Friday, March 25, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry

by Audrey Niffenegger

I was so excited to start this book, mostly because the author's debut novel (The Time Traveler's Wife) is one of my all-time favorite books. Unlike The Time Traveler's Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry follows a straight time line, but tells the story from several characters' points of view. The story revolves around a set of twins, Julia and Valentina, who inherit a flat in London from their unknown aunt (and mom's twin sister) Elspeth. Their relationship falls apart at the seams, as the mystery of the separation between their mother and aunt becomes unraveled. Along the way though, they develop relationships with their upstairs neighbor with OCD, Elspeth's former lover, and even the ghost of their aunt.

The ghost of their aunt, you say? Yes. Now, I am one of those readers who frequently likes to flip ahead in the book and read little snippets of what will be coming up. You may call it reading spoilers, I call it reading motivation. In this case though, reading ahead made me doubtful that I was going to enjoy the story progression. Why? Honestly, because ghost stories scare me. Since I cannot absolutely say that ghosts do not exist in real life, they are one of the supernatural "beings" that leave me on edge and give me nightmares. As we meet the ghost of Elspeth, however, Niffenegger proves that ghosts (at least her ghosts) have substance and depth that makes them almost human. It is not difficult to relate to the separation and loneliness that Elspeth experiences in her afterlife. Though while you feel sympathetic for her plight, it soon becomes apparent that there is an underlying darkness to her actions that creates serious and life-changing consequences for all those involved in the story.

What I liked the most about Her Fearful Symmetry was the way that Niffenegger includes the characters' inner dialogue, along with their conversation. The characters speak very subtly at times, but with so much meaning "between the lines". Also, her exploration of OCD, with the character of the neighbor Martin, was another highlight. Again, she gives a depth to the character, beyond the symptoms of his OCD. While Her Fearful Symmetry is not as high on my list as The Time Traveler's Wife, it is definitely an interesting read that will draw you in and keep you wondering as the twins explore their relationship with eachother, their neighbors, and the afterlife.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Little Bee

by Chris Cleave

This is a book that I have been meaning to read for about a year now. It has received such positive reviews, and the book description presented it as a novel with so much mystery and a plot that will change the reader's life. After reading it, I feel that the book was slightly misrepresented. It is much different than the intriguing mystery that it is presented as, dealing with international politics, globalization, the plight of the refugee, and our own self-centric views in the developed world. Chris Cleave is a master writer, who weaves together two different female narratives (a Nigerian refugee and a citizen of Great Britain) to form one cohesive story.

What was most disconcerting to me as a reader, however, was the lack of emotional investment that I felt. Although Little Bee and her English counterpart, Sarah, deal with truly horrific events, they were narrated so matter of factly that they did not have much emotional impact. Maybe because the book deals with such tragic happenings, the only way for the narrator and the reader to get through it successfully is with an element of distance. So while I did not feel emotionally tied to either of the main characters, Little Bee did leave me reflecting on our society's treatment of refugees and willfull ignorance of things happening outside of our own safe environment.  

Honestly, my favorite part of this book is the imagery and word choice that Cleave chooses. For example:
"Learning the Queen's English is like scrubbing off the bright red varnish from your toenails, the morning after a dance. It takes a long time and there is always a little bit left at the end, a stain of red along the growing edges to remind you of the good time you had. So, you can see that learning came slowly to me." - Little Bee by Chris Cleave, p. 3
His ability to switch between two distinct narrators and his vivid descriptions/examples were very impressive and kept me interested in the unfolding story.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Beginning

This year I made a goal of reading a minimum of 40 books (see my "40 Books" page). To help keep track of my readings, reviews, and thoughts I will be maintaing this blog for myself throughout the course of the year. Hopefully it will help keep me accountable to my goal... and if anyone else stumbles across this page, hopefully I will gain a good book recommendation or two. Welcome to page one!