54, she has settled into a life of comforting routine, even if the routine involves frequent trips to her beloved England. Fred turns heads; Vinnie is "the sort of person no one ever notices."
They each find romance in England. Fred is upwardly mobile - he falls in love with a beautiful and aristocratic actress of some fame. Vinnie is shocked to find herself having a romance with a sanitary engineer from Tulsa, a man who rarely reads books and with whom she would barely have deigned to have talked had they not been thrown together.
Which of these two relationships goes on to become a life-love, and which ends in humiliating farce? It is the genius of this book that the answer, like life itself, remains unpredictable throughout the novel, right up to its surprising end. This novel was highly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize.
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on January 6, 2004
Not only did I enjoy this book tremendously, but I recently recommended it to my 79 y.o. mother. She also enjoyed the book, and is now looking for more books by Ms. Lurie to read.
Although published several years ago, the characters and subject matter are still timely (and funny!)
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on August 3, 2003
I picked this book up recently at my college library with pretty modest expectations. Upon reading the first couple of paragaphs, however, I realized that this was a much bigger work han I previously thought. Lurie is a wonderful writer and her talents are on full display here. Whether writing of the view from Vinnie's window or the flighty temperament of Rosemary Radley, everything is top-notch. This is a wonderful comic novel with a bittersweet, sad ending. Necessary reading.
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on June 23, 2003
The sometimes overlapping stories of Vinnie Miner and Fred Turner, two Americans conducting literary research in London, prove entertaining, even if a bit contrived. The earlier portions of the stories are much better at communicating the tongue-in-cheek narrative on American perceptions of England (and American perceptions of America) and some of the dialogue and musings that Lurie provides for Miner are down right hysterical.
This is very easy and pleasant read. The strength of this book is Lurie's ability to provide satirical and witty commentary on life in general and on life abroad. The power of this is diluted as the focus of the book changes from that commentary to the details of a story which become overdramatized. In doing this, Lurie loses much of the cleverness contained in the first three-quarters of the book.
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on February 26, 2003
I recently re-read Foreign Affairs, and having adored it twelve years ago was amazed at how delightful, clever and funny it still is. Two American academics, the plain, wryly self-pitying Vinnie, and handsome young Fred, are both English teachers on sabbatical from Corinth University in London. Vinnie loves England, which she conflates with her love of children's classics, and a sort of prim moral and social superiority. Sitting next to an ignorant Mid-Westerner, Chuck, she disdains him pretty much as Lurie's readers would, too, only to be gradually captivated by his underlying good qualities.
Fred, too, finds his miserable experience of London transformed by an affair with a titled actress, who despite her refined charms (the complete opposite to those of his estranged Jewish wife, Ruth) turns out to be less wholesome than perceived. As with all Lurie's novels, the characters in it are interlinked to those in previous books (Ruth is Ruth Zimmern, whom some may remember from Only Children). The allusions to Henry James are done with grace, but what really impresses is the wit and perfection of style Lurie brings to her subject of American innocence and British corruption. For British readers it's wonderfully refreshing to see ourselves through such a diamond-sharp lens... I also recommend The Last Resort as a mordant satire on death and love.
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on October 17, 2002
I have read about a quarter of all the books that have won the Pulitzer, and I am attempting to read them all in the next year or so. I think 1985 may have been a slow year for writers. This book is good, yes, but Pulitzer good? No. I never really connected with either character, and felt that some of the writing, for lack of a better word, was cheesy (i.e the entire "Fido" creation). Compared with the Pulitzer winners from the years before and after, the book is weak. This may be an unfair criticism, and maybe the Pulitzer stamp on the front of the book lead to unfair expectations, but the book just does not do "it" for me. And that undefineable "it" is what makes me not recommend this book to other readers.
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on February 17, 2002
Characterization and social observation take center stage in Alison Lurie's Pulitzer Prize winning book (1985). It's witty and droll and rather literary, and in its own understated way a page turner. Vinnie Miner is an English professor in her 50's, divorced and not exceptionally pretty. In fact, she looks (and in public, acts) like an old school marm. She's spending a semester in London to research a book on children's lymericks. In a parallel story, Fred Turner is an exceptionally attractive, 29 year old English professor, newly separated from his wife, who is also spending the semester in England to research his own book. They are aquaintances and peers, and work for the same university in the states. Their stories cross paths throughout the book, adding to the juxtaposition of their two lives.
Vinnie and Fred are vastly different characters who share common human need: companionship, acceptance, love. Foreign Affairs is the story of the paths each of their lives takes while on this sojourn in England, how each reaches his own moment of truth. Along the way, we are greatly entertained by their independent observations of England and of English high society, of the inherent differences between American and English mannerisms and lifestyles, and of the pretenses we all put forth when interacting with the world. There are also some wonderful secondary characters, who occasionally upstage the two main characters, much to the reader's delight.
The novel moves along splendidly, until the very end, when, unfortunately, Lurie finds it necessary to throw in several plot twists which cater more to the dramatic, and play on coincidence and unfounded surprise. These are so utterly unnecessary that I became angry at Lurie for spoiling such a wonderfully engaging book. Still, despite a few weak moments near the end, this one gets four stars
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on July 9, 2001
This is my first reading of an Alison Lurie novel and - being that I am still reeling from the resolution of "Foreign Affairs" since its completion nearly 24 hours ago - it looks as though I will be reading more of her works.
This book is like reading two separate novels, the chapters regularly flip-flopping between the two protagonists, Vinnie Miner and Fred Turner, whose only correlation is that they are both professors at Corinth University. Such sporadic story-telling has the advantage of keeping things interesting, especially in its opposing perceptions of relative characters. And equally insightful is to exist in the mind of Vinnie and then, a chapter later, to meet Vinnie through Fred's mind or vice versa...(that alone is worth the Pulitzer Prize.) The disadvantage to all this is when one becomes too intrigued with a specific storyline, the reader - not wanting to miss any little mention about the preferred protagonist - is forced to trudge through, what seems to be, an extra long chapter just to return to "the program already in progress."
The humorous and, oftentimes, neurotic Vinnie Miner is a plain fifty-four-year-old woman, comfortably single, and an absolute lover of solitude. She takes delight in her excursion to England in which she does research for her novels regarding children's folklore.
The solemn Fred Turner is almost a complete opposite to Vinnie; he is a handsome twenty-eight-year-old man, miserably married, and desperately seeking to be in the company of others. He despises his trip to England, and loathes the British Museum - hilariously named the "Bowel Movement" by him - where he obtains his research on the poet, John Gay.
Refreshingly, each chapter opens with a blurb of either a children's rhyme for Vinnie or a couple of poetic lines of John Gay for Fred, setting the tone for the following chapter.
What makes this novel complete is that both Vinnie and Fred experience a much-needed internal awakening.
In keeping to its bipolar quality, the progress of Vinnie's affair is gradual as compared to Fred's fast companionship. Yet, similarily, both are blissfully self-educated in the book's conclusion, for each character does learn that in matters of "Foreign Affairs," a different country can make a different heart.
This is a worthwhile read.
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