Review | Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

BITTER GREENS by Kate Forsyth

If you are unsure about historical fiction but like fairytale retellings, you will like this. If you are unsure about fairytale retellings but love historical fiction, you will also like this. Basically, this book would on several levels for many people.

Bitter Greens is the story of the three women: the woman we recognize as the author of the modern Rapunzel, Charlotte-Rose, Margherita, the girl caught in the tower, and her captor, Selena (the evil witch). While only an enjoyable read in the end, at times this book blew me away at how thoroughly captivating it is. Forsyth does an excellent work of interweaving all of these women together and writing them so that no woman/perspective is left out.

One of the more unlikable aspects of the book, however, is Selena’s, the “evil” witch, perspective. Her story, unlike the other two, only lends itself to one constrained portion of the book and while that is fine, I felt like I missed out on understanding her character development all the way till the end of the book. Seeing the situations she deals with as a child, I understood her reasoning behind some things but her transformation from a whore to an evil witch completely baffled me. I thought her character was somehow forced into a role which I didn’t imagine would form naturally if we were only given Selena’s own storyline. To fit into the story of Margherita, Selena had to become the evil witch and it felt a bit unfair that she was pushed into this role. And even more, in the end, when her character goes through another change—I won’t say much about that as it’s a spoiler—I felt like everything happened too abrupt and without proper explanation or flow.

Having said that, Selena was probably one of the more interesting characters next to Charlotte-Rose. Perhaps it’s because I’m already all too familiar with the story of Rapunzel, but Margherita did not hold my attention nearly as much as the other two women. That, and the fact that while Margherita plays the more conventional role which is expected of women during 17th century, Charlotte-Rose and Selena’s stories were more challenging, not to mention far darker.

Forsyth also did an excellent work of integrating historical figures into fiction. It was kind of guilty fun to notice some of the historical figures in the book and think, “oh! I know that person.” And Forsyth also seems to have done well with merging real timelines and fictional details. The perfect example of this is, of course, Charlotte-Rose’s character herself. Quite an impressive feat!

An highly entertaining read in the end. Not one I would like to take too close a look at but would just prefer to sit back and enjoy.

Rating – ★★★☆☆

Bout of Books 14.0 TBR

Bout of Books

As per usual, I shall be participating in yet another Bout of books read-a-thon this month. This one takes place from the 17th till the 23rd of August, 2015. The sign-up page is here, please go sign up if you would like to participate. As this coming week will be the first week of my Web Designing program, I am expecting a lot of time spent on classwork but I plan to squeeze every bit of free time that I can to push myself to read more. Because a week after next is when 2 of my other classes begin as well, and from then now, my free time will completely reserved for University work.

My tentative TBR pile –

  1. The Vorrh by B. Catling
  2. Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (F)
  3. The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson (F)
  4. Maria by Mary Wollstonecraft (F)

Books marked (F) are the only ones I actually plan to finish. As you may have noticed, majority of these are chunky reads so I am ambitious, but not overly so.

Cheers!

Review | The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL by Anne Brontë

Move over, Charlotte. Make room for my new favorite Brontë!

It is inevitable for me to compare Anne Brontë with her sisters, and Helen Graham with Jane Eyre particularly, but I shall momentarily do so anyway. Some said this was better than any Brontë novel published, some claimed it deeply overhyped. After reading this, I shall have to agree with the former claim as I thought this book surpassed, to quite an extent, the love I had for Jane Eyre.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall shook me from the first page, when I discovered that rather than the conventional female perspective, the narrative opens with a letter penned by a male protagonist, Gilbert Markham. I am not the biggest fan of framed stories but this one was deeply engaging all the way through. Through Gilbert’s letter, we then dive into Helen’s diaries and her life, which forms the majority of the novel.

Helen Graham is by far of the strongest female protagonist I have ever had the pleasure of reading about. It’s not simply because she has been through an abusive relationship and needs to be pitied, but because she bears through a lot of nonsense from her husband with such grace that there were points at which I was infuriated at her calmness. She takes everything in strides,

“my bliss is sobered, but not destroyed; my hopes diminished, but not departed; my fears increased, but not yet throughly confirmed”

While this sort of pacifism is clearly harmful to her and her son’s existence, in reality, I have a difficult time criticizing her for bearing through so much before she finally decided to do what was right. In such cases, things were most certainly easier said than done. So though I was angered by her mild reactions at times, I cannot fault her in her decisions because I cannot claim something as definitively right or wrong given that I haven’t been through any sort of similar experience as she.

But generally though, how could I not love Anne for shaping a character that is constantly being tested and yet never letting that deteriorate her from her and her son’s happiness. In the end, I would’ve completely understood Helen if she had given up on everything in life, on striving to make peace, but in the end she doesn’t let anyone destroy her existence. And I just had to sit back and admire that for a moment. Her patience was tested by more than just one character, and multiple times throughout, but she always responds in a clear, sensible manner. Her hushed posture can easily be misconstrued for indifference by readers but I don’t think she is indifferent to anything, merely aware of the prejudices against her and cynical of her environment because of it.

I cannot say whether I really liked or disliked Gilbert Markham, but I have to argue that I was somewhat disappointed that we did not get to see a lot of interaction between him and Helen once the story is coming to an end. Given all that Helen has gone through by the end of her diaries, I expected her to be a bit more cautious with her affections. Similarly, I was also a bit unsatisfied with the ending of Jane Eyre so I suppose it’s something that I will eventually have to get past.

And lastly, of course, the controversial aspect of this novel, and what makes it so fantastic, is Helen’s relationship with her husband. Anne Brontë is unflinchingly honest in her depiction of alcoholism and how that leads to an abusive marriage. She is ruthless is the assertion of how women are shoved into a corner without a voice, abused, mistreated, and exploited in their silence. Brontë writes things which are hard to read about, but even harder to comprehend as the realities of women—then, and now. Despite knowing that all of these things still continue to happen in our society, and how much for the sake of propriety we force women into mute beings, Brontë still managed to craft some sentences which punched me right in the gut.

How could I not love something like this?

Rating – ★★★★★

Review | The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

THE GRACEKEEPERS by Kirsty Logan

The Gracekeepers follows multiple characters but at the heart of the story we have Callanish and North. North is a Dampling, an orphan born into a circus, and Callanish is a Landlocker, a gracekeeper resting atop graves. One born to the sea, one born bound to the land. These are both enchanting women who are just growing into their own bodies, searching for a life which they can claim as theirs. Without a doubt, of all the characters given, Callanish and North are the most admirable aspects of this book.

Echoing close to the setting of Station Eleven, The Gracekeepers is more a book of style rather than substance. And I don’t think that is by any means a bad thing, but this kind of book would not appeal to everyone. It’s more of something to enjoy for its beauty rather than scrutinize for its content.

Majority of this novel reads like a fairy tale, fragmented events from various characters scattered throughout, and while I don’t think the ending of the novel is necessarily unsatisfactory, it does lack the umpf that I was hoping the book would conclude with. Some of the storylines and characters Logan had introduced, built up, remain unresolved in a way that was slightly disappointing. Avalon, for example, while not a very likable character by any means, was devoted quite a few chapters in the book. So while I didn’t consider her the focus of the plot, she does play a major role in shaping North’s life and I would’ve preferred to see how her story ends. Similarly, I would’ve further liked to hear about what happens between Jarrow, Avalon, and Ainsel once they settled into their house. Seeing as how the house was the hot topic between the three of them and North, I expected to read a bit more about what happens in this case. The book introduces some interesting characters, but only really wraps up North and Callanish’s stories.

Regardless, the highlight of the novel is most certainly the Kirsty Logan’s impressive writing style. She clearly writes with a lot of heart, and it certainly shows. Each word, phrase, and paragraph is woven to be admired. As a whole, despite my complaints about the ending, it is really hard for me not to say this is a book I really liked a lot. Incredibly atmospheric and mystical in it’s form, The Gracekeepers was one of most relaxing, wholly enjoyable, and delightful reads that I’ve read this year.

Disclaimer – A copy of this ebook was provided by Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own and have not been influenced by any exterior motives.

Rating – ★★★☆☆

Review | The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN by Paul Scott

If I understood even half of Indian history as much as this book expects me to…I would probably think it the best of the best in Indian historical fiction. Unfortunately, I am as clueless as they come when it comes to Indian history and it’s politics. And this book assumes you know far too much then I actually do.

The narrative style of the book is also a little disorienting. For example, as this is the story of a British woman’s rape, while the acts and consequences which follow form the entire novel, the act itself isn’t seen until the very end of the book. In a way, I think it pulls the focus towards more important things, but then some of the jumping around really screwed with my brain.

One thing I can assert confidently is that Paul Scott most definitely knows how to write. Despite not knowing majority of Indian history, from my basic knowledge of the British Raj, I was quite impressed by some of the more profound observations Scott makes about this time period in India.

Generally, I’d highly recommend this to someone a bit more comfortable with Indian history. If you’re new to it as I am, pick up something a bit lighter or perhaps opt for nonfiction first. For now, I stand at a two-star rating. It was OK, but I wish I was more capable of analyzing it than I currently am. The “not knowing” also lead me to skim-reading some sections which heavily dealt with politics—which is altogether never a good thing.

Rating – ★★☆☆☆

Review | Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant

BEL-AMI by Guy de Maupassant

Lately I have been craving French classics and after the wonderful experience of having read Dangerous Liaisons, I jumped into this treasure immediately. Most remarkable thing about a lot of French literature I’ve spotted, it seems to me, is highlighting the distressing behaviors of human beings. And Bel-Ami, my friends, does this better than anything.

With Georges Duroy, we shall also come to know him as Bel-Ami, as the protagonist, Bel-Ami is at times an unsettling novel. I suffered from bouts of anger and frustration at the things which Bel-Ami does, one of which events is the assault of a woman, and it was hard to understand how I could read this novel and be “enjoying” it. It certainly demands a lot of dedicative attention but it can also be rewarding in its language and meaning.

While initially Duroy is a sympathetic character, once presented with the opportunity, Maupassant immediately reveals him to be the deceptive rascal he is, and the distain we have for men such as him builds up pretty fast. Pick this book with all the skepticism your brains are capable of and this will one of the best things you ever read. It’s entertaining, observational, and just plain fun.

With such a despicable character, unsettling story, and gripping writing, how could I not love this?

Rating – ★★★★☆

Review | Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

BONJOUR TRISTESSE by Françoise Sagan

Bonjour Tristesse is one of those books that, while it’s quick and easy to read, generates a lot of contemplation.

Cécile, our narrator, is perhaps one of the most unlikable characters I’ve ever read about. She is a seventeen-year-old overindulgent, pampered child of a father who lives in his own life rather carefree. One summer vacation, Cécile’s life is interrupted by a blast from their past and things take a turn for the worse. It doesn’t help that this story is recounted by her adult self and the tone she takes clearly lacks of any empathy towards the troublesome decisions she’s made in her younger years.

Though Cécile’s unchecked attitude causes a lot of trouble in the story, the blame is to be equally placed with her father, Raymond. While he’s a quiet figure and doesn’t often get a voice—certainly not as much as the women, even Elsa and Anne—the way he’s raised Cécile is deeply problematic. He seems to dangle back and forth between what what makes everyone happy and what would be the right thing given the circumstance. Neither need be exclusive but at times they are.

The writing style works well with the narrative of the book. The fact that this story is actually told in flashback adds more to Cécile’s character and gives us a chance to observe the aftereffects of the events which take place in the book. It equally adds to our aversion of Cécile but at the same time, also emphasizes the negative consequences of being too frivolous with one’s decisions.

The ending is a bit problematic for me because it felt unnecessary to deal with the conflict between Anne and Cécile this way. I also had to question the morality of Cécile and Raymond with how irreverently they seemed to have dealt with the situation at the end. This ties back in to how the adult Cécile is looking back on her younger years and still doesn’t seem to think much of how much her actions has cost others.

Not a book meant for everyone but a satisfying read if you are comfortable with unlikable characters. It lays somewhere between a two- and three-star read.

Rating – ★★★☆☆