#133 ~ The Sister

January 2, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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cover-of-the-sister
The Sister by Poppy Adams, read by Juliet Mills

Virginia Stone, a 70 year old spinster, lives alone with her moths at Bulburrow Court, her family’s mansion.  She is an eccentric old woman who grew up during WWII and its aftermath.  She is peculiar, most especially about time and tea.  To say she is set in her ways would be an understatement.  When her younger sister Vivien returns to Bulburrow Court after leaving the family home and her sister for London nearly 50 years earlier, Ginny reflects on her life, from her alcoholic mother  Maud, her lepidopterist father Clive, who mentored her in the study of moths, and her love for her absent sister.  She approaches her history with the same unemotional scientific eye that she uses with her moths and other insects.  It doesn’t take long to start questioning Ginny’s reliability as a daughter, sister, and narrator.  This novel held my interest from the beginning with Vivi’s tragic, near-fatal fall and the numerous mysteries and questions that continued to come up to the surface.

Poppy Adams is an extremely detailed writer.  Her use of entomology and the study of the moth clearly stem from a great deal of research.  While Ginny loves to go into lengthy and often gory detail about her science, the minutia she shares with the reader provides important insights into Ginny’s morality, mental state, and obsessive compulsiveness. There is an interesting passage about a colony of ants taken over by a butterfly larva that still has me thinking about Ginny and what the truth about her family might have been.

This is the first audio book I truly enjoyed.  No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July and Savannah by John Jakes (which I couldn’t finish) were complete flops for me – both because of the narration.  In addition to the story itself, The Sister had what the others so far have not – the perfect reader.  Juliet Mills’ voice and reading was such a complement to Ginny that I can’t image there being a more perfect vocal performer for the novel.   The way she enunciated “pupal soup” throughout the novel was both sickening and dead on for Ginny’s character.  She expertly read dialog for the other characters as well.  There was a scene where Maud, drunk, could not hold her tongue to Ginny about her opinions of Albert, Vivi’s boyfriend.  That exchange between Maud and Ginny was wonderful and riveting.  Although I’m tempted to read the physical book the next time around, I can’t imagine reading it without hearing Mills’ voice.

This novel, because it is narrated by Ginny, does not provide answers to all of the questions that are raised.  Who exactly is the sister?  What exactly did the rest of the family and the village of Bulburrow know about Ginny that she did not?  If she has been mentally ill her entire life, why in the world would Vivi and Albert entrust her with their family in the way that they did?  Did she truly carry on Clive’s work after he retired? What exactly went on with Dr. Moyse?  At first, this made the ending fall a little flat for me.  However, upon further reflection, it would be impossible to know what Ginny did not and this is made even that much more difficult as she had a talent for blocking out the unpleasant portions of stories and conversations.  Truly, this novel is open-ended, allowing the reader to discern the truth from the delusion.  The Sister invites additional readings.  It would be very interesting to read this a second time to see what I might have missed the first time.  While under no circumstances would I ever sit down for tea with Ginny Stone, I’d love to study her in more depth.  She is a fascinating character whose voice, like that of Vida Winter from The Thirteenth Tale and many of Patrick McGrath’s narrators, will stay with me for a long time to come.

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To buy book in audio, click here.
To buy this book, click here.

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#96 ~ Melmoth the Wanderer

August 27, 2008 at 9:07 pm | Posted in Books, Reading | 6 Comments
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Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin

Earlier this year Devourer of Books posted about the Penguin Books giveaway and I quickly joined for my chance to get a free book. When I found out that the Penguin Classic book assigned to me was Melmoth the Wanderer, I had flashbacks to Junior Year Honors English taught by Sister Irene Mary. Our final project for that class was a 20 to 25 page term paper. Sister gave us options as to what that paper would be about: architecture, art, or literature. I chose literature. Once that decision was made, Sister selected the book for us. There were only three of us who chose literature. The day that the assignments were handed out, three brand new books were proped up on the chalk board: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, My Antonia by Willa Cather, and Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery. I was the one singled out to readVanity Fair. Even in high school I enjoyed a reading challenge. Still, my heart sunk when I noticed that my book was twice as thick as My Antonia.

Melmouth the Wanderer tells the story of Jonathon Melmoth, a man who comes into his uncle’s estate upon that miserly man’s death. Before he died, his uncle asked him to destory the portrait in his private room along with the papers in the drawer. After Johnathon believes that he sees someone in the house when his uncle dies, he cannot resist the tempation of reading those papers, which end up telling the story of the Melmoth family. Thus begins his trek toward selling his soul.

The tone, themes and narrative methods are classically gothic. Everything is dark and foreboding. From the moment you enter into Melmoth’s manner, you sense that you better watch over your shoulder. The history of the Spanish sailor who rescues Johnathon from the cliff sweeps you away into the world of forced vocations to a Jesuit convent and his multiple attempts at escape despite the cost to his safety and sanity. What made this novel difficult to read was the narrative style. Whereas it is typical for a paragraph to start with each new speaker, Maturin included the dialog of two or more characters within the same paragraph. Without a careful and close reading, it because quite easy to get lost. There also were times where the level of detail was oppressive, much like being in a one-sided conversation with someone who makes sure to cover every minute detail. There were sections of the novel, often where single paragraphs went on for three plus pages, where I found myself getting impatient a needless wade into the quagmire.

In the end, I did not complete this novel. When I realized I was 255 into the novel and I was just getting to the point in the Spanish sailor’s story where he was finally brought before the Inquisition, I couldn’t continue. It wasn’t because the basic plot wasn’t enjoyable. It was actually. However, the style in which this story was written and the number of references made by the author within the text made reading this novel feel like climbing Mt. Everest without any preparation or supplies. It was frustrating not having the source material to read along with it.

This novel would be best read in a classroom setting or by someone who was willing to devote weeks of time, energy and study to it. I wouldn’t have been able to read and enjoy Ulysses without the guidance and encouragement of a wonderful professor. I’m in no way comparing Charles Robert Maturin to James Joyce. There was no poetry in Maturin’s prose, but I would imagine that there could be an engaging course taught about Melmoth the Wanderer.

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To buy this book, click here.

The Making of This Reader Meme

July 5, 2008 at 7:54 pm | Posted in Books, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading | 5 Comments
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Becca at Bookstack posted this meme yesterday and I asked if I could steal it. She graciously consented. I love how these questions explore who people are as a reader. If you would like to share this on your blog, please do! This is really an excellent follow up to last week Thursday’s Book Through Thursday question.

Do you remember how you developed a love of reading? One of my earliest memories with books was sneaking into the basement storage area where my mom kept a small bookcase filled with her books. I remember this being electrifying because I thought those books were forbidden. What really was forbidden was going into that cluttered storage area. In that book shelf was a biography of Clara Barton. I couldn’t read very well at the time, but I loved gently paging through the book and looking at all of the pictures. Although the book was my mothers, I felt as though it was something that was all mine. Being the oldest of five children, that was a priceless feeling. I have loved and treasured books ever since. I wish I knew what became of that book about Clara Barton, though.

What are some books you loved as a child? My favorite book as a child was Little Women. In fact, the one time I ever got in much trouble in school revolved around that book. In the 5th grade, I was bored by my social studies teacher. My parents got me an entire set of Louisa May Alcott books for Christmas that year. I brought Little Women with me and decided to read it behind my social studies book. At one point I’m reading about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy and the next a ruler slammed down on my desk. I’m surprised that I didn’t pee my pants. This was a Friday and the teacher took my book. All weekend long I worried about my parents asking me where the book was and horrified that I may never see it again. The following Monday, I dressed up in a skirt and apologized to the teacher before asking for my book back. Thankfully he returned it to me and I never tried to pull a stunt like that again.

Other books I enjoyed as a child were The Ghost of Windy Hill, The Wheel on the School, Little House on the Prairie, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Nancy Drew, The Bobsey Twins, Trixie Belden, and a comic book about Helen Keller called “The Story of My Life.”

What is your favorite genre? Currently, my favorite genre is historical fiction. I’ve always loved the classics and Gothic fiction.

Do you have a favorite novel? Hands down ~ Gone with the Wind. I’ve read that novel at least five full times since my junior year of high school. I absolutely love it. It’s also one of the only film adaptations I love just as well.

Where do you usually read? I will read just about anywhere. In bed, in the tub, at the table, in a lawn chair, sitting in the stairwell at work (so as not to be disturbed – given my experience in the 5th grade, I’m almost militaristic in insuring that I’m not reading on the company dime), in a library, etc…

When do you usually read? I usually read while getting reading in the morning for a few minutes, during my breaks at work, and after the kids go to bed at night. Books are pretty much constantly around me. Any spare minute I will pick one up.

Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time? It depends really on what I’m reading. If I’m reading something that takes a great deal of concentration, I’ll usually also start something lighter. There are just sometimes when I want to read purely as an escape.

Do you read nonfiction in a different way or place than you read fiction? Other than being more prone to pick up a second book (usually a novel) while I’m reading non-fiction, not really.

Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them, or check them out of the library? I am quite apt to accrue large library fines. I remember one day coming home from school to find my mother tearing my bedroom apart. I’d gotten an overdue notice in the mail and boy did I catch hell for that. Now that I’m older and have expendable income, I’m more likely to buy a book than to check one out from the library. I love libraries, though. I made a more concerted effort to use the library this year and I did well getting everything returned on time. In fact, I’ve found library book sales a wonderful way to pick up some great books at really good prices.  I’ve also been receiving a fair amount of ARCs since the beginning of the year. There hasn’t been much need for the library since the spring.  Once I’ve dug myself out of my pile of ARCs (no complaint implied), I’m planning on making a dent in the books I already own.

Do you keep most of the books you buy? It really depends on how much I enjoyed reading them.  I found over the course of last year that I ended up selling most of the books I bought and read on half.com.  This is what prompted me to think more about the library.  I’m going to be much more picky going forward with what I buy unless there is a super good sale.

If you have children, what are some of the favorite books you have shared with them? My daughters are preschool age, so I’ve been enjoying Curious George and the Frances books with them.  I’ve tried off and on to read The Little House on the Prairie and James and the Giant Peach, but they are just not there yet.  I’m looking forward to those days, though.  Once they arrive, Little Women will not be far behind.

What are you reading now? Right now I’m reading The i Tetralogy by Mathias B. Freese and Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.

Do you keep a To Be Read list? No, but I aspire to. 🙂

What’s next? After Freese’s novel, next up is Silent Thunder by Iris and Roy Johansen.

What books would you like to reread? I can’t say that I’m a frequent re-reader.  Gone with the Wind and Little Women top the list.  I will probably re-read The Other Boleyn Girl at some point.  Right now I’ve got so many wonderful possibilities in my personal library that what I really want to do is meet new characters and explore new worlds.

Who are your favorite authors? Margaret Mitchell, Louisa May Alcott, Philippa Gregory, Lauren Groff, Anya Seton, Edgar Allen Poe, Patrick McGrath, Stewart O’Nan, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, William Faulkner, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and last but not least, William Shakespeare.

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