Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Not Merely Porn

Despite the very titillating title, The Pleasures of Men is not focused on sex. The novel does contain much discussion of sex and the feelings associated therewith. It also has much violence, discussion of evil, complaints about the decorum expected of a proper lady in Victorian England, discussion of family, a serial killer, lesbianism, an odd protagonist who is possibly insane, and imaginative ramblings.

I don't want to mislead you, though - for that listing of topics might make the novel seem more interesting and coherent than it actually is.

Before we delve deeper, let's have a peek at the titillating American cover:

Just kidding; this totally isn't sexy at all.

 I have to say, there is something about this book that is magical. For while I didn't particularly like the writing, thought the Victorian era, rather than coming to life, comes out rather stilted instead, and found the fantastical passages and shifts in point of view to be disconcerting and rather annoying, I did, for the first half of this novel find myself coming back to it far too quickly. I was like the clingy girlfriend who pushes the guy away because she's already creating wedding invitations after their third date - except that I didn't even really like this guy I was trying to force myself on in a Jennifer Love-Hewitt-esque move.

I feel your pain, cheezburger pie chart

I kept reading it, so obviously the book wasn't horrible. It just wasn't very good, either. The protagonist is not very likable, which is obvious from the fact that as a reader, you aren't particularly saddened by the ending. [Warning: I'm about to get spoiler-y.] The ending is very Victorian - the protagonist Catherine Sorgeiul is going to be alone for the rest of her life in order to avoid the evil men with whom she came into contact for the majority of the novel, devoting her life to becoming an invisible, unmemorable person who would not be mentioned in the history books. However, I have a feeling that the reader is supposed to feel slightly saddened at this fitting ending; I was not.

With regards to the writing, I felt like the novel is written in a confusing manner that does not make it entertaining. Chuck Palahnuik's writing jumps all over the place and confuses the hell out of you, but at the end he draws some things together, and while confusing, it is a fun, clever, interesting ride. This novel jumps between characters, jumps between fantasy and reality while tending to be most confusing during random sentences that are supposed to be "real" passages, and seems rather unfocused, in general.

Are you trying to write about how the Victorian era was stifling to the lesbian urges that many girls naturally felt? Are you trying to delve into the mind of a psychopathic killer? Or show the reader that it's not possible to delve into the mind of a psychopathic killer? Or talk about how fucked-up family can be?

No, no - more fucked up than this.

Really, whatever the purpose of this novel was, I could not discern it. Or perhaps there were multiple purposes the novel strove to achieve, and as a result, the author was unable to accomplish any of them.

Wrap-up: This book is slated to be released August 7 of this year, but if the world is really going to end in December, I say you probably want to pass on reading it.

Am I being catty? Why yes.

Last but not least, here's the Guardian review of this same novel, which is well written and worth looking into if you're unsure, after reading my review, if this book is for you.

*An advanced copy of this book was provided free of charge; this review and all opinions contained therein are my own.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: Lost in Hollywood

I recently finished Hollywood Boulevard by Janyce Stefan-Cole. This novel was released in April, though my copy was an uncorrected proof provided for review. The cover is a befittingly poolside picture, replete with palm trees:

Hollywood Boulevard is broken down into two parts, and is a very meandering, introspective look at retired actress Ardennes Thrush - who retired before achieving her full potential.

Ardennes Thrush is a literate, intelligent individual who hasn't really been doing much of anything since she retired from acting. As far as exactly why she retired is something that remains unclear - by the end of the novel, it seems like she lost herself during a nervous breakdown because of the dissipation of her first marriage. (That is my interpretation, however, and there are certainly others that can be made.) Ardennes loves acting, the craft of it, the ability to lose herself in a character - and from the remarks of other characters, it is clear that she is good at it.

To be honest, the novel is a little boring - but it's possible this is on purpose. Here is this glamorous former movie star, hanging out in her hotel room and spying on her neighbors. People who are trying to be invisible, even when they're quietly suffering a nervous breakdown, are often kind of boring.

Then, she gets a stalker, which makes things slightly more interesting. And she commits adultery, which is kind of surprising. And her husband betrays her, which has been glaringly obvious for awhile, and is therefore no surprise at all.

Then, she gets kidnapped, which makes things slightly more interesting. And due to her slight craziness, it is interesting to see what other character is actually even more crazy. (I won't say who, because that takes half of the fun out of the novel.)

The end of the novel is perhaps the best part, with its' did-she-or-didn't-she-find-herself ending.

Despite the slight tedium of the novel, I did enjoy many aspects of it. In particular, it is obvious that the writer is herself a huge fan of reading. Reading the words of someone else who is a fan of literature can often be a beautiful experience, and reading this novel does sometimes inspire the reader to devour great works of literature.

It is difficult for me to make a recommendation for this novel, because with its' slightly boring tone, it is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. I was told I should rate my reviews, though, so reading this novel falls somewhere between enforced reading for school and laughing dinosaurs (which sounds kind of creepy, but think of friendly, animated dinosaurs, like in Land of the Lost).

Friday, May 11, 2012

Telepathy & Feminism

Gothic novel. Creepy, small England town. Humor. Hot, new guys who live in a mansion. Magic. Fast pace. All of these elements are part of Sarah Rees Brennan's upcoming novel Unspoken.

Unspoken is the first book in a series, though I'm unsure how many books this series is meant to contain. So many amazing elements, and it continues --

First of all, yes, this means that when the novel ends, the story feels uncompleted. And yes, it ends right on a spot where your mouth hangs open in protest, and you feebly attempt to prevent expletives from spewing forth from your lips, because you unwisely decided to read the end of the novel in public (or under your desk at school, or under your desk at work, or on the bus).

Secondly, the atmosphere and environment of the novel, while very evocative of the English countryside, is not really very eerie and menacing. It has many allusions to gothic literature, though, and handles some of the issues that gothic literature present in an intelligent, well-informed matter.

At the crux of this novel is the relationship between Kami Glass and Jared Lynburn, who have had a psychic connection since birth. Other people have imaginary friends; Kami and Jared have an invisible imaginary friend who doesn't go away. And then they meet, and discover that this psychic connection has been with a real person all along - a boon and a nightmare.

It sounds like soulmates, right? But it really wouldn't be a fun thing to live with. And Kami Glass staunchly opposes the idea that she and Jared are "meant" to be together merely because there is a link between them that isn't easily explained.

This novel builds on gothic influences in a fast-paced manner, while at the same time, making sure not to fall into the traps that are in gothic literature. Violence, while in the novel, is not touted as something inescapable and attractive, and the girls in the novel are just as smart and strong as the boys.

So many things in this novel were done right - but this novel still isn't the powerful tour-de-force I was hoping to read.

The flaws? Might simply come down to expectations. This novel was very humorous, with all of the characters exhibiting the same sense of humor that can be seen in the author's livejournal and twitter posts. Brennan's ability to meld two unlike things together in a jarring yet hilarious simile is spectacular, and at least caused me to smile, if not literally laugh out loud.

Yet when I hear the words "gothic novel," I don't expect to giggle my way through the work. I expect to become enmeshed in another world - a frightening world filled with delicious imagery and beautiful writing. Unspoken is a fun, fast-paced read, with thriller elements - but I don't think it quite reaches the slight insanity of a gothic novel.

My verdict: not a bad read. A good beach read. Did leave me wanting to read the next novel.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Girl Fight!

On the most superficial of surfaces, Francesca Segal's novel The Innocents appears to be about a young man named Adam Newman being torn between his long-time girlfriend-turned-fiancee Rachel and her beautiful, fragile cousin Ellie.

While this novel certainly explores these issues, alluding to Edith Wharton's famed Age of Innocence, what the novel is really exploring is Adam and his issues. Being a Jewish London resident, Adam has grown up with a set of societal expectations and enforced etiquette that are at once comforting and familiar, as well as suffocating. Having proposed to his long-time girlfriend Rachel shortly before the novel begins, he begins to feel his life becoming set even more rigidly into what is expected of him. Then he meets Ellie, who has recently moved back to London, and who is gorgeous and wonderful and almost never does what is expected of her.

Fighting over his feelings for Ellie and Rachel is really a reflection of fighting within himself over what is important - the fact that sex is involved is merely an added bonus.

(There are other issues which come up, and which Adam is dealing with, but which I am choosing not to mention in this review to make it less spoiler-y.)

I really, really, enjoyed this novel. I was also immediately struck by the fact that this novel is making parallels and allusions to Wharton's novel - though I have never read Wharton's novel, and so cannot make clever and witty observations with respect to how deep the reference runs. I will say I found it intriguing that Segal was able to draw so many parallels between the Victorian age of Wharton's novel, and the Jewish sect of modern-day London. To be honest, I do not know much about Jewish culture, but found the environment both edifying as well as easy to follow.

Reading The Innocents also makes me eager to seek out a copy of Wharton's Age of Innocence, partly because it's a piece of classical fiction that I haven't read yet. Partly because I would like to see how far the parallels run between this modern novel and the older one.

I highly recommend reading this novel, whether you have read Wharton's novel before or not. The writing is beautiful and sophisticated, the subject matter is dense but enjoyable, and the ending is a very interesting one that will leave the reader thinking about the novel long after reading the last page.

The Innocents is currently slated to be released in June 2012.