Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book 43: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

This book has been sitting on my shelf for a long time.  It was one that I felt I should read but I suppose I didn’t because I was unconsciously afraid that I wouldn’t like it.  It turns out that I didn’t enjoy it at all and I regret picking it up.

Mrs. Dalloway covers a single day, starting with Clarissa Dalloway’s preparations for a party that she is throwing that night.  The story includes her and her friends’ memories of their youth, brought up when an old suitor of hers pays a visit.  There is a veteran suffering from PTSD and his foreign wife who struggles to keep things together.  Clarissa’s husband, daughter, and everyone that they encounter throughout the day plays a role in the novel and the point of view changes continuously. 

I’m not going to go into any more detail than that because I’m getting bored again just thinking about the novel.  Maybe I’m missing the point but I could not get engaged in the story at any point and found my mind wandering the entire time.  The book is very short but I had to reread passages several times because I started to think of more interesting things, which made my total reading time longer than it should have been.  I don’t know if it is just Woolf’s writing that I didn’t enjoy, the subject matter, or a combination of the two, but I disliked this book and will be happy to see it leave my house.

Book 42: Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann

I saw this book a few months ago at my mom’s store and it seemed promising.  I love mysteries, so why wouldn’t I enjoy one where a flock of sheep solves their shepherd’s murder?  Unfortunately this book is not nearly as fun as I’d hoped.

In the Irish village of Glennkill, a clever flock of sheep finds their shepherd, George, with a spade sticking out of his body.  The sheep are curious about the spade and what George’s death means for them.  While the village goes a bit crazy over George’s death, the sheep band together to try and understand why anyone would want to kill George, who was a great shepherd that read to them everyday.  Out of the mostly trashy romance novels that were read to them, the sheep were influenced a lot by a murder mystery that George never finished.  Miss Maple, the cleverest of the sheep, along with others like Mopple the Whale and Othello set out to find the murderer and bring him or her to justice.  

I assumed that this book would be really funny—a mystery solving sheep named Miss Maple, how could that be boring?  But the book was frustrating.  It is all from the sheep’s perspective and there is so much that they can’t describe properly.  A lot of it made sense; the butcher would of course be an initial suspect for a flock of sheep, they think the priest is named god, etc.  Sadly, the book takes itself just seriously enough to make it uninteresting and therefore it was a chore to get through.

Book 41: Antony and Cleopatra by Colleen McCullough

This was a book that I picked up a few years ago and never got around to reading.  But now my space for books is limited, so I’m reading through all of the books that I’ve been hoarding and getting rid of the ones that I don’t think I will read again.  I was sure that this book would be a one time read, but I loved it and am not getting rid of it any time soon. 

While this book is titled Antony and Cleopatra, only about half of the book is about them.  And about half of that time has them in separate places.  This is probably why I enjoyed it more than I thought, because I kind of hate the two of them.  I love to read histories and historical fiction from that time period, but those two were idiots and I prefer to read about their downfall rather than their love.  Fortunately, that is exactly what this book was and the other half of the book focuses on one of my favorite historical figures, Octavian. 

The book starts not long after Philippi and highlights the struggles between Antony and Octavian, as well as Cleopatra’s attempts to gain more power for her son, Caesarion.  Antony is still hurt that Caesar left him out of his will and adopted Octavian as his son.  Octavian in his eyes is inexperienced and cowardly.  Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra goes from a nice distraction to pathetic codependence on his part.  She uses her influence to manipulate him into giving her everything she wants; with plans to eventually have Rome for her son.  Octavian wants to prove to others that he is everything that Caesar was and more.  He has the best intentions for Rome; he wants to make it the best city in the world, while also being its undisputed ruler. 

It took me a while to get through this book, not because it wasn’t interesting but because it was so long and the print was very small.  My reading time is a lot more limited lately as well.  Nonetheless, this book was fascinating.  It had everything that I enjoy in historical fiction: politics, intrigue, etc.  If you enjoy books like I, Claudius (which is one my favorite books) then this is for you.  As a side note, this book seemed to suggest that Cleopatra had Graves disease, which if true would really explain a lot of her actions.  As someone with Graves, I completely understand how crazy it can make a person and I wonder if this is true.

Book 40: Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

This is the second book in the Heroes of Olympus series, moving the action to San Francisco so that we can find out what happened to Percy Jackson.  This series focuses on the Roman aspects of the Greek gods and the children that they have.  Let’s just say that Roman demi-gods are a bit more serious than their Greek counterparts. 

The book begins where Riordan’s series usually do, with a kid fighting monsters.  This time Percy Jackson, with his memories wiped, is fighting the Gorgons who are still upset with him for killing his sister when he was 11.  Percy has just come from training with a wolf pack and was sent to find Camp Jupiter, where the Roman demigods are trained.  Percy knows how to fight and understands that it is unusual that the monsters won’t stay dead, but beyond that he only remembers Annabeth (but not where she is, or really who she is).  He finds the camp and avoids being killed by its inhabitants because he unknowingly helped Juno, who vouches for him.  Not that everyone in the camp trusts him—he is too old to have just discovered his heritage, uses Greek names for the gods, and is the son of Neptune (an unlucky god for the Romans). 

Despite this, Percy quickly makes a couple friends, Hazel (daughter of Pluto) and Frank (son of Mars), who both have some unusual secrets of their own.  As usual though, Percy has no time to relax before he is sent on a quest by Mars with Frank and Hazel to go to Alaska and free Thantos, the god of death.  Gaia’s son, the giant Alcyoneus, has captured him and that is why monsters, and others, won’t stay dead—Gaia is now in charge of who stays in the underworld.  Percy, Hazel, and Frank encounter many other monsters and mythical figures on their quest and find out more about their abilities and destinies.

This book was a lot of fun, but if you don’t already enjoy the type of stories that Riordan does, you will obviously not enjoy this.  There is an incredible amount of research that he puts into these books, but just enough humor to keep it fun.  For instance, one of my favorite parts of this was the modern version of auguries.  Instead of slaughtering and animal and reading the entrails, a toy is sliced open and the stuffing is read.  This made me laugh probably more than it should have.  So, if this is the type of story that you enjoy, read it, you won’t be disappointed.

Book 39: Atonement by Ian McEwan

I saw this movie a few years ago and I remember distinctly that when my sister and I discussed it we thought that all the drama could have been avoided if they just weren’t so British.  Seriously, just explain shit to the girl and everything would have been fine.  Despite this I really enjoyed the movie and heard that the book was even better, so I decided it was time to read it.  The book definitely did not disappoint—it was incredible and much more touching than I thought it would be.

The story starts in 1935 at the Tallis home.  Briony, the youngest (and most serious) Tallis child is writing a play, which she expects her newly arrived cousins will be more than happy to perform.  Lola, Jackson, and Pierrot have come to stay with their aunt and her family because of their parents’ divorce and are uncomfortable with their place in the house.  Briony’s perfectionism does not help them adjust at all.  Meanwhile Cecilia Tallis is home from university and is having all sorts of awkward encounters with Robbie Turner, the son of the housekeeper.  Briony misinterprets the sexual tension between the two and makes a mistake that haunts her for the rest of her life. 

The rest of the book details Robbie’s time serving in army during WWII and the retreat to Dunkirk.  Cecilia has cut off contact with her family and is working as a nurse in London.  They had a brief meeting before Robbie left for France, but are stuck communicating through letters until he can return home.  Briony becomes a nurse as well and is determined to correct the mistake she made and reunite with her sister and Robbie.  The final part is set in 1999, Briony is turning 77 and a family party in her honor is being held.

Atonement is beautifully written and touching.  I actually cried a little—and I knew what was going to happen.  There were frustrating elements to the story, but that is just because the characters were so realistic and people are generally irritating.  McEwan is an amazing writer and I am looking forward to reading more of his work.