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Pride and Prejudice by Austen, Jane
It's been a long time since I read it, partly because it's so popular and I instinctively shun popular things so have decided that Persuasion (and of course Lady Susan) is my favourite Austen. So it was fascinating to read all the bits I'd forgotten about, eg a confirmation that it's not just my imagination that Mary might have made a happy Mrs Collins, or the last few chapters that wind down quite slowly (with lovely teasing between Lizzie and Darcy) from the climax.

Memory by Mahy, Margaret
I can see why I didn't enjoy this when reading it as a kid. I liked Mahy's fantasy/sf novels, and the fantasy content in this is subtle to ambiguous. My tolerance for non-genre has increased in my old age, however, so this was a decent read even though now it's perhaps a bit young for me. :-) Sophie seems likely to have been inspired by Mahy's own aunt (to whom she used to tell secrets, knowing they'd be promptly forgotten). The ending was just a little happy-happy for my taste but not ultimately satisfying.

Dawn by Butler, Octavia E.
So many consent issues... (After finishing this, I actually got a dream in which I was hurriedly writing out a note, and getting witnesses to sign it, to say that I absolutely did not want to marry, partner with, or have sex with [random character in the dream] and if he somehow got me to do any of these things it would nevertheless be absolutely against my will and without my consent and therefore any such marriage would be invalid.)

Very good: it's got the claustrophobia, the every-exit-is-a-deadend feel, that I'd normally associate with horror, but manages to retain an optimism about it. The aliens are convincinly alien, and the frustration of their refusal to listen is steadfast without becoming unbelievable.

Aliénor d'Aquitaine by Pernoud, Régine
A great overview of the long and busy life of Eleanor, tying together all the bits of history I knew with a great deal I didn't. Rather uncritical of the Orientalism of the time, coy about Richard's homosexual relationships, and perhaps a little fond of phrases like "her role as a woman" (son rôle de femme) but by and large an insightful and thoughtful reading of the historical documents. Occasionally I got confused when she'd refer to "Henry" or "Louis" without specifying which she meant; this might have been less of a problem for those who can read French faster/more fluently than me. Appendices include genealogical charts and a useful bibliography with discussion.

Now feeling inspired to write a Robin Hood story resolved not by Richard's homecoming but by Aliénor's.

Straight - A novel in the Irish-Maori tradition by O'Leary, Michael
Straight is the second book in the trilogy; I came to it without having read the first, but felt it stood alone well enough that I had no trouble following the plot. Paul Calvert returns to Auckland from "the Dreamland", te wahi moemoea, and finds his ambition to settle down with a job and a girlfriend interrupted by a gang of neo-Nazis blackmailing, then kidnapping him in search of a code entwined with his family history. As he investigates his Pākehā ancestors, he grows into his Māori heritage.

I did struggle with what degree of realism I should be reading into the story. It took me a while to realise that Calvert is doing the same: the story is told in an intermingling of the present with his memories of his childhood and his time in the dreamland. The theme is summarised in the line "Too much reality leads to unreality," and elaborated through dreams and daydreams; the trouble he has both sleeping and waking; his experiences sober and drunk and drugged. The fantastic events he gets caught up in even have him wondering whether they are real or he's dreamed his girlfriend's very existence.

But long before this payoff can be reached, the outrageous melodrama of the threats against Calvert had me doubting his sanity, or the writer's aim. His family history is unfolded through a similarly implausible piling up of coincidences of the "I just happened to be talking to an old colleague of your father yesterday" variety. And yet when the action-filled climax arrives it's glossed over in a few sentences, as if the two characters had parted with a shaking of hands.

Good prose can save the most incredible plot. I could have very easily got used to this mixture of the poetic and the prosaic, especially since I enjoyed its scatterings of bilingual wordplay. But it was too frequently stilted; the conversational tone felt unnaturally formal, especially when people were explaining themselves. And exclamation marks punctuated the most casual contexts - such as a statement that it's raining. Every time I found myself briefly interested in the story, some sentence would clunk and jar me out of it again.

So I can't say I enjoyed the book as a whole. I think it is ambitious; I think it could, with thorough line-editing, have been a strong novel; but as it stands it didn't, to my reading, succeed in its evident aims.

The Prize in the Game by Walton, Jo
I adore this book; it's full of just my favourite kind of claustrophobic relationships and resigned refusal-to-be-resigned-to-fate.

I like Conal, Emer and Elenn better than Ferdia, but still feel dissatisfied with the text's summation of Ferdia's character: he's weak, certainly, and "lesser" in many ways than his companions, but that doesn't mean there's less of him.

My Name Is Number 4 by Ye, Ting-xing
Most disasters bring people and communities together; the Cultural Revolution tore them apart. But this book shows that the struggle to survive and to keep relationships alive is always worth making.

I don't think there were any I tried to read but gave up on. It took forever to get through Pride and Prejudice, but that was due to quake brain, and Aliénor d'Aquitaine, but that was due to it being in French and less skimmable and work starting up again.

Date: 2011-04-02 07:54 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Becky here. I am constantly amazed by your reading choices. And extremely impressed that you read the Eleanor bio in French. I've been steadily trying to work my way through all of Austen, but I've gotten bogged down more or less in Mansfield Park. OTOH, there have been some excellent editions of annotated Austen that have been published here recently -- the Persuasion one is wonderful -- that really do help with untangling some of the more obscure bits.


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