Archive for May, 2010

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Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

May 15, 2010

I created this post just about a month ago, when I first finished reading this lovely novel. But for some reason, I never had too much too say about it. Perhaps I’ve read so many gushing reviews that I didn’t feel like I had much to add to the conversation. I do feel like I could talk for a bit about some particular things, but all of that required some spoiler-filled sentences, and I usually don’t like to do that here. However, since it seems like so many bloggers have read this one, I’m going to go ahead and write about the ending of the book. So if you haven’t read Brooklyn yet, please go read one of the million other excellent spoiler-free reviews!

I loved this novel–right up until the last 40 pages or so of the book, the part titled “Part Four,” but more likely remembered as the part of the book when Eilis returns to Ireland after the death of her older sister. One of the things I liked best about the book was watching Eilis (by the way, I seriously wonder how one is supposed to pronounce her name. I feel like I should know, having a Gaelic name myself, but unfortunately I have no idea) develop her self confidence as she spent time in America. It was so heartwarming to watch her grow up, take classes at night school, start to seriously date somebody, and finally feel comfortable talking with the other boarders. She really did become more independent and more confident as she was forced to make her way in America. But then, when she returns to Ireland, she seems to have entirely lost that confidence. Once again, I felt frustrated by her interactions with her family and friends. She lets so many people push her around. And when she started to become intimate with that boy, I was so angry! It felt as though she was doing that just because it was what was expected of her. I wish that she had the courage to use her newfound independence and confidence even while she was living in her old surroundings! In the end, I’m glad that she decided to return to her life in America, because she seemed so much more comfortable there, even if it did take her quite a while to adjust to it at first.

Of course, the very reason that I feel such intense happiness when Eilis changes for the good when she arrives in America (and such intense concern and frustration when she returns to her old self when she returns to Ireland) just demonstrates what amazing characters Toibin has created in this novel. A review on the back of my edition calls Eilis “one of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary literature”, and I wholeheartedly agree. Sometimes I feel like she was actually one of my friends that just moved away, to Long Island, and I have this catalog of memories of her. It’s weird. But wonderful. This is definitely in the top few books I’ve read so far this year.

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The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

May 5, 2010

Welcome, Classics Circuiters! The Dumas circuit is starting to wind down, so I know that many of you have already read a lot about Dumas and his books. I should start this review by admitting that I haven’t entirely finished The Count of Monte Cristo yet. I tried so hard to finish by today, but I’m only on about page 1000 of 1200. However, I would say that a thousand pages of reading material gives me something to talk about, even if I won’t know the ending for a few more days.

The Count of Monte Cristo, an introduction: Handsome, brave, but poor Edmond is beginning to live the American dream, albeit in early nineteenth century France. He’s got the beautiful fiance, the promotion, and the ailing father who has worked hard for his son to advance. But suddenly, in one fateful night, Edmond’s fortune shifts for the worse, at the hands of a few evil men.  Edmond then spends the rest of the story plotting and acting out his revenge against those who stole his life from him. A truly great set-up for an adventure story, with plenty of room for moral dilemmas!

Before I began this novel, I had already read the famous The Three Musketeers and the lesser known, short but fabulous novel The Black Tulip. I so thoroughly enjoyed them both that I was expecting to absolutely love Monte Cristo. And yet, when I first started this novel (almost a year ago during a long plane flight), I had a difficult time making it past the third-way point. I loved the first couple hundred pages, but unlike some of the previous reviewers, I really did not enjoy reading about Edmond’s time in prison. I set the book aside until last month, when the Classics Circuit chose Dumas for a spring tour. I was surprised at how quickly I could get back into the novel, and I fell in love with it all over again. I was able to seamlessly join in with Edmond’s crazy plotting, and loved reading about his ingenious attempts to trick people. Right now, I’m nearing the end of the novel, yet I’m as captivated as ever, mainly because at this point I’m actually rooting against Edmond, and I’m curious to see how Dumas solves the puzzle he sets up at the beginning: When do the well intended actions of a good-hearted person become too horrible to bear? It’s certainly an interesting question, and I hope that the ending of the book does the rest of it justice.

That being said, although I’m enjoying the novel, I can’t help but compare it to The Three Muskateers and The Black Tulip. I loved both of those novels, with very little hesitation. And I can’t stop thinking about what made them great that Count is lacking: a great sense of humor and strog(er) female characters. The Three Muskateers had me laughing on nearly every page. The Black Tulip has one of my favorite female characters ever in it. Count doesn’t really have any of these. (I know, there’s Mercedes, but she never really talks and when she does she is always so so weak. And Valentine has potential, but is never really as great as she could be. Made Villefort has the potential to be an awesome villainess, but I’m not through enough of the story to decide how I feel about her.) So even though I like the plot, and I’m enjoying the novel, as of right now, I don’t think that I could say that it’s one of my favorite Dumas novels. However, I would definitely still recommend it to people looking to read something with a great plot and interesting characters. I would just maybe recommend The Three Muskateers first.