Tag Archives: British

Swing Time: Was this Book-fate?


A week ago Donald Trump was elected President. A week ago I put out an urgent plea for book suggestions that would give my mind somewhere else to be. The same day as my request, Zadie Smith’s Swing Time arrived for me to review. I won’t claim to believe in book-fate*, but it sort of felt like book-fate.

It wasn’t book-fate. It was a great read, yes. Continue reading


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Filed under British literature, Fiction, Funny, New York Times Notable

Sense and Sensibility: Most severe, in every particular


This picture of a grumpy goose has nothing to do with Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, and everything to do with how I felt reading the predictable plot.

All of the things I like about Jane Austen’s fiction (nuanced character development that complicates the idea of character by playing with the difference between how a character behaves, their focalized p.o.v, and the expectations/reactions of others; and lively satirical jabs at feminine manners/upper class ceremony) were either missing in this text, or buried under fatiguing descriptions of countenances.

The women in the novel, with the exception of our heroine Eleanor, too readily succumb to fainting illnesses, extremity of emotion and consumption. That said, I did like how catty they are to one another, because there’s something oddly reassuring about hearing Austen’s characters think thoughts I, too, share (why must this woman continue to talk about how much she wants babies? why do I have to go to X social event, even though I don’t want to go and my host doesn’t want me to go?). Is it reassuring? Maybe it should be disquieting to find that the comedy of manners continues, largely unchanged, centuries later; yet, I think this is the brilliance of Austen and why so many readers resound in her praise, that is, how precisely she identifies social anxieties. While the particular social concerns shift (I am not, for instance, terribly worried about why so-and-so did not leave me their card, or whether so-and-so will lend me their carriage) the affective response of being slighted, or feeling inadequate, or jealousy, persists. (So, too, do the concerns about finding an attractive and affluent mate…)

Even with her satirical brilliance and canny capture of social anxiety and affect, I didn’t like Sense and Sensibility. And not just because of the extended descriptions of fainting spells, but rather for the narrative style of reporting dialogue (and not simply allowing it to unfold), the too-heavily foreshadowed conclusion that led to a predictable and tedious plot, the conclusion itself, and (this one pains me a little), the perfection of Eleanor. I know I’m meant to just love Eleanor, but I don’t. Instead I felt how keenly I was meant to love Eleanor, how very much I’m to see her level-headedness, her acquiescence to all of life’s misfortunes with grace and humility, as markers of her exceptional character. Instead I felt put off: no character is so good, so giving, so thoughtful. Or rather, if there is someone so wholly selfless and charitable, I don’t want to know her. (Or read her thoughts for 600 pages.) So there.

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, British literature, Fiction, Prize Winner

Portuguese Irregular Verbs: Funny.


Portuguese Irregular Verbs is weird. It’s short (and so on the ‘short’ list), and is also a collection of short stories (sort of). A collection of short stories featuring the same character – a professor von Inglesomething. I liked the collection because it followed one character, and I found the character charming.

Professor von Ingelwhatever studies Portuguese irregular verbs. Not surpising the book offers something of a critique of the overly specialized work of academics and the way that academic life sustains itself with irrelevant, introspective conferences and books wherein everyone reads on another (or probably don’t) in order to be seen reading one another and asking questions about one another when really everyone is only concerned (at all) with their own prestige and self-importance. Inhale. So funny, yes, but perhaps a little close to home, too.

Total fluff, too.

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Book I'll Forget I Read, Fiction, Funny

And Then There Were None: An Incredibly Popular Book

And Then There Were None used to go by other names.

It is the best selling mystery of all time. Wikipedia tells me that it’s the 7th best selling book of all time (what are the top six, I wonder?).

It is a pretty compelling mystery. 10 people stuck on an island. People start to die. Who is the killer? Questions of motive are less compelling than those of opportunity.

Christie’s command of narrative focalization is outstanding. Shifting between different points of view in a way that allows readers to suspect everyone and (for this reader at least) still never the right person.

I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by the reveal. Maybe because I was wrong, or maybe because I wasn’t convinced by the “motive.” Yes, let’s go with that.

So far “Spies/Detectives” is the best category going. Too early for predictions you say? Well, I’m a suspicious/predictive lady these days. Watch out.

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011, British literature, Fiction, Mystery, Prize Winner