Fingersmith, Sarah Waters

I have mixed feeling about this book.  I really do.  Because on one hand, I enjoyed it a lot and I liked all the twists and turns it took.  Except that um, when part one ended, it wasn’t quite what I expected, because I’m a big romantic, and although I (of course) had already read the end, it didn’t so much let me in on all the stuff that was going to happen in the middle.  And I was all going along, dee dee dee, and all of a sudden it was part one ending and WHAM KIDNEY PUNCH.  Seriously, that’s the way you people like to read books?

I don’t get it.  Why would you want that?  So that when they repeat the serpent’s tooth line later, you feel a joyous twinge of recognition about what happened earlier on?  I had that joyous twinge of recognition, and first I thought, oh, hey, this must be why people don’t look up what’s going to happen, but then I remembered that it was far outweighed by the unpleasant surprising thing that happened earlier.  And, y’know, if you knew what was coming, you’d have appreciated that line the first time around, and still appreciated it when it was reiterated.  Just saying.

Ugh.  I don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen.  Unless it’s an emotional moment.  I don’t like finding out what emotional moments are going to happen – like, if I were reading the Harry Potter books for the first time, I wouldn’t at all mind being told that Lupin is going to (spoiler) die ultimately, but I would be very very furious with someone who told me, I don’t know, the story of how Lupin and Harry have that argument they have in the seventh book.  Likewise, I want to know that Wesley’s going to (spoiler) die at the end of Angel (HA!  SERVE YOU RIGHT!), but I don’t in any way want to know whatever touching moment Social Sister was going to tell me about but I stopped her because I don’t want to know these things.

Well, and that’s why I got cross with Fingersmith.  I felt like it cheated me.  I read the entire emotional end of the story, got cross because I was still angry with Sue for being such a lying bitch, and never saw anything coming that was coming.  Besides which, I couldn’t really get behind a romance that occurs between two such unpleasant characters.  I know I know, necessity and oppression and Victorian girls had no choices, but I don’t care!  They were just too unpleasant!  I was interested in what was going to happen but I was not in any way invested in their romance.

I sort of was.

But mostly not.  Because of how unpleasant they both were.

I liked Fingersmith a lot.  Like Sarah Waters’ other books – I wouldn’t buy them but I am happy to know the library has them, and if I reread them enough times I may well grow to love them deeply and purchase them all for my personal library.  Except Tipping the Velvet which has been my least favorite so far.  And I care enough to read Affinity (spiritualism! woooooooo!) and check Amazon to see if she has any new books coming out.  And enough to give her a favored authors tag.  Sarah Waters writes well and tells me lots of interesting things about the seamy underbelly of Victorian England; and I am all about the seamy underbelly of Victorian England.

Now I’m all interested in Victorian erotica.  How totally interesting.  If I were going into academia, I would be studying Victorian erotica.

…That might be hard to get a job in.  English 4069: Victorians <3 Porn.

Emily’s Quest, L.M. Montgomery

A really sad story: One time when I was in England I developed this mad craving to read all the Emily of New Moon books, so I went to great trouble to obtain them.  As things ended up, I had the first two on loan, and the third one I bought at a charity shop, so I read the first two lickety-split and returned them, at which point my yearning to read Emily’s Quest surpassed all imagining.  At this point it was late May, I think.  I was into exams and all.  And I had the bright idea – being a hardcore delayed gratification girl – of delaying gratification with Emily’s Quest, taking the book with me on the airplane home and reading it then, at which point it would be incredibly satisfying because I would have been craving it all the while in the interim.  But by the time the flight home rolled around, my primary emotions were excitement about seeing my family and soul-deep joy at the existence of my hat (oh, my lovely Ascot hat), and I was sort of no longer in the mood to read Emily’s Quest.

Well, never mind.  Here we are a year on, and I really enjoyed it a lot this go-round.  Teddy’s still boring, bless him.  I don’t know why L.M. Montgomery can’t write any interesting romantic leads.  All Teddy has going for him is that he draws pretty pictures.  Lame.  Not that she should have married Dean, but she maybe should have married that author guy who came and proposed to her and hurled a goblet at her.

The other thing I noticed this time – I was saying this to my mum – is that it’s funny how the main plotline throughout the series is Emily’s writing, and that’s the thing that drives everything else really, but she publishes her novel well before the end of the book.  The book only ends when she gets together with Teddy (at last).  Her man.  And I was saying it like those girls in The Ten Commandments.  And it’s sooooorta antifeminist, and you’d be hearing me complain about it with much greater anger if not for the fact that I remembered this: If the book had ended after Emily published her book (I don’t approve of the title The Moral of the Rose, by the way), we would never have had all those reviews, and that’s one of my favorite bits in all three books.

And you know what?  DEAN PRIEST JUST SUCKS SHIT.  The end.

Emily Climbs

One of my favorite lines in all of literature happens in Emily Climbs:

“Of course,” said Mrs. Ann Cyrilla, “I think a great many of Emily’s faults come from her intimacy with Ilse Burnley. She shouldn’t be allowed to run about with Ilse as she does. Why, they say Ilse is as much an infidel as her father….She swears like a trooper, I’m told. Mrs. Mark Burns was in [her father’s] office one day and heard Ilse in the parlor say distinctly ‘out, damned Spot!’ probably to the dog.”

Oh God. That’s as good as anything Valancy says in that dinner with her family in The Blue Castle. I never read Macbeth without thinking of Ilse Burnley.

You wouldn’t say that Emily Climbs was long on plot. She does things that shock people even though she is perfectly innocent and reasonable in the matter, and she tries to get things published, and her family is frustrating and supportive by turns, and she has a lovable cast of friends plus boring Teddy, and she likes pretty things. I can’t say what it is about this book that appeals to me so much. It’s just charming and friendly and amusing. It’s episodic but the episodes are interesting.

And, ugh, I don’t like it when Dean teases her about her writing. What a jerk! How mean he is! How could anyone do such a mean thing? That enormous prat! He may be more interesting than Teddy, but what a humongous selfish jerk telling her bad things about her stories when they are indeed very good! Whatever. I want to like Dean because he gives Emily new books to read, and I try to shut down those parts of my mind that are screaming “Humbert Humbert” and “that surely untrue but still creepy story about Alfred Douglas going to visit Oscar Wilde with Andre Gide and telling Gide that Oscar Wilde’s kid Cyril ‘will be for me’ (ew! ew! I know it’s apocryphal but ew, ew, ew, ew!)”; anyway I try to shut down those parts of my mind and focus on Tom Lynn and Polly or Jane and Mr. Rochester, who undoubtedly lived happily ever afterwards to the end of their days, but it’s impossible to be friends with Dean given his unconscionable behavior as regards Emily’s writing. And I shouldn’t even be getting all het up yet because he hasn’t done the really super duper unconscionable thing that he does in Emily’s Quest.

That bastard. I never forgave him for that.

I wish I had that old copy like I have of Emily of New Moon. The one with the cover where she is smelling a flower and it’s all greeny. That’s a better cover than the one I’ve got. On the one I’ve got Emily just looks really blah. But still, if you are ever near Emily Climbs, in any edition, read it. It’s friendly.

Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery

When my life gets stressful, I don’t read new books.  Hence I am rereading a bunch of old things.  The Color Purple and now all of L.M. Montgomery’s Emily books.

I have to confess that I don’t understand the undying allure of Anne of Green Gables.  I don’t dislike those books or anything, but I can totally live without them – and God, how boring is Gilbert?  Is it just me?  Isn’t Gilbert dull?  Don’t we all sort of want to chuck Gilbert off a cliff?  When I was a little girl I read Anne of Green Gables and stopped and I nearly went off LM Montgomery for life.  Happily my mother said I should try reading Emily of New Moon, and I did, and it was brilliant.

It’s still brilliant.  I totally love it.  I like all the bits where people tell Emily she’s a good writer.  I know it’s silly, but I always read those bits several times when I’m reading these books, and they always make me smile.  I actually only just made that connection: I knew there were bits I reread a lot, but I just realized this minute that they were all the bits with people telling Emily she’s a good writer.  In my mind they were just the Father Cassidy bit and the Mr. Carpenter bit, but of course, that’s what’s going on there.  Huh.

Well, anyway, Emily of New Moon is one of my favorite books ever.  I will soon post happy posts about the two sequels and how much joy they give me.

While I’m on the subject, though, I have to say this: There are a whole bunch of books by L.M. Montgomery that are way better than those Anne Shirley books.  The three books about Emily Starr are better, and Jane of Lantern Hill is substantially better, and The Blue Castle is ten thousand bazillion times better and contains a scene that is one of the best scenes of all time and always makes me laugh no matter how often I read it.  So if you have only read the Anne books, you are missing out like whoa.  And even if you don’t think the other books are better, they are definitely worth reading – the aforementioned ones are all good, and A Tangled Web is very delightful and I have it in hardback.

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

You know what I don’t understand? I don’t understand why The Color Purple is so ridiculously awesome, and why when there are all these really subpar books running around, why people don’t just go ahead and read The Color Purple all the time. Why don’t people just read The Color Purple all the time, and forget about that Atonement crap?

The Color Purple. Wow.

When I was young, my mother had told me once that The Color Purple was one of her favorite books of all time, and I remember her telling me her favorite line (“White folks is a miracle of affliction”), and in early middle school I asked her where her copy was because I wanted to read it. And that’s the only time in my entire life I can remember my mother telling me not to read a book. She said wait a few years and I’d like it better. When I finally did read it (and oh my God, it blew me away), I assumed that she had been trying to steer me clear of it because of the fairly extensive sexual and violent content, but I asked her and she said no, she just thought I’d like it better if I waited a few years. She said that giving it to an eleven-year-old to read would be like giving To Kill a Mockingbird to a precocious kid of eight – the kid might be able to read all the words, but s/he’d be missing out on all the richness that’s there. She said you only get to read a book for the first time once, and there are some books that you just really deserve to have the best first-reading experience possible.

I totally agree with that.  And this is a damn good book.  It’s one of those books that everyone should read.  Everyone in the whole world.  In fact I’m just off to ship a few hundred copies off to world leaders.  Do ’em good.

P.S. Although they are both Important Black American Women writers, I am forced to read Toni Morrison much more often than I am forced to read Alice Walker.  In fact I have never had to read Alice Walker, except for one short story once, whereas I have had to deal with Toni Morrison kind of a lot.  And you know what, you know what?  I.  Don’t.  Like.  Her.  Beloved makes me feel queasy.  The Color Purple is a much better book and everyone should just, just, just revise their damn syllabuses.

Heck Superhero, by Martine Leavitt

Martine Leavitt is still my new BFF, and great respect to her for raising seven kids and still managing to write books, but I didn’t like Heck Superhero as much as The Dollmage and Keturah.  I think that writing in the present time may just not be her thing, and it may actually be necessary for her to set her stories in strange, alternate versions of England from back in the day.

Heck Superhero is about a kid whose mother goes MIA, and as a result of some pretty spectacular magic thinking (he’s only a kid, so this is permissible), he thinks that he has to be a superhero in order to find her, by doing enough really fantastic and amazing Good Deeds.

It was good.  Just not as good.  I wish I had Martine Leavitt’s other books instead of this one.  It was a teeny bit of a letdown.

The Dollmage, Martine Leavitt

My people, lay down your stones.

Before you stone this Annakey Rainsayer, you know it is the law and her right to have her story told. It is my duty as Dollmage to tell it. Each villager has the right to one stone, and no one will forbid you to throw it. But listen to me, and when I am done each of you will decide for yourselves if this Annakey is worthy of execution.

That is right. Lay the stones at your feet, keep them close by if it comforts you. So few of you? The stones will get heavy before the story is done.

Martine Leavitt! You are totally my new best friend! I’m so glad I decided it was worth it to stop at the library on the way to class and picked up the other two books of yours they have! Only I mustn’t get too excited because this is the way I felt about Salman Rushdie and then he went and let me down with Fury and Shame (that sentence is funny because – whatever, you know why that sentence is funny). Here is another bit of The Dollmage, which made me smile when I read it. I heart Martine Leavitt.

It comforted my heart to know that Annakey was afraid of something, and I said thank you to God. He seemed cold to me, as if I had not gotten the point.

The Dollmage was maybe even better than Keturah and Lord Death. I’m in the middle of Heck Superhero, which I think I am liking slightly less but I haven’t finished it so maybe I will turn out to be wrong. The Dollmage was so good that the thirty minutes of exercising I did while I was reading it flew by in a snap, which is not normal for me because exercising makes me tired and normally when things make me tired I quit doing them, except I know I can’t quit exercising because of Health Reasons, so I carry on even though I really, really, really want to stop, and every minute goes amazingly slowly.

The Dollmage is a bit like Keturah and Lord Death in that it has that same dreamy, haunting, fairy-tale sort of quality, but this one’s a little less light-hearted. (Hi, irony, I’m Jenny.) It’s about a small village that is protected and looked after by a person called the Dollmage, who makes dolls to sort everything out, but when she goes to choose her successor, there are two girls born at the right time with the appropriate powers – Renoa and Annakey. She chooses Renoa, but the book’s about Annakey. Annakey is a surprisingly sympathetic character given that she’s kinda flawless, and I really think it works so well because of the fairy-tale feel of the story. And this device, telling the story before the stoning, works absolutely beautifully. I loved this book ever so much. I just – mm, it was one of those books that reminds me why I write. (And read, also.)

And now a word about Martine Leavitt. I saw that she had seven kids, and I was like, And she wrote seven books? so I went to her website to check it out, and apparently there was a five-year period in which she was a single mother with six of those seven kids, going to university, and still publishing two books and working on a third one.

Wow, Martine Leavitt. Respect. You’re a better woman than I.

Keturah and Lord Death, Martine Leavitt

“Tell me what it is like to die,” I answered.

He dismounted from his horse, looking at me strangely the whole while.  “You experience something similar every day,” he said softly.  “It is as familiar to you as bread and butter.”

“Yes,” I said.  “It is like every night when I fall asleep.”

“No.  It is like every morning when you wake up.”

Recommended by: Brooklyn Arden

Oh how I liked this book.  It’s about a girl called Keturah who goes into the forest after a white hart and meets Lord Death.  She doesn’t want to die without having known love (it sounds a little hokey when I say it like that, but I swear it isn’t at all!), so she tells him part of a story, and he lets her live for another day, and if she can find her true love in that day, he’ll let her live entirely.

I was mighty impressed.  I will for sure be swinging by the library and picking up more of Martine Leavitt’s books.  My libraries only have two other ones, because Martine Leavitt is Canadian I suppose, but she has written like six more…  I am hoping this is one of those times where I am on the brink of having a new favorite author, rather than on the brink of being really disappointed by all the other crap I read by her.  Like that time I thought I was going to marry Salman Rushdie after I read Midnight’s Children and The Ground Beneath Her Feet and then I read Fury and Shame and now I’m totally scared to read Shalimar the Clown or The Satanic Verses or The Moor’s Last Sigh (which I’m saving, anyway, because it’s meant to be the best of those three).

Keturah and Lord Death was haunting – which is funny, because it was also light-hearted and cheerful.  It had the feel of a fairy tale, and furthermore it was a tidy-minded kind of book, which I am strongly in favor of.  I completely loved it how Keturah got back to the village and immediately started sorting things out and arranging things and making lemon pies.  Like Flora Post.  Loved it.  I even made a new “loved it” category, just for this book.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Seven.

You roll and watch it coming, realizing completely that this is no regular die.  You claim it to be bad luck, but you’ve known all along that it had to come.  You brought it into the room.  The table could smell it on your breath.  The Jew was sticking out of your pocket from the outset.  He’s smeared to your lapel, and the moment you roll, you know it’s a seven – the one thing that somehow finds a way to hurt you.  It lands.  It stares you in each eye, miraculous and loathsome, and you turn away with it feeding on your chest.

Just bad luck.

That’s what you say.

Of no consequence.

That’s what you make yourself believe – because deep down, you know that this small piece of changing fortune is a signal of things to come.  You hide a Jew.  You pay.  Somehow or other, you must.

I saw The Book Thief first when I was in England, staying in London with my family over New Year’s, and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted it or not (I wish I’d bought it then because it would have been more expensive BUT it had a nice cover and was hardback), so I picked it up and glanced at it, and something the sales person said led me to believe it was in translation.  So since I didn’t really have any spare money for a book that might not be good and was in translation anyway, and since I definitely didn’t have any spare space in my luggage, I didn’t get it.

What with one thing and another I checked it out of the library this past summer and read it almost all in one go, lying on my couch at home.  It made me cry.  So I didn’t read it again, and I didn’t buy it, and by the time I noticed that I was pining for it, it was too late and the Official Christmas Buying Embargo was on, and when I didn’t get it for Christmas (I got many other things though!), I went round to Bongs & Noodles and bought it with my Christmas gift card money.

(Yay!)

Seriously, honestly, this book is as good as you’ve heard.  It is one of the best books I have ever read.  Markus Zusak, yay for you.  It’s about a little German girl who steals books and has a foster family and hides a Jew in her basement.  And yes, okay, the book is narrated by Death, and I know that might not be a draw for some people, but this book is just gorgeously written, and it’s extremely moving, and I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.

But sad.  So if you have serious objections to bits of story that involve dead children and mums crying about it, and if those objections are serious enough that you actually cannot see past them, then okay, this book might not be for you.  For everyone else in the whole world though.  Yup.  Damn good book.  It made me cry, and although I tear up extremely easily, it is a much better trick to make actual tears actually fall out of my eyes, which is what The Book Thief has done both times I’ve read it.

Although I ordinarily cannot deal with Holocaust books at all, which I know this officially isn’t one of, but it kind of is.  And still I liked The Book Thief a lot.