15 Nov 2017

Review - The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Title: The Passion

Author: Jeanette Winterson

Rating: 5/5 

Synopsis:

Set during the tumultuous years of the Napoleonic Wars, The Passion intertwines the destinies of two remarkable people: Henri, a simple French soldier, who follows Napoleon from glory to Russian ruin; and Villanelle, the red-haired, web-footed daughter of a Venetian boatman, whose husband has gambled away her heart. In Venice’s compound of carnival, chance, and darkness, the pair meet their singular destiny. 



My Thoughts:

Somewhere between God and the Devil passion is and the way there is sudden and the way back is worse.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson is magical realism at its best. I came across the book at the book fair under Waterloo Bridge and when I read the blurb I knew I had to own it. It was the cover that caught my eyes first of course – my edition has the most ridiculous cover ever; cocks… seriously?? – but it was the back that sold me the novel eventually and also the fact that I remembered I had another book by this author on my to-read list (Sexing the Cherry).

This short little masterpiece, which is definitely a new favourite of mine, makes a stable attempt – and succeeds – in describing passion and its different forms. One of our protagonists, Henri, the French peasant boy, looks up to Napoleon so much he is ready to dedicate his whole life to Him and his cause. With a stroke of luck(?) he becomes Bonaparte’s chicken chef and later a soldier in his army. We see him grow up throughout the novel and as he does he starts to contemplate his past decisions. At the end of his journey he is a changed man altogether.

We have a heroine too, Villanelle, the daughter of a Venetian boatman, who was born with webbed feet. She is a bit of a tomboy and she has a special relationship with her city. I especially enjoyed the parts of the novel that set in Venice; the author did a very good job bringing the city of masks and water to life on the pages. Take a look at these couple of passages for example:

***

This is the city of mazes. You may set off from the same place to the same place every day and never go by the same route. If you do so, it will be by mistake. Your bloodhound nose will not serve you here. Your course in compass reading will fail you. Your confident instructions to passers-by will send them to squares they have never heard of, over canals not listed in the notes.

Although wherever you are going is always in front of you, there is no such thing as straight ahead. No as the crow flies short cut will help you to reach the café just over the water. The short cuts are where the cats go, through the impossible gaps, round corners that seem to take you the opposite way. But here, in this mercurial city, it is required you do awake your faith. With faith, all things are possible.

***

Love as a topic is visited frequently too – how could it be abandoned in a book called The Passion? – and other than heterosexual affairs, it contains a lesbian romance too, along with some cross-dressing which is one of my favourite tropes ever…

Beside the linear plot, the story is littered with several curious and fantastical tales, some of which feature side characters (Henri’s one friend, Patrick has magical eye-sight and his other friend, Domino the midget, got hired by Napoleon to tame and tend to his tallest horse). There are a lot of genuinely funny lines, but there is also drama in there.

I found the whole concept of the novel incredibly human, rich and personal. I found myself in between the lines and I’m grateful for that.

I will never stop loving magical realism, because it allows a writer to use an undending set of unusual supplies to describe usual feelings and happenings. Jeanette Winterson has created magic and I am now richer for reading her lines. 

If you want to experience a completely unique journey too, hop on this train and enjoy the ride.
 

10 Nov 2017

Review – Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Title: Rebecca

Author: Daphne Du Maurier

Rating: 3/5 

Synopsis:

Working as a lady's companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Her future looks bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Max de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding housekeeper, Mrs Danvers...


My Thoughts:

Let me just say it straight away: I didn’t care as much for Rebecca as I thought I would. I guess I had pretty high expectations, because everyone seems to adore this novel. Well, now I can say, not me. Certainly, it is a decent story with decent characters, hence I gave it three stars, but I didn’t feel the gothic atmosphere that was supposed to be there, therefore it doesn’t deserve a higher rating in my eyes.

Du Maurier’s writing is highly enjoyable, even the descriptive parts and that was what kept me reading. I also hoped that the ending would make up for what the book was lacking in the first half – I’d heard before there is a twist at the end – but unfortunately I figured out almost everything before the big ’enlightenment’.

The herorine was too naive and frankly dumb for my liking and I know it was necessary because of the nature of the storytelling and for plot reasons, but she made me roll my eyes so many times I’m lucky they didn’t start to hurt. She made stupid decisions and many times didn’t use her brain and was extremely timid on top of that.

Of course, she was a young thing and inexperienced, but despite that it’s hard to believe she didn’t have any natural instincts or some kind of inner alarm that would have told her it wasn’t the best idea to marry a man after two weeks of knowing him. I guess she’d never truly been loved, the poor thing.

Anyway, as I mentioned the writing was superb, the story good but not extraordinary and altogether my expectations for an unforgettable gothic novel were unfulfilled. Lesson: Never be sure that an overhyped book will affect you the same way it does everyone else. We are all different.

An additional message to you who are reading this: the fact that I didn’t adore Rebecca doesn’t mean you wouldn’t, so you might as well give it a try. It is a celebrated success after all.

12 Sep 2017

Review - The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

Title: The Savage Garden 

Author: Mark Mills 

Rating: 5/5 stars 

Synopsis:

Tuscany, 1958 

Behind a villa in the heart of Tuscany lies a Renaissance garden of enchanting beauty. Its grottoes, pagan statues and classical inscriptions seem to have a secret life of their own - and a secret message, too, for those with eyes to read it. 

Young scholar Adam Strickland is just such a person. Arriving in 1958, he finds the Docci family, their house and the unique garden as seductive as each other. But post-War Italy is still a strange, even dangerous, place and the Doccis have some dark skeletons hidden away in their past. 

Before this mysterious and beautiful summer ends, Adam will uncover two stories of love, revenge and murder, separated by 400 years... but is another tragedy about to be added to the villa's cursed history?

My Thoughts:

When murder mystery gets entwined with literature in a nicely wrapped, well presented package – that’s when I go nuts for a book. Just how it happened with The Savage Garden by Mark Mills. 

I confess, there is a personal reason as well why this book ended on my favourite list very fast (I happened to analyze a garden’s role in a literary work in my bachelor thesis back then), but there are so many reasons why this book would appeal to a lot of people and I just want to spread the love. 

In the beginning of the story we have a young English fellow who has to write his thesis, but is unsure what topic he should choose. His professor suggests him to visit one of his old friends in Tuscany and study a garden that lies behind the house of the old mansion there. Adam, being totally clueless about anonymous motives in the background, agrees and thus he gets introduced to the Docci family and their secrets. 

The garden is a character in this book in itself. It is a very sinister place and it sets the atmosphere of the whole novel – let me tell you, the place gave me goosebumps from time to time. It is isolated, surrounded by trees and there are statues elected in it, telling stories from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Somehow while reading, I always imagined it was a quiet place, but in a creepy way.  

During his research Adam learns about the garden’s history and also finds out how badly the second world war interfered with the life of the Docci family. Soon he has a double murder mystery on his hands and he is determined to solve both of them. 

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres and I enjoy stories immensely in which a writer can sensibly combine two time periods (in this case these periods are divided by 400 years). 16th century and 20th century Italy differs from each other in many things, but people don’t change – some of them are greedy in love and some of them are greedy in general… 

The storytelling can seem a bit slow at times, but this isn’t a disadvantage in the case of this novel, because the puzzles that are being put together keep the reader interested; he journey has to be savoured. 

Literature has a special role in the mystery related to the garden and when that was revealed I was incredibly pleased (indeed, I was grinning like an idiot). As a former student of literature I couldn’t have asked for more, but to see what I mean, you have to read the book, because I won’t say more here – I don’t want to be a spoilsport.  

Most of the characters were interesting and rich and the book didn’t only present itself like a nicely layered cake because it included different time periods, but because it included different generations of people as well. 

The past leaked into the present as more and more details resurfaced from the Docci history and I, as the reader was grateful for every bit of information. I could have imagined a bit of a twist at the end perhaps, because the most recent murder (i.e. the identity of the killer) was too obvious, but still, this lack of complication didn’t kill the dark charm of the novel. 

I couldn’t recommend The Savage Garden more, as it was one of the best novels I read this year.

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