Tag Archives: fiction

19, 20, 21: Thursday Next, Destined, and Jane Austen Education

19. Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

*****

fforde-lost_in_a_good_book

I truly think that there is no more brilliant writer working today than Jasper Fforde when it comes to the sheer magic, creativity and genius of building alternate worlds and dimensions and realities. (If that’s not high praise, tell me higher and I’ll use it.) That being said, I still haven’t made it all the way through the Thursday Next series (this is book #2 and this was the first time I’d read it). I think probably it’s because I know there is only so much Thursday Next in the world and I want to savor it all, and have the joy of anticipation in looking forward to reading more.

For those who don’t know about Thursday Next, she is a detective working for the SpecOps police force in an alternate dimension-type universe where there are such things as Literary Police, the Crimean War is still going strong (well, at the time of the books, which take place in the mid-1980s of this particular universe), people go to Rocky Horror Picture Show-type productions of Shakespeare plays (audience participation galore), and rogue Baconians go door-to-door to try and convince people that Francis Bacon was the REAL author of Shakespeare’s plays. Time travel is possible (there’s a whole police division called the Chronoguard) and with the right inventions you can actually step into the printed word and meet literary characters. This ability comes into play in this book as Thursday joins JurisFiction, the intra-literary police force (her mentor is Miss Havisham, yes that one), and starts learning the ropes to solve literary crimes.

To say this book and this series was completely lovely and brilliant and amazing just doesn’t quite cover it. Trust me, just start reading the Thursday Next books for yourself if you haven’t already done so (Book One is The Eyre Affair). Five stars.

 

20. Destined, by Aprilynne Pike

*****

destined2

I started reading Aprilynne Pike’s Wings series last year, just as book three came out, in the mistaken belief that it was a trilogy and I wouldn’t have to wait months for the resolution of any evil cliff-hangers. Hah. It became clear to me about 5 pages from the end when things reeeeeeeaaaaalllly weren’t winding up fast enough that I’d been mistaken and yes, book three ended on one of the most evil cliffhangers I’ve seen since Catching Fire.

I’ve talked elsewhere about my feelings on Twilight, but I’ll sum up here by saying that, yes, I do love the Twilight books like I love cotton candy: it’s sweet, it’s fluffy, it reminds you of dates at the amusement park with your high school crush, and it’s not something you should eat all the time or you’ll get sick. Also, the main character bugged the crap out of me until book four when she finally became interesting to herself and therefore to me.

So when I say that the Wings series is kind of what Twilight would have been like if the main character were strong and assertive and solved problems and could take care of herself and had other things going on in her life besides an all-consuming love for a boy, that’s a compliment. Laurel is everything I wished Bella was and more. The mythology that Pike has created for this world is fascinating, the prose is fluid and clear, and yes, the boys in the inevitable YA love triangle are both amazing. (Although I really wish I could figure out how to pronounce “Tamani.”)

So much for the series as a whole. Destined was the best capstone to a series that I’ve read in a long, long time. I can’t imagine a more perfect way for this story to wrap up. The action of the book takes place mostly in a 24-hour period immediately following the evil cliffhanger from book 3 but never feels drawn-out or clunky; you’re turning pages as fast as possible to see what happens and how on earth can they possibly get out of this horrible mess? But everything works out just as it should. Nothing feels forced or contrived; nor does it feel like Pike wimped out or pulled any punches. And the epilogue, oh my goodness. I may cry gratuitously at movies and Taylor Swift songs (that’s a whole ‘nother story), but it takes a lot for a book to make me cry. So when I say that I cried at the epilogue—not ugly Bridge to Terebithia tears or wrenching middle-of-Hunger-Games tears, but cathartic tears and those tears you get when everything is just filled with a sense of rightness—that’s high praise.

Even if you think you’re sick of the whole YA paranormal romance type of series, I suggest you check out the Wings books. They’re a prime example of the genre done right. I’m looking forward to finding out what else Pike has up her sleeve in her career; this series is a most auspicious beginning. Five stars.

 

21. A Jane Austen Education, by William Deresiewicz

****

images

 

I really enjoyed seeing Jane Austen from the perspective of a male grad student skeptic and how he came to learn to love Austen, as well as learning life lessons from her books. His takeaway lessons from the novels were not the same as mine in a lot of cases (and a few points he brought up I don’t think I quite agree with), but in some other cases he put something so brilliantly that it was what I hadn’t realized I’d been thinking all along. His comparison between the writing voices of Austen and Joyce, for example, nailed exactly what I’ve thought about the two styles for quite some time.

Deresiewicz’s writing style is friendly and comfortable but also very smart, and I thought the personal anecdotes and relations he made between his life and how he came to Austen were quite interesting. I don’t know if this book will convert any non-believers (which seems to be at least part of the point he’s writing from), but it’s worth picking up if you are even a casual appreciator of Jane Austen. Four stars.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Reviews

Skipping around: Three Mary Russell books (Yo52B #18, 28 and 31)

I’m skipping around a bit here with the chronology of my reviews, because I wanted to get all of my gushing out in one spot. These three books are all part of the same series. (Also, side note, aren’t those covers just gorgeous? I love both styles so much.)

Have I mentioned Mary Russell here before? If I haven’t, I apologize, as if you know me in real life and I’ve spoken to you at all in the past two years there’s a 90% chance I’ve recommended the Mary Russell books to you in terms so strong that you probably backed away slowly, smiling and nodding and looking for something to defend yourself with in case my not-so-latent maniacal tendencies started manifesting themselves in a more sinister way than book recommendations.

Ahem. Mary Russell is one of my current favorite literary characters. Laurie R. King has created an absolutely fantastic series about this British-American Jewish feminist Oxford scholar in the 1910’s and 1920’s who, at the age of 15, meets up with a retired Sherlock Holmes and becomes his protegee and partner. The books are meticulously researched and just sparkle with wit and intelligence. King’s Holmes is his own character but still true to the original vision of Conan Doyle (although this Holmes is rather testy about any references to Conan Doyle; he dislikes the way the latter man sullied his name by association, especially once Conan Doyle turned more to mysticism and fairy stories).

But Mary Russell, from whose viewpoint the stories are told, more than holds her own with Sherlock Holmes without becoming unrealistically superior to him. He still is able to teach and mentor her without making her appear weak. She is a worthy partner for him in every way, and challenges his mind and opinions more than he has been used to.

I’ve read three of these books this year. The Game is book 7. Later on in the year my book club read book 1, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and I also read book 8, Locked Rooms.

18. The Game, by Laurie R. King

****

In The Game, Holmes and Russell make their way to India at the request of Mycroft Holmes in order to investigate the disappearance of an intelligence officer by the name of Kimball O’Hara, better known as the titular character of Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim. (One of the delightful things about the Holmes/Russell universe is that many purportedly fictional characters, such as Holmes himself, are actually real and pop up at interesting times.) I loved the atmosphere of this book, which felt simultaneously menacing and full of color and spices. There were a few unexpected but satisfying twists, along with a few threads of a mystery to be picked up in the next book. All in all a solid book and great fun to read, but not quite equal to the top books in the canon (books 5 and 6, O Jerusalem and Justice Hall, were two sides of the same coin and absolute masterpieces. They were two of the top three best books I read in 2011). Four stars.

28. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King

*****

It was delightful to re-read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice a few weeks later with the benefit of hindsight (or is it foresight when you know what’s coming in the next few books? Anyway, I enjoyed it, whatever it was) and seeing how later events in the series were foreshadowed as well as seeing the clues to the answer to the mystery as they popped up in the book. It re-confirmed my conviction that Laurie R. King is a master of storytelling, whose writing style is like weaving a huge epic tapestry: everything is connected, somehow, and all the disparate threads come together to make an astonishing whole. (Yes, I have a serious author crush going on here.) Five stars.

31. Locked Rooms, by Laurie R. King

*****

I went into Locked Rooms not expecting too much, as I’d heard that it was four shorter stories rather than one complete novel. I was delighted to find that I was mistaken. The book is divided into four parts, yes, but that’s because two of the parts are actually told using third-person narration with Holmes himself serving as the viewpoint character for the first time in the series, with the other two parts in the accustomed first-person narration of Mary Russell. This may sound like it shouldn’t work, but oh, believe me, it does, and is done for very good and sufficient reasons. Far from being disappointed in this book, the ultimate result took my breath away. It stands solidly with books 5 and 6 at the top of the series. This book sees Russell and Holmes arriving in San Francisco to tie up the affairs of Mary’s parents’ estate, and a mystery from her childhood rises up to confront them. I can’t think of anything else to say that won’t give away spoilers or just devolve into garbled author-crush gushing. But seriously. Wow. Five stars and mad applause for Laurie R. King. (And yes, this book is a serious contender for the final six-star best book of the year award.)

Seriously, if you haven’t started reading this series, do yourself a favor and pick up The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. You should read all of them in order so you can properly appreciate the sequence and build of events and facts, and all of them, even the weakest (looking at you, book 3), are solidly on the Books You’ll Be Glad You Read list.

1 Comment

Filed under Reviews

Year of 52 Books #13: The Black Tulip

The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas, père

***

 

I love the idea of gardening but I am an irredeemable plant-killer.

I can back up this assertion.

Ninth-grade biology was traumatizing in many ways (anyone else who took Mr. Ekberg’s class can attest to this), but one of the assignments I actually was looking forward to was the project for the asexual reproduction unit. We had to grow and tend an asexually-reproducing plant and keep it alive until it reproduced asexually (yes, I am deriving a disproportionate amount of amusement from typing “asexual” so many times. In some ways I might still be in ninth grade).

“If you’re not so great with plants,” Mr. Ekberg told us, “try a bryophyllum. They’re pretty much impossible to kill.” My ears perked up. My previous biology project—growing a flower from a seed—had failed spectacularly. Come to think of it, all my elementary school and primary class bean sprouts had met similarly sad fates. Bryophyllum sounded right up my alley.

For those of you who don’t know what a bryophyllum is, it looks a-like this:

Cute, right? All those little flowers on the edges are the asexually-reproduced new plants.

I marched up to Mr. Ekberg’s desk with the other students to get my bryophyllum starter. I cradled it carefully all the way home. This was going to be my first real, successful plant, I just knew it. I’d keep it alive until it reproduced and get an A on my assignment but then I’d also keep it alive FOREVER. This plant was going to come to college with me, just you wait and see. Hadn’t the teacher said they were impossible to kill? Yes. Yes, he had. He had even gone further: “If you can manage to kill a bryophyllum, you should probably just give up on plants altogether.”

Well, I did get an A on my assignment. Two days later the bryophyllum went from beautiful, A-grade flowering to brown, dry, dead practically overnight.

I pretty much gave up on plants altogether. Except in books. Because, as we know, the plants in books cannot die merely from being in my presence. (They may not have taught you that in biology, but I am here to share important tidbits like that.) This is part of the reason why I like books which feature gardens or plants or growing things.

So I was excited for this book. It was another book club read. Kristen already described it (aptly) as a horticultural thriller. It follows the efforts of a tulip breeder, Cornelius, to create a perfect black tulip and win the national prize. He must battle his neighbor’s jealous efforts to thwart Cornelius and steal the prize for his own. He must deal with false imprisonment. He must learn to balance his love of tulips with his love of Rosa, the prisonkeeper’s daughter. And he must not get too entangled in political drama. Can he do it? Will his fortunes and love affairs flower like a prize black tulip or wither like my ninth-grade bryophyllum? Will the reader accidentally learn some history on the way? Will good times be had by all?

This book moved much more quickly than the other Dumas works I’ve read, but felt slightly less richly developed. It was still an enjoyable read and I recommend it to anyone else who, like me, dreams of the flowers they cannot grow. Or, you know, who just likes a good horticultural thriller. Three stars.

1 Comment

Filed under Reviews

Year of 52 Books #12: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

****

Not too much to say about this one, since everyone has read it or seen the movie and I have little to add.

I re-read this book in preparation for the movie, as it had been about two years since the first time I’d read it. I was impressed again by the urgency of the writing, how the pace keeps moving the reader along, as if by staying in one spot too long the reader, too, will get attacked by giant flying fireballs. As before, I cried for Rue (even though I cry at the drop of the hat where movies are concerned—it’s ridiculous, really—it takes a lot for a book to make me cry, so this is fairly high praise). Katniss frustrates me some of the time because it seems like she switches back and forth very quickly at times from competent kick-ace huntress to “wait, what, you actually like like me?” and the contrast seems choppy and uncharacteristic. But that’s probably just me. All in all I still really liked it. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to unpack my boxes of books and re-read the rest of the trilogy. Four stars.

If you’ll indulge my other nerdy obsession, I would like to take a moment here and move away from books to comment briefly on the movie. I thought it was well done—the visuals (when they weren’t obscured by shaky cam) were spot-on; the actors were well-cast, and I loved the adaptation choices they made to help move the story out of Katniss’ head and onto the screen by showing the games control room and the commentary by Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith (see, e.g., the tracker jacker scene). That last bit may have to do with my personal opinion that anything which introduces more Stanley Tucci into a situation is a good thing, though.

I had issues with the overuse of the shaky cam. To clarify, I have absolutely no complaints with the use of shaky cam during the actual games portion of the movie. It lends a good sense of realism to the situation, fits with the emotion of the scene, and also keeps me from having to see too many gory details (and, let’s be honest, kept it a PG-13 rather than an R so more of the books’ target audience could see the movie). HOWEVER. There is no need whatsoever to use the shaky cam while showing opening expository shots of miners walking home from work. If you’re giving your audience a miner-induced headache from immediate shaky cam two minutes into the movie, you’ve got a problem.

Shaky cam aside, though, I liked the movie, but was slightly disappointed in it. It seemed like with all the positives they had going for it—the right cast, right director, right adaptation, right visuals, etc.—they still somehow missed giving it that elusive element called “heart.” I enjoyed the film but it rang a little bit hollow for me. I never truly connected with it. I don’t think I would have sponsored any of the Tributes except possibly Rue, and even then I didn’t cry half so hard for her in the movie as I did in the book. And if you know how ridiculous my crying-at-movies level has gotten, that’s the best example I can give. I enjoyed the movie, but it didn’t grab me by the shoulders and make me care like the book did.

1 Comment

Filed under Reviews

Year of 52 Books #11: Shakespeare Manuscript

The Shakespeare Manuscript, by Stewart Buettner

**

I picked this book up by browsing through the Kindle Top 100 selling free books list. The premise looked interesting to me—an old manuscript that appears to be an earlier draft of the Hamlet story, or more accurately, a prequel to Hamlet, shows up in a trunk of old documents and a struggling theater troupe decides to mount a production in hopes that it will bring them the boost they need. And it was interesting, and even bordered on can’t-put-it-down (I really wanted to see what happened next), but ultimately it was more frustrating than anything else.

You see, one of the ground rules of writing is Show, Don’t Tell. From reading the description of this book and the author’s experience in writing, I don’t know if he’s a trained writer; I got the impression that he’s something else (a theater type, maybe?) who got an idea and decided to write a book about it. I think it’s also semi-self-published, which, good for him. But at any rate it seems clear that even if he is a trained writer, he missed class the day they explained Show, Don’t Tell.

I’m not talking about his descriptive diction or his approach to writing individual scenes. I’m talking about plot. Put simply: too much of the action took place offstage. There were so many times in this book when MAJOR plot points were not shown; someone told us about them later in passing. I felt severely cheated in a lot of instances because even the telling tended to gloss over what I thought were important parts. One of the more egregious examples: one chapter ends with one of the major characters being rushed away from the rehearsal retreat in an ambulance. It’s not until several chapters later that anyone even mentions him again and we find out what happened. And those intervening chapters are full of scenes and incidents where all the people who watched the ambulance leave are together; where it would be natural and right to explain what the resolution of that particular piece of drama is; where, in short, it feels unnatural to NOT mention it. This isn’t creating an aura of mystery or suspense to serve the plot of the story; this is straight up withholding information from the reader just because you want to have a big shocking reveal later.

(It’s like starting Gone With the Wind with the picnic at Tara and then skipping ahead to a scene where Scarlett, in between wondering if Rhett really loves her or that Belle Watling character, thinks in passing that he just hasn’t been the same since Atlanta got burned down and everything was destroyed and I nearly starved to death in the ruins of Tara, and does he really like me or is it just in my imagination?)

Other scenes of omission (sorry; my dad is hopelessly addicted to puns and sometimes I just can’t help myself) aren’t as obvious, but they are just as annoying. Yes, sometimes it’s a good and effective trick to show a scene through its aftermath, but you actually have to 1) explain enough of what happened in the scene that the aftermath makes sense and 2) have the aftermath actually move somewhere and have some sort of action or resolution in re: said scene. I feel like I got half of a good novel: the anguished uncertainty of love interior monologue half. There were so many words spent on what the two main viewpoint characters thought of their respective love interests that it really underscored how many words WEREN’T said about actual plot or action scenes.

Things I would love to have seen or to have had explained:

*What is up with the main character’s sudden-onset agoraphobia anyway? As in, how did it get started and how is she suddenly miraculously okay enough with it to function?

*What is up with the dead brother/son that nobody ever mentions? Even when they finally get to this explanation, it isn’t explained.

*What was the horrible thing the professor said to the love interest that caused the major insurmountable fight that is then surmounted in roughly two minutes of interior monologue?

*What’s the backstory between main character and skeazy actor? It’s mentioned so many times that there IS a backstory but we are NEVER given any details.

*Did the wife really flirt with the brother-in-law or was the husband just really drunk?

*Where the heck did that divorce come from? (Oh, wait, left field is where.)

*What happened after said divorce came out of said left field?

*Why is main character still fighting with older brother? Why does older brother put up with it? Why does he work for a politician?

*While we’re at it, what’s the deal with brother-in-law? Or with secretary? Or with any number of people, all of whom seem to be important cogs in this book and have important scenes that ALL HAPPEN OFFSTAGE?

*Is British bookseller actually creepy or is it just the aftereffects of crazy dad’s amnesia?

*Who really wrote the manuscript? (Actually, this one I was okay with the ambiguity on—this book is more about the waves the manuscript causes than the actual manuscript itself. It’s just that, with all the other stuff that got left out, I felt like maybe the author could have thrown us a small bone on this one.)

In short: just because one character gets major amnesia doesn’t mean you have to make the reader feel like she also got amnesia and forgot half of the book.

I can only give this book two stars, which really makes me sad, because I wanted so badly to like it and because it really was gripping enough that I read it straight through in a fever of wanting to know what happens next. But if a book refuses to tell you what happened before, what’s happening now or what happens next, the best premise in the world can’t save it. Two stars.

1 Comment

Filed under Reviews

Year of 52 Books #10: Life of Pi

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

***

Surprisingly, this was not a re-read for me. I know this book has been around forever and I had been hearing of it for a long time. What may be more surprising, though, is that with all the buzz, I really didn’t know anything about the plot going into this book. I picked it up as a Kindle Daily Deal (oh, KDD, how I love thee!) because I like buying titles I recognize for cheap as free.

I feel that a little context is necessary for my review. The week before we made the big cross-country move, my husband was already in Florida getting things set up and starting his job. I was back in Utah packing up everything and taking care of our 18-month-old son, who decided to get RSV exactly eight days before we were scheduled to fly out and two days before my husband was supposed to come home to help me with the final arrangements and such. Long and harrowing story short, I ended up spending a very long and very bad night in the hospital as they monitored my son’s breathing and heart rate (fortunately they didn’t end up having to put him on oxygen and he was better enough to go home the next day). I got very little sleep, due to both the assorted blinking and beeping coming from the monitors and an overabundance of worry from various sources, listed here in roughly descending order: 1) my son, 2) the fact that my husband was out-of-state, 3) the fact that I didn’t have time for this emergency what with the tight packing schedule, 4) the fact that I was moving cross country soon, and 5) the fact that I was hungry and thirsty and suspected that the hospital staff had forgotten their promise to bring me some cheese and crackers and a cup of ice water.

To try and get my mind off of these various issues, I started reading a new book on my Kindle app on my iPhone, and happened to choose Life of Pi. Thus I did not start reading it in the most auspicious of circumstances, nor did I finish reading it in the most auspicious of circumstances. Turns out that a toddler with RSV tends to pass it on to you if he coughs in your face repeatedly because he’s too exhausted to turn his head away from you and is so sick and sad that you can’t put him down for more than 30 seconds at a time. So, three days after our hospital stay, I was fighting through RSV myself while packing up two moving pods. Fortunately my bout did not require any hospital time, but I did spend the bulk of the next day curled up with my iPhone on an air mattress, a lump of pathetic misery, finishing this book. (Needless to say, this move was not the smoothest or most organized one we’ve ever made.)

But as for the book itself: I liked it. It was able to distract me enough from the crappy situation I was going through and entertain and even uplift me. My favorite part was the description of the events leading to Pi’s becoming a devout follower and active practicer of three different religions at once (Hindu, Islam and Christianity). I loved his descriptions of his first encounters with other religions and how he came to love his two adopted religions as well as the religion of his birth. I wish that this theme had been kept up a little more throughout the section on the Pacific Ocean. Not that the Pacific Ocean wasn’t exciting and enthralling as well; but it didn’t have the heart of the book that I had fallen in love with at the beginning, the tripartite faith of this young man.

Like The Princess Bride, this book is written as a frame story, with the narrator ostensibly interviewing an older Pi about his life story. Since, as I said, I knew basically nothing about this book going in, and my Kindle edition didn’t specifically say “A Novel” on it, I wasn’t sure at first if this was fiction or non-fiction. It added another layer to the reading experience for me, wondering if it was actually true or not. I know that part of the point of the book is to look at what is or isn’t true and choose the story that means the most to us, but it still was sad to determine for certain that this book was fiction after I finished reading it, and I think that revelation made me like it a little less than I had. That’s not really fair to the author, of course; but that’s the way it is.

All in all, this book was a solid good read and a much-needed distraction for me during that last horrible week before the move. I don’t know if I would have liked it more or less if I’d read it in different circumstances, but as it is I can recommend it as a good book, as long as you don’t get too squeamish (certain of the lifeboat scenes are a bit gruesome). Three stars.

1 Comment

Filed under Reviews

Year of 52 Books #9: Persuasion

Persuasion by Jane Austen

*****

Side note: I love this cover and wish I had a copy of this version. What a perfect image for this book!

When people ask what my favorite book or movie is, I usually can’t give them a simple answer. It’s like choosing a favorite child (even though I only have the one), I say. I love so many books; you can’t possibly ask me to name just one favorite! I hem and haw and list five or ten books on my rotating favorites list.

But I’m going to admit, here and now, that I really do have one single favorite book, and that it’s Persuasion.

I’ve been thinking over this review for a few weeks now and have been having much more difficulty writing it than might be expected, given that I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book and that I love nearly everything about it. But it’s important to me that I properly articulate why this book means so much to me.

It surprises me sometimes that more people don’t know about Persuasion. Everyone knows and loves Pride and Prejudice, which is kind of the sparkly diamond necklace of the Austen canon: beautiful and dazzling and obviously worthwhile. Persuasion is more of the tiny gold band, plain and sweet and perfect, fitted to the hand from long wear and love. Most people also know about Sense and Sensibility and Emma, mainly because they know Emma Thompson or Kate Winslet or Gwyneth Paltrow. Not as many people know Amanda Root, which means that not as many people know Anne Elliot, which is a true shame.

This book, to me, provides much more than “occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one.” It is the book above all others that I know I can go to at any time and in any mood and come away feeling whole and happy, enlightened and enlivened.

It may sound silly to wax so poetic about what many would view as a typical chick-flick-Austen-love-story: poor boy meets well-to-do girl, they get engaged, she is persuaded by (probably snobby) friends that it would be better for him if she broke off the engagement, he gets upset and leaves to make a great career for himself in the Navy, she stays home and never marries. So far, so Nicholas Sparks.

Their paths do not cross again for eight years, which time has served to confirm Anne’s belief that Captain Frederick Wentworth was her ideal match, and to solidify Captain Wentworth’s anger at the woman he loved but who had not, as he believed, loved him well enough to keep him. He turns up in the neighborhood to visit his sister and to look for a wife—any woman but Anne Elliot.

Things work out, as they tend to do in Austen novels, but in a real and moving way that flows perfectly, leaving you with a sense that all is as it should be. No grand coincidences or deus ex machinas here. Anne and Captain Wentworth are drawn back together because there is no other way the world can possibly be; they are meant for each other.

But, for me, this is not primarily a love story.

I will admit that my love of love stories certainly doesn’t diminish my pleasure in this book, and that my sentimental heart beats wildly along with Anne’s through the more suspenseful and sweet portions of the story. But it’s not the romance that keeps me coming back to revisit this book every year or six months.

Ultimately, this is a story about hope. Hope that things can be mended, that mistakes can be made right. Hope that life can be good and worthwhile even if you have family troubles or heartbreak or other problems. And yes, the hope that lost love can return.

I think that’s why the basic Persuasion-style plot line—love is thwarted for a long time but eventually triumphs—is so popular and sees so many iterations. One of the more recent ones I can think of is the delightful movie Letters to Juliet. The ostensible main story line about a perky young journalist (Amanda Seyfried) looking to get her big break and her sparring with the grandson of a woman she’s writing about is cute enough, your standard chick-flick fare. But the secondary story about the grandmother, played by the inimitable Vanessa Redgrave, is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. Simply enough, this grandmother comes back to Italy after fifty years to find the boy she fell in love with as a girl and tell him that she’s sorry she didn’t meet him to run away together like she’d promised. She’s not necessarily looking for a grand reunion, romance, the works. She just wants to tell a person who was important to her that she’s sorry she let him down.

Of course things work out, just as they do in Persuasion. But if things never worked out, how would we be able to hope? If we had no memory of light, no hope that it would return, how would we bear the darkness? If we didn’t think that things could be mended, why would we ever try to make them right?

Anne, for all the dreary stretch of years clouded by regret, the dearth of real friendship and companionship in her life and the pain of suspense that she faces, still manages to keep hope and life and quiet joy alive, even when things look bleakest. That is her triumph. Even if Captain Wentworth had married Louisa, Anne would have kept that hope in life. The fact that things DO work out is just the icing on the cake.

And that is why this is my favorite book.

Well, that and the fact that Captain Wentworth can write one heck of a letter.

Five stars.

2 Comments

Filed under Reviews