Fiction: “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood

blind-assassinThe Blind Assassin was … well, I don’t know what it was. It’s been so long since I decided to read it that I can’t remember why I wanted to read it anymore. Maybe because it would have been a valid Lunch Break Book while I was reading Just Like Heaven. Maybe because The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite books but I was feeling guilty for not reading anything else by Ms. Atwood. Maybe it’s because I own the book but hadn’t read it yet.

Regardless, I decided to read it, and … ended up finishing it in entirely too long a span of time – one month, to be exact. (She says, writing a blog post about a book she finished in April.)

Full disclosure: this is the fourth time I have attempted to write this review. I am not sure I am up to the task. It’s a dense book with multiple points of view and styles, and I have been trying very hard to not give away spoilers. I’m going to try and just … word-vomit this all out at once and move on, and if in another ten years I look back because I think I want to read The Blind Assassin and hope that my review will remind me of what it was about … sorry, Ten Years From Now Alaina, you were never a good reviewer to begin with, and what did you expect?

So, generally speaking, The Blind Assassin is the story of Iris and Laura Chase. They grew up in Port Ticonderoga, Ontario, the daughters of a button manufacturer who made a name for himself prior to World War I. Laura is a sheltered child, and as we’re learning of her story through Iris’s remembrances, it’s hard to say if this perception is accurate.

At a company picnic, Iris and Laura meet Alex Thomas, a Socialist who is passing through Port Ticonderoga. He gets involved with a riot and the girls hide him in the attic for a spell; both girls fall in love with Alex a bit. Shortly after, the economy turns and the button factory deals with many losses. In an effort to remain afloat, Iris’s father sells the button factory to shirt manufacturer Richard Griffen; he also gives permission for Richard to marry Iris at the same time. Iris’s father’s health declines quickly into alcoholism, so Laura is sent to boarding school to get her out from under Iris’s feet.

Iris grows miserable in her arranged marriage. The only bright spot is the birth of her daughter, Aimee. Then Richard sends Laura away for what appears to be no reason. She is sent to a sanitarium and no one will tell Iris what happened. The assumption is that Laura and Alex Thomas were having an affair and Laura’s fragile mind couldn’t keep up the secrecy. Alex joins the forces in World War II, and after Laura learns of Alex’s death, she steals Iris’s car and drives it off a bridge, killing herself.

The death of Laura Chase is actually the first thing we learn when we begin reading The Blind Assassin; we hear Iris’s remembrance of that day, followed immediately by Laura’s obituary in the paper. Then, we jump into a few chapters of he novel-within-the-novel, titled The Blind Assassin and written by Laura Chase; Iris had it published posthumously.

 

The Blind Assassin that Laura Chase wrote stars two anonymous lovers: the man is in hiding for something, moving from flophouse to flophouse; the woman is in a strained, unhappy marriage to a rich man. In-between bouts of lovemaking, the man tells the woman a science fiction story about a blind assassin. As we read Laura’s novel within Iris’s remembrances, we are led to believe that Laura and Alex are the anonymous lovers in the story.

There is a lot more to the story – both Iris’s and Laura’s. But the fact of the matter is – it has been so long since I read this that the details are no longer fresh in my mind. Additionally, I feel that if I talk about it more or get into more depth, some key notes in the story would be lost and spoiled for a new reader.

What I can say is, while I appreciated the style in which Ms. Atwood told her tale, I find that I will most likely reread The Handmaid’s Tale before rereading The Blind Assassin. I’m also interested in reading more of her truly science-fictioney novels, so as soon as I find those, I’ll pick them up from the library.

Ms. Atwood is an amazing writer; The Blind Assassin won’t be one of my favorite books, that’s all.

Grade for The Blind Assassin: 2 stars

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Fiction: “Veronika Decides to Die” by Paulo Coelho

veronika“Goodness, Alaina, this sounds like a cheery little thing. What on earth could have made you want to read something like this?”

“First of all, Little Miss Opinionated, let me remind you that I have read a lot of books in my day, and every once in a while I can appreciate when a book tells me in its title what the story is going to be about. Second of all, the copy I had was a total of 210 short, well-spaced-out pages, so I read it in like, a week. And thirdly, it’s a master work of literature. No other factors were used in my decision-making when it came to deciding to read the book.”

[Spoiler alert: Sarah Michelle Gellar also starred in the film adaptation, and, much like Gillian Anderson, I’ll watch Sarah Michelle Gellar in anything. And before y’all get on your high horse about Buffy and how she was awesome in that, yes, I agree with you, but I’ve been a fan of Sarah Michelle Gellar since she was the original Kendall Hart on All My Children. I remember when she got Erica all riled up enough to stab Dimitri with a letter opener! Basically, when it comes to Sarah Michelle Gellar, step off, I’ve loved her longer than you.]

I am constantly competitive with myself. I keep records of what books I read in what month (which comes in handy now, seeing as how I couldn’t remember if I had read this in March or February, because it takes me for-fucking-ever to review books now, for stupid reasons) per year, dating back to before this blog. So I’m constantly playing a game with myself when it comes to reading: have I read more books in [MONTH] than I did in [MONTH] last year? How many books had I read by this time last year, and have I passed that mark?

At the beginning of March, I had finished my ninth book in 2016 (Live and Let Die), coming in under the wire thanks to February 29th. Compare that to 2015, on March 1st, I had only completed 4 books. And because I wanted to get a head-start on 2016, hoping to finally achieve that elusive, 50-title goal, I picked a couple of short books in March in an attempt to pad out my head start.

Wandering through the shelves of the Yarmouth library, I found this title, and was very encouraged by the thinness of the book. Plus, I could almost do a That’s What She Read-Movies Alaina’s Never Seen tie-in, if I wanted to. (I decided I didn’t want to, because I actually did watch the film [it’s on Netflix right now!], and it matches the book’s plot very well. It wouldn’t provide the same delight as my Tie-In with Moonraker did.)

As an added bonus, I had downloaded a spreadsheet years ago about the 1,001 books to read before you die, and Veronika Decides to Die was one of them. Another checkmark earned!

The story takes place in Mr. Coelho’s native Slovakia. Veronika is 24 years old, and she decides to commit suicide, as there is no joy to be found in her life now, or in the future. I didn’t take a picture or copy the quote before returning the book to the library, but her reasoning was– actually, I’m going to quote the film, because it might be actually lifted from the book, but even if it wasn’t, it’s an excellent summary:

“Well, let’s see. After you decide that I’m depressed, or whatever, you’ll put me on meds, right? Well I know hundreds of people on them and they’re all doing just fine. Really. I’ll go back to work on my new anti-depressants, have dinner with my parents and persuade them I’m back to being the normal one who never gives them any trouble. And one day some guy will ask me to marry him. He’ll be nice enough. That’ll make my parents very happy. The first year we’ll make love all the time, and in the second and third less and less. But just as we’re getting sick of each other, I’ll get pregnant. Taking care of kids, holding onto jobs, paying mortgages; it’ll keep us on an even keel for a while. Then about ten years into it he’ll have an affair because I’m too busy and I’m too tired. And I’ll find out. I’ll threaten to kill him, his mistress… myself. We’ll get past it. A few years later he’ll have another one. This time I’m just going to pretend that I don’t know because somehow kicking up a fuss just doesn’t seem worth the trouble this time. And I’ll live out the rest of my days sometimes wishing my kids could have the life that I never had. Other times secretly pleased they’re turning into repeats of me. I’m fine. Really.” [Veronika Decides to Die, 2009 [via imdb.com]]

Well, neighbors call on Veronika when she’s in the midst of her pill-induced overdose, and when she wakes up, she’s in Villette, a state-sponsored insane asylum, put there by her parents in an attempt to get her help. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Igor (not making it up), tells her she was in a coma for two weeks, and also, the overdose created a heart condition, and now she only has one week to live. And no, he won’t release her from the asylum so she can overdose again; she needs to be monitored.

Basically, the whole thing is a sham: Dr. Igor only told her that she was dying so she could learn how wonderful life is: to treat every day she has on Earth as a miracle, and to inspire her to live life to its fullest. And it takes a while – Veronika finds a piano in a sitting room and remembers how much she wanted to be a pianist, but her parents and her lack of risk-taking turned her into a stable librarian instead. She first reconnects with her passion through music.

She also realizes that, while in an insane asylum, no one will give a second thought about her if she starts to act “crazy” – in other words, telling people what she thinks without filtering her thoughts, or acting out violently; those acts have no consequence, because she’s already been labeled “crazy” by her placement in the asylum.

And as she realizes that, she gets back in touch with her “true” self – the self unfettered by Society.

[Veronika] finished her studies, went to university, got a good degree, but ended up working as a librarian.

“I should have been crazier.” But, as it undoubtedly happens with some people, she had found this out too late.  [p. 94-95]

This quote resonates with me, because I too find myself wishing, occasionally, that I had been crazier growing up. But Society pressured me into playing Life extremely safe: my focus was entirely on being financially stable. I transferred to a state school because a) it was more affordable, and b) it offered a better education. In accounting. And now, ten years after graduation, I am finally using my degree and enjoying it – in a government job, the epitome of risk-averse. After all, the only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes.

And now, where I’m facing a future where I no longer need to assure my financial stability and can start working on a personal life, I don’t even know where to begin to break myself out of my shell. Because that, to me, would mean I would need to be ‘crazy.’ And I don’t know how.

ANYWAY, enough about me. In the end, Veronika falls in love with Eduard, another patient who only begins to speak after he and Veronika share a connection, and together they escape the asylum. Dr. Igor ends the novel with an entry in his diary where he admits that someday Veronika will eventually see another doctor, and that doctor will tell her that her heart is perfectly healthy; but until she does, she will treat every day as a miracle. Which, every day is, really.

In short, it’s not as depressing as the title makes it out to be, and if you like novels with a philosophical bent, you would probably appreciate this.

The movie, however, tells the story just as nicely, plus stars Sarah Michelle Gellar. Oh, and Professor Lupin plays Dr. Igor, so that’s nice too.

Grade for Veronika Decides to Die: 3 stars

Fiction: “Room” by Emma Donoghue

RoomThis year for Oscar!Watch, I decided to level up for some unknown reason – oh, wait, do you guys who follow my reading blog but not my movie blog even know about Oscar!Watch?

Every year, when the Oscar nominees get announced, I attempt to see every movie nominated for what I call the Big 8 categories: Best Picture, Best Director, the four Acting categories, and the two Writing categories. I even make a chart and everything to aid in my quest. And every year, I always miss about three or four movies that don’t make their way to Maine in the appropriate time period.

So this year, because Oscar!Watch isn’t hard enough, I guess, I decided to also read the books that were the source material for the Best Adapted Screenplay nominees. I’m not sure why I made that decision; I think it was a combination of realizing that the nominees were all based on books that were readily available (as opposed to an obscure play), and those books were all available at My Local Library (well, almost all – the Yarmouth Library has a disheartening amount of Patricia Highsmith titles, so Carol or The Price of Salt remains elusive – I mean, they don’t even have Strangers on a Train, what’s with that?), and maybe there was also a part of me that, when looking at the titles, said to herself, “I might enjoy reading that anyway.”

I think there may have also been some thought about wanting to discover the One True Winner of this category, because I can guarantee that the Oscar voters don’t take the time to read the books the movies are based on, watch the movies, and then vote based on how well the original source material was adapted into the resulting film. I’m guessing that, when it comes to that category, the Academy members vote for the film they feel was the best written, and it just happens that the source material isn’t original. But I almost want them to vote the first way: see the source material, watch the resulting adaptation, and vote for the movie that accomplishes the best version of their source material.

But regardless of what my intentions were, it was a decision I made, and I was able to read four out of the five nominees. I kicked off the reading session with Room.

I didn’t really have any idea what Room was about when it first came out a few years ago. I know I saw it everywhere – especially Target; I seem to remember seeing a lot of it at Target – but I wasn’t interested enough to pick it up to read the back of the book. (It may have also been a situation like with Water for Elephants, where the back of the book is all blurbs and no plot description. Stop doing that, Publishers! I am not buying your book without knowing what it’s about [unless it’s an author I’m already familiar with]!) I also wasn’t entirely sure if it was fiction or non-fiction. Spoiler alert! It’s fiction.

The story of Room is told by Jack, and we meet Jack and his Ma on his fifth birthday. Jack is our narrator, and Jack and Ma live together in Room. Jack spends his day doing chores, running “track” back and forth across Room, playing “Scream,” a game where he and Ma scream up at the skylight of Room, and watching TV. Jack believes that what he sees in TV isn’t Real, but everything that happens in Room is real.

After Jack goes to bed at night, Ma is visited by Old Nick, who brings them groceries, clothes, and Sunday-Treat: a special object every Sunday, be it candy or a new toy. But Old Nick only visits after Jack is hidden in his wardrobe bed; Jack has never seen Old Nick’s face.

Because the story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy, there are a lot of jumps the reader has to make to understand what’s really happening. For instance, when Old Nick is visiting Ma, Jack can hear them making the bed’s mattress creak. Jack thinks they’re just pushing the mattress up and down (which seems like an odd game to Jack), but the reader can read between the lines to recognize what’s actually happening.

The reality that Ma has shielded Jack from for the previous five years is this: Ma was a college student and was tricked by Old Nick one day.  Old Nick kidnapped her and locked her in this Room, which turns out to be a soundproofed shed he keeps in his backyard – hence, playing “Scream” in the hopes of being heard: Ma has turned a hope of rescue into a game. Old Nick repeatedly rapes Ma, and Jack is the product of one of those rapes. Ma has done all in her power to enforce healthy habits with what she’s given: because they can’t leave Room, Jack and Ma move the bed around and do aerobics and “run track,” which is just back and forth the length of the room to keep their strength up. They bathe as much as possible, and she makes sure Jack brushes his teeth after every meal. She makes up a grocery list for Old Nick, and she always requests food with good nutritional value.

Ma couldn’t tell Jack the entire scope of their situation, because he was too young to understand. I mean, if you’re a five-year-old who’s been raised to not realize that there’s an Outside, you never want to go Outside. If you think cars that you see on TV aren’t real, then you won’t ask why we don’t have a car, why can’t we go anywhere. It was a coping mechanism for Ma, but also for Jack – he can’t feel bad about their situation if he doesn’t really know what their situation is.

Shortly after Jack’s birthday, Old Nick tells Ma that he’s been unemployed for six months, and the house may get foreclosed upon if he can’t get work. Jack, our narrator, doesn’t understand what that means, but Ma certainly does. If the house is foreclosed upon, Old Nick won’t just let them go – he’s going to kill them. So Ma spends a couple of days to come up with a plan; when she does, she realizes the most important thing is also the hardest: she has to tell Jack about the outside world.

In a harrowing sequence, Jack is able to be smuggled out of Room and is able to jump out of Old Nick’s pickup truck and give a message to some neighbors. The police get involved, and they are able to find Ma’s location and rescue her. Ma is relieved, but Jack doesn’t understand that he’s never going to go back to Room – it’s the only home he’s ever known, what do you mean they’re never going back? What about all the toys and mementos from his childhood?

The rest of the book shows how traumatizing it can be for someone to get integrated into the world when they’ve been isolated for their entire life. Jack struggles a lot to reconcile what he’s only known to the reality: that there are a lot of experiences he’s missed out on, like grandparents, and dogs, and making friends, and cousins, and paying for things at a store.

Ma – or Joy, as we find out her name once she’s released from Room – also has a hard time reintegrating into her world. In the seven years that she’s been missing, her parents have divorced. Her father thought she was dead, and he can’t quite come to terms with the fact that not only is Joy not dead, but she was repeatedly raped, and also, her son is a reminder of his failings as a father: he was unable to protect his little girl. Her mother has remarried, and now Joy has to be nice to a person who has usurped her father’s role as head of the family. Joy also has to alleviate her guilt that she now feels about being too gullible or stupid to have fallen for Old Nick’s trick in the first place.

There’s a lot of emotions going on in the book, and it’s very interesting because again, the entire book is written from Jack’s perspective. Once I knew what the book was about (because yes, I totally read the synopsis on Wikipedia before getting too far into it – I am Harry Burns, after all), I was worried that I’d put it down or the writing style would make it difficult for me to get through.

I read the dang book in three days. I can’t remember the last time I read a book so quickly. I started reading it on a Thursday night – I think it was a Thursday night; maybe it was Friday. Anyway, I started reading it around 11 so I could fall asleep; fast-forward to two hours later, and I’ve read ninety pages and I’m still wide awake. (I think it was a Friday night, because if it was a Thursday I would have been pissed about losing sleep before a workday.) And I was finished with it by that Monday.

How did it compare to the film? I thought the film adaptation was very close to the book. Obviously, it cut some things out, but what they cut out didn’t impact the plot at all. As this was the first book I read in the Level Up project, I didn’t have anything to compare it to, but I thought the adapting of the book to the film was very well-done.

(Then I remembered that the author herself wrote the screenplay; so, duh. That makes total sense.)

Also, Brie Larson was totally deserving of her Best Actress Oscar. And I’ve said it before and I know I’ll say it again: it’s a fucking shame that Jacob Tremblay wasn’t nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for playing Jack, because a) he was phenomenal and b) he acted fucking circles around Leonardo Di-fucking-Caprio. Goddammit.

Grade for Room: 4 stars

Fiction: “Babayaga” by Toby Barlow

babayagaShortly after Erica and I finished reading Egg & Spoon, I found myself wandering the aisles of the Yarmouth Library. Now, I am used to browsing the Portland Public Library and Curtis Memorial Library, in my hometown of Brunswick – both libraries are filled to the brim with a wide variety of reading material. When I go to the library, I intend to spend at least thirty minutes perusing the aisles. So when I wander around the Yarmouth Library and all of their fiction – all of it – fits in one room?!

Well, needless to say, I was a bit gobsmacked.

Instead of browsing through rows upon rows like I’m used to, I looked at pretty much every book in that room. (I almost said “literally” just now, but decided against it.) When I got to the B’s and saw Babayaga, I shrugged and added it to my pile.

It … it was weird. The book, and having so small a library. The whole thing was weird all over.

The story of this particular babayaga takes place in Paris in either the late 1950s or early 1960s. I can’t remember which, and the book has since been returned to the World’s Second-Smallest Library (I’m sure there’s a smaller one somewhere else – there has to be). The plot involves two witches – babayagas – that escaped Russia after the Bolshevik revolution and are now attempting to hide in plain sight. There’s also Will, an American CIA agent hiding as an advertising executive, who’s just been told his position is being eliminated. He crosses paths with the younger, more beautiful witch, Zoya, who ends up falling in love with Will against her better nature. There’s also Elga, Zoya’s older colleage (who happens to be much more diabolical than Zoya), and Inspector Vidot of the Paris police force, who spends the better part of the novel as a flea.

To say this book is surreal would be the biggest understatement since I said, “Man, this show Hannibal is pretty good.” Obviously it’s going to be weird, what with the Russian witches and Parisians that speak perfect English and the people being Kafka’d into arthropods, or however the fuck fleas are classified. But Vidot never really reacts poorly to being turned into a flea; nor does Will really react when he observes a magic fight between Zoya, Elga, and Elga’s apprentice whose name I cannot remember. I don’t know if it’s because the novel takes place in France and the French are typically blasé about everything, or if the author is attempting to make a statement about the supernatural being just as mundane as everyday life. But whatever the reason, there were numerous moments where I felt someone – anyone – should react like this:

buffy cast scream photo buffycastscream.gifbut instead, everyone reacted like this:

tv-addiction-emma-stone-meh-gif

(if I had madder Photoshop skillz, I’d totally add a beret and cigarette to that .gif.)

ANYWAY. (drink!) For lack of a better phrase, the entire book felt very … existential. Like, it almost – almost, mind you – almost made me want to reread Les Jeux Sont Faits by Jean-Paul Sartre. And while I do have a compendium of essential existential works (wait – is that an oxymoron? Dear Friend Thomas, care to weigh in on this?), rereading anything in its original French (no translation, hurrah!) is daunting, at best.

If I remember the back of the book correctly, Babayaga is supposed to explore love as a concept, and I’ll be honest, I … didn’t really get that. At all. Sure, the characters extemporize on the emotion, but nothing really resonated with me.

Although there were some pretty epic quotes, of which I thankfully remembered to take pictures before I returned the book to the library. Yay forethought!

The novel’s narrative structure is broken up by the occasional poem, or “Witch’s Song.” These songs are supposed to shed enlightenment on the plot through the ethereal voices of Elga’s former babayaga coven. I really liked this last stanza of one of the songs:

Ghosts, they say, stay for three simple reasons:
they love life too wholly to leave,
they love some other too deeply to part,
or they need to linger on for a bit,
to coax a distant knife
toward its fated throat.  [p. 110]

For all of her crazy, Elga really is a feminist:

“I’ll tell you one important thing,” [Elga] said. “If you ever marry a man, don’t take his name. Tell him you’re untraditional, make a scene, have a fight, but” — she shook her finger in their faces — “always keep that one precious thing. Men want to swallow you down, take all of you, even your name, like a big fish gulps down minnows. I tell, you, your name is the piece they cannot have. I have been chased by the law and I have been forced into hiding, but I have always used my own name, in every country where I have ever been, even if the police know it, it’s no matter. Your name is the only important word there is. If you lose your name, you lose your strength, and here amid the beasts you need all the strength you can get.” [p. 268]

And here we have Zoya’s final thoughts about Will and the curse she has bestowed upon him:

Maybe the owls will guide you back to me, maybe not, but I hope with my whole heart they keep you running the wrong way. I hope they make you suffer through it all. It is the oldest and most simple curse on earth, and when properly applied, no cure can be found. Some might call it love.

(i didn’t cite the page because a) I forgot to take a picture of the page number but b) it’s also the very last page of the book. oh shit – spoiler alert!)

In the end, if I were to rank babayagas, the Baba Yaga from Egg & Spoon would be number 2 (Mad Madam Mim would be #1), and these babayagas would be … very much below them.

Grade for Babayaga: 1 star

Fiction: “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier

rebecca-daphne-du-maurier-book-cover-artI was planning on going on a major rant about how much I suck, seeing as how I finished this book back in effing January and here it is nearly St. Paddy’s Day, and I was going to vow that I was going to get better at this, but we all know I’m lying (mostly to myself), so let’s just skip all of that and go right into the review with much less preamble than I’m used to, because this is one of my favorite books and I really think everyone I know should read it if they haven’t already.

Before I can get into the thick of the book, however, I do need to discuss one thing: a major choice in the narrative structure. Ugh. Now I know why I’ve procrastinated this review so much – I really have no idea where to begin with it.

Rebecca is the tale of Mr. and Mrs. Maximilian de Winter, and it takes place in 1930s Britain. Maxim (to his friends) is the landed inheritor of the family estate, Manderley, and it is extremely famous. (I guess, for an American equivalent, it would be like Monticello, but without the historical prestige. It’s a fancy house and everyone knows about it.) The estate is so famous that the Future Mrs. de Winter purchased a postcard of Manderley as a girl and dreamed of visiting it.

She remembers her postcard when she first meets Maxim in Monte Carlo, as she’s working as a hired companion to the American tourist Mrs. Van Hopper. Mrs. Van Hopper introduces herself to Maxim, who clearly wants nothing to do with her. As he politely takes his leave of Mrs. Van Hopper and her companion (who also happens to be our narrator), Mrs. Van Hopper tells the girl (and I’m gonna paraphrase, because the book is in the kitchen and I’m, as we should all know by now, lazy) that Maxim must be devastated after the loss of his wife last year; it must be why he left Manderley.

A couple of days after this incident, Mrs. Van Hopper comes down with the flu or something, and her companion goes to have lunch, where she promptly spills her water glass all over her — she’s very awkward, young, nervous, and klutzy at times. Maxim is dining near her and he immediately insists that she have lunch with him, and lunch turns into spending the afternoon driving around Monte Carlo, and that turns into spending every afternoon together in friendship. Mrs. Van Hopper gets better, and when she learns her daughter is getting married in New York, she and her companion pack up for America. The girl manages to get away long enough to say goodbye to Maxim, but instead of exchanging mailing addresses for postcard-sending, Maxim proposes marriage to her instead. Stunned, and not entirely understanding (but enough to know she didn’t want to go to America), she agrees. Mrs. Van Hopper doesn’t wish her well, instead telling her that she’s making a huge mistake, and that Maxim’s only marrying her because he can’t stand living alone after the death of Rebecca.

That’s right, friends – our narrator is not Rebecca. Rebecca is Maxim’s first wife, who died in a boating accident. Our narrator is only known as Mrs. de Winter, and as “she’s” telling the story, “she” feels no need to introduce herself. In addition, all the other characters she comes in contact with either call her “Mrs. De Winter” or “dear” or some other derivative. I’ll get more into that in a minute.

Their honeymoon is wonderful – full of happiness and light, though we never see these weeks directly. We only hear about them after the fact, once the happy couple have returned to Manderley. And as soon as they drive through the gates, a change comes over Maxim. In public, in front of the servants, he is reserved. In private, he is adoring of Mrs. de Winter – unless something put him into a mood before the scene.

Her introduction to the house includes the servants: Frith the butler, and Mrs. Danvers, the head housekeeper. Mrs. Danvers does not take to Mrs. de Winter, and the latter feels as if the housekeeper is constantly looking down her nose at her.

Her first day as mistress of the house doesn’t go the smoothest. Mrs. de Winter has breakfast with Maxim before he goes to the estate office, but then she doesn’t know what to do. She heads to the library (one of the rooms she knows how to get to), and is trying to start a fire because it’s chilly when Frith asks if he can be of service.

“I felt rather cool in the library, I suppose the weather seems chilly to me, after being abroad, and I thought perhaps I would just put a match to the fire.”

“The fire in the library is not usually lit until the afternoon, Madam,” he said. “Mrs. de Winter always used the morning-room. There is a good fire in there. Of course if you should wish to have the fire in the library as well I will give orders for it to be lit.”

“Oh, no,” I said, “I would not dream of it. I will go to the morning-room.” [p. 80]

(Yeah, I went and got the book out of the kitchen.)

When Mrs. de Winter goes into the morning-room, everything has Rebecca’s touch over it. The stationary, the furniture, the accents, the decorations. The feeling of being a stranger in someone else’s house begins to overwhelm her, and when Mrs. Danvers calls her on the house telephone (oh, the 1930s), she gets frightfully mixed up:

And when the telephone rang, suddenly, alarmingly, on the desk in front of me, my heart leapt and I stared up in terror, thinking I had been discovered. I took the receiver off with trembling hands, and “Who is it?” I said, “who do you want?” There was a strange buzzing at the end of the line, and then a voice came, low and rather harsh, whether that of a woman or a man I could not tell, and “Mrs. de Winter?” it said, “Mrs. de Winter?”

“I’m afraid you have made a mistake,” I said, “Mrs. de Winter has been dead for over a year.” [p. 83]

And it keeps getting worse. She learns that Rebecca and Maxim used to have their rooms in the west wing, which overlooks the ocean, but when they returned from their honeymoon Maxim put them in the east wing. Mrs. de Winter bows down to Ms. Danvers constantly, not making any changes or even attempting to assert herself. And throughout everything, she believes that she has been chosen as a replacement for Rebecca just so Maxim doesn’t have to be alone; she truly believes that he doesn’t love her at all, and that he is still in love with Rebecca.

And then, there’s the fancy dress ball. The villagers (most of them are rather wealthy, so don’t think they’re serfs or anything) want Maxim to reinstate the fancy dress ball, and Maxim eventually caves in. Now, I have read this book at least four times, and I’ve seen the movie at least twenty times (oh SHIT guys, don’t let me forget to talk about the movie), so I know how this is going to go. Every time I read this book or watch the movie, I blow through the first two hundred pages, but when I get to the fancy dress ball? I slow my reading down, because what happens is so awful that I just want to reach into the book, grab Mrs. de Winter’s shoulders and yell, “WHY ARE LISTENING TO MRS. DANVERS??!”

The night after the fancy dress ball, Mrs. de Winter has a confrontation with Mrs. Danvers, and just when it looks as if Mrs. Danvers is going to finally strike the death blow on Mrs. de Winter — a ship runs aground in the harbor. Their confrontation forgotten, Mrs. de Winter runs out to find the constable, and she learns the horrible truth — The ship ran aground on Rebecca’s boat.

And the diver found a second body in it.

Okay, I can’t comfortably speak about any of the rest of the plot, because from here on in, we’re in Major Spoiler Country. And while I’m okay ruining some things – especially when I feel like the time limit has run out (Rosebud was the name of the sled, Gwyneth Paltrow’s head’s in the box, and Norman Bates dressed up like his mother to kill people) — but I refuse to spoil this book, because if you don’t know what happens, it makes the book so much better.

(As perfect evidence, I recently lent Gone Girl to my mother:

“Mom, I know you’re like me — I know you want to know what happens, and you’ll want to read ahead to find out what happens. I am telling you – RESIST THAT URGE. Do not — DO NOT — skip ahead in this book. If you do, you will regret it.

She didn’t skip, even though she was tempted, and she really … I wouldn’t say “enjoyed” the book, because it’s not an easy book to “enjoy,” but the experience of reading the book was better.)

Here’s why it’s so important that Mrs. de Winter doesn’t have a first name – you can substitute yourself into the role of the narrator much easier. When everything is I feel, I thought, I wondered, but you don’t have another name to attach to that, you can almost find yourself feeling those same feelings. So then, when you put yourself into this nameless narrator, and all she’s seeing are memories of her husband’s first wife – in the few notes that are still hanging around in frontispieces of books, in the stationary, the monogrammed handkerchief she finds in an old raincoat – and she deeply believes that her husband doesn’t actually love her, that he’s still in love with his first wife – that first wife almost becomes a physical presence.

It’s a claustrophobic feeling – it’s a heart in a death grip, and you’re also not strong enough to be your own voice. It’s terrifying.

Ugh, this is really hard to explain. The best thing about this book is the atmosphere. It’s Gothic, it’s Romantic, it’s oppressive. There’s nowhere to escape. You’re stuck in Manderley just as badly as Mrs. de Winter, and you’re not sure if you even have allies, because it seems that everyone can’t stop talking about Rebecca.

“He doesn’t love me, he loves Rebecca,” I said. “He’s never forgotten her, he thinks about her still, night and day. He’s never loved me, Frank. It’s always Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca.” [p. 225]

It’s heartbreaking.

Now, the movie – it was directed by Alfred HItchcock, first of all. It starred Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter, Joan Fontaine as (Oscar-nominated) Mrs. de Winter, and my all-time favorite, George Sanders, as Rebecca’s cousin Max Favell. George Sanders, for those who may not know, voiced Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book, but most importantly, played my Role Model For Life in All About Eve – theatre critic Addison de Witt. The movie continues the atmosphere found in the book, and Judith Anderson’s Mrs. Danvers is the epitome of creepy, evil housekeepers.

Quick note: the death of Rebecca has a different outcome in the movie than in the book. I am able to separate the two and I can’t say which version I like better. But be aware that, if you read the book first, it’s different in the movie, and vice versa.

Okay, I’ve been writing this for two hours and it’s nearly midnight, so I’m going to wrap this up by saying: seriously, read this book. Watch the movie. I don’t even care which order you pick. But after you’ve done one or the other, let’s talk about it, because I love both of them.

Grade for Rebecca: 6 stars

Fiction: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleBefore I get into this review, I should probably give a couple of warnings:

Long-time readers of That’s What She Read can probably glean two things: 1) That I really make every attempt to not discuss politics in any way, shape or form while discussing a book, and 2) that in the rare instance I do, I probably lean liberal. (The .gifs from The Daily Show most likely add to that indication.)

Having said that, this book is going to be tough for me to discuss in a neutral fashion. Because while I have read this book before, it really wasn’t on my radar to read again — until the Hobby Lobby decision. And I realize that my timing to discuss that topic is poor – between the Gaza/Israeli conflict, John Boehner suing the President, and who knows what’s happened since I went to bed last night, the Hobby Lobby decision and its aftermath are probably far from near everyone’s minds.

So, here’s how I’m going to “discuss” this book: I’m going to give you as much of the plot as I can without spoilering people. Then I’m going to give you a ton of quotes that struck me about the situation going on in this book, and hopefully, I’ll be able to point out a couple of topics from the book that are safe to discuss.

Because look: it’s a tough subject. I get that. And in real life, there are some major things that need to happen so that Jon Stewart no longer grits his teeth as he’s closing the first act. But this blog is for book discussion, not political discussion. So if you want to comment and start a fight with me over some of the issues here, you best be pointing out that I should have used “metonymy” instead of “metaphor,” because if you are going to try and fight with me on women’s issues on my book blog, you got another think coming.

And with that, let’s get into The Handmaid’s Tale.

The book takes place in a near future, though it was written in 1986 – that becomes important. We learn the setting is sometime after the turn of the twentieth century, but there are no markers to tell us how far into the twenty-first it is. The planet (and the United States especially) has been ravaged by nuclear explosions and pollution; in addition, there is made a link (possibly quite specious, but again, I might get into that in a minute) between birth control and infertility.

This sets the stage for a massive coup:

It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.

Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control.

I was stunned. Everyone was, I know that. It was hard to believe. The entire government, gone like that. How did they get in, how did it happen?

That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on. [p. 174]

This state of emergency allows this nameless group (it becomes clear it is not an Islamic faction) to create a new country called Gilead, and it is heavily based on a Biblical culture. Their reading of that text is both literal and radical, and what they do is take away everyone’s rights, but create a new theocracy, enslaving women.

First, they take away their bank accounts – all the money they’ve earned and saved gets automatically transferred to their husband’s account (or male next-of-kin, if they’re unwed). Then, they make it illegal for women to work or own property, essentially keeping them in their home. Then, they make second marriages and divorces illegal, and if you have a child in that second marriage, you are deemed unfit and your child is taken from you.

Then come the Handmaids.

If you were able to have a child (and one of the women who committed adultery or a second marriage), you are conscripted into the Handmaids. Taken from a verse in the Bible:

And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.

And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. [Genesis 30:1-3]

[Thank you, epigraph! Because the only knowledge I have from the Bible, I got from Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal and Raiders of the Lost Ark.]

The women who are able to bear children and have proven to do so before this culture are sent to the Rachel and Leah center, where they are taught that this servitude will protect them. They are conscripted to Commanders and other high male officials, and their job is to conceive them a child. But not through in-vitro fertilization, no: they must have sex with the men while their Wives are present – “she shall bear upon my knees.”  The Handmaid has three years to conceive, then she moves to another house to try again. If she is able to bear a healthy child – because birth defects are also prevalent – she still moves to another house to try again.

How are they able to convince these intelligent women that this is an appropriate new world order? Through lies of safety and persecution. In this new culture, everyone has a uniform tied to their role in society: Wives wear blue gowns, Handmaids wear red. Handmaids also have huge veils – blinkers, essentially – to keep them from straying from their proscribed path and from interacting with others. Marthas, who are basically maids and servants in upper-class households, wear green. Aunts were women who ran the Rachel and Leah center: they indoctrinated the Handmaids and furthered propaganda to get them to come around to their way of thinking.  Aunts wore khaki.

A person’s color of dress immediately designates where they fit into this society.

Going back to the propaganda, here’s an example of how thinking was changed:

I’m remembering my feet on these sidewalks, in the time before, and what I used to wear on them. Sometimes it was shoes for running, with cushioned soles and breathing holes, and stars of fluorescent fabric that reflected light in the darkness. Though I never ran at night; and in the daytime, only beside well-frequented roads.

Women were not protected then.

I remember the rules, rules that were never spelled out but that every woman knew: Don’t open your door to a stranger, even if he says he is the police. Make him slide his ID under the door. Don’t stop on the road to help a motorist pretending to be in trouble. Keep the locks on and keep going. If anyone whistles, don’t turn to look. Don’t go into a laundromat, by yourself, at night.

I think about laundromats. What I wore to them: shorts, jeans, jogging pants. What I put into them: my own clothes, my own soap, my own money, money I earned myself. I think about having such control.

Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles.

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it. [p. 24]

Our narrator is Offred – oh that’s right. In this culture, if you’re a Handmaid, your name is taken away and assigned to your Commander – Offred, Ofglen, Ofwarren. So Offred is on her last assignment, and her Commander’s Wife is anxious to have a baby. Offred’s walking partner to the market is Ofglen. Meanwhile, Offred is plagued by memories of her daughter, taken from her because while her marriage to Luke was her first, she was Luke’s second wife. They tried to escape when things started getting bad, but they were found out at the border. Her daughter was taken away, she was taken to be a Handmaid, and she has no idea what happened to Luke.

Her best friend, Moira was in the Center with her, but Moira escaped. She has no idea where she ended up.

Offred does her duties, though she struggles with her remaining streak of independence. Then one night, she is called into the Commander’s study. Handmaids are not supposed to consort with men of any sort, even their Commander outside of their Ceremony. She doesn’t know what to expect, but the Commander just wants to play Scrabble with her. This is a huge treat, because women are also not allowed to read or write any longer. Then he escalates into letting her read old magazines, which were supposed to have all been burned.

Then he takes her to Jezebel’s, which is a big hotel where high-ranking male officials go to have anonymous sex with whores for free.

“I thought this sort of thing was strictly forbidden,” I say.

“Well, officially,” he says. “But everyone’s human, after all.”

I wait for him to elaborate on this, but he doesn’t, so I say, “What does that mean?”

“It means you can’t cheat Nature,” he says. “Nature demands variety, for men. It stands to reason, it’s part of the procreational strategy. It’s Nature’s plan.” I don’t say anything, so he goes on. “Women know that instinctively. Why did they buy so many different clothes, in the old days? To trick the men into thinking they were several different women. A new one each day.”

He says this as if he believes it, but he says many things that way. Maybe he believes it, maybe he doesn’t, or maybe he does both at the same time. Impossible to tell what he believes.

“So now that we don’t have different clothes,” I say, “you merely have different women.” This is irony, but he doesn’t acknowledge it.

“It solves a lot of problems,” he says, without a twitch. [p. 237]

While this is going on, the Commander’s Wife has arranged to have Offred sleep with Nick, the chauffeur, in an effort to speed her conception along.

The end of the book is actually a speech from a college lecture on the Gileadean society, given in the year 2195. It sheds more light on the culture changes and what happened or may have happened to Offred.

There – I think I did all right without getting political. So, here come more quotes, most likely out of context and open to your own interpretation.

A description of Offred’s room:

A window, two white curtains. Under the window, a window seat with a little cushion. When the window is partly open – it only opens partly – the air can come in and make the curtains move. I can sit in the chair, or on the window seat, hands folded, and watch this. Sunlight comes in through the window too, and falls on the floor, which is made of wood, in narrow strips, highly polished. I can smell the polish. There’s a rug on the floor, oval, of braided rags. This is the kind of touch they like: folk art, archaic, made by women, in their spare time, from things that have no further use. A return to traditional values. Waste not want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want? [p. 7]

A return to traditional values. That’s how this culture shift started.

[It] used to be a movie theater, before. Students went there a lot; every spring they had a Humphrey Bogart festival, with Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn, women on their own, making up their minds. They wore blouses with buttons down the front that suggested the possibilities of the word undone. These women could be undone; or not. They seemed to be able to choose. We seemed to be able to choose, then. We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice. [p. 25]

One of the places the Handmaids can go on their daily walks is The Wall, where the Eyes (the police force, essentially) hang the bodies of the criminals they’ve executed, as reminders.

The men wear white coats, like those worn by doctors or scientists. […] Each has a placard hung around his neck to show why he has been executed: a drawing of a human fetus. They were doctors, then, in the time before, when such things were legal. Angel makers, they used to call them; or was that something else? They’ve been turned up now by the searches through hospital records, or – more likely, since most hospitals destroyed such records once it became clear what was going to happen – by informants: ex-nurses perhaps, or a pair of them, since evidence from a single woman is no longer admissible; or another doctor, hoping to save his own skin; or someone already accused, lashing out an an enemy, or at random, in some desperate bid for safety. Though informants are not always pardoned.

These men, we’ve been told, are like war criminals. It’s no excuse that what they did was legal at the time; their crimes are retroactive. They have committed atrocities and must be made into examples, for the rest. Though this is hardly needed. No woman in her right mind, these days, would seek to prevent a birth, should she be so lucky as to conceive. [p. 32-33]

This seems like such a sad world. Is there nothing funny?

I hear something, inside my body. I’ve broken, something has cracked, that must be it. Noise is coming up, coming out, of the broken place, in my face. Without warning: I wasn’t thinking about here or there or anything. If I let the noise get out into the air it will be laughter, too loud, too much of it, someone is bound to hear, and then there will be hurrying footsteps and commands and who knows? Judgment: emotion inappropriate to the occasion. The wandering womb, they used to think. Hysteria. And then a needle, a pill. It could be fatal. [p. 146]

Oh, okay then.

One of the stores in the town is Soul Scrolls, where Commanders’ Wives can order prayers to be read.

Ordering prayers from Soul Scrolls is supposed to be a sign of piety and faithfulness to the regime, so of course the Commanders’ Wives do it a lot. It helps their husbands’ careers. [p. 167]

There’s a quick reference to The Sabine Women, a picture of which is depicted in one of the Commander’s books Offred looks through. I’d recommend reading the Wikipedia page for that if you’re interested in looking at parallels.

Two quick notes about marriages, then two more points to make, and then I’m done (I promise).

First note: marriages are arranged in this new society, and marriages occur as part of a public ceremony:

And now the twenty veiled daughters, in white, come shyly forward, their mothers holding their elbows. It’s mothers, not fathers, who give away daughters these days and help with the arrangement of the marriages.

[…] They’ll always have been in white, in groups of girls; they’ll always have been silent. [p. 219]

And flashing back to Offred’s marriage to Luke, before it was canceled:

We still have … he said. But he didn’t go on to say what we still had. It occurred to me that he shouldn’t be saying we, since nothing that I knew of had been taken away from him.

[…] We are not each other’s, anymore. Instead, I am his. [p. 182]

Point number one: one of the themes I saw running through the book is the envy everyone has of everyone else. Offred envies the Marthas’ ability to use knives. The Marthas envy Offred because she can leave the house. Offred’s Wife envies Offred because Offred will be the one to give the Commander a child. Offred envies the Commander’s Wife for her freedom to do other things. It all goes right back to the Bible quote: Rachel envied her sister. Envy is prevalent in this society, and it appears to be the one sin the new regime has neglected to eradicate.

Point number two: rape culture. During the indoctrination process, much is made about how “bad” it was “before,” through heightened language and hyperbole. Now, I, Alaina, am not saying we don’t have a problem with rape culture. Far from it. This current society in 2014 has a definite problem with rape culture – as evidenced here, by one of my heroes, Jessica Williams of The Daily Show fame. But it’s also a bad thing to make women think the world is even worse than it is.

Having said that:

Modesty is invisibility, said Aunt Lydia. Never forget it. To be seen – to be seen – is to be – her voice trembled – penetrated. What you must be, girls, is impenetrable. She called us girls. [p. 28]

And I can’t find a more horrifying example than this:

It’s Janine, telling about how she was gang-raped at fourteen and had an abortion. She told the same story last week. She seemed almost proud of it, while she was telling. It may not even be true. At Testifying, it’s safer to make things up than to say you have nothing to reveal. But since it’s Janine, it’s probably more or less true.

But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up one plump finger.

Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison.

Who led them on? Aunt Helena beams, pleased with us.

She did. She did. She did.

Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen?

Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson.

[…] This week Janine doesn’t wait for us to jeer at her. It was my fault, she says. It was my own fault. I led them on. I deserved the pain.

Very good, Janine, says Aunt Lydia. You are an example. [p. 71-72.]

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “feminism” as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Do I believe that our current society has equal rights and opportunities for men and women? No. I see it in how news media wonders if Hillary Rodham Clinton’s impending grandmother-dom was a strategy designed to make her more appealing to voters in the 2016 presidential race, and yet no one cares whether the male candidates are grandfathers. I see it in how colleges teach their female students on how to avoid being raped but neglect to teach either gender that rape is wrong and shouldn’t be done. I see it in how a privately-held corporation can be allowed to not provide health care benefits that affect a woman’s reproductive system because they (erroneously, against scientific proof) believe that those birth controls cause abortions, and yet Viagra and vasectomies are both covered in full.

What The Handmaid’s Tale shows us is a warped version of women’s culture:

You wanted a woman’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies. [p. 127]

What goes unsaid is this women’s culture was one shaped by men. It is a man’s interpretation of a woman’s culture: women are subservient to men (not equal), yet given certain powers (pregnancy and birth is revered and in the house of women; male doctors only interfere if the natural birth proves tricky). They hold no office of political power; they are also not allowed to read or write.

This is a twisted ideal of a women’s culture. And remember, this book was published in 1986. This women’s culture is within our near future.

How do you feel now?

Grade for The Handmaid’s Tale5 stars.

Fiction: “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel García Márquez

Time of CholeraApparently I have a knack for creating things without even thinking about it.  American History Month started in the same way: I looked back at the past couple of years, realized I had started a trend, and then decided to continue that trend because dammit, trends are cool.  Recently, I found another one: In May of 2012, I had read Great Expectations.  Last May, I read The Great Gatsby.  Suddenly, I had apparently made May “Classic Literature Month” at That’s What She Read without even realizing it.

So when this year rolled around, I didn’t really know where I was going to go: I had read Dracula kind of out of sequence (although I guess one could argue that I was getting all Halloween-ey up in here), and lord knows I have tons of classics I could read, but nothing was really jumping out at me – mainly because I couldn’t find any more classic novels with the word “Great” in the title.  I was also knee-deep in books borrowed from the library, and could easily pick up something I didn’t own.

And then Gabriel García Márquez passed away in April.  I felt horrible, because I did not realize he was still alive.  I was brought back to my sophomore year of high school, where the curriculum was supposedly literature from other cultures — I say “supposedly” because it was my first year of Honors-level English, and I seem to remember watching a lot more movies than our counterparts did.  I remember doing a section on fairy tales, I definitely remember having to read Crime and Punishment – who makes a bunch of sixteen-year-olds read that?? -, and we had to read One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Honestly, I was going to re-read that book for this past May’s edition of Classic Literature Month – it seemed appropriate following the death of Márquez, and it has been more than … oh man, so many years I don’t even want to attach a number to it since sophomore year, that re-reading it would really be like reading it for the first time.  I mean, let’s be real: I don’t remember too much about the plot of Hundred Years beyond the fact that all the characters had the same name and the whole thing was rather incesty.

But when I took my copy of A Hundred Years of Solitude out of my classics bookcase (because yes, I have a bookcase dedicated solely to classic literature), I realized that the copy I had picked up at a book sale would deteriorate into dust if I sneezed on it wrong, and the pollen is really bad this time of year.  So I tried to find a copy at the library, but all the copies were checked out.  But his other novel, Love in the Time of Cholera was there, so I checked that out and then took three weeks to read it.

Love in the Time of Cholera tells the story of the love between Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza.  Florentino falls in love with Fermina when they’re both very young.  They carry on a flirtation through surreptitious love letters, until Fermina’s father quasi-politely forbids Fermina to marry Florentino, because Florentino was illegitimate.  Fermina eventually marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino, and they are married for almost fifty years until he dies, at which point Florentino returns into Fermina’s life, where he had been in love with her from afar, and tries to renew her love for him. She holds out at first, claiming that at their age love is indecent.  But Florentino takes up letter-writing again – this time via a typewriter – and their relationship grows from awkward acquaintances into platonic friends, and finally lovers while on a riverboat tour.

I would love to say “That’s it; that’s the plot,” but there’s so much more in the novel – and chances are, I probably won’t be able to elucidate those other things.

What Marquez specialized in was the genre that came to be known as “magic realism” – he discussed the daily details of his characters’ lives, but in a way that it didn’t sound tedious or boring.  Every aspect of their lives – whether it be the initial phases of falling in love, or having to make and eat numerous plates full of eggplant – took on a magical, otherworldly quality, and raised the characters and their actions and reactions to a heightened level of transcendence, if that makes any sense.  [This would be the point where I’d quote an example from the book, but it was a week overdue and I returned it already.]

In this book, Marquez makes numerous comparisons between “love” and “cholera” — that love causes pain, and digestive distress, and hallucinations, and can lead (in some cases) to death, just like cholera.  The character of Dr. Juvenal Urbino, Fermina Daza’s husband, treats such excessive love as a disease – we learn through flashbacks that he is a fastidious germaphobe, so he avoids any contact with a disease (or a disease-like affliction, like love).

There can also be discussions regarding the fact that Florentino Ariza does not remain chaste in his wait for Fermina Daza; his love remains constant, but he has affairs with numerous other women.  Fermina Daza, however, remains married to her husband and never strays from the marital bed.  If I were a scholar, I would discuss this dichotomy; but since I am not a scholar, I will simply say “GENERATIONAL AND CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL ISSUES” and walk away, because after all the Maleficent things I’ve been reading (and/or writing, and/or not even about Maleficent but the whole #YesAllWomen and the second coming of Women’s Rights), I’m exceedingly tired about that type of discussion and feel that I cannot adequately contribute to the discussion through the lens of magical realism literature.

I think my final topic of discussion is this: this book won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  And while it is a stunning treatise on the concept of love, its conditions, its disease-like qualities, and how people interact with it, I don’t understand why it won the Nobel.  Don’t get me wrong, it is an excellent book and I liked it — my feeling right now is that I didn’t understand the quality that garnered the Nobel, or I didn’t have a moment of epiphany that would make this my favorite book forever and ever (and there are a lot of people who claim this as one of their favorites).  I guess it goes back to the fact that I am not a scholar, and I don’t pretend to be one: this blog (and my reviews) are matters of opinion, not fact, and I don’t have the temperament to be a scholar: I get distracted by shiny Internet things too much.

Grade for Love in the Time of Cholera: 4 stars