#37 ~ Portrait of an Unknown Woman

September 6, 2007 at 2:30 am | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Reading, What's Up | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12853362.gif

Portrait of the Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett

I just hate it when a good book ends in a hurry. That, unfortunately, was the case with Portrait of an Unknown Woman. It tells the story of a woman, liberally educated for that time, and her relationships with her adoptive father, her husband, and a man who had been commissioned to paint the family portrait. It seems that her father and her husband are not the men she believed them to be. Throughout much of the course of the novel, Meg Griggs calls her father, Sir Thomas More, and her husband, John Clemente, on numerous rumors and outright lies. After light is shed on two more hurtful lies, Meg is able to most happily forgive and forget all wrongs all within about 30 pages. Pat happy endings don’t sit well with me, especially when the narrator in the past refused to simply let go of something much less meaningful.

Meg became an orphan at an early age. Her mother died as a result of childbirth and her father died in an accident when she was 9. Upon hearing about her situation, Thomas More lined the pockets required to formally adopt her. Although she was provided for physically and educationally equal to More’s biological children, Meg always felt a lack of love and intimacy with her adoptive parents. Meg was, however, certain that her family appreciated her knowledge and skill with what we now would consider holistic medicine. It was only after Hans Holbein arrived to paint the More family portrait and her father finally agreed to let her marry her former tutor, John Clemente, that she came to feel the love for which she had always longed.

After the birth of her son, Meg begins to have doubts about the man her father was becoming. The viciousness of the crown’s attacks on those who had fallen away from the Roman Catholic Church in favor of the new Protestant faith horrified her. She argued with More in an attempt to make him see his cruelty. After he was made King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, the level of violence escalated to burnings. She could not believe that the man she grew up with could be responsible for this. When he argued his point, Meg found that she could no longer maintain their loving relationship. To make matters worse, the way in which Meg acted upon her knowledge of political affairs led to the discovery of something about her husband that left her feeling cold toward him.

The greatness of this novel surrounds the paintings of Hans Holbein. Especially fascinating to me are the descriptions of the artist painting The Ambassadors and a second family portrait of the Mores. The scene in which the author creates the mood and atmosphere of Holbein’s painting of The Ambassadors is brilliant. It brought the world of art to life for me like never before. I learned so much just by reading the fictional thoughts and ideas that went into each element within the painting. Equally, I was delighted to read the author’s vision of Holbein’s planning and painting of a second More family portrait. In reality, this second family portrait is signed with another name, but it has long been theorized that Holbein painted this as well. She uses this portrait to betray the new family secrets that leads to the novels rushed conclusion.

Everyone likes a happy ending, but I prefer them to be earned. That being said, I do not regret reading this book at all. There is so much more to this art form than I had known. Although I’ve read The Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, I really didn’t leave those books with this same sense. Bennett made me want to learn more about her characters, especially Hans Holbein. To me, this makes it an even greater shame that the ending faltered.

#14 ~ The Cider House Rules

April 4, 2007 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Culture, My Life with Books, Reading | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Of the 13 books that have preceded this, The Cider House Rules has been by far the hardest to read. The first 100 pages were more difficult than I had imagined. I never wanted to know what the inside of a uterus feels/sounds like when a D&C is completed successfully. I would imagine no one really does. At one point during Dr. Wilbur Larch’s journey from OB/GYN to OB/GYN and abortionist, I wanted to stop reading it. I decided that to honestly meet the challenge I had to finish every book I start. This isn’t about reading 52 books I will enjoy. For me, as a fast reader, there’s no challenge in that. So, I finished it. It’s a sad, sad book.

The protagonist, Homer Wells, begins life as an orphan as St. Cloud’s in Maine in the early mid-1900s. This is the orphanage in which Dr. Larch practices medicine. Attempts to adopt Homer failed. Homer preferred to be at St. Cloud’s. In order to be “of use,” Dr. Larch makes Homer his apprentice. Homer has a natural talent for medicine and successfully delivers a women suffering from sever eclampsia. During the course of his studies of Grey’s Anatomy and through dissecting adult female and infant cadavers, Homer comes to believe that the unborn have souls. He confronts Dr. Larch and refuses to be “of use” to him when he’s performing those procedures. Shortly thereafter, he leaves St. Cloud’s with Wally and Candy, a rich couple who traveled from the coast to get an abortion.

While living at Ocean View Orchards, Homer quickly falls in love with Candy and becomes an expert in farming an apple orchard. Dr. Larch, on the other hand, planned for the day that Homer would return and take over all aspects of “the Lord’s work.” St. Cloud’s Board of Directors was increasingly unhappy with him and as he grows older, the pressure to add staff to oversee all aspects of the orphanage continues to strengthen. He took the name of a deceased orphan and manipulated college and medical school records to make him a doctor. It’s is Dr. Larch’s hope that life experience will lead him back to St. Cloud’s and, if his beliefs cannot be changed, he will feel compelled to provide abortion services in a day and age when it is illegal.

This book is decidedly pro-choice. Still, there is no glorification of the procedure or those who perform them. Abortion is a consequence of the human condition and those who provide those services have their own weaknesses and crosses to bear. Irving took great effort to describe the procedures and its affects accurately. Women carrying the burden of an unplanned pregnancy do not leave the orphanage relieved of their burdens. In fact, Homer observes that their posture makes them look more weighted down. Dr. Larch uses the phrase “products of conception.” Eventually, Homer confronts him about this oversimplification. There is no sugar coating.

I believe that this story took place during World War II purposefully. It illustrated that there are forms of murder deemed as necessary and good by American society. There is no shame in killing the enemy or in losing a child to war. In fact, both may even be considered a duty and an honor. Many states in this country support the death penalty as a means for punishing its most heinous criminals. In both situations, keeping our society safe is found more important than the lives of individuals. Both sides of the abortion debate oversimplify or sugar coat the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Why are we afraid to address this issue head on and decide, as a society, whether abortion serves the greater good?

Although I believe that Irving intended to end this book with hope, I felt quite the opposite. It seems sad that the best our society has to offer women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy is an abortion, an adoption, or a life as a single parent. Ensuring that all three of those options are available to women does not change the fact that – apparent rewards aside – they all bring about their own pain, feelings of loss, and heartache for everyone involved.

#05 ~ Life of Pi

February 5, 2007 at 7:42 pm | Posted in Books, Brain Food for Thought, Culture, Inspiration, LIfe, Reading, Religion | 3 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I had been excited about reading this book for quite some time. I was worth the wait. I did find the middle two thirds of this book to be slow and boring. Upon finishing it, I’m could be convinced that this was intentional. How slow and boring would it feel to spend 225 days as a castaway in a lifeboat? It is a brilliant book.

Pi’s family is a secular family. Pi himself, on the other hand, is a Hindu, Muslim, Christian. He has incorporated many of the rituals from each tradition. It’s not so much that he is creating his own faith. He actively participates in all three. It feels perfectly natural for him to find God as He reveals Himself to other people. His views on faith, religion, and God are interesting and thought provoking.

I don’t feel that I can really say much about this book without it spoiling it for other readers. This is the story of Pi, a teenaged Indian boy, who is the son of a zookeeper. In order to make a new life for themselves, the family sells off the animals to North American zoos. They travel together with these animals on a boat that has set sail for Canada. There would begin their new life. Unfortunately, the ship sinks quickly. Only, Pi and three of the zoo animals make it on the lifeboat. The remainder of the story details how Pi survived his ordeal. As the book is told in an interview type of style, we was get glimpses of Pi’s life after reaching shore in Mexico.

After completing this book, I know that I will have to read it again at some point. I want to go back and pick up pieces that I missed or misinterpreted. It is a book that I could learn something from with each read.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.