READING UPDATE & NEW BOOK REVIEWS: OCTOBER COUNTRY, WILD LIFE AND DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE
Time for another reading update. Today I'll review three books: a novel, a collection of stories and a play. The novel Wild Life by Molly Gloss was my first work by this author. October Country is a work by author I was already familiar with. In fact some of you might remember that I have a great fondness for Ray Bradbury. His Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favourite dystopian novels of all times. So, I was happy I was able to pick up a collection of his short stories. Finally, I read a play by Christopher Marlowe. This is another author I was already familiar with (I did study English language and literature). I enjoyed Marlowe's version of Doctor Faustus myth, so I decided to see what his others works are like. So far, I read one and a half play but I plan to finish them all by the end of the month. I was also rereading Shakespeare a lot lately because that is always a good idea. I do upload most of my reading on goodreads so you can check my reading progress there as well.
OCTOBER COUNTRY, A COLLECTION OF STORIES BY RAY BRADBURY 5/5
It is a coincidence that I read October Country in October. I didn't plan it or anything, I saw this book in the library and decided to read it just because it was by Ray Bradbury. It is only now that I realized that this book is a perfect October reading. I can't imagine a better choice for Halloween. I may not personally celebrate this holiday (because I'm not from the states) in a special way, but I do sometimes celebrate it with my reading choices. The Halloween has turned into a global thing. I usually am on a lookout for a good Halloween reading. Plus, we do sort of celebrate it in the school I volunteer in. Moving on with my book review. Originally published in 1955, The October Country is a wonderful collection of macabre short stories. The stories are of exceptional quality, exactly what one would expect from a writer as acclaimed as Ray Bradbury. Even the stories that weren't my cup of tea impressed me with the beautiful writing, wonderful characterization and attention to details. I'll review all of the stories separately. Avoiding spoilers in reviews is never easy, but it is especially challenging when it comes to short stories, so for this reasons I'll keep my reviews brief. I might include spoilers in the future, if I ever decide to write a more in dept review.
THE DWARF 4/5
The dwarf is a story that talks about self-perception, society and good intentions. As we all know, good intentions often lead to bad things. In fact, the opening story of this collection is a bit depressive in tone, but it is well written. A girl wants to help a dwarf feel better about himself, but she makes things worse. The characters are well portrayed and the dialogues are convincing. It is written a bit like murder story, but the ending isn't clear cut (even if it is not that difficult to asses what it is to come). I enjoyed this story but not as much as his others stories. Moreover, I didn't enjoy it that much while I was reading it just because it was so bleak.
THE WATCHFUL POKER CHIC OF H.MATISSE 4/5
What some people won't do to be popular? A man becomes a welcome guest at the parties because of his (unintentionally) funny comments, but soon he loses his gift. Not being able to remember what he was saying or why it was funny makes it hard for him to revive his 'gift'. It seems that his humor was just an accident. In reality, he is not that funny. What is he to do? This is an entertaining but quite dark story about a man who will go to great lengths to keep his social contacts. Lacking a talent for socializing, the protagonist of this book is willing to sacrifice a part of himself to remain a welcome guest on parties. The story itself is very well written and witty, but what I liked most of all is the comment on human need for companionship.
Wonderfully written horror story about a man hunted by his own skeleton. A skinny men under pressure goes to see a mysterious healer hoping to feel better. However, the man merely points out the problem to him and suggests it will be solved by its self. Meanwhile, the protagonist of our story lives in an agony. The tension is increased with every page. The ending was a bit predictable, but not less scary because of it. I was also impressed with the characterization and the dialogues themselves. The characters really came to life in this one. The husband and the wife were wonderfully portrayed. The writing was elegant and well paced. Personally, I'm not a great fan of horror stories (I do enjoy Edgar Allan Poe, though) but I really liked this one. The writing is brilliant.
THE JAR 4/5
Another story with elements of horror. A man purchases a jar in an effort to have something of interest to show. His wife is always about, travelling to her parents and he doesn't seem able to keep her around. The mysterious jar is both frightening and fascinating. It starts attraction visitors, each of them seeing something else in it. Wonderfully written, The Jar held my interest to the end. The way Jar shows people what they want to see is fascinating. There were some really interesting psychological moments in this one. Highly recommended even if the ending is a bit depressive!
THE TRAVELLER 5/5
The Traveller is the first story in this short story collection that focuses on a particular family. There are a few more stories in it that are about the FAMILY. What kind of family it is? A particular one. I must admit that I figured out who they were only when I read the second story. Before there, I wasn't quite sure where to place their supernatural abilities. This story focused on Cecy, a character that reapers in the other stories as well. I loved reading about Cecy, a girl who spends her days in bed, but has great powers of mind. I enjoyed all the stories about the family, but it was only in the last one that I figured out who they really were.
THE EMISSARY 4/5
The emissary is a dark story with elements of horror, perhaps it could even be said to be a straight forward horror story. It tells a story of a bedridden boy. Obviously, this boy who because of his illness has to stay in bed is isolated. However, the boy has a dog who brings him news about the outside world. The dog is the boy's only friend for a while. That's just the start, but I don't want to spoil the ending so I won't say much expect that soon the boy gets another friend. A nice teacher who visits him regularly bringing more of the outer world to him lessens the boy's isolation. When she is gone, the boy is on his own again. Will the dog be able to help? It was an interesting story to read, I quite liked the dark atmosphere.
TOUCHED WITH FIRE 5/5
This is an absolutely brilliant story about two men who having retired from selling life insurance study human psychology and thus discover that people often cause their own death- in an unconscious way. As someone interested in psychology, I found it really fascinating. So, these two men first observe people, but then they decide to help them. They argue about it at first, but eventually decide that not helping is akin to murder. However, it is not as easy at it seems. At the start of the story, we see them debating whether to approach a miserable lady who is mean to everyone (because she is unhappy in her life). They want to help this lady, but as it turns out, some people are beyond help. Or is it so? Read the story and find out.
THE SCYTHE 5/5
A starving family of four wonders onto a farm, only to find a dead owner who leaves the farm to whoever finds it. Now, this family they are happy because they have a roof over their head and they don't have to worry about starving to death, but there is something strange about the farm. The man starts to reap the grain, but something odd happens. The grain grows again. He is perplexed but unwilling to leave the farm. His wife persuades him to stay. This was such a beautifully written and tragic story that references the legend of the grim reaper. It talks about our inability to escape destiny.
Uncle Enair is such a beautiful story about life, perseverance and parenthood. That is what I make of it. I see the ending as a wonderful metaphor for parenthood. People often think about what they give, but they don't realize that we also gain by giving. I think the protagonist of this story (the winged man) realized it at the end and was happy he decided to become a father and a married man. Uncle Enair is another short story that speaks about the mysterious family I mentioned (the one girl Cecy is part of). However, this time it focuses on just one member of the family. He is a winged man who gets injured in a storm and is taken in by a kind young lady. This story felt very fairy-tale in tone and it even ended up on a happy note. The only story in this book that could be described as cheerful. The others are either tragic or bitter sweet. The ending of this one made me think of classical fairy-tales.
THE WIND 5/5
A wonderful short story about a man hunted by a wild. There is a fantastic element to it, obviously but it is written most convincingly and that makes it so interesting. Now, this man he is not hunted just by any kind of wind, a predatory kind that takes the souls from its victims. He calls his friend who calms him down. Nevertheless, after a while even his friend isn't sure that the wind is only in his imagination. This story is so well written and convincing. I loved the manner in which it was told! For most of the story, this man communicates with his best friend on the phone and the tension is established by the fact we are not certain of his sanity. Maybe he is imagining everything? The wife of a friend is convinced that it is so. But is it really so?
THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN 5/5
A very funny story about a girl who refused to die and became an old women who doesn't believe in death! Early in her life, she decided to resist death. She won't have anything to do with everyone who believes in death. Apparently, the stubbornness of this lady continues to her extremely advanced old age. Maybe she figured out something? This lady who decided that she will fight death with whatever she has was such a fun character. Nevertheless, death comes knocking at her door? Will she be able to trick death itself?
Another story focusing on the mystery family, this time dealing with a member who doesn't have any special powers. As you can imagine, this young boy feels quite an outcast, but his sister Cecy will teach him an important lesson. This story was a bit sad, because it showed how one can feel an outcast in his own family even if one loves it and even if the family loves him back. There are no guarantees when it comes to who we will be related to. Sometimes members of the same family will be quite different and there is nothing that can be done about it.
THE WONDERFUL DEATH OF DUDLEY STONE 5/5
One of the most touching stories that I have read on the subject of writing. Absolutely precious! It describes why and how a famous writer decided to retire at age thirty...and kept his word- never wrote anything else. At the eve of his life, he decides to tell the whole story to a man who comes searching for it. I found this story so wonderful because it speaks about writing so honestly. A writer might love writing but feel that it drains him. Every art form is draining and the better his art is, the more exhausted can artist become. Creative work is wonderful but it demands constant sacrifices. I felt this story captured that quite well. Plus, it was well constructed and easy to read.
WILD LIE, A NOVEL BY MOLLY GLOSS 1/5
Let me be upfront. I didn't like this novel. This was my first novel by Molly Gloss and I was not impressed. However, that doesn't mean that I won't read more of this author. Molly might be a great writer for all that I know. I need to read more of Gloss' writing to be able to judge it. I read somewhere that Molly Gloss was a close fried of Ursula K. Le Guin who is one of my favourite authors. So, I might end up liking Molly too. I think I'll give her another chance even if I didn't enjoy this one. As I said, the writing wasn't my cup of tea, I'm afraid.
There were some touching moments in Wild Life, I do have to stress that. However, the problem is that the touching moments were far and far between. On overall, the book bored me and I really had to work to get through it. The writing format in this one just didn't work for me. The narrative is written in the first person, but this book is often interrupted by passages from other voices and the protagonist's own writing. Somehow it made it more confusing and difficult to follow. The book is very slow paced and there really isn't much happening. There were a few pages I enjoyed, but only a few, hence my low rating. In addition, I struggled to feel for the protagonist. She seems more a symbol then a real person.
What is this novel about? Well, at first we are introduced to a peculiar but charming young single mother. However, with the time story goes a bit downhill. This woman gets lost in the woods after joining a rescue search party, encounters wild creatures and befriends them but it all takes too long and there is no character development to speak of. What is the meaning of it all? How is her life profoundly changed by the experience? I didn't find the writing poetic at all, the big words are all there but there is no poetry. I mean the author does have a nice vocabulary, but it doesn't necessarily translate to much. The descriptions of the wilderness were nice at times, but noting special. In other words, there didn't seem very literary to be. Eloquent at times yes, but not meaningful as such.
The protagonist of this book is an early feminist raising up five kids by herself after her husband's death. She spends a lot of time complaining about how hard it is to be a woman and do the woman's work even if she actually refuses all household duties and hires a maid to help her. What she does for living is to write and she has a very high opinion of herself- and that is fine but it gets old pretty soon. She believes in the natural superiority of women and finds all the man brutes (except Jules Verne whom she apparently likes and admires as a writer but that's all right because he conveniently dies at the start of the novel and one is allowed to speak kindly about the dead). She likes to dress like a man, but she puts on a stunningly beautiful hairdo so there is no mistaking her sex and she enjoys to bewilder people. That's all fine too but what is she like as a person at her core? We never do get to find out. I felt like she is more a feminist symbol then a real person and I guess that is why I found it so hard to relate to her. She spends a long time in the wilderness, but someone ends up with the same complains. The protagonist of this novel does complain a lot.
When she is reunited with her sons, she cries because she wasn't with them when they were sick, but somehow even that feels out of character. We don't really get to see her relationship with her kids evolve or amount to anything meaningful. We don't get to know her sons, not really. They are just symbols too. What is the meaning of it all? What is this novel really about? Where is the real plot, the character development, the deeper message? Is there any? Even her relationship with the wild people is left hanging. Will she go back to them? Will she try to help them? There were a few touching moments there, but it didn't amount to much. What was this book really about? Was it just written because feminist novels are in? I don't know for sure, but that is what things look like to me.
DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE, A PLAY BY CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE 3/5
As I said in my introduction, I decided to read all of Christopher Marlowe's play by the end of the month. This one came first and I can say that I quite enjoyed this play. One of Marlowe's shorter plays, it is easy to read and follow. The opening is a bit disturbing (Zeus fondling Ganymede and all that) but the rest of the play is actually really good. However, I must admit that I expected more from 'Dido, Queen of Carthage'. It may have to something to do with the fact that I loved the original story so much. Dido is basically my favourite character in Aeneid. Having loved the original story so much, it was hard to get into the spirit of this one. Not that I didn't enjoy some of Marlowe's unique twists to this classical tale.
Marlowe's verse is dark and potent, but something seems to be missing in this play. It is hard to put a finger to exactly what. There are some really clever verses in it and some touching moments. Moreover, the story and the plot seem logical enough. Nevertheless, I wasn't that impressed. The play just didn't come to life. Some episodes were perhaps too short. I felt like the play could have benefited from more Aeneas and Dildo scenes. We don't really see their relationship develop, it all happens suddenly and we learn of their 'time in the cave' from the others. I think as readers (or viewers) of this play, this makes us feel alienated from them. I know some scenes might have been risque for early Elizabethan play viewers, but the writer could have explored the protagonists' emotions a bit more more. Aeneas doesn't get a lot of space in this play, we don't get to see his inner struggle (if there was any implied?).
All in all, it is definitely a play I would recommend. It is quite easy to read and even if it didn't impress me deeply, I still liked it a lot. Marlowe proved himself a very good dramatist in this play. If you're into drama of the Elizabeth's period, this is definitely a play to keep in mind. Again, I think the main reason why it didn't impress me as much is because of Aeneid. That precious book set the standard for the mythological love story between Dido (the beautiful Queen of Carthage) and Aeneas (the proud founder of Roman Empire). If you like sad and tragic love stories, this tragic classical play might appeal to you.
As always, thank you for stopping by. Your support and comments are greatly appreciated. Tell me what have you been reading lately. Any interesting blogs, magazines or books? Have a lovely day!