Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Iodine by Haven Kimmel

In this novel, Haven Kimmel again (as with The Solace...) deals with trauma, only this time in a more direct way.

In this case, the reader views the world through the eyes of Trace Pennington, a young woman with a traumatic past, as she works her way through her senior year of college. Brilliant, but also slightly psychotic (an after-effect of trauma, as I well know), Kimmel's narrator falls under the category of "unreliable," but the reader will become immmediately engaged with her and will go along for the ride. The narrator isn't unreliable in any malicious way, and is in fact unreliable even to herself.

The novel can be a bit disjointed, but I see it as a strength rather than weakness, certainly a display of the writer's talent rather than the text's short-coming.

In order to escape her horrific past, Trace, incredibly intelligent, having educated herself to the point that she has actually surpassed her professors, lives a sparce life, a life of scant circumstances, which shows a power of will and whatever-it-takes power of will I wish I had. She goes to school, returning after class to an abandoned farm with no heat or electricity, hangs out with people she could barely call friends, walks around the poor (dangerous?) part of town, all on the periphery of the priviledged, exclusive world of academia. Like her sister character from The Solace..., she (devastatingly to the reader) takes up with a professor in a torrid romance.

The story is familiar and achingly real in that the narrator's life is told in such a non-chalant way, the way many survivors of abuse live their lives and tell their stories - Kimmel's writing style is direct and to the point. This woman is healing in the way that real healing takes place - incompletely, and with scars. There is no deep breath and a sunset on the beach at the end of or anywhere within this novel. It is worth the read. Warning: Real becomes fiction becomes real. - 5 stars

The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel

Haven Kimmel is my new favorite author. There, that's said - let's just get that out of the way. I want to read all of her books and my library only has a few of them.

This is the first of her's that I read.

The main female character, Langston, is a grad-school drop-out (like myself!), a bitter, selfish, intellectual snob (like myself!) who has just returned home after a life-breaking affair with a professor. She hates everything about her small town and, if hand sanitizer warded off small-town-itus, she would be one of those carrying around a bottle of it in her purse. She is melodramatic and highly unlikeable, even though I found myself relating to her in some (truly honest) ways (see above).

Langston's mother, who is a salt-of-the-earth kind of woman whom Langston finds unbearable, has become an admirer of a local minister, Amos. Immediately, and more than likely upon principal of the thing, Langston hates him.

The impetus for the story comes when Langston's best friend from childhood dies in a domestic dispute (how small-town redneck, right?) (p.s. - I am a sarcastic person, and sometimes people don't pick up on it; I'm well aware that domestic violence occurs outside of any socio-economic status barrier), leaving two small, young terrorized and traumatized girls, both dressed in matching, ironic costumes, without a viable, long-term home.

Langston and Amos enter into a battle against each other, both believing that they have the girls' best interests at heart. The reader finds herself switching back and forth between sides, at once surprised by Langston's eventual and apparent isolated selflessness when it comes to the girls, and rooting for the best conclusion, though you don't know what exactly that is or how in the world it would happen. Yay for Haven Kimmel! I'm so glad I discovered her. - 5 stars

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

If there were an official lesbian canon of literature (and I don't know that there isn't), Jeannette Winterson would be at the top of the list. Her writing just has that sort of air to it. I remember reading her Oranges Aren't the Only Fruit when I was first considering becoming a lesbian; the narrative seemed to me experimental in an intelligent, Faulkner (whose The Sound and the Fury I am struggling with now) sort of way. Really, I felt I could barely grasp it. I should probably give it a second reading.

Anyway, on toward the matter at hand, which is Jeanette's novel Lighthousekeeping. You wouldn't be surprised to hear that it is about a lighthouse, but also, and really, it is about the inhabitants of that lighthouse, an old man and a young girl. This novel is written in the same intelligent voice as the other that I described in the above paragraph. I'll have to study on exactly how she creates this voice, because it could probably do a lot of good if I applied it to some of my own writing.

The little girl in the novel is immediately, or almost-immediately abandoned by her mother, then passed along to a stern woman (a librarian or something, I can't remember, I've been hoarding/procrastinating book reviews for months now - I'm visiting my mom, which means I have some time off and am not sitting in a house I have to clean, so while mom's at work I'm finally doing this), who then passes her off to the old man in the lighthouse. The old man is a typical old man in that his wife has died (I think he was married, I think that's what happened) and now he needs someone to take care of him. He is blind, doesn't have any source of light in, oddly enough, the lighthouse, and the little girl (also her little dog, must adhere to this sort of situation.

The novel does go back and forth betwixt two (or more?) generations, and it gets confusing. The jist and focus of the novel is a) the relationship between the little girl and the old man and b) the little girl's coming-of-age.

There is also a poignant point made about the (negative) effect "progress," (or abandonment of tradition) has upon individual lives - as a result of man-free, mechanic lighthouses, the little girl is ultimately abandoned by the old man and, finally, must abandon the lighthouse.

As you can see, abandonment is a major theme (even of the subplot, which I will leave to you to read without my description here).

This is a good novel that will make you, due to Winterson's knack for it, feel like a very high-caliber reader - a suggested read. - 4 stars

p.s. - The quote for my blog comes from this novel - just an example of the sort of profound statements you can read from Winterson.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury


There's something about Autumn that brings out the spook in all of us. Perhaps it's the smell of dead and decaying leaves, or the crunching sounds they make beneath the feet of our children when they race to school in the early mornings, blowing circles of frozen carbon dioxide from their mouths in round o's.

But at the same time, Fall is one of the most beautiful and colorful times of the year. Bold reds, yellows and golden browns give one last blast of fireworks before a change occurs from life to death, almost overnight. We expect it. We know it will happen besides. Maybe that's why we're so easily able to allow a little of the scary in, the supernatural. Or even the wicked, into our lives. Reminded a bit of our own mortality, our darkest fears hover a little closer to the surface. Waiting to be exploited.

We all worry about different things, every day, like money, health, what to make for dinner, etc., but our most primal fears I believe remain the same for all of us. Fears of growing older, fears for our children and their safety, and almost always, regret. Guilt. These things haunt us all don't they? Such is the theme of Bradbury's timeless classic -


Something.
Wicked.
This.
Way.
Comes.

Taking place within a slice of Americana in the 20's or 30's, our story begins with two 13 year old boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. Born within minutes of each other at the end of October, these two are perfect mirror images of each other, not the same, but identically different. You can't have one without the other. They know this and love each other for it.

It's one week till Halloween and a mysterious autumn carnival has come to town, but this in no ordinary carnival. It feeds off a town full of fear, regret and chaos. What I found funny is that the boys, and even most people in the town sense this, yet still they can not stay away. What the boys see while there frightens them, a mysterious merry-go-round that can reverse age, or increase it, as it circles around. The side show acts, like the Human Skeleton, the Witch, the Dwarf, and most especially, the Illustrated Man, Mr. Dark, all scare the boys out of their wits.

Will's father, Charles, a man haunted by his own demons of getting older and wanting to be young again, his regret already continually eating away at his ever growing loose skin, discovers the truth about what's going on. That the carnival means to feed off the town's regret, fear and greed, as they have done for centuries. A battle ensues where in the end, Will and Jim, and most especially Charles, must battle their own demons to overcome the temptation to have what they most desire, for what is right.


This is my first Bradbury novel, and I loved it. L-o-v-e-d it! Long before Stephen King became a master of greed and the horror's that follow, Bradbury brought us a classic tale of regret, desire and redemption.

Even though Disney made a pretty scary movie version of this, it's not a children's book. In fact, I would agree that the main character is probably Will's father, Charles, and the main point being the life's lessons he learns about what's really important for true happiness in this life. I couldn't help wondering what Bradbury's age was when he wrote this. Was he going through a mid-life crisis as well, looking for a way to cope?

Thanks to the Good Books Club for recommending it.
Despite the creepy nightmares it gave me, this is an excellent book.
4.5 stars

CymLowell

Friday, November 13, 2009

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I wish I knew more about art, like those cultured artsy types that frequent parties I'll never be invited to, have their clothes custom made and invariably talk with an accent from where I can never tell. More specifically, I wish I knew how to describe a painting or sketch or other art piece with the eye of a skilled master who can tell the differences between light and dark, shape and contour, color, or even symbolism. For now my untrained eyes appreciate art based on how it makes me feel when I look at it. That's it. Be it a famous Monet, or the picture of stick people my son drew of our family that now hangs on our fridge. Technique and style, or even price doesn't matter to me. It's all about subjective emotion.

For instance, this painting by Henry Fuseli titled "The Nightmare"on the cover of my copy of Frankenstein. I feel all kinds of things when I look at it. Horror. Fear. Distaste. Wonder. Even beauty. The way that woman is lying there, prostrate and dead, yet still the most alive thing in the painting. The whole thing reminds me of a Greek tragedy. Which to me is exactly what Frankenstein is: a tragedy. I felt all the same things when I read this novel, i.e. fear, horror, loathing, with a little beauty woven in between.

Having seen multiple versions of this on film, I expected the story to be one way and found it completely the opposite. Instead of feeling sympathy for Victor Frankenstein and the situation he found himself in, I disliked him for most of the novel. I thought him weak and a coward. His creation on the other hand, I found to be born neither a monster nor a saint. I found him to be a product of his environment. Frankenstein had the chips of life in his hands, he may have laid them how he chose, perhaps even in order like any well-meaning but overbearing parent, but instead threw them high into the air and let them fall were they lay, in disarray, even scattering them about with his own hands. Like leaving a child to fend for itself in a forest full of wolves.

I thought of a lot of things while reading this book, mainly the obvious question that still holds true today being, just because we can, because we have the knowledge, should we? As Frankenstein himself says,
Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.

There are many modern day Frankenstein's, first in the movies, like The Terminator series, the Firefly series, The Matrix, I am Legend, and what about real life situations like Einstein and his regret over the bomb, cloning or growing babies in artificial wombs. The advances in science in what we might call creation will continue to grow by leaps and bounds every year until one day in the not too distant future, Frankenstein may not be so futuristic after all.

I thought of the whole parent/child relationship in the book and how that relates to my real relationships. In that light, I felt more sympathy for the poor creature than I ever thought I would. And finally I thought of Mary Shelley. Only eighteen when she wrote this ghost story in the company of famous people, including her husband. By twenty-two she was a widow and had lost several children and pregnancies.

And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart.

She had a sad life. Which for me made the book all the more poignant, like one long poem from beginning to end. Well worth reading at least once.
4 stars.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Orlando by Virginia Woolf


I have read Ms Woolf a few times. Everytime I finish with the distinct and powerful feeling that she's a genius, and a sort of yawning sense of personal failure. This is something I've groped at over time, wondering, why it is that I fail when I read Virginia Woolf. It's not that I don't understand it - I'm sure I don't completely, but that never stopped me from reading a book. It's... I don't know. In a sense it's that, upon finishing the book, I have the impression that Ms Woolf wouldn't really like me very much. There is something very lonely about meeting someone wonderful and realizing that if you introduce yourself you'll do nothing but emphasize what an idiot you are.

It's not that I'm shy about forcing my company on genius. For goodness sake, I have had enough chats with poor, patient Emily Dickinson. And honestly, I don't think she likes me either (I'm fairly sure she doesn't). But it's different - with Emily Dickinson, I feel like she wouldn't like me because I've done so many stupid things that have disqualified me for likability. Like, in an ideal world, I would be able to maybe, in some strange little dream, be someone she smiles kindly at, anyway. With Virginia? It's more fundamental. I love her, and feel like there is just simply no way that she would ever like me in return. I'm just not the sort of person she could like, even in a hanger on, condescending kind of way. I could be her brother and she wouldn't like me, her son even. I could be her character and she wouldn't like me. I don't know why I feel this way so strongly (perhaps, in some sense, one gets the feeling that her sharp edged wit could quite easily turn one's self, but even that isn't ALL of it). But it's made it hard to read her.

Orlando... well, I don't want to say it's changed that. I don't feel like she could like me anymore now, than afterward. But, I felt like she could look politely at me if I were friends with someone she loved. Like she could not-hate me, maybe.

Orlando is a marvelous book, to start with. If you're not familiar with it, Orlando is the biography of someone who lives all the way from the Elizebethan period through the present (well, the present as of the writing of the book). It is not a story about being immortal. It's not the Orlando lives forever, Orlando just seems to never happen to die. The idea of dying never seems to cross Orlando's mind, and so it never occurs. The book is much like that in many aspects - reality seems to be firmly, if subconsciously, an extension of Orlando's own whimsy. The other central theme to Orlando's life? About halfway through the book, Orlando changes from a man to a woman.

Again, this change is perfectly natural (though the scene in which it occurs is probably one of the most quietly beautiful bits of magic I have ever read). Orlando simply ceases to be a man, and becomes a woman. In this change, we see what it is for a soul to be male or to be female. We see the ways that different aspects of Orlando's characters express themselves through the strictures of the two genders (social strictures, that is). We see, the echos of the world as it latches into him/her, drawing on whatever gender she/he is at that moment.

And that is another beautiful aspect of the book. As I said, the book travels through British history, from Elizabeth to the 1920's, and it changes, with each successive age. In each period, Orlando is filtered through the lens of the time, so that in the 18th century, we see her in the company of the great satirists (like Swift and Pope), or in the Elizabethan age, we see him trying to write poetry in the company of the bawdy days of Shakespeare. In the Victorian period, we feel a terrifying sort of cincture close around her, shutting her up and crushing her poetry into florid, explosive, meaningless prose that she cannot bring to her purposes. The book is, essentially, a portrait of what it means to be human, and what it means to be a man or a woman, and what it means to live in society. These things combine into a sort of phantasmagoric journey, all in the nimble, stately prose of Ms Woolf.

And, as I mentioned, this is powerful, deep prose, the sort of writing that invites you into yourself. I read this book for the readathon, and of all that period, this book hit me the hardest. The strange transformation wove itself into my dreams for days afterwards: strange, liberating, heartbreaking dreams where the world was more pliable. And, in the mind of Orlando, I felt as if Ms Woolf understood me. I always knew she comprehended me, that she could stare at me, and dress me down to the bone to see just what it was that I was. That's part of the terror, I suppose. But now, from Orlando, I feel like she could see the naked bones for what they were, and quietly dress me back in my flesh when she was done. I didn't cry when I read this book. But a few days later, when I woke up from the book in my dreams, I cried, on the way home form dropping off the boys, a few quiet little tears, the kind you can't use for show or sympathy, that just offer themselves up from your eyes like quiet little reminders that you're human.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Eyre Affair by Jaspe Fforde

Once upon a time, Jasper Fforde put Alice Through the Looking Glass, Jules Verne, a shelf full of Cliff's Notes, and a textbook of 20th century history into a blender, and turned it on. The result was the Eyre Affair (apparently, he couldn't drink the resultant milkshake in one sitting, though, since it's stretched into a number of sequels).

The Eyre Affair, as a horse, has been well beaten on this blog and others. I won't get into the plot too much, largely because it's difficult to summarize, and any summary I write would pale in comparison to some of the other reviewers. And, to be perfectly honest, the reason I have put off writing this review for so long, is because I just really didn't enjoy the book that much.

I know, this is a heresy. I have prayed to Librius, God of Books, and asked him to send his spirit down to enlighten me. I have beaten myself with many stripes. But revelation will not come. I just don't get this book.

This isn't to say I didn't understand it. Honestly, when one gets used to it, the book is a charmingly breezy sort of pseudo-world, so grounded in the things we know that it almost feels homelike. I will give the book that - it's a comforting kind of thing, like cake, it feels like your birthday.

But I didn't 'grok' this book. Much like that birthday cake, it's wonderful in small doses. But when you eat too much, it feels cloying, overly rich, even, a little bit, boring. In part, perhaps I expected too much. I love the Brontes, I love absurd humor, I love mythopoeic writing, and everyone said this book was so good. But it just... felt scattered. And worse, it felt showoffy. Sometimes, I felt like the author was trying to impress me with how strange he could be - which is kind of a turnoff unless you really CAN impress me. It was a clever, hip sort of book, amusing and beguiling, but in the end, I really had very little investment in any of the major characters, and was kind of relieved to get to the last page. Sorry Jasper Fforde. Sorry Amanda.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell


The way an author treats those the protagonist disagrees with is a good way to understand their style. Jane Austen, for instance, treats them with a gentle sort of contempt (Think of Mr. Collins, for instance). Dickens frowns darkly at them. Bram Stoker hates them with a deep, meaningful hatred. L.M. Montgomery does the kind of 'Bless Your Heart' routine that a southern grandma might do ("Poor girl, just doesn't realize she's a tramp, bless her heart"). But, in all of these instances, it's interesting to note, that it's immediately apparent who the 'wrong' people are. If you spent some time thinking Fagan was possibly just a kind-hearted miscreant who wanted the best for his boys, you probably missed something. If you were under the impression that Dracula was really a tragic, pitiable figure, you probably mistakenly read Twilight. The bad guys are wrong, immediately, obviously wrong.

Gaskell isn't like that. It isn't like, say, James Joyce, where there simply is no right and wrong. It's that for Gaskell, every character is a tableaux of both. The person who eventually is the most hellishly obnoxious character in the whole book to me, in the beginning, seemed like they were going to be a pleasant, if imperfect, sort of friend. The man who is the most obviously bad upon his introduction never ends up being good, but as you grow into the situation, it becomes far less black and white. Her friends, in the same vein are all wicked in their ways. Every single person has a fault, every person has virtues, and all of them are who they are - really the same person at the end of the book as at the beginning for each, eve if some have grown a bit older and wiser (or deader).

In a sense, this story felt like a cross between a romance and Middlemarch. The story centers around a young girl, and follows her growing up, and eventually leads to a culmination in her love life (I am trying purposely not to be too specific). But along the way, the portrait broadens, and becomes a spectrum not just of one girls life, but of middle class society, in the same way that Middlemarch does. If you've read Gaskell before, it has the deeply loving author-voice of Cranford, and the earnest seriousness of North and South, without, from a plot perspective, being like either one.

But, my favorite thing about the book (quite unexpectedly) was the ending. Wives and Daughters was a serial novel, and Ms Gaskell wrote it throughout the period when it was being published - she had the basics of the plot sketched out, but wrote chapters as they were needed. And then, she died, before she finished. The last chapter is pretty much a sketchy synopsis of what would have happened had Ms Gaskell lived, and a very kind elegy on her life, written by her editor. Originally I thought the ending had been written by someone else, something like Mozart's Requiem. When I discovered this was not so, I'm not sure if it made it worse or better.

But when you finally get to her ending... there's a certain poignancy to it, to this abrupt, but at the same time remarkably appropriate fade-to-black. The novel is a truly intimate one, you feel a strong closeness the farther along you get, and just as you get to the crux of that feeling, there is a death - a death not of one character, but of the entire world. And the abruptness of that, in a way I don't think one coould accomplish on purpose, lays bare the beating pulse of the story, strips off the wards, and for a moment, your hand lays on the last pulse beats not of a fantasy, but of a fantasist. The death of Molly's world whispers itself quietly away, leaving for a moment, the sudden realization, of what writing really is, of the fact that the body and soul of the author are the soil that the world sucks it's nutriment from. One can know that, academically, but to see the winter of that soil come, to see it expire before the trees can spring to their fullest bloom is a sort of transcendent experience, and one, that bears it's own, strange, ghost fruit.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

No Name by Wilkie Collins


I want to preface this review by saying it was very difficult to write. Ms Eva of Striped Armchair mentioned earlier in the week that this is her all time favorite Wilkie Collins novel. And while I was pretty blaise about the only other Collins book I'd read, it was a long time ago, and I had heard wodnerful things about the recent revived interest in The Woman in White. And the subject of this book (it has to do with the laws of illegitimacy in Britain in the Victorian period) was one that really interests me.

Sadly, I really didn't enjoy this book.

I know this must be me, in part. Again, I've heard people really enjoy it. But it bothered me, and the things in it that DID bother me were too omnipresent for me to overcome.

*** SPOILERS (but I'll try to keep them minor) ***
No Name is the story of two sisters who, through a uniquely Victorian literary twist of fate, find out after their parents die that they are illegitimate children, and that as a result, their entire estate will go to the their uncle, a man with a deep and abiding hatred for their father. The elder daughter submits to this painful fate, but the younger daughter proceeds, for the majority of the remainder of the novel, to scheme against the cruel uncle and his eventual inheritors to reclaim the family fortune, and return her sister and herself to the respectability that comes with it.

My first problem is with the entire part after the parents die, and before the girl accomplishes her first big scheme (sorry, trying to avoid spoilers, but for those of us who have read the book, this section ended for me, pretty much, with the will of Mr Noel Vanstone). The story is pretty straightforward through this entire section, and much like the Moonstone reads in the same way as a modern mystery, this reads like a con-job movie - think, The Sting, or Confidence, or Matchstick Men, or Sneakers for instance. Well, that's fine. This is a genre that doesn't deeply move me, generally, but which is a fun ride while it lasts.

Well, here's the thing about a con-job plot - the thing that makes the movie interesting is the feeling that you are watching the work of a master. The Sting is fun, because you can see them laying down all the brushstrokes throughout the film, you can see the vague outlines taking shape, but when the entirety of it is displayed in the final scenes, you realize that you were in the presence of masters, that the con is so carefully constructed, so intricately planned, that even the imperfections you thought you detected were just part of the master plan. At a moral level, it's difficult to admire people who are, quite frankly, trying to cheat other people out of money. But there is a piece of us all that can appreciate genius, even when that genius is not taken to ends we appreciate.

Well, the con in No Name isn't like that. It's honestly, in some ways, probably more like real life - con men in real life, I'm sure, are kind of flying by the seat of their pants, just trying to scrape by. If they were geniuses, they'd probably find a more rewarding line of work, after all. But, watching the two conmen bumble along, making error after error, being saved by a combination of luck, their own ability to come up with outlandish lies, and, frankly, the thickheadedness of their marks, is kind of depressing, if not downright irritating. I can IMAGINE a book that was about unskilled conmen that was good - but this wasn't it. Honestly, what it ended up feeling like was that Collins simply hadn't planned out the entirety of the con, so he COULDN'T prestage the careful falling into places of the pieces. RAther, he just plopped his characters in, and every week threw up another obstacle and another razor's edge escape, and dashed it off to the publisher three hours before deadline. In a suspense novel, this is okay - in a move like North by Northwest, we can sympathize with incompetence, because we feel like the guy is stuck in the situation through no fault of his own, and we can see him learning, getting more talented, and defeating the odds in the end. In No Name it just feels kind of sickening - lurching back and forth between seeing that Collins seems to genuinely like his conmen, watching him carefully preach about the fact that what they are doing is utterly wicked, and, as a reader, suppresing the urge to shake the book, and shout at the conmen that they need to try thinking ahead more than one move at a time, and think through their decisions.

Luckily, this ended. The second attempt to con the money was equally incompetent, but DID manage to be engrossing, because A) it seemed fairly obvious that she would, eventually, fail and B) it's feels like the purpose of the con is less to impress us with her skill and more to show that she is slowly falling apart (and even so, the second con still had moments where it felt a little frustrating).

These problems are probably partly me. I'm not a huge suspense novel fan, though I can appreciate a good one - I like Rebecca a lot, for instance. And, I imagine part of it was my disappointment at realizing that what I thought was going to be a social novel about illegitimacy was turning into a crime novel. The second issue, however, it's difficult to let go of for me, and honestly perplexes me a bit: the book felt, to me, terrifically chauvinist.

Let me qualify that. I do not feel, and did not feel in the novel, that Collins had the aggressive anti-woman sort of chauvinism that some authors display. I think Collins was an honest product of his times, and that he probably FELT that he was very pro-woman. And I mean this as no personal affront to Collins, or to anyone who likes him. As a historical document, I can appreciate that Collins did not intend to write a book that was chauvinist.

But the underlying message of the book, to me was pretty simple. There are two basic types of women: women like Norah (the older sister) and women like Magdalen (the younger sister). Women like Norah are women who have learned to submit, to accept sadness, to sacrifice themselves. Women like Magdalen are talented, self-motivated, and tremendously sensitive to injustice and attacks on their rights. Well, women like Magdalen are driven by these urges to do terrible, awful things. Women like Norah quietly submit to the trials of life, and in the end, are miraculously victorious. They get what they want simply as a result of their being so 'good', of towing the line and accepting that they should let society do what it wants. Women like Magdalen? Their assertiveness and resourcefulness will, of course, bring them lower, and lower, and lower - even, in the book, make them uglier and uglier and uglier. If they are to be redeemed, they must be ground into the dust, and have all their pride and dignity driven out of them, they must learn to submit to society. In the end, when they are driven low, then, a nice man can come along like a knight in armor and save them, and grant them the forgiveness that they so desperately need. Then, they can lead quiet little contented lives, having learned to subvert their talents and ambitions into nice, quiet, feminine pursuits.

I just don't see what else to read from the book. Collins obviously loves Magdalen to death, much as the governess of the girls loves her more than Norah. But, like the Governess, he quietly submits to us that the very things that we love in Magdalen are what must be ground out of her before she can be a proper woman. The woman in the end, after her great sickness and after she is nursed back to health by the captain, is not the woman I loved earlier. Her great intelligence has been devolved into nothing but a tool to trick the captain into bragging about himself - no seriously, think about that for a minute. In the end, when Magdalen is good, the best purpose she can put her intelligence to is to get a man to speak highly of himself to her. And in the end? She is hardly discernible from her sister, quivering and looking up to her strong-armed protection, as the music swells and the fuzzy filter goes over the camera lens.

I don't mean this as a dig against Norah - I like Norah too. I like Norah because she is who she is. She lives the life she intends, and lives it well, and I feel happy for her when she gets what she wants. And I don't mean to say that the things Magdalen did in the book are right - on the contrary, it was their very wrongness that made the pursuit such an irksome one to read about - it's not much fun to read a book where you are sorry to hope that the protagonist wins, but where you hate the people she needs to lose to, just the same.

Honestly, I guess, the main reason I wrote this post (because I considered writing a tepidly subtle post saying a few strengths and quietly admitting to some weaknesses) is because I feel like I must of missed something. People love this book. Ms Eva recommended it as a good book for the Feminism challenge, recently, even. I must be off base, something has flown over my head. There were things I liked - the scene where Wragge tells about his pill company nearly had me laughing out loud, for instance, and the scene where Magdalen considers suicide was heart-wrenching and suspenseful even though you know it will end up for the best from the beginning. I just didn't get it. Hopefully you, my dear commenters, can help enlighten me